Hello and thanks for being here! If you’re here, I assume you know me and either like me or are otherwise interested in seeing what I have to say, for good or ill, so I won’t waste time explaining that and will instead get right into the goods: sharing what I have learned in my relatively short time spent growing my social media accounts. This is information I have gathered by extensive reading of the best and most up-to-date resources I could find, personal experience, and experimentation. For this guide, I will be specifically focusing on Facebook and Instagram, as those are the platforms I know best, and I will only talk about free options to increase engagement and not paid ones.
Facebook and Instagram are both part of the now-Meta universe of offerings. They are connected and this makes it easy to upload things onto one and share it on the other. (Yay, easy! We love easy.)
There are a lot of similarities between the almighty algorithms of Facebook and Instagram, though there are some differences, too. I would like to say that the algorithm doesn’t matter, that quality content is king, but alas, that is not the truth. Catering to the algorithm is key to sustained growth. Quality content is important, of course, and you need to be willing to put yourself out there in ways that may feel uncomfortable, but you can do all that and still not reach your audience if you aren’t playing by the rules of the algorithms. Therefore, a lot of this guide will be spent telling you about what angers and what pleases the great gods of the algorithms and how you can use it and other actions to your advantage.
Frequency of Posting
For both platforms, frequency of posting is absolutely vital. Instagram is a little more forgiving in that you can take a day or two off and not suffer too badly in the engagement department. Facebook, on the other hand, is stricter with its posting expectations. For example, I took a week off of Instagram earlier this year and suffered very little in engagement because of it. I’m not saying there wasn’t a decrease or that it didn’t take time to build back up to previous levels, because there was and it did. A week off of Facebook, however, was devastating. When I began my week off, I was consistently reaching millions of people on Facebook every week. When I came back to it, I was reaching hundreds at a time, and it took roughly six months to get it back to where I was reaching millions a week again.
These platforms want you to be posting every single day, and if possible, multiple times a day. It also benefits you to do this, as long as your content is quality, because it gets more eyes onto your account and allows you to reach higher levels of engagement.
Post When Your Audience Is Online
If you have amazing content but only post at 3:00 a.m. every night when your audience’s peak engagement time is 12:30 p.m., you are wasting your time and talent. Though a fraction of your followers will eventually see it, with few people online to engage with it (and show Instagram that it’s worth engaging with), it will likely get buried and receive very little interaction.
Luckily, Instagram is very helpful in that it gives you data about when your followers are active each day. Simply click on the Insights button on your profile (right above your story highlights in your business profile), select “Total followers” in your Insights Overview, and scroll to the bottom of the page to see what times and days your followers are most likely to be online. Those high points of activity are the times when you should be posting. If you are unable to post during that time, you can schedule posts ahead of time using something like Hootsuite. I’ve never found a content scheduler that I liked enough to use, but I know many people worship and adore theirs, so you might want to try it or something like it out. (Many offer a free trial!)
You want a significant chunk of your content to be of your own making and celebrating your own work. You are, after all, trying to convince people that you as a person are interesting, brilliant, talented, or otherwise enough to follow and interact with you regularly, so you need to be able to showcase some of what is appealing about you.
For writers, though, to post as much as the algorithm wants you to would require spending far too much time on creating content and not leave you nearly enough to be working on your actual writing. I recommend having one post discussing your work directly or one sharing your work (even if that is in Tweet form, as I do) for every three to four posts that are not to help keep your pages feel less like a full-on ad for yourself and more like a genuine representation of your whole being. Your other posts might be things you find funny, pictures from your day, books you’re reading, quotes you love, or other similar content.
To ensure that I have enough offerings to sacrifice to the algorithmic beast, I have folders on my phone where I keep different kinds of content. When I first started in 2019, every month or so, I would visit groups on Facebook I enjoyed or Instagram pages I loved and save anything from there into my folders that I thought was appropriate for my feed. I have enough content now that I really don’t need to do that anymore, although I still do from time to time to keep things fresh. Having friends and followers who like to send you things that remind them of you also helps. (Thanks, guys!)
One note about the content you share: if it has a creator’s name or account name on it, try to tag that creator in your post. It’s only fair to give credit to the person who originally came up with it, and it helps to build connections between you and other creators. Also, if you found it on the original content creator’s page, it’s best practice to share it directly from that page when possible.
One of the benefits of social media sharing is that it’s cyclical. The same posts that are funny today will be forgotten and funny when they’re rediscovered six months from now, and Facebook will encourage you to share old posts through its Memories feature.
