How to #fail at Instagram
Meet Instagram Influencer Kenzie Dean (@kenzie.dean90).
According to her Instagram bio she is a vegan, photographer, artist, musician, wanderer, model and a lover of life. She started her account less than 1 month ago and has already acquired over 5000. Each post gets over 700 likes and 100 comments which is pretty impressive engagement.
Which Instagram Marketing Mistakes Does Kenzie Make?
There’s just 1 small issue with Kenzie – she doesn’t exist. I created her for 1 purpose, to show you how to #fail at Instagram. For the last month I have made some of the worst Instagram marketing mistakes and engaged in terrible practices for building an engaged Instagram community including:
- Stock Photography
- Lazy Copy Writing
- Bad Hashtags
- Inconsistent Posting
- Like for Likes/Follow for Follows
- Apps and Websites for Followers and Engagement
1. Stock Photography
To create Kenzie’s profile I used free stock photos showing beaches, forests, vegan food and a blonde girl you could never see clearly (and couldn’t tell that each girl is different).
For a lifestyle influencer, stock imagery is an Instagram marketing mistake that makes you look like an amateur. It’s a no-go zone. The basis of the account is your real life (even if it is glamorised and edited).
For businesses the use of stock photography gets complicated.
There may be a case for use of stock images in print and website advertising but Instagram is different to other marketing avenues. Audiences value authenticity on social media. The bar for original photography on social media is set pretty low. When everyone has a smart phone it is a simple process to create fast, decent quality and original images without breaking the bank.
2. Lazy Copywriting
Yes, we know that Instagram is predominately a visual platform but that’s no excuse for poor captions.
Your caption allows you to give a voice and context to your imagery. Do you have a call-to-action, can you ask a question to engage your audience, do you want people to tag your friends and can you tell people about your photo?
Kenzie was consistently lazy in her captions and never gave more than obvious and vapid captions. While the photos were pretty (shout out to the talented unsplash photographers!) there was nothing compelling or informative in any of her posts.
A beautiful location meal is the perfect place to tell an anecdote about the day, share a recipe or ask relevant and exciting questions to prompt audience engagement.
You might gain followers from compelling imagery but without a brand voice, you are missing out on cultivating fans and driving authentic engagement.
3. Bad Hashtags
By now we know that hashtags are an important part of Instagram marketing and help people outside of your followers find your feed. Makes sense that you would want to use the most popular hashtags to reach the most people then, right? Wrong.
For Kenzie I used an Instagram hashtag app to find the 29 most popular hashtags on Instagram.
I decided that the more popular they are, the more people will search them, the more people will see Kenzie and then the more likes and followers she would get.
These were then used on every post and the last hashtag was something vaguely relevant to the photo (#vegan, #beach, #music, #thesehashtagsareaterribleidea).
The problem with using ‘popular’ hashtags like this is that they are irrelevant to the post and the best demographic for Kenzie’s profile.
Their popularity also means that people are UNLIKELY to see your posts. #love is one of the most popular hashtags and has multiple posts per second show up when you search it.
As a result Kenzie’s posts are buried by new content in under a minute with next to no engagement to show for it.
Within 5 minutes, her engagement has virtually ceased at 20 likes and 1 comment on a good day.
Using relevant and niche hashtags means you will stay in the recent posts section for a longer time and reach an audience that is actually interested in your content.
Even the best hashtags for your business lose their effectiveness if you constantly use the same tags on every post.
- Problem 1 is that you are only ever reaching the same audience. Try using less hashtags per post (11 seems to have the highest engagement), have a wide selection relevant to your brand that you can rotate through and use these with post specific hashtags to continually reach new people.
- Problem 2 is that repetition will likely have Instagram thinking you are spamming your audience and lead to lower organic reach and a potential shadowban.
Remember, you’re trying to create valuable content and build an audience, not drive them away. Approaching your hashtag strategy in this manner will result in higher engagement and more followers.
How to solve this Instagram marketing mistake?
