Instagram Community Management 101: The Ultimate Guide

A person holding a phone, scrolling through someone's profile.

Community management is often the missing piece of an otherwise well-rounded social media marketing strategy. Many agencies and freelancers won’t offer it, and many clients—especially if they aren’t well-versed in digital marketing— won’t notice that it’s missing.

In 2022, with all of us spending a lot more time online and on social media, one-sided communication from your Instagram account just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Instead, you want to establish a community where your followers like to come back— not only to see what you post, but to hear what you have to say, ask questions, and make a meaningful connection.

After all, having tens of thousands of ghost followers is as good as having zero, while having 50 engaging and loyal followers who are potential prospects to become your clients, consumers, or network associates (or are just users who really, really love your content) are much more valuable than the trailing zeros you can add to your “growth” statistics.

Sure, a regular posting cadence, great visuals, catchy captions, and a well-researched hashtag repository are all necessary (because nobody will follow a dead account that last posted a year ago, either), but if there is no human interaction behind the account, people are going to notice… and hit unfollow really quickly. Here’s your ultimate guide on how to avoid that scenario.

Come Out Of The Shadow To Gain Followers

Sometimes, without paid advertisement or influencer marketing, accounts simply stagnate. If you’ve just created your account or you see a plateau in engagement for quite a while, it’s time to knock on a few virtual doors to make yourself seen. While we advocate quality over quantity, that doesn’t limit you from how many accounts you’re going to reach out to. Chances are that the algorithm has already shown your account to the followers of your current followers, and if they haven’t been interested, it’s time to change the “marketplace” and increase your account’s visibility through interaction with new accounts. 

An instagram screenshot from a marketing statistics account showing that fact on a computer.

Start off by scooting through the explore page and looking at some recent posts that contain hashtags related to your industry, or hashtags that your prospects may use. If you’re a marketing agency, for example, you may want to look at #founders or #entrepreneurs, or if you’re a bakery, start looking at #foodlover or #foodstagram.*

Drop some comments down on a couple of posts with good engagement, just to get your name out there. If you see the same account using the hashtag on a regular basis while also typically having users debating in the comment section, give them a follow and join the conversations. You can even share some posts on your stories — chances are they will appreciate the gesture and do the same in return.

Instagram screenshot showing the keyword "food" in the search bar and the hashtag results.

*Pro-tip: you can look at hashtag volumes directly in the Instagram app by typing your target keyword in the search bar, then selecting “Tags.” The number of times the tag was used (in other words, how popular it is) will be shown under the search result.

Like For Like, Follow For Follow

Have you ever posted a selfie on Instagram featuring your favorite t-shirt, beverage, or lipstick, and then noticed later that the brand liked or commented on your picture? Did you feel somewhat special at that moment? Were you happy to see they noticed? Has that made you love the brand more? You see where we’re going with this. If you notice a couple of people rising above the crowd with their interest level in your business, give them some love back. Like a few of their pictures, even if it’s just a shot of their morning coffee. Give them a follow back.  Let them know that you notice them and appreciate them sticking around. 

Instagram screenshot showing a business replying to a follower's comment positively.

This strategy is especially important with B2B businesses. Like you, the businesses on Instagram that follow your account may have done so wanting you as their future customer or partner. If you don’t become their prospect, they will at least expect to see some engagement from you and have you in their Instagram network. If they don’t, they will probably turn their efforts elsewhere. A simple double-tap on their latest post may convince them to stay.

Be Authentic – and Don’t Spam

Don’t do the #f4f tag trend. You will learn very quickly that it will bring you a huge wave of users who want to rise to influencer status and just want a follow back to increase their numbers. They aren’t your consumers, and their loyal and engaging followers more often than not have nothing to do with your business. Make sure to stay relevant and only connect with (and follow back) the people you actually want in your community.

This also means carefully selecting accounts for your cold outreach. Instead of commenting on people’s pictures asking for a follow back, or messaging someone based on only one post you stumbled upon on the explore page, open their account and see if it was an exception or if they’re really involved in your niche. That extra minute could save you (and your brand) quite some embarrassment.

A screenshot showing a business' unsuccessful attempt at cold outreach via Instagram direct messages.

Answer Those DMs

Many businesses don’t view their messages on social media simply because they have other means of communication set in place, but users’ logic is that if you have an account, and there is an option to send you a direct message, you are available for direct messaging. 

According to Hootsuite, 64% of social media users of all age groups prefer to text businesses rather than making a call or sending an email. If your inbox keeps getting cluttered and you keep ignoring it— or even worse, leaving people on read— you may come off as unapproachable and uncaring. 

A screenshot showing a client messaging a business about a discount multiple times, but there were no replies.

The same rule applies to comments. Sure, if you have a large account with thousands of followers, replying to every comment is almost impossible. However, if you see multiple users repeating the same comment or question, you can always reply to one and pin it to the top for others to see. 

Instagram screenshot showing a follower asking comments under a post, and the business response.

Make Your Content A Living CTA

Community management doesn’t just mean responding and reaching out. It’s also making sure you present your content in an inviting way. There are SO many options to make your content engaging, and even minor details can turn it from a fun poster to a call to action.

For example, if you’re presenting a statistic— let’s say, “90% of Instagram users follow a business” (via Instagram Business)— you can put a question in the caption to encourage communication in the comments. “Do you follow business accounts on Instagram?” or “What kinds of businesses do you follow on Instagram?” or “What do you think of Instagram business accounts?” all prompt engagement. If you’re posting on your story, slide in a poll or comment box wherever you can. 

An Instagram poll showing 90% of users follow a business.

You can make posts or story challenges, brainstorm your own potentially trending hashtag, or even post more carousel posts, which have the highest engagement rate on Instagram.     

Reflect Your Brand Voice

Your Instagram account should be a reflection of your brand voice, not just in your content and design, but also in your community management. If your brand prefers a serious, professional tone, then you’ll want to find serious business people and engage in an eloquent manner. If your branding screams “up-beat” and “fun,” then so should your followers, and the way you communicate with them.

When doing Instagram community management, here’s the bottom line:

  • Make sure that you never stop reaching out to more new users to spread your brand awareness.
  • Make sure that your current followers feel heard and valued.
  • Encourage, and engage in, conversations on both your own posts and posts of people you want in your community, either as a general part of your network or as a potential customer/client.
  • Never leave your brand voice and values on the back burner.

And finally, just enjoy the experience. You’ll see many new faces, gain valuable feedback on your work, and learn a lot about your audience— and even your business niche. Allow yourself to become invested in your online community and build strong connections. It will set you apart from accounts that exist just for the sake of hopping on the trend of having a social media presence. As a result, you’ll probably see your engagement rate rise —and your prospect list, too.

ABOUT Khaleelah Jones

Khaleelah Jones is a digital marketing consultant who has worked with tech startups, educational institutions and non-profits on acquisition and engagement strategy, implementation and KPI modeling. When she’s not working, she can be found reading, writing, pontificating history, yoga-ing and making up verbs.