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If you're new to this blog, I hope you'll find the "Social Media University" section of my site to be a valuable resource!  I hope to offer more and more helpful insight to other entrepreneurs through my blog, and who better to learn from than someone at Instagram!  Today we're learning from Morgan Cornelius, who I had the pleasure of connecting with through the School of Hustle at the Hedley & Bennet apron factory last fall!
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Morgan (@morganrcornelius) works with the Small Business Community on Instagram. Specifically, she meets, works with, and educates small and medium businesses every single day. She loves working with entrepreneurs, and hearing how their businesses came to be. Prior to Instagram, Morgan worked at Yelp and acted as their small business outreach manager for North America. While there, she fell in love with the passion and drive small business owners put into growing their businesses.  
Morgan was gracious enough to answer some of my burning questions about Instagram.  All in all, I came away with the impression that Instagram isn't "out to get us" like we all think based on the many rumors we hear.  I didn't get a strong sense that she was trying to convince me I needed to pay to play either.  And you know that great "shadow ban" debacle?  It was just an Instagram glitch.
 Morgan Cornelius & Ellen Marie Bennett emceeing the 2017 "School of Hustle"

Morgan Cornelius & Ellen Marie Bennett emceeing the 2017 "School of Hustle"

-Hashtags-


Liz: Do they help or hurt your potential visibility? i.e. should we use all 30 hashtags, should we mix it up or use the same ones all the time?

Morgan: Hashtags are a great way to reach more people by adding them to the caption of your post. You can also add a location tag to your posts which will appear in location pages on Instagram. Hashtag and location pages feature public posts and stories that have been shared with the corresponding hashtag or location.

My takeaway:  Keep on keeping on with the hashtags, and it sounds like they should go in the caption vs. the comments.  Just don't use hashtags that aren't relevant to the content you're posting.


-Engagement groups ("pods")-

Liz: Do these engagement groups help us or hurt us? One theory is that by having a group of our friends agree to regularly engage with each other, we can stay connected while also boosting our visibility out in the feed/algorithm longer by having higher engagement rates. (These "pods" are set up as a group direct message where everyone sends their latest post).

Morgan: Authenticity and transparency are key to building sustainable engagement on Instagram. Trying to somehow game the system may provide a short-term benefit, but I don't think it's a recipe for success long term. In addition, Instagram's feed ranking is powered by machine learning, which is constantly adapting to new patterns in data. So it can recognize inauthentic activity and make adjustments.

My takeaway:  If Instagram is able detect patterns (i.e. the same people always commenting over and over again), we are better off not putting time and energy into pods.  I like Melissa Camilleri's "ENTICE" method to foster more engagement with your followers (learn about it more here, on the Think Creative Collective Podcast).


-Professional Photos vs. Phone Photos-


Liz: I personally notice that when I post a really great photo like this, they automatically get such a bigger overall reach & better engagement. There are rumors that hi-res/professional photos are somehow detected by the algorithm and may be shown more than phone photos. Any truth to that? 

Morgan: There isn't any truth to this. In fact, we share a number of creative tips for business owners around how to create great content without being a professional photographer here. We want businesses to feel empowered to create great content regardless of their marketing budget or their access to a professional camera.

My takeaway:  Morgan also said iPhone photos aren't given priority over pro photos- so I think both sides of this rumor is just that.  However, I do think the better quality images you post (in composition, clarity, and overall interesting subject matter) will just naturally get more engagement than dark, blurry photos.


-Algorithm Changes-


Liz: Are there new algorithm changes coming soon and if so, how will this affect small businesses and bloggers? I feel like more of my posts get seen and have a consistent reach on my smaller account (@cannonboroughcollective). It feels like the more you grow the harder it is to reach your followers. Are smaller accounts getting more of a "boost" in the algorithm? Are personal accounts vs. business accounts getting shown more?

Morgan: Instagram uses an algorithmic feed ranking system to determine the order in which people see photos and videos. The algorithm relies on a variety of signals to surface content a person is interested in. Since we've rolled out personalized feed, one key learning is people respond to great content regardless of whether it's from friends or a brand they are passionate about. We don’t penalize businesses for being businesses. We want people to see the content they care about, regardless if the content is from their friends or brands they are passionate about. We’ll continue to improve feed to show people more of the posts they find interesting.

Morgan's Tip for Businesses: Experiment with video or posts that feature multiple photos or videos as they are great formats to tell your business' story by sharing more information in an engaging experience.

My takeaway:  I have personally noticed more and more small accounts (under 1000 followers) coming up in my feed more frequently than the big accounts I follow.  I did switch back to a personal account for a week to see if it made any difference in engagement, but I don't think it did so I'm back to a business account.  As a user, I try to like and comment on the accounts I would like to see more of, and in turn Instagram does seem to show me that content the next time I log on.


-New Features-


Does using the bells and whistles of the platform (like cute Instastories filters or Instagram Live, etc.) help your overall reach in the algorithm? I heard that doing stories & doing more Instagram lives helps more of your followers see you (on a regular basis, not just at the time of the story/live).

Morgan: My best advice would be that it’s always a good idea to adapt your content to best connect with our changing community (think videos, IG stories, multi-post, boomerangs, hyperlapse etc).

When it comes to engagement, there are a lot of dynamics that can impact it and all sorts of other things that are totally outside of your control. Even aesthetic fatigue can also be an issue for some people. On our side, people are also following more than ever before, and as a result their likes might be spread out across a wider range of content. We also launched Instagram Stories in the last year which is now drawing the eyes to two different places on the home tab. Engagement is made up of SO many different factors — there's no silver bullet. 

My conclusion:  I personally notice that doing occasional Instagram live videos and consistently creating Instagram stories keeps my audience interacting with me.  It never hurts to pop in to have more face time with your social media community!

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I so appreciate Morgan giving us some information straight from the Instagram horse's mouth. Comment below if you have any other questions, and hopefully we can continue our conversation with Instagram!

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