Recently I saw a couple of my Instagram posts go, what I would call, certifiably viral. Interestingly enough, it happened at a time where I was putting close to zero effort into running my account.

Let’s take a look at the stats and then we’ll examine some reflections.

My account has approx 1300 followers so not exactly out of this world. A typical post will fair between 30-100 likes. So imagine my surprise when a post spins wildly out of control and reaches 1300 likes just completely out of the blue.

And then just days later, another post hit over 2600 likes. It fits my definition of viral although it’s still of course very small fish in a big digital pond.

As we get started, here are some opening thoughts for you:

1. I’m not sure going viral should ever be your goal.

I wasn’t trying to go viral, I was just trying to share some encouragement. My desire to do good combined with a few technical details (more on that in a moment) was enough to catch the attention of the outside world.

I barely gained any followers from it.

Interestingly enough, my account didn’t really grow at all. On these occasions, I didn’t invest much time into interacting with these new people e.g. sending DMs. I suspect this may have created my fruit from it.

As I’m not particularly pushing Instagram right now, this was a little beyond the level of effort I wanted to put in.

2. My life is unremarkably the same

I remember checking Instagram like 5 minutes after checking before and seeing a wealth of notifications letting me know I had another 100 likes (turns out the max number Instagram will show you is 100, even if you have more). It was surreal to see the refresh bringing in new likes every second.

But there was very little emotional increase in the middle of it. I remember thinking that it’s no wonder people who are chasing this stuff are so unhappy.

I’m writing this post, less as an encouragement of a way of life to pursue and more as a technical debrief.

But enough about that – how exactly did I do it? The simple answer is just good content + hashtag optimisation.

Let’s talk about both

Good content

First and foremost, if you’re not putting out good content then no one is going to repost it or share it to their story. That’s how things start to take off on Instagram because they are being shared, others see it and then begin to share it too. And so on.

What’s fascinating to me is that both posts that took off were reposts of quotes from a well known pastor called Craig Groeschel. Craig is a thoroughly excellent communicator and if you hadn’t heard of him then he and his team pioneered the Bible app. So good content does matter.

If you’re not saying something interesting or sticky then no one is going to care.

That doesn’t mean you can’t put out content with imperfection. In fact the only way you become a top communicator and develop your voice is to continually test the waters by creating and sharing content. Don’t let the desire for perfection stop you. And don’t be afraid to become a curator of others too (as my posts were).

The need to filter and share select content is ever more necessary in today’s world of information overload.

Hashtag optimisation

Hopefully you know enough to know that hashtags can be applied to your posts in your caption or a comment. And that hashtags are searchable. Instagram will allow up to a whopping 30 hashtags on your post. There’s no magic formula but there is good practice. And good practice will open up possibilities.

Here’s how I used hashtags to my advantage:

1. Use 5-10 hashtags instead of 30

Ok this is more of a personal preference one but when you see a post full of a million hashtags, it can look a little bit spammy and turn off the people who actually follow you. I’ve been there and done that because I love to try out things.

But at the same time, everybody is aware that hashtags are helpful. So just use a few. There’s another reason which I’ll share below too.

2. Generally speaking, ignore the absolutely huge and the ridiculously tiny hashtags

A hashtag like #food has 397m posts. If you hit that hashtag up, there’s no way you’re going to be able to stand out. You’ll just be lost in a very large sea of meal prep. But likewise if you choose something more obscure e.g. #iameatingfood (which has less than 100 posts) then you might find there is no competition but also no one looking.

Instead what you want to shoot for is somewhere in between – I’m aiming very loosely for more like 50-500k posts. That way I know there is interest but there is still a chance of making it to the Top hashtags.

If you’re not sure what I’m referring to by Top hashtags, if you search a hashtag on Instagram, you’ll see that you have the ability to choose Top and Recent.

If your post starts to do well (people are sharing it) then there’s a chance you can make it to the Top page of a hashtag. This is exactly how my posts took off.

3. Use Instagram itself to help decide on the hashtags to use

So using hashtags is important, but how do we know which one’s we should be using?

Very simply, Instagram actually tells you which hashtags to use.

If you search #food for example then you’ll see there are multiple suggestions of related hashtags. Most of these are still way too large for us but if you keep searching within, you might end up with something like #foodmania which has 387k posts.

And again we find ourselves with another range of hashtags to tap into:

#foodfood #foodiesofindia #foodmania #loveforfood #zingyzest are just a few of the ones I found very easily.

Don’t worry about being too religious about which you choose – it’s more of an art form than a science and it really is about experimentation.

4. Use a simple notes system to draw from for future posts

I have a page of notes on my phone where I store my hashtag research. Every time I do a different type of post or access a different post to tap into (e.g. memes have a whole heap of niche hashtags) I find a new set of hashtags to use.

Over time, I end up with a wealth of hashtags to tap into for different types of posts. It’s key that you don’t just use exactly the same hashtags for all of your posts. Because essentially you’re missing an opportunity to tap into multiple pots.

Think of your hashtag as building a new road to people.

The more roads you build, the more likely people are going to travel towards you and discover you.

That’s really all there is to it. I’ve seen this technique not only just in the above more extreme examples but generally increase my engagement across the board.

You can check out the two posts here below if you’re interested. I’d love to hear if this works for you – you can hit me up and start a conversation over on Instagram @satssolanki

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