Instagram Etiquette 101

Manners Maketh The Gram: What’s Hot and What’s Not on Instagram in 2020

Aaaah Instagram, the happiest place on the internet. There is so much to love about ‘the gram’ and love it we most certainly do; 1 billion monthly active users sharing 95 million posts per day can’t be wrong!  From a business standpoint the ability to reach, grow and engage with an audience of potential customers or clients (for free!) makes Instagram one of the most powerful marketing tools of the 21st century.

However, with so many users and very little by way of explicit rules or guidance from Instagram itself, there is a dark side to the platform that is mildly irritating at best and absolutely heartbreaking at worst for some users.

In preparation for this post, I engaged a number of fellow online business owners to ask them about their experiences with Instagram; what they enjoy most about the platform and the online behaviours that they are less enamoured of.  Below is a general consensus about that’s hot and what’s not when it comes to Instagram etiquette.

What’s Hot?

Below are a few of our #favouritethings about Instagram:

Getting engaged

The number 1 reason we favour Instagram like the child who sleeps through the night is engagement. Instagram is one of the most highly-engaged social media platforms. According to Brandwatch.com engagement on Instagram is 10 times higher than on Facebook. As social creatures we get a big ol’ dose of dopamine whenever someone double taps or comments on our content.

Engagement - including liking, commenting (and responding), replying to DMs and actively seeking out other users to be social with - really is the secret sauce to Instagram success. It provides a quick and effective way to build relationships and gain trust. Accounts who take the time to engage get the goods – both in terms of followers and brand loyalty.

> Related: Why Instagram Engagement Matters

Engagement makes Instagram so sweet

Engagement makes Instagram so sweet

Accounts who provide value, not more noise 

The Instagram feed is a crowded place. Post captions with nothing more to offer than “Monday... blah blah... coffee ... blah blah blah” are, frankly, a waste of everyone’s time. Accounts that deliver value by entertaining, educating or engaging their followers will enjoy greater post performance and a loyal following.

Showing up regularly and showing your face

People buy from people. And who do we buy from? People we trust! The fastest way to earn trust is to show yourself. We love seeing the person(s) behind the brand so invest in a professional photography shoot and get your smiling face, and that of your team, on the feed already! Can’t afford a branding shoot? Many photographers offer smaller headshot packages where you can get a handful stellar shots that will give you something to get started with.

> Check out this list of recommended photographers.

Just quietly, it costs nothing to show your face on video. If you have a smartphone you can create Instagram Stories, IGTV videos or go Live in an instant; providing your audience with valuable content and the opportunity to get to know you. Even if sleepless nights have you looking like Quasimodo in the bell tower, pop on a filter, show up and serve your audience. Your followers will benefit much more from you sharing your wisdom than if you choose to hide in the shadows. Video is also fantastic for your overall Instagram account performance. Bonus!

Instagram BFFs

Instagram is the perfect place to meet and develop friendships with like-minded peeps who are on a similar business journey. Help out fellow biz owners by commenting on their posts and give them a friendly shout out in your feed posts and on Stories. Share the love! #CommunityOverCompetition

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Collaborating in a professional manner

Spoiler alert: Business owners don’t want to bankroll your holiday. Even if you are an “influencer” and even if you can take great photos of their product in Bali wearing nothing but your bikini 🍑

Making a play for free merch is simply bad manners and business owners are tired of this kind of behaviour.  If you want to collaborate with another business or brand, do your homework first; Find the best person to talk to about your ideas and approach them in a professional manner (try emailing rather than sending a DM). Put together a proposal explaining how your brands and audiences align and outlining the benefits of a collaboration for both parties. Above all, make sure you’re at least following the account before you ask for something!

Using and engaging with hashtags relevant to your niche 

The days of peppering your posts with mega large hashtags are gone. Niching is the new black. Incorporate tailored, community or interest-based hashtags into your posts (and Stories) to connect with like-minded users around a specific topic, ritual or location and increase your visibility to your ideal customer or client.

Captions on videos

Some people have noisy kids. Others are sneaking in a quick Insta Stories binge at work, on public transport or in bed and some of your audience may be hearing impaired. Make it easy for people to consume and engage with your content by using captions or subtitles on videos. There are a number of apps and tools to help you do this in a flash including Clipomatic, Clips and Kapwing to name a few.

Readability

There’s nothing hotter than a well-placed apostrophe and don’t even get me started on perfectly positioned paragraph breaks. Grrrrr.

Writing for social media definitely affords permission to bend the rules, however it does not give you free license to completely ignore the fundamentals of spelling and grammar altogether – especially if you use Instagram for business purposes.

If writing isn’t your forte, a grammatical assistant, such as Grammarly, will ensure that your “you’re” is applied correctly and that something as simple as a misplaced comma doesn’t disarm your message and leave you virtually vulnerable (see example below).

Grammar matters

Grammar matters

Similarly, depending on your audience, go easy on the slang and abbreviations. These can work on the gram (#YOLO!) as long as they are commonly known. When in doubt, ditch the cool kids’ lingo in favour of effectively communicating your key message, ok Bae?

What’s Not? Instagram behaviours we could definitely do without 🙅🏻‍♀️

There are certain behaviours on Instagram that are driving users wild (and not in a good way). If you are guilty of any of the following Instagram etiquette no-no’s, it may be time to re-evaluate your social strategy. The following Instagram practices, though common, are most certainly NOT hot:

Following then unfollowing

Yuck! Fluctuating follower numbers are the virtual fly in every Instagram user’s ointment. While it is totally normal for some users to unfollow you, large daily fluctuations are a pain in the proverbial and are typically due the follow-unfollow method; Whereby accounts follow other users (with the objective of getting them to follow back) and then unfollow after a set period of time.

