7 Ways to Build Community Through Instagram

Rachel Whinnery Learn

7 Ways to Build Community Through Instagram

Instagram has become an amazing marketing tool for a variety of businesses, influencers, thought leaders and organizations. The more successful users have found that the key is building community - which isn't easy to do. 

I started my own Instagram side project that was founded in organically building community. The concept is that each week a new Akronite takes over the Everyday Akron Instagram account to share their side of the city—features of the neighborhood they live in, what they like to do for fun, which of the Summit Metro Parks they’re hiking in, where they work, and so on. About once a quarter, I host the account to check in, encourage people to sign up, and share other updates.

As I said before, the account is about building a strong community, not marketing any products or services. However, I use nearly a decade of marketing knowledge and experience to run Instagram and the other social media accounts, update the website, create blog posts, and more.

Throughout the four years that Everyday Akron has been running, I’ve found seven ways that anyone can build community on Instagram, even if they’re a for-profit business.

Note: Before we dive in, when I say “community,” I mean developing a sense of belonging with followers, not focusing on how to get more followers on Instagram. Now let’s get to it.

1. Start Conversations

Starting conversations naturally seems like the first place you should start. However, this is where so many Instagram users fall flat.

There are two ways to start conversations. The first is on your own page. When you post a photo or video, ask a question or include engaging information that can spark a conversation with your followers. The other route is to comment on posts that people have tagged you in or that are relevant to your business.

Just like real life, you can’t start a conversation with a one-liner and leave. You have to use follow-up questions and stay engaged with the other person. This might seem like a drain of your time, but if done well, you’ll nurture your followers and their relationship to your brand.

With Everyday Akron, I find that the hosts who ask questions, tell an impactful story, and simply reply to comments have the most engagement.

2. Go Behind the Scenes

Humans are curious. They also like flashy things. (Squirrel!) Many people who post on Instagram are good at the flashy posts—sharing a photo of their product, a video of the service they offer, or even offering *flash sales*. As entrepreneurs and business owners, it can be scary to share how things actually get done behind the scenes. What if someone steals your idea?

However, that’s when the magic happens with your community. People want exclusive access to brands. They want to know how a product is built, what the full brand experience is like, and who is actually running the brand.

Genuine community is built on human interaction, the transference of information, and sharing engaging stories—not on a glossy product shot.

The Everyday Akron hosts who share the “behind-the-scenes” of their art or music process give followers a peek at the magic. They don’t share every single minute detail, but just enough to peel back the curtain and allow people to know how and why they do what they do.

3. Illuminate the Unknown

This point is similar to going behind the scenes. However, what facets of your brand or the people behind it can you shine a light on?

One of my favorite things about Everyday Akron is that I’m constantly learning about a new restaurant, coffee shop, or local business that I didn’t even know existed. I’ve also found that a lot of other people enjoy following the account for that exact reason.

So, what is something that you know like the back of your hand, but your followers might have no clue about? Sharing this information can start conversations, increase brand loyalty, and encourage people to support your business.

4. Provide Resources

These resources aren’t necessarily directly related to your brand. (That’s more what #3 is about.) Instead, what are secondary resources that would help your community, yet aren’t directly related to your business?

This year, more and more brands have been stepping out of their usual types of content (which was mostly centered around them) to include resources on Black Lives Matter, voting in the general election, the coronavirus pandemic, and more. If there is a way that makes sense for your brand to join a national conversation, go for it!

If not—and this route is typically much easier—share resources that would help your niche community. Can’t think of any? Ask! Your community members know themselves better than you. On Everyday Akron, the weekly hosts are constantly sharing and asking for resources. It’s nice when other people can jump in and help, which strengthens your community from within.