Knowing Your Audience
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get into branding here because I think it might belong in a whole other document, but it’s maybe incomplete to not include it here. You may already know this, but branding is developed over time, and it starts by determining what your core values are as a business. In writing, it’s the writers themselves that are the business, so you need to decide what aspects of yourself you want to focus on. I strongly objected to this at first - I am Whitman! I contain multitudes! I shan’t be diminished! – but ultimately, I realized that until my following was so vast and invested in me that anything I said or shared will be accepted, I would have to try to distill myself into distinct areas that would comprise my brand.
For me, that brand is joy, empathy, and intelligence. Those are the things I value most in life and they represent the way I try to operate in the world. To come up with those, I polled my friends and family, asking them to come up with the three words that described me best to them. When you do this, you can start to see the threads that comprise your being, and they can help shape the branding of your public profile.
Everything that I post or think about sharing, I try to weigh against those three words. After doing this for a time, I found that the more that I did, the clearer my core audience became. (I don’t know how much time you’ve spent looking at the data in your social media business accounts, but you can learn a lot from exploring it.) For me, my typical audience member is a woman in her late 20s/early 30s who is married but doesn’t have kids, loves books and writing, and likely lives in L.A., New York City, or London. Knowing who you’re speaking to helps inform the choices you make about what to post and how to present yourself.
For Instagram, your brand can be translated into your aesthetic. Many Instagram users want a visually-pleasing experience when they visit an account, and so cultivating an aesthetic that you feel comfortable working within all the time and that people will recognize as yours can be part of your branding. This might be a color theme, a pattern of posts, or other consistent choices. If you want to get an idea for different ways an aesthetic Instagram can look, Google “aesthetically pleasing Instagrams” and check out the many, many accounts that have worked hard to create their own aesthetic.
Interacting with Posts
For both Facebook and Instagram, you have to teach it with every post that what you’re posting is worth engaging with. Facebook especially does not want to let very many of your followers access your posts unless you’re paying for them to see them (which, of course, sometimes is worthwhile, but you can’t be promoting every post without spending a fortune).
To do this, as soon as you post, you need to be interacting with your own post.
On Instagram, this is most easily done by posting your hashtags in the comments. What I do is first post the emoji for tag and then as a response to that tag post the hashtags I’ve chosen for that post. (There is a separate section below on hashtags on Instagram.) I do this for two reasons: the tag is the only part that will show when people are scrolling comments unless they actively click through to responses, so it helps your comments appear neater, and it also gets you two immediate interactions with your post as opposed to if you only commented with the hashtags.
You should also “save” your post as soon as you post, which means clicking the little flag-like button at the bottom right of your picture. If you have a separate personal account, I recommend immediately sending your post to that account using the paper-airplane icon at the bottom left of your picture, saving it onto your personal account, and posting it to your personal Instagram story. All of these actions are reinforcing the idea that your Instagram post is worth engaging with and therefore Instagram will allow more people on your feed to see it.
On Facebook, I do this by immediately posting a relevant gif, picture, or link in the comments. Facebook has the added benefits of groups that you can share your posts to so that potential interested parties can interact with your post. It’s important to note that not all groups will allow you to post content from your own pages into the group. Some bookish and writer ones that will allow you to, though, are the following:
In addition to sharing to groups, you may also share your posts to your personal and/or page stories. Any interaction you can give to your post, whether it is a comment or share, as soon as it is posted, is reinforcing the post’s value to Facebook’s algorithm.
Hashtags are not worth much on Facebook, but they are incredibly effective on Instagram. Instagram allows people to follow hashtags very easily and these posts are integrated into a person’s scrolling as seamlessly as if they were the posts of people they follow. When choosing hashtags for your post, it’s important to use ones that are relevant to the specific content you are posting. Otherwise, you won’t reach the audience you are intending.
To help ensure I use the right hashtags each time, I have a saved note in my notes app on my phone that has a variety of hashtags grouped together in labeled groups that I might use for any occasion. You can use up to thirty hashtags per post, but these are only useful if the hashtags you’re posting directly relate to your post. For example, if my post is about the writer’s life, my writer’s life group of hashtags will include (among others):
#writer #authorsofinstagram #amwriting #writersnetwork #writingmeme #writinglife #writerslife #writermeme #authormeme #writers_around #writing #writerslife #writersofinstagram #authorssupportingauthors #amwriting #writersofIG
I will also include #TaraWineQueen and #TaraWineQueenWrites in my hashtags of every post. This is showing Instagram that my name and account are something that people have an interest in following.
