Growing on Instagram in 2021

Jul 10, 2021 | Small Business | 0 comments

For those of you who live and breathe Instagram (i.e. many creators/influencers/brands), the recent changes “officially” announced by head of IG Adam Mosseri probably didn’t come as much of a shock — IG has been undergoing massive changes for the last year and have added many new features including the big one: launching Reels in 2019 to be competitive with other successful platforms like TikTok. (Remember when they added Stories to compete with SnapChat?) 

I have written several articles before regarding my experiences with IG growth. You can find my first article from 2018 HERE. And an update from last year HERE when I “quit” IG for a while.  By sharing my perspective (which is only one of many), hopefully it brings some value to you.

Well, it’s been another year. And a suitable time for discussing what has and has not changed in how I manage my Instagram, which is our #1 marketing lead. In June 2021, head of IG Adam Mosseri put together an overview of the IG algorithm on the Creators website, but it only really picked up this month in response to his video (which contains all the same info, somehow only at 210K views which tells me the message hasn’t gone as far as it should have… ) – what the heck is going on?

Just like everyone else, IG’s own content has to be distributed across various platforms, methods of communication (in written, visual and audio forms) to reach the most eyeballs. I recently shared some preliminary thoughts in my other account HERE, and I want to expand on those thoughts. 

What I do appreciate about all this: that they are being a bit more transparent, they are explaining how the various algorithms work, and I think they do set realistic expectations. 

While we can overthink “the algorithm” to death, the simplest way to look at it is: anything that will get users to stay on the platform longer. So it doesn’t care if it’s “good” “bad” or “mis/dis” information – as long as it’s got your attention, it’ll serve up more of that kind of content to you/your viewers. 

I would also pause your attention and say it loudly: Social Media is designed to be social – meaning if you expect your audience to engage, you also need to engage. It works both ways. 

Because attention span is the commodity here, engagement is highly valued to get more eyeballs on your stuff. And because we are focused on doing what the CONSUMER market wants, changes are not sitting well with some of us creators/small businesses. 

Before I deep dive: my priorities in life and business have shifted immensely in the last year. After a decade of hustling and working like a crazy person and giving up so much in the areas of relationships, mental health, experiences.. I’m ready to move business into a direction that gives me more time to simply… exist. Something hard to do in this technology age.

Things I continue to do:

  • Build authentic engagement by only creating content that brings me joy. If it doesn’t or seems like a massive chore, I delay and do it when I am “in the mood”. When I half ass my stories or posts, I feel the effects in the metrics. Every. Single. Time. 
  • Be my authentic self – and that can change over time based on how I change as a person.
  • Build relationships via DMs, comments, story interactions, etc. Over the years, many of these IG relationships have developed into friendships IRL – don’t force anything, let it come naturally – those who vibe well together will gravitate toward each other
  • Post on my feed about 2-3 times a week max. Post stories and engage in other ways every single day as much as my heart desires. (I talk about this later- but I really haven’t been as consistent as I “should” be)

Things I do differently now vs before – as Borderlands Bakery grew, changes needed to happen to sustain that growth, in a way that wasn’t going to run me into the ground.

  • We started running ads for the first time! I’m working with my friends over @greydotmedia to help with figuring out how to run these things – as a business, my main goal is to get eyeballs on my content, and once you hit a certain point in your business, I feel the organic growth slow down, this is why we decided to start running ads. I absolutely DO NOT think ads are required for growth, especially if you’re a business sitting under 100K revenue per year. But as you grow beyond that, it can help take some of the marketing burden off me (creator/business owner, who is running 1000 other projects) I look at it as a way to outsource a bit of my time. 
  • I turned my story comments and reactions back on – it seems* to increase my engagement just a little but I have no data to back this feeling up
  • I make more Reels. To compete with TikTok, IG implemented this in 2019 and I have to say it’s been super fun FOR ME.  I resisted it at first (like anything else… I don’t adapt to change as much as I’d like to) but quickly got over that mentality. Change is the one constant in life.
  • I have gotten increasingly more private about my life. This actually *hurts* my IG engagement as I prefer not to share as much I have done before. With the increased eyeballs on content, I prefer to keep it more about work, less about my life. I share my explicit content over at my lifestyle/business account @workwithlisahe 

Things I avoid like the plague:

  • Engagement groups or Pods: I was a part of these groups in about the 2017 time frame. But I stopped participating because I did not feel like I was getting the authentic engagement I wanted. I also feel people catch on and it ultimately damages your account rather than help. Love my pod group of people though, I do think we connected out of genuine desire to help each other. 
  • Forcing myself to post when I like seriously, SERIOUSLY do not want to be on social media. 
  • Participate in “follow” trains- I have been getting an increasing amount of DM requests from people I don’t know – huge DM groups that basically are an extension of engagement groups with the sole purpose of cross pollinating their follower base – while you have to do what you have to do, I’m not sure if this is the best way to obtain an engaged following
  • Buy followers via follow trains, giveaways, etc.

