Welcome to ‘Flick Talks,’ a new series on our blog where we talk with avid Flick users about their experiences growing their Instagram accounts. You’ll learn some top tips and takeaways that you can employ in your own Instagram strategy, from viral Instagram strategies to quality content ideas. So strap in, and hear from a few friends of Flick!
In the first installment of this series, we sat down with Jack Leonard Birt, Denver, Colorado native and social media marketing aficionado since 2013. He manages a group of accounts, including nature photography page @aswediscover, which has racked up over 177k followers to date. Impressive, right? Let’s get stuck in.
How long have you been running your current main account – @aswediscover?
About a year. I didn’t initially start it though – I was working with a company, who make cell phone cases with mobile photography gear. I got on a project with them which revolved around travel and they wanted me to purchase an Instagram account to help them promote their trips.
They purchased an Instagram account that was at about 100k followers. From there we slowly found out that the people following the profile were people that just liked nice photos and weren’t really converting. Because of this, they wanted to sell that account – instead, I ended up keeping it in exchange for one week’s worth of free work. Over the course of a year, I grew it by a further 77k followers.
What were your key moments, that clicked in your mind and made you realise, I need to do more of that to grow my account or make my Instagram go viral?
I use the program Smart Metrics, and I attached their analytics to the account when I got it. There were high-quality HDR photos on the profile when I first obtained it, and they were doing quite well (4k-5k likes per post). When the brand took it over they wanted more of the popular-style travel photography so I had to post in a more ‘moody faded style’ which actually decreased the engagement by more than 50% to about 700-1000 likes per post. It made me realise that clearly, these are not the kind of photos that resonate with the account’s audience.
So when the content deviated out of the niche it made the engagement drop?
Yeah, so it’s still photography related but it was the style of photography which was making no one engage. When I took it over I looked at what was successful in the past, and researched those posts to find a likeness. I started posting similar high-quality photos and began getting 5k-8k likes.
Then, I found other accounts that were posting in my niche – which is when I hit the highest figure in my engagement in January this year. There was this one guy who was posting and doing well at the time and he had a similar likeness to my account. So, I saw one photo that did really well on his page (30kish likes) and I decided to post it too, to see how it did on my account. Now to this day, that post has the highest engagement on my account (53k likes) and from then on, I started posting that kind of content. So, I just test, test, test and then bounce off of similar accounts.
I think some people might be scared to post one kind of style of content – but actually, it could be that doubling down on that content and keeping it as similar as possible is the best thing you can do to make your Instagram page viral.
How many times a day were you posting then, and what about now?
When I first got the account, I was posting once or twice a day, and then when I found out what started working I started posting 3 times a day.
However, I ended up getting a few more client accounts and it became hard to manage 3 posts a day across the 4 different accounts I was managing. So currently I’m posting 2 a day on those. I really think that looking at the metrics allows you to find when your followers are most engaged by time, so I mainly pay attention to this.
Two times a day is where you’re at now – if you had more time would you be doing more?
Yeah, like at least three. Usually, I post a 9am photo and a 12pm photo. Sometimes, I’ll post three if I can. I usually try and find a carousel or a video towards the end of the day, and at night I’ll throw something different like that in, and sometimes they perform better than the other two posts.
So you’re trying to mix up the format? What’s the thought process behind that?
I’m still kind of testing, there’s only so much you can do with just imagery so every now and again I like to put a carousel or a video. For example, I posted a video yesterday and it did way better than the previous seven day’s posts which were just static images. This sort of made me think I should post more videos – which then made me consider I could just post about videos of travel. Since I’ve started to post videos they get way more engagement so I thought why not go with that?
On hashtag use in general – what are the best results you’ve got, and what are your average results? What’s the volatility, fluctuations etc.?
My best performing post has been using hashtags with Flick actually. That post received over 450k impressions from hashtags. But the success is always from a combination of different things, like hashtags, content quality, the time I post etc. There’s a tonne of different variables.
So I have a video I just posted a couple days ago – this one went to the explore page – for hashtags I got 6731 impressions and 33k impressions from home. On another post, I got 25k impressions from hashtags, and 19k from home, so it really fluctuates, on another day it was pretty much 50/50.
So when hashtags perform well on your posts, they increase your coverage by about 50%?
