For a few years, Donnie and I published income reports on this little blog of ours. When we decided to stop doing them at the beginning of 2017 (you can read about our reasons in this post), we still wanted to continue to help bloggers, so we decided to do a series of “experiments” on the blog. The idea was to focus on areas where we felt like we weren’t awesome and really try to “crack the code” and figure out how to improve in those areas.
My Instagram Experiment: The Biggest Benefits for Bloggers
This month I decided to hone in on Instagram. As I sit here and type this, my Instagram following is sitting at just over 30,000 followers. While that’s not a tiny following, it’s not massive either. I’ve always felt like I didn’t quite “get” Instagram, so this past month I set out to try to understand it better and implement some new things along the way.
One thing that I struggle with when it comes to Instagram is that it can be hard to measure its effectiveness. Sure, you can measure the number of followers you have, but I’ve found it hard to justify trying to gain followers just for the sake of having a bigger number of followers.
If I try to measure the effectiveness of Instagram in terms of pageviews it brings to my site, it’s hard to justify spending much time on it because the number of pageviews I get from Instagram compared to Pinterest or search traffic is significantly smaller. (Google Analytics tracks Instagram now, and I also use a service called Link in Profile which allows me to see how many people have clicked over to my blog from a particular Instagram post.)
One thing I can’t measure is the people who see a post on Instagram on their phones, then hop on the computer to take a look. I’m guessing that number is relatively small though. Most people visit Instagram to scroll through pretty pictures, not with the intention of reading a bunch of blog posts, so I’m not sure how realistic is is to expect really big traffic numbers from Instagram.
Another way I could attempt to measure the effectiveness of my Instagram account is whether or not I could use it to generate income. I use the Like to Know It feature from RewardStyle to add links to some of the products in my photos, though I don’t see a ton of payoff from that strategy. (If you’re not familiar with Like to Know It, Instagram users are able to sign up for RewardStyle. When one of my followers who has signed up “likes” one of my IG photos that is linked with Like to Know It, they get an email with affiliate links to the products in my photo. If they click the link and make a purchase, I earn a commission.)
Instagram post using Like to Know It by RewardStyle
I could also drive sales to my own products by mentioning them in my captions or sharing photos of them, but again, if I compare my sales from Instagram to sales from sending emails, holding webinars, or even writing blog posts, the results pale in comparison.
Finally, the last way I could look at my Instagram account is as a way to further brand recognition, gain loyal followers, build relationships with other bloggers/Instagrammers, and get to know my readers. Though this is difficult to track in terms of hard numbers, I do think that it is an important (and fun!) aspect of what we do as bloggers, and I am loving the community aspect of Instagram more and more.
My goal for my Instagram “experiment” wasn’t necessarily to gain more followers (though that was certainly a by-product– I gained about 1,000 followers in a month), but what I really wanted to do was boost engagement and interaction and see if I could more effectively use Instagram as a way to send more traffic to my site and drive more sales. To achieve this, I planned to do the following:
1. Follow what I consider to be “the basics.”
- Post beautiful photos. In my niche this is pretty photos of my house or beautifully organized spaces.
- Maintain a cohesive feed. For me this means sticking to home photos rather than photos people or food or whatever I’m doing at the moment. (Though I do try to share photos of myself in my home occasionally so people can get to know “the face behind the feed” a little better!) I also take the cohesiveness factor a little bit further by trying to have lots of white in most of my photos + smaller pops of color.
- Post consistently. I had been posting once per day around 9 pm. This month I made an effort to try to post twice per day, at both 9 am and 9 pm.
2. Make a point to interact as much as possible.
I made a “rule” for myself that for every photo I posted, I would try to comment on at least 20 other photos. So if I hit my goal of posting twice per day, I would be interacting with around 40 other peoples’ photos. In addition, I tried to answer as many of the comments on my own photos as possible.
3. Be more intentional about using the RewardStyle app with my posts.
I have been lazy about this in the past, and I wanted to see what would happen if I used it on as many posts as possible.