Metrics, patterns and what I *think* they mean (cuz will I ever really know? Probably not):

  • My follower count has steadily hovered around 173-174K the last 6 months, photos/video likes range from 2K – 15K (rare) Video likes are always, ALWAYS higher.
  • Every time I discuss social or political things in my stories, followers leave in droves, like thousands, and that is OK: this is my account, I can discuss the things I want (also: I do these things respectfully and avoid reposting mis/dis information…), the messages I post are relevant and authentic to me 
  • If there are major events going on around the world, engagement drops, period, often cut in half. Honestly and understandably, who cares about baking content when there are more important, dire things to address? 
  • When IG is rolling out an update or there are regulatory changes related to the app, things always slow down, I see about 70% of my usual story views. 
  • When I truly enjoy what I’m showing, I always, always see my metrics go up. My story views for when I’m reposting others’ stories and doing kinda mundane things, get between 5K-7K views per day. When I’m creating something and taking you along for the ride, and it’s fun, I can shoot up to 10-15k. For reference, I was most “engaged” according to the numbers, when I had 75-80K followers and getting around 15K views on stories consistently for about a year. It was a great time for engagement. But that time for me has now passed 🙂  
  • My feed engagement is alllllll over the place for 1 big reason: I am no longer consistent with the timing of my posts because I made a decision that I was doing this for joy, not for the algorithm, but that may need to change because I have a business now that pays people beyond myself and there is a responsibility to get marketing dialed back in. If I cannot prove myself to the algorithm that I am a reliable and consistent creator… it does make sense that they don’t prioritize me. Hey- I made my bed, I will sleep in it. 

For 2021, if I were to summarize the changes that IG has implemented based on reviewing the Creator Website and listening to Adam Mosseri, here are my major takeaways:

  • IG will prioritize video content. Photos are still supported, but they are not as prioritized a video, because the consumer behavior is clear– consumers respond better to videos. If you really hate this, please make sure to provide your feedback to IG. But unless they have a good reason to make changes, they probably won’t. 
  • If you use your IG account as your portfolio and you do pictures only, please keep doing that. However, if you need more global eyeballs on your brand, please consider learning how to create video content.
  • IG will have more spending capability to support creators and businesses, meaning you’ll see the ability to virtually tip your creators, or shop directly from businesses directly in the app. 
  • This isn’t NEW, but was reiterated: YOU have the ability to control what YOU want to see by interacting with the accounts that YOU care about. That means liking their content (the easiest), commenting, reacting to stories, viewing and participating in whatever your creator is putting out there. If you want to change up who you see on your feed, interact more with the people you want to see, more, interact less with those you don’t want to see, or “mute” them (google how to) in case you don’t want to offend anyone by unfollowing. If you no longer see someone’s content you enjoy, you need to start interacting with their content and within a few days it’ll start popping back up again. — I got so many DMs about people hating on TikTok because they think it’s all silly dance videos (which are still entertaining, yes??) — Well, this is also a great strategy to use if you get stuck on “Dance Tik Tok” – Diversify your feed by exploring and engaging with other content!
  • Hashtags: IG has allowed up to 30 hashtags in the past, but direct from the source- about 15 targeted and relevant hashtags will get you better value for your efforts
  • Making Videos: I know this can seem daunting at first, but if your goal is to get more eyeballs, there are something that you have to do (esp. If you’re using a free tool like IG) — I mean everything has rules/guidelines and I choose to view this similarly. Videos are a huge separate topic, but my two cents are: keep it simple, create content in a way that fits into the work you’re already doing. My favorite “easy” videos that take just about 15 minutes to create include:
    • time lapses (of you decorating, cleaning, packaging, literally doing anything), prop up your phone and work for 10 min. The important thing here is to get it at an angle that is appealing, which takes experimenting
    • Before/after – using video clips, photos that you already have of your naked work, work in progress, to final reveal
    • Pan over your work – a simple pan of your work, and cutting every few second will redirect consumer attention – we have the attention span of gold fish now so “cutting” helps with that
    • Slide Shows with existing photos – use apps like Vivavideo, InShot, Adobe Premier Rush
  • Call to Actions: A call to action is something you (as the content creator), asks of your community to result in some kind of action like a “like”, “comment”, “reaction”, “share”, etc. 

Another thing to keep in mind: not everyone sees everything you post. You can post what seems to be (to YOU) repetitive content, but I guarantee that for someone viewing your content, it’s new and fresh for them. And yes, there will also be those people who follow your content obsessively and won’t be as fun for them.. But the key here is to balance the old and the new.

Lastly: what is your goal? To share your work with others? To teach? To inspire? Simply to have fun? Whatever it is, hang on to that goal because it will keep you sane when your metrics are crap. Keep sharing. Persistence and consistency are also behaviors that will help you build a long-term relationship with your community. I’m human just like you and get discouraged, frustrated, burnt out, resentful. But coming back to my “why” almost always pulls me out of this kind of spiraling negativity. 

I would also drop here that if your goal is to target local clientele, your marketing strategy may not be as social media forward – for example, if I owned a local bakery, my social media behavior would differ from someone like me, who offers globally accessible digital products. Think about it! 

With that, I leave you with my 45 min, candid live where I share more thoughts about the IG changes, context, answer questions, etc.: 


If you have any further thoughts or want to discuss, please drop us a comment below. Thanks for reading! 

PS – If we brought value to you, best way to support us is to engage with our content (like, comment, share), or make a shop / class purchase.


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