Yeah so it kind of shows you don’t necessarily need to hit the explore page to go viral on Instagram. My most liked photos have 54k likes, and had a total of 471k impressions from hashtags. So, from ‘home’ on that one I got 47k, which was so drastic in terms of difference. It ranked on every single hashtag I used at least once – it’s very rare for it to all be at the same time.
Maybe it ranked on a hashtag and got featured. Do you have any idea which one it came from?
I’m not sure, but the biggest ones that I’m seeing pull results are #earthpix and #beautifuldestinations – just big hitters.
Interesting, so this brings us to another question – what’s the process for selecting your hashtags – is it the same as if you’re a large or small account?
I use a technique called the ladder system, which works in a systematic way. I’ll create three hashtag groups that are comprised of hashtags that I know I will perform well on (group 1), hashtags that I am likely to perform well on (group 2), and hashtags that are larger, and harder to rank on (group 3).
Here’s a visualization at the idea behind the ladder strategy:
I’ll find ten hashtags that I classify as the ‘biggest’ and those are quite high volume, competitive hashtags that receive a lot of views. I’ll input these into Flick’s Advanced Search Filters. So, that would be my ‘target goal.’
Then, the way I find a hashtag first, – for example, if it’s a photo that’s location based e.g. a photo in Bali – I’ll find something on Instagram first that would be suitable like ‘#baliadventures’ which I’ll plug in to Flick to find like minded hashtags – I’ll select a few of those and that’ll be my first set. Then I will find one that has the most engagement and expand it, to create my mid-range set of ten which will be representative of the average engagement I’m getting all the time.
Do the search parameters you plug in change depending on the different sets you use?
Yes, so for group three I would use hashtags from a minimum (average likes) of 500 to a maximum of 1k because I know in the first half hour to hour I’ll get past that – so I’ll pretty much automatically rank on those hashtags. The idea is that at the beginning the post will build up slowly, then I’ll hit the middle group of hashtags, and then I’ll hit my top which are my target for my Instagram post to go viral. You’ll definitely hit some of the hashtags, but my goal at the top is honestly hit or miss.
Yeah so it’s not 100% you’ll rank but if you do – big opportunity and potential for your Instagram post to go viral.
Yeah so if you get that top you’ll see a much higher like count and engagement.
And on a smaller account, same system?
Yep, just different numbers. So on my smaller account, @breathe, my max is hashtags with posts that get an average of 2-5k likes.
On the smaller account how are your hashtag results?
For example, on my smaller account one of the posts got 1128 impressions from hashtags and 1170 from home so pretty much 50/50. I always find that if your post has the most reach from home unless you have a tonne of followers, your results will be average, as hashtags are providing 50% extra coverage when they rank well.
So you see a correlation, when the impressions from home are more than hashtags it doesn’t go well.
Yeah they are usually my lowest engaged posts, or just sit at the middle ground.
So when you post, how do you see the responses on your smaller or bigger accounts?
One of my other viral Instagram posts that hit 20k showed initially that most of my impressions were from the explore page. But then a day later when I checked it, and it had switched from explore to hashtags.
So when it got to explore, Instagram registered that your content was good for a specific niche, helping you rank on similar hashtags – so explore is like a curation for hashtags.
Yeah, and I wouldn’t judge it from the first hour, cause it will change on me. I’ll post a photo and It’ll be show most of the impressions from home for the first hour, and then 2-3 hours later it will just be hashtags for example.
Yeah so a lot of people want to know when they’ll see results come from hashtag strategies?
Definitely not straight away. Even just 5 minutes after posting, it won’t show any data. Hashtags tend to build up more impressions over 2-3 days after the post was made also.
How often do you switch up the hashtags?
Every post. It does well for me but there were some moments when I was using the same general hashtag set for every post which performed averagely. But, for me personally on @aswediscover, my theme is the craziest spots in the world so every photo has a different location. So, I’m trying to rank and go viral on Instagram for location hashtag sets.
I want global followers and that’s why I try and do this. I usually do a different set of hashtags every time, dependant on location, but there are some I keep similar. For more contextual posts like the ones I do on wildlife photography, I’ll use a similar set of hashtags each time. You need to have a variety of different groups of hashtags, for each type of content you post. And then I have a branded hashtag I use on all posts to keep it all organized.