Growth Letter #1 - Instagram

Greetings 🙌🏻

This is my first growth letter and it sheds light on how to market your brand effectively using Instagram. The tips and strategies shared in this growth letter are based on my experience with marketing brands on Instagram.

For the new ones here, do check out the other posts I have written if you haven’t

  1. The Ultimate Guide to Marketing on Twitter

  2. The Ultimate Guide to Marketing on Quora

  3. The Ultimate Guide to Marketing on Pinterest

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Off to the topic,

Instagram Marketing Tips and Strategies

Instagram is personally one of my favorite social media platforms. Over the years, Instagram made the product safer and engaging but it gradually reduced the organic reach (similar to what Facebook did).

Regarding my experience with Instagram, I grew @writersnetwork from 0 to 69K in less than 9 months. I performed numerous growth experiments on Instagram to figure out what works and what does not. Here’s how you can up your game on Instagram.

Profile Optimization

Have a powerful profile: Mention the name of your brand in the “Name” section, add a link to your website or a key resource, have the logo of the brand as the display picture, and write a few lines about the brand in the Bio section. You can also mention relevant accounts, hashtags, and emojis in the Bio section! Note that the Bio has a limit of 150 characters.

Make sure your website or the key resource you mention in the “Website” section of your Instagram profile is mobile optimized as Instagram is mostly used on mobile and tablet devices.

Once your account is set up for publishing content, ask your friends, family, and professional network to follow your account. Link your account from your brand’s website, include it in your emails, and within the product (if you can).

Content Creation

Once you have optimized your profile and have gained a few followers, it’s time to up your content game on Instagram. Instagram offers multiple types of content to be uploaded.


You can upload pictures, short stories, and GIFs as posts. A post can have a maximum of 30 hashtags that can be included within the caption or as a comment. I personally put hashtags within the caption as when someone reshares your post on their profile, the hashtags increase the reach of these reshared posts. I have shared my strategy for choosing hashtags in this growth letter. Keep reading!

You can tag up to 20 accounts on a post. When you tag an account in your post, your post gets shown in the “Tagged Posts” Feed of the tagged account (see below image).

Accounts can choose to show or hide the posts they are tagged in.

The post caption has an upper limit of 2200 characters. By 2020, Instagram feeds will be filled with an average caption length of 405 characters — which averages out to be 65-70 words!

Here’s how the length of the caption affects the engagement:

Here’s the source for the above two statistics. You can see that posts with longer captions get better engagement.

For location-based posts, add locations to the posts. The location option on the post gives you an option to smartly market your posts. For example: check out the location of the post shown in the below image.

Your Instagram posts feed must look visually appealing. Use grid layouts and plan out the design of your Instagram grid before creating the posts. Here’s an example of an Instagram grid layout:

Check out these 9 types of Instagram grid layouts. There are plenty of grid layout templates pinned on this Pinterest board. You can use apps like Planoly, Preview, or Plann to plan your Instagram grid layouts.

You can even repurpose your blog content for even more Instagram content ideas.


You can also upload pictures, short videos, meme videos, and GIFs as stories. There’s a 15-second limit for an individual story. If you upload a video that’s longer than 15 seconds, Instagram will chop it into 15-second pieces for you.

Stories can be added to profiles, hashtags, and locations. Each story can be added to a single account, a single location, and multiple hashtags. I have shared my strategy for choosing the hashtags for stories in this growth letter. Keep reading!

You can tag/mention accounts, add GIFs and stickers, create polls and quizzes, ask questions, add text, add links (swipe-up to visit link) and songs, and apply filters to your stories.

Instagram tools like Boomerang and Layouts can be used in stories! Boomerang creates a loop that starts to play forward and then it plays backward, creating a neat, GIF-like video. Boomerang videos do not include audio.

Check out these 10 apps for creating mind-blowing Instagram stories.


Engage with the ones who like or comment on your posts. Visit their profiles, like 3 of their posts, and comment on their latest post. Don’t follow them at this point if you do not know them personally.

On following the above process, here’s what they are most likely to do - visit your profile, like and comment on your posts, and maybe follow your account. Follow this process as soon as you share a new post.

Tag community accounts in your posts. Use community hashtags. If your post is good enough, you may get featured on community pages. Believe me, it’s totally worth it.

You’ll end up gaining followers if you follow this approach.

Hashtag Strategy

Create multiple hashtag sets. Each hashtag set can have a maximum of 30 hashtags. Your hashtag set could consist of 10 small-size, 10 mid-size, and 10 large-size hashtags.

Here’s how I generally categorize a hashtag when I’m in the initial stages of building an Instagram community: If the hashtag has less than 10,000 posts in it, it is a small-size hashtag. If the hashtag has 10,000 to 200,000 posts in it, it is a mid-size hashtag. If the hashtag has more than 200,000 posts in it, it is a large-size hashtag. Note that if my account already has more than 50K followers, my categorization will be different from the one I mentioned previously.

A large portion of the audience on Instagram view large-size hashtags in real-time. However, it is extremely difficult to have your post among the top posts in the hashtag. Use large-size hashtags to get likes and comments on your posts as soon as your post goes live.

As soon as your post gets engagement from the large-size hashtags, it gets enough engagement to land up among the top posts in small-size hashtags. Our ultimate goal should be to get our post among the top posts in mid-size hashtags.

You must not use banned hashtags in your posts. Always check your hashtags before using them. To make sure a hashtag is safe to use, you must be able to see all posts in that hashtag (in the recent feed as well as in the top feed). Here’s how a banned hashtag looks like:

Engage with posts in hashtags and locations. As soon as your post goes live, it needs likes and comments so as to hit the top posts in small and mid-size hashtags. Hence, like and comment on recent posts of mid-size hashtags. If your brand provides location-based services, engage with posts in locations or location-based hashtags (say #delhidiaries for the location Delhi).

Strategies for Instagram Stories

Re-share posts from Influencers in your stories tagging them. Provide extra value to your audience. Influencers may re-share your story on their stories. Who doesn’t like getting featured on an account with (let’s say) 20K+ followers?!

Use links in stories. If you have more than 10K followers on your Instagram account, you can add swipe-up links to your stories.

Give your audience a chance to interact with your content in a lively manner. Create polls in stories to better engage your audience. Create funnels using polls (I’ll discuss this some other day).

Let your audience know you or your brand better. Conduct AMA (ask me anything) in stories using the “Ask me a question” widget.

Use multiple hashtags in Stories. To start with, create 2/3 stories every day (well-spaced in time) and use only 1 (different) hashtag per story. Do this to know the hashtags for which your stories get featured in the hashtag. Once you know the hashtags which are good for you, use them (up to 3) in your stories. Hide hashtags behind other story elements. If your brand provides location-based services, use a location in your story.

Highlight your stories.

Avoid Malpractices

Avoid malpractices on Instagram. Don’t buy likes, comments, or followers. Build your audience bit by bit - there’s no shortcut to success on Instagram. Also, don’t follow accounts and then unfollow them. It damages your reputation. Not only do you lose followers, but the engagement rate of your page reduces. Thus, your posts have a lesser chance now to be in the top posts section of the hashtags.

Instagram Tools

These are my favorite tools for Instagram:

  1. Social Status

  2. Instagram Engagement Calculator by Phlanx

  3. Instagram Analytics

  4. Iconosquare Instagram Analytics (+ much more)

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