How you’re F$%#ing up your Instagram engagement

Marketing on Instagram can be kind of an enigma. It feels like just as you’ve finally figured out the secret to gaming the algorithm– boom, they change the algorithm. I think it feels that way because it is that way. Just as businesses and marketers figure out how to leverage these changes, Instagram becomes aware of them as well and they change it intentionally. After all, if we’re gaming the algorithm to get our brand out there, we’re not paying to play and they’ve got bills.

However, in all my years of experience as a social media consultant, I’ve noticed one thing to always be true, across all platforms:


Algorithm changes won’t hurt you too much if you’re posting shit that your followers want to see. We all want to blame algorithm changes or things beyond our control, but a lot of times those algorithm changes can just bring to light our own weak content plan.

In my experience, there are six main factors that will affect your engagement on Instagram.

1. You’re not replying to comments

Maybe it feels or sounds like a hassle to you but if someone took the time to write a comment on your post, you should reply. Just say a quick, “thanks!” I am guilty of not following this advice. Life can get in the way and sometimes Instagram can be an afterthought. Just take a few minutes each day to reply to all left in the last 24 hours.

Now if you regularly get dozens of comments, this advice will be tedious, but you should try to reply to 5-10 if you’re looking for growth.

2. You’re not engaging with other accounts

One sure fire way to make sure your posts are showing up in your followers’ feeds is to like and comment on their photos too. It’s funny how that works, but I do believe that Instagram rewards genuine participation (more on the genuine bit later).

This is such an important aspect to your engagement. If you’re looking for growth you need to reach out to your followers and spread the love you’re getting and want more of.

3. You’re not leveraging stories

As an experiment, I didn’t make any posts on my main feed for almost two weeks and only posted to my stories. For a lot of folks who are actively trying to grow their followings, the thought of not posting for that long probably induced some panic about losing followers and engagement. Wrong.

While I didn’t increase in followers, I was able to maintain the number I had and as a bonus, when I did post again in the main feed, I maintained the same organic engagement I had before the break. I also didn’t use many hashtags for outreach purposes in my stories, and I believe if I had, I would have seen an actual increase in followers.

The moral is Instagram Stories matter. And even if you need a break from the curated perfection of the feed, Stories are meant to be unfiltered, low key, and fun. You don’t need the level of attention to detail.

4. You’re following to unfollow

You are doing yourself a huge disservice when you’re following accounts just to unfollow them when they reciprocate. First of all, it’s annoying and disheartening for the other account. Second of all, it makes it that much harder for your content to get seen by those new followers.

Take a look around at some accounts that have a ton of followers but are only following a few hundred. Then do the engagement math. A lot of time less than 1% of their followers are liking and commenting on their posts. There’s no point in having 100k followers if you can’t even break 1000 likes on a post.

5. You’re using automation to like or comment

This is a practice that Instagram has routinely discouraged. Just don’t do it. Please. You will absolutely screw yourself over in the long run. It literally will only take you 10 minutes a day to just scroll through, like some posts and leave a comment or four. This brings me back to that genuine content thing. You need to just be a real human, even in your likes and comments. Instagram absolutely can tell where you’re liking and commenting from, even if it’s in your web browser.

6. Your content is plain old missing the mark

Finally, as I said at the very beginning, content is queen. If you’re doing everything else technically correct and you’re still not seeing growth in engagement and followers, the only thing it can come down to is your content.

If you want to figure out how to create better content for Instagram you can do a few things:

  • First, a content audit. Go through all of your posts from the last year, or if you post a lot maybe just the last 3 or 6 months, and see which ones got the most likes and comments. If you have a business account, you can get this information through Insights. Make more content like the successful posts.
  • Poll your followers in a post or using the poll feature in Stories. People are surprisingly willing to tap those little yeses or nos.
  • Research what other similar accounts are doing. Find accounts with various following sizes who post a similar type of content and see what seems to be working for their pages

And that, folks, is how you’re very likely fucking up your Instagram engagement and it probably has nothing (or little) to do with algorithm changes.

If you’re looking for more information on finding your audience on Instagram, or any social media site, for your business or blog download my free workbook: Finding Your Audience.

Main photo by Georgia de Lotz on Unsplash. Pinterest graphic Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash.

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