Your Guide to Authentic Engagement on Instagram

By in Social media marketing, Instagram Strategy Nov 2, 2017

How many times have you received a notification (so exciting!) of an Instagram comment only to find that some random brand has said “Very nice! Check us out!” or, “We think you’d love this…”?

This has happened to me so many times.

I have to give those accounts an “A” for effort, but their commentary is clearly for engagement and marketing purposes. While they took the time to comment, I can tell that they probably didn’t even look at my photo.


Today, social media has become yet another marketing process that’s been strategized, streamlined, and “hacked” for success. While these efforts are great and typically necessary for big companies, they often remove the human element from engagement.

Articles left and right are explaining quick tips to growing your follower base, but unfortunately, they leave out one crucial point: Humans are intelligent creatures (gasp!), and we can recognize when a brand is engaging with us purely for a follow or to boost their numbers.

So, how does a brand engage authentically? In short, it takes time and effort. Those “hacking” articles continue to be so popular because people are looking for ways to cut down on time and effort…. Unfortunately, to create an authentic community on social media, you can’t really do that, especially with Instagram.

Creating a social media strategy is a good place to start and creates a coherent effort between team members for your business, but it won’t carry your brand all the way. You can also leverage a scheduling tool to cut down on posting time, but you can’t do this with engagement.

The saying “Nothing good comes easy” is very true when applied to social media success. Authentic engagement and growth don’t happen overnight, and followers typically trickle in at the start.

Authentic engagement involves a healthy mix of strategy and spontaneity (as is humanity). Hopefully, these tips can help you make sense and plan ahead for ways to connect with your followers on Instagram.

Build Your Instagram Community with Intentionality

The first step to engaging authentically is to pinpoint users and accounts that would truly benefit from your activity and commentary as well as give you new ideas for content and regrams.

How can you ensure that your follows and comments are intentional? Well, for one, don’t start crazy on that “Follow” button. (Repeat after me: “I promise I will “Follow” with a purpose.”)

Instagram’s search and “Suggested” features make it easy to initially find and follow people that are within your niche. Start by searching for popular hashtags in your industry.

For example, if you created an app that people manage their food allergies and aversions and find healthy foods, you may search for tags like #foodallergy, #glutenfree, #nolactose, #vegan, #organic, and other variations of these terms. Don’t forget slang, either (i.e. #glutenfree may be #GF, and so on and so forth). Check out the posts and people that are using these hashtags.

Another option is to simply Google search for influencers and thought leaders in your niche. Bloggers and small businesses will typically include their social media accounts at the top or bottom of their web pages, so you can discover their Instagram there.

Once you start following folks within your niche, Instagram’s handy little “Suggested” feature will help you continue your research. This is super helpful when discovering your competitors, partners, influencers, and target audience and will continue to help you build intentional community.

Once Instagram learns more about your intended audience and who you like to follow, your Discover page will start reflecting others in that niche. This page is a great place to find up and coming influencers and brands as Instagram works hard to connect you with people that may be relevant. Keep an eye on this page as you look to expand your network.

Curating your Instagram community takes time and research, but it will pay off. Doing so will populate your Home page with content that’ll be straightforward and easy with which to engage. Following the right people (at least to start) will take the work out of finding posts to comment on and like.

If You Don’t Have Something (Real) to Say, Don’t Say Anything At All

With the Who out of the way, let’s focus on the What.

When engaging in the form of comments and likes, you should avoid automation altogether. It’s tacky, obvious, and the chance of you (er, your robot) saying the wrong thing is pretty high. Try to keep your commentary as real and real-time as possible.

Also, automation is against Instagram’s terms of use, and the platform has recently been cracking down on accounts that use bots. If you’re using bots, there’s a good chance that Instagram knows. Be careful — You run a high risk of being banned!

The personal touch of real, human comments that clearly fit with an image or existing conversation go a long way in building trust and social relationships with consumers. If you’re not sure what to say, it’s good practice to complement the post, ask a relevant question, or even tag others.

If you’ve build your community correctly, you should already have something in common with the user and/or his or her picture. Go off of that if you need to. Only if your product or service is truly relevant should you mention it in your comment.

When commenting on a post, consider if your words are mutually beneficial. Sure, you’re engaging on Instagram and putting your brand name out there, but how is the other user benefitting? Social media is yet another extension of customer service. Don’t be solely self-serving in your Instagram engagement. Sometimes, the key to authenticity is thinking about others.

Watch Your Account Like a Hawk

Nothing screams “We’re a bunch of robots!” like a brand’s Instagram account that never engages with their own posts. Even if you’re actively authentically engaging with others, being silent on your profile can make you seem distant and disconnected.

If you garner a few comments or questions on your posts, you should be replying ASAP (after popping the bubbly, of course!) As easy as it is to lose yourself in the numbers and data of Instagram engagement, sometimes you have to take a step back and remember the purpose of social media: To connect with your consumers in a real, personable way and provide another avenue of access to your company.

Make an effort to respond to every comment on your posts, especially questions, concerns, and complaints. Doing so can help your followers and consumer base feel better connected to you and your team.

Social media engagement is also crucial for e-commerce brands that never have the chance to connect with consumers in person. These days, brand loyalty goes a lot farther than price and popularity, and the personal touch of an Instagram reply can make or break a repeat customer.

Post Content That Begs for Comments

Brands that authentically engage on Instagram don’t limit their activity to comments and likes. They get real, valuable content in front of their audience, too! Keep your Instagram content consistent, and schedule your posts for when your audience is most active. This will increase the chances of engagement from your audience.

The comments you post can also help foster engagement on your account. Consider asking a question or tagging a partner, customer, or influencer to drum up some commentary. Don’t forget the hashtags! A 2017 study found that posts with at least 11 hashtags get the most interaction.

With you can insert your hashtags within the first comment, rather than just the caption to help drive engagement and start a conversation.

Another posting strategy to boost engagement is running a contest on your Instagram account. Partner with another business and require that entrants tag friends in the comments. This is a great way to boost brand awareness and gain more followers.

There are many ways to post authentic content that connects with your audience and begs for commentary. Don’t forget to keep an eye on your account so that you can actively respond to comments!

Final Thoughts

Social media can either bridge the company-consumer gap or create a bigger one. Authentic engagement is the key to building trust and social relationships with your followers, so despite the required time and work, it’s an effort worth making for the health of your business. Authenticity on social media involves a healthy mix of strategy and spontaneity (as does humanity). Once you get the hang of it, your followers will thank you.

What do you think? How have you engaged authentically on Instagram? Have you seen an improvement on your profile? Let us know in the comments below!