Instagram has grown into one of the worlds largest social media applications with over 500 million daily users (and rising). While businesses have been quick to embrace it as a marketing tool, very few are getting it right. Instagram is a highly personal platform where the boundaries of boss/worker/customer are severed entirely. So before you start devising a campaign, it’s critical that you understand who you’re making it for, and what your followers will demand.

Not sure where to start? This guide will help.

1. Pick A Theme & Stick To It

What do you wish to accomplish with your Instagram account? Do you want to use it to raise awareness for your business, create a community, or simply to practise and share your business photography skills? Before you begin your Instagram journey, define your purpose. Start small and stick to conveying a consistent message. Do you want to highlight your company culture and hope to make people laugh? Do you want to raise a voice towards mental health or living a healthy lifestyle? If you focus on a specific group of people, they will be more likely to engage with your content. Learn as much as possible as possible about the subject matter and share your experiences. Remember, unlike Facebook and Twitter, people follow Instagrammers to get insights into their personal life.

2. Plan Your Posts

Keep a list of subjects and themes for your upcoming Instagram posts. Do you want to share photos, videos, inspirational quotes or Instagram stories? Devise a plan beforehand and figure out what you want your followers to feel. Spend a little extra time when uploading a new photo to ensure it looks professional and that everything is spelled correctly. Presentation is everything! Instagram’s filters may make your pictures look the part, but that’s no excuse to skimp in other areas.

3. Schedule Your Posting

Make sure you post on a daily basis. If you don’t keep up the consistency, you will loose followers, or at the very least, stop your account from growing. Don’t post early in the morning around working hours, or at night time when people are sleeping, otherwise your pictures will filter down the listings. Upload new posts late in the afternoon/early evening if you want to maximise exposure. Unfortunately, social media has a very defined hierarchy chain. It can be very difficult to get new followers, likes and comments if you don’t already have a following. While you can buy Instagram likes to give your account a kick-start, remember that engagement is always paramount to long-term, sustainable success.

4. Think About Your Hashtags

Hashtags are extremely valuable. Make sure you use them properly as they will provide a way to reach out to people who aren’t in your current circle of followers. Try to capitalise on hashtags that are trendy and relevant to your content. When you search for hashtags, the most popular search terms will show up automatically, but that doesn’t mean you should use them. Targeting smaller niches can provide greater engagement – use a mixture of both. And remember not to overdo it. There’s nothing more off-putting to potential followers than clutter.

5. Always Strive To Please

Simply put, if you want your posts to be shared, you’ll have to make them something worth sharing. Always make sure they’re relatable to your audience and connect with them on an emotional level. Don’t use watermarks, ads or promos that cover your posts as this will put people off sharing them. If, however, you’re concerned about theft, place a subtle watermark and credit in the corner. This is enough to protect your work without hindering the quality of the image.

6. Stick To Your Goals

Always remember why you started an Instagram account in the first place and what you want to achieve. Stick to a central theme for as long as this goal is relevant. In addition, you should always listen to your followers and try to respond positively to their requests and criticisms. And finally, keep it personal and don’t be afraid to share your thoughts and values, even if they don’t conform to the norm. Try to create an Instagram account that you would follow yourself rather than sticking to convention. As a marketing technique, delving away from what’s expected will often work in your favour and deliver results that couldn’t be achieved by simply following the “rules.”