You can find popular hashtags to fit your posts online easily. A quick Google search will get you any number of possible hashtags, and from there, you simply need to choose the ones that work best for you and group them together in a note or what have you that you can easily copy and paste from when you post on Instagram.
Instagram will tell you that the best way to use hashtags is to choose a select few and post it in your caption, but Instagram is worried about the user experience of all users. As a content creator, you get more interaction from posting as many RELEVANT hashtags as you can in your comments than you would from a few select ones included in your caption.
Building Relationships with Other Creatives
The groups that you join on Facebook are a wonderful place to befriend similarly minded creatives who are on the same path that you are. The more genuine relationships you can grow in those groups, the more both of you will benefit. Not only will you make a friend and gain a supporter, you will also be getting more interactions on your page from that friendship and can likewise frequently interact with their content to further teach the algorithms that your posts are worth showing to more followers. One of my friends and I made a pact long ago to always comment on and like each other’s posts to help with this, so if you can buddy up with a fellow aspiring author or creative, that’s one way to ensure engagement.
Because many of the members are purely there to form connections with other similarly-minded bookish folks, they will often connect with you on other social media accounts, as well. For example, if you are a member of a Facebook group focused on reading and/or writing, sharing your Instagram account, TikTok account, Goodreads account, or whatever onto the page and asking people to follow and you will follow back is another way to make more connections.
On Instagram, there are many “engagement groups” (that are actually just accounts designed for this purpose) that are specifically developed for authors or other types of Instagram users to meet up with other similar users who are looking to have their content interacted with and will interact with your content in return. (Though I have joined these before when asked, I am the absolute worst at this because I always forget to tag my posts and forget that I’m supposed to interact with the others’ posts in a certain amount of time and so I do not actually use them.)
If you are interested in using them, though, you simply tag the engagement group account that you are a member of when you post your pictures, and the other members of the group will then like and save your content with the expectation that you will do the same for theirs when they post. Each engagement group has different rules, so look around to find one whose rules you are comfortable with before requesting to join one.
There are also what are referred to as “follow trains” on Instagram, and these can be helpful in connecting with other authors and bookish accounts. If you look up the hashtags “#bookishfollowtrain or #bookstagramfollowtrain then you’ll find thousands of posts just like these filled with other writers and readers looking to expand their Instagram network. These are a great way to make friends at first, but eventually, after you’ve hit your max of accounts that Instagram allows you to follow, you won’t be able to engage in these as effectively or as frequently.
Finally, please, please, please don’t follow to unfollow. While it’s totally understandable to unfollow an account if you dislike or disagree with their posts, purposefully following people to get them to follow you and then unfollowing is trash behavior. Don’t be trash. You’re better than that.
Skip Links for Facebook Posts
Sharing a link on Facebook will drive your engagement all the way down. Facebook does not under any circumstances want you to direct your followers off of their site, and if you post a link, it will only share it with the teensiest fraction of your followers. If you want to share a link, post a picture of whatever the link entails instead and then share the link in the comment. Even still, Facebook will not love this post, but it will be far less damaging to your engagement than if you posted the link directly.
If you can’t skip making a post with a link somewhere in it, make sure to couch it between two other posts that you can count on being highly engaging so that your engagement won’t suffer too badly overall.
Don’t Let It Overwhelm You
Easier said than done, I know, but this can be somewhat achieved by content planning ahead of time so that you aren’t scrambling to come up with content to post each day, and by limiting the time you allow yourself to spend scrolling on your accounts. I sometimes use what I call “the ten-minute rule” to help limit my time on social media which means that I can only check on my accounts the last ten minutes of the hour.
Most importantly, if you don’t enjoy spending time on social media, this may not be the best way you could be spending your time. I love interacting with people, and I enjoy social media (although I could do without comments sections sometimes), and so I don’t mind devoting part of my days to spending time on the platforms working. If being on here is like pulling teeth for you, though, but it’s important to you that you have an active presence, you may want to consider investing in a social media manager instead of spending your time and energy engaging in something you dislike.
I hope this guide of free ways to improve your engagement on Facebook and Instagram has been helpful to you! If you have any questions about it or questions that you feel would be beneficial if added into the guide, please feel free to send me a message or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks and have a beautiful day!