Combat this by using an Instagram scheduler like Schedugr.am to place a highly-specific hashtag within the first comment of your posts.
4. Inconsistent Posting
Marketing 101 – consistency builds trust with your audience.
When you have an engaged following they know when to expect new content and will actively look for it beyond what shows up in their feed.
Kenzie ignored this and varied her posting schedule from starting with 3 per day, to 1 per day, took a week off and then spammed her feed with 6 posts.
Unsurprisingly there was noticeable decline when the spam took place after her extended hiatus.
Kenzie’s next mistake with posting was ignoring her statistics and not posting at peak time for her followers.
There are a number of sites that provide free insights into audience behaviour including peak traffic and engagement times.
You can also see a basic overview in the app if you have registered for a business account which allows you to post at the best times for your audience.
5. Like for Like/Follow for Follow
It’s an easy mistake to assume that Instagram is just a numbers game.
The more engagement and followers you have is often used as a key metric for success. While it can be a useful measurement, its value exists only when dealing with an authentic audience.
For Kenzie’s first week on Instagram I spent a significant amount of time searching related follow and like tags and engaging with different Instagrammers in the hopes they would do the same.
Unsurprisingly the hashtags I used (generated as the most popular tags) largely consisted of #f4f and other variations.
Yes I was getting a lot of likes and growing my following quickly but they weren’t truly engaging with my content.
In that first week I had 1 person click the link in my bio (to Kenzie’s Facebook page) and no comments apart from generic and likely bot generated ‘nice’ and ‘good one’ styles.
If your page primarily serves as a vanity feed then this type of engagement might be up your alley but if you are using it for business purposes then this serves no purpose apart from wasting your time.
6. Apps and Websites for Followers and Engagement
We’ve all seen the ads for ‘real followers’ and ‘100% authentic likes’ so I put them to the test.
The first clue that this was a TERRIBLE idea was when the second app I downloaded showed a fake AppleID login message and subsequently charged me $150 for a premium version without permission… Thanks again Prashant from iTunes for getting that sorted.
Feeling slightly jaded I continued and found a number of follow/like trading apps.
These were time consuming but my numbers grew! Next step was the websites where I could get up to 25 followers, 150 likes and 50 comments with the click of a button.
All of these promised real and engaged accounts and the trade-off was that they use my account to return the favour to other users.
This is where most of Kenzie’s engagement came from. With a few minutes a day I was racking up hundreds of new followers and receiving over 700 likes and 100 comments on every post.
7. The Results
Now I’m at the end of my experiment I’ve run a test on my last post. 4 hours after posting with the same style caption and hashtags I have received 7 likes. From my 5098 followers.
Actually looking at followers through Instagram insights shows that I have a 78% male audience predominantly from India and Indonesia.
For an Australian lifestyle Instagrammer this seems a little strange, even if I was using sites to get ‘real’ followers.
Looking through the accounts following only confirms that despite the promises from these websites, the better part of my 5098 followers are fake accounts.
I know I set out to have Kenzie #fail at Instagram, but even I have to admit that this is a little bit crazy. Since that first week I have had 1 link click from my bio and am only reaching 2-5% of my followers each week.
Probably because they are the only active accounts that follow me.
While it may be tempting to take shortcuts to boost your Instagram game, in the end it’s not worth it.
The 20 hours I spent sourcing stock images and trying to cheat the system has not provided any value to the account, if anything it has had a tragic effect on Instagram view of me if the number of times I’ve been temporarily locked out is anything to go by.
20 hours over a month could have gone to creating original content, engaging with my target market and taking time to craft compelling captions and research relevant hashtags.
I may only get 100 engaged followers a week instead of 1000 that way, but that’s 100 more real ones than I have now.
Moral of the story, don’t try to hack the system. If there was a shortcut that worked, everyone would be doing it.
About the author
Keely Dornom is a digital marketer in the functions and hospitality industry and a freelance writer and social media manager. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.