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Only one picture for this post but I'm hoping everyone following along will pick up where I leave off... [Trigger warning: TTC, infertility, endo, PCOS, IVF, loss] Social media is weird. We post snippets of our lives with filters and fancy words but there's so much more to it than that. There's a huge part of my "everyday" that I just wouldn't feel right leaving out during my takeover - and I'd hate to miss out on an opportunity to help even one Akronite feel less alone so here goes nothing... That little pink line just won't show up. For the last 2.5 years it's been our everyday bummer and we're not alone - 1 in 8 couples have difficulty becoming or staying pregnant (resolve.org). At least the #TTC community picked a cute mascot 🍍 DON'T LEAVE YET! This post isn't meant to be a pity party... besides Andrew and I are from Akron - we're scrappy and resourceful and we're chugging along with the help, encouragement and support of a lot of incredible family, friends and strangers. And I want that for all of you. So let's talk SUPPORT RESOURCES in Akron (and beyond) 💗 TAG or TYPE a resource/organization you've heard has helped someone in our community, a resource you personally have benefitted from or one you want to volunteer for in the future below ⬇️ #bettertogether I'll go first! @resolveorg (the National Infertility Association has SO MANY resources - educational info, advocacy resources and support groups all over the US including a few in Akron and Canton!) @forgetmenotbaskets (a bereavement resource and grief support for families experiencing loss) @pcosaa (September is PCOS awareness month! PCOS = Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) This is a Facebook resource but 👏 it 👏 is 👏 fire... Nancy's Nook Endometriosis Education is a private FB group you can get added to with OVER 111K members. It's a best practice based, medical professional and patient learning library that has literally saved people's lives 🔥 @cnyfertility (did you know that for many, infertility treatments aren't covered by insurance 🤬... and an average IVF cycle in Ohio costs $13,800? CNY's base IVF - granted without meds - is $3,900) YOUR TURN AKRON - LET'S SEE THOSE RESOURCES!!!

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5. Empower Creativity

Instagram has gone from a platform for solely sharing photos to giving users the ability to create all sorts of content: long-form videos, 15-second Reels, Instagram Stories, photo albums, and more.

As marketers or business owners using Instagram, we can be overwhelmed with the choices—especially when we’re already overwhelmed with our day-to-day work. However, I would encourage you to try any and all of the features, while balancing your content between your feed and stories.

A major roadblock I encounter with potential Everyday Akron hosts is that they think their lives are boring. However, the account is called “Everyday Akron,” not “The Flashy Celebrities of Akron.” (Although, LeBron, if you’re reading this, I would LOVE to have you host for a week!) It’s for everyday people. I encourage them to get creative, whether it’s posting their daily coffee from a different local café each day or posting from their dog’s point of view.

So, how can you empower yourself to be creative? You might assume you need fancy cameras or phones to start posting videos, but you don’t. Good ideas can still shine through rusty equipment.

6. Lift Up Others

I hate to break it to you, but it’s not all about you. Relentlessly posting about you and your brand can be monotonous. So let’s shake it up!

There are a variety of ways you can lift up others. First, you can simply share user-generated content. (But be sure to give the original poster credit!) Second, you can donate time or money to causes that affect your community and then share this experience on Instagram. These days, followers want to know how you’re making a social impact.

Now, don’t just throw money at a non-profit and ask to be celebrated. Users of social media have an incredible ability to sniff out fake attempts to look good. Get behind an organization that you care about. Find a way to lift up people and causes in your community.

7. Listen to Your Community

Now that you’ve begun building a solid foundation of people interested in your brand, what do they want? It’s easy to get in the flow of constantly pushing out content, but what if you pulled back a little and surveyed the people who consume that content? What do they want more of? What do they think is missing?

I recently did this when I hosted Everyday Akron. I asked what people wanted to know more about. One person explained that she was moving to Akron soon and wanted to know what made the city so great. It’s one thing to learn about what there is to do in the place you’re moving to, but it’s a whole other ballgame when you want to learn about the people and the energy. So I asked Everyday Akron followers, and got some amazing responses.

Since Instagram was glitchy that week, I couldn’t share the answers from the question sticker to Stories. I pivoted and instead rounded up all the answers and created a blog post. That post, “Why Should You Move to Akron, Ohio,” is now the highest viewed post on the website. And I probably never would have created it if someone hadn’t said they were looking for that information.

Listen to your community. You might be surprised by what they have to say. (Perfect example: That @everydayakronpets should be a second community-based account.)

When is your community building done?

The question “When is your community building complete?” is a trick question. It’s never done. As your community grows, and the people within it change and develop, you’ll always be nurturing that environment. Even if that environment is Instagram.

You don’t have to tackle all seven suggestions in this post at once. But try cycling through them again and again. After a while, you’ll be amazed by how your community has strengthened and grown.

And, one final note. Every Instagram community will look different and have different ideas of “growth.” It might not be a numbers game for you. Instead, it could be increasing positive engagement while building that sense of community. Don’t focus on the stats. Focus on the goals that will support your community. And in turn, your community will support you.