Third-party applications (“bots”) are commonly used to seek out and follow other users via hashtags or location.

Accounts who employ follow-unfollow tactics are doing themselves a huge disservice. This annoying behaviour not only risks their reputation but also their account subsistence as Instagram continues to crack down on spammy behaviour and the use of third-party automations.

Ignoring (genuine) comments

In terms of Instagram gripes, being ignored comes a close second to following-unfollowing. As mentioned above, the reason users flock to Instagram is for engagement. Commenting on a post only to be ignored conjures up the same kick-in-the-gut feelings of rejection as being picked last in the playground. I frequently hear complaints about post engagement dropping yet many account holders fail to provide the common courtesy of responding to comments – thereby teaching their followers not to engage with their content.

Talking only about yourself or your products

There’s nothing more boring than the person at the party who only talks about themselves #eyeroll. Put yourself in your followers’ shoes: What are they interested in? What are they struggling with? How can you provide real value instead of simply pitching yourself or your product?  Understanding who your ideal customer or client is; their wants, needs and pain points will help you to create valuable content that keeps them coming back for more.

Obsessing over follower numbers

Spending all your time online trying to entice new followers at the expense of ignoring your existing ones does not a sound social strategy make. Yes, followers matter, to a certain extent, but focussing all of your efforts on this vanity metric comes at a cost. A smaller engaged audience who love what you do and sing your praises to others is far more valuable than a huge apathetic following who have no idea about you and who don’t engage with your content because you ignore them. Remember, the true value of social media is measured OFF of Instagram – in the leads you generate, the number of people on your mailing list, new clients and sales.

> Related: Stop Focussing on Follower Numbers

Don’t cry over lost followers

Don’t cry over lost followers

Helping yourself to other people’s images

Newsflash: Instagram isn’t a stock library for your personal use. Instagram’s Community Guidelines clearly state "Share only photos and videos that you’ve taken or have the right to share."

As well as being a serious etiquette no-no, using someone’s image without their permission may breach copyright (hello, legal implications!) therefore it is prudent to gain written permission before proceeding to share anyone else’s content.

If permission is granted, do not crop, filter or distort the image in any way. When you post, tag the image owner in the photo AND in the post caption plus the photographer, any featured products or other accounts involved in the image creation (ask for a list relevant accounts to tag when you seek permission). This will ensure that you cover all bases and that everyone receives the recognition they deserve.

> Read more about Crediting on Social Media.

Blaming the algorithm for poor performance

I recently saw a post in a Facebook group by a business owner who believed that the algorithm was “punishing her” because her Instagram engagement had dropped. Hard truth: There are a number of factors that impact post performance and visibility including the quality of your content. It’s not Instagram’s fault if people don’t like what you’re putting out there.

The algorithm is, in fact, designed to help. By creating a better user experience, it ensures that users (i.e. your potential customers and clients) keep coming back to the platform and spend as much time here as possible, thereby increasing your chances of being found.

Instead of complaining, put on your big gal pants and review, regroup and revise what you’re sharing if it isn’t working for you.

Trying to trick the algorithm

Instagram is smarter than the average bear. Gaming the system by posting “This is a test” memes, buying followers or participating in engagement pods may result in a short-term win at best. At worst? Instagram could shut down your account. Stop trying to hack the algorithm (you’re not the girl with the spider tattoo). Focus instead on developing a solid content and engagement strategy. This will yield more effective results in the long run and is far less annoying #justsaying.


Tagging other users completely unrelated to your post

Speaking of annoying, the fastest way to lose friends and credibility is by tagging 20 unrelated accounts in your post. This another example of gaming the system. Stop it.

Engagement bots 

Accounts that utilise auto-commenting bots are more transparent than Kendall Jenner’s red carpet looks #freethenipple. As well as being prohibited by Instagram’s terms of use, auto-comments do absolutely nothing to endear you or your brand to other users as most often the comments are completely misaligned with the content. I recently heard one absolutely shocking story of an automatic comment of “cute” appearing on a heartbreaking post about miscarriage. You can guess what kind of response that user received!

#using #hashtags #for #random #words

As well as negatively impacting your caption’s readability, random hashtags are a magnet for 3rd party follow-unfollow and auto-commenting bots. Instead, use targeted hashtags that your ideal customer or client is likely to be searching for and engaging with.

Trolling

Online bullying of any kind isn’t cool. End of story. If you don’t have something nice to say, scroll on Susan!

The Way Forward

 After reading this you could be forgiven for thinking that Instagram is a hub for narcissistic trolls who spend their days spamming accounts, pilfering content and demanding freebies however, it’s not all doom and gloom. The fact that the number of Instagram users has been steadily climbing year on year is testament to the unlimited potential this platform has to #sparkjoy and enhance our personal and professional lives. 

Adhering to a few simple manners and choosing to engage in a genuine manner will create a better user experience for all. Remember that behind every handle is a real person, with real feelings and interests beyond what you’re selling. By proceeding with empathy, behaving like a decent human and creating true value (with a sprinkle of kindness) we can ensure that Instagram remains our favourite platform… until something better comes along!

What grinds your gears on the gram? Comment below.


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