4. Try out different ways to add a “call to action” to my posts.
In the past I had found that if I would directly say “go over to my blog and read my post about X,” I didn’t see much traffic to my site and I tended to have lower interaction on my Instagram post. Because of this, I kind of gave up on CTAs for a while. This month I wanted to try to be more creative with my CTAs to see if I could make them more effective for driving traffic and sales. Instead of a direct call to action, I decided to add an, “Oh by the way, I have this cool thing you might be interested in…” type line near the end of my photo caption to see how effective that method would be.
5. Be more intentional with hashtags.
I wanted to try to use the max of 30 relevant hashtags on each of my posts. Before I tried to do this using the notes app on my phone, but I found it really clunky and hard to customize. This month I started keeping a Google Doc with Instagram hashtags for different “challenges” that happen on certain days of the week as well as popular hashtags used my magazines, brands, and people in my niche. (If you’re looking for hashtags to use in the home decor niche, Brooke from Start at Home has an awesome post where she shares her spreadsheet of IG home decor hashtags!)
Before I shared each IG post, I would go into the hashtag doc and create a grouping of my hashtags. I would then text the grouping to myself from my Mac to my iPhone. (If you don’t have this capability, email is another easy way to do it.) I would then paste the hashtags in the first comment of my post immediately after I posted the photo. This makes them more inconspicuous so I’m not flooding my followers with a long list of hashtags in my main caption.
I had initially planned to start my own hashtag or get a group together to start one too, but life got busy and that never happened. Oops!
So out of my five goals for the month, I felt like two didn’t go all that well. First, I took the time to link more of my posts with Like to Know It, but I didn’t really see much payoff. Maybe my followers aren’t big Like to Know It users. Maybe I’m not “sales-y” enough (which I’m totally fine with!). I know Like to Know It can be extremely effective for some IG-ers so it definitely has potential, but it hasn’t been a major income earner for me by any stretch of the imagination.
Second, I had some small successes with CTAs and getting people over to my site, but it still pales in comparison to other referral traffic. From January 1-March 14, 2017, I had 2,906 sessions from Link in Profile on Instagram, compared with 288,851 sessions from Pinterest in that same period. Now some of that is just the nature of what Pinterest is designed to do vs. what Instagram is designed to do and how people use each platform. I get that. But even with a more concerted effort, I didn’t see a ton of visits from IG followers.
screenshot of my traffic from Link in Profile since the beginning of the year; the big spike was a post about an upcoming surgery I’m having
Along with these two pieces that didn’t quite work out the way I had pictured, I made some interesting observations about the number of times I posted per day. It seemed to me that whenever I was posting twice per day, my IG photos would get less “likes,” but I seemed to gain followers more quickly. When I went back to once per day, the number of “likes” on my photos seemed to rise, but I felt like the followers slowed down a bit. I don’t know if there’s really a direct correlation or if there were other factors in play as well, but since I’d rather have engagement over a higher follower count, I’m thinking it may be beneficial to post less. I want to continue to test this theory and see if it holds up over time.
While I still don’t feel like I’m an Instagram guru, I definitely learned a lot during my “experiment” period! My biggest takeaway by far was to embrace Instagram as a community and become an active member of that community. Instagram has become my favorite way of keeping up with other bloggers’ projects and connecting with them more often. I feel like I’ve made more friends and gotten to know many people so much better by simply taking more time to comment and interact. And as a bonus, I found that when I was getting out there and becoming an active member of the community, my Instagram posts would get more interaction as well and my follower numbers would grow.
Playing along with hashtag challenges also helped me grow the “community” aspect as well. I felt like I got to know some of the hosts a little better, and I was even featured a few times, which helped to grow my account. By searching the different hashtags I was playing along with, I found some beautiful new accounts to follow and met more people.
I don’t know that Instagram will ever become my #1 social media outlet. Since I can track more tangible results from other things like my email list and Pinterest account, I feel like I can’t justify spending more time on Instagram than either of those two things. However, I still contend that Instagram is the most fun of my social channels, and it’s definitely become my favorite way to make some of those connections and build a community. I’m interested in continuing to learn more about IG, tweaking my strategies, and seeing how it grows and changes in the future!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Instagram as well– be sure to leave them in the comments!
For more tips on growing your blog and online business, see these posts:
Thanks for following along, friends! Have a wonderful day!