What are the ways to grow an engaging Instagram audience this year? Part of growing a brand is providing useful and authentic content that gets a conversation started, tells a story and keeps an audience engaged.

We like to be honest and real. Some of our most engaging content has been about what we as ‘real people’ do in our travels. From how we prepare to travel abroad to how Becca chooses which shoes to take for a trip, we share our real story over the @halfhalftravel Instagram.

Here’s what we have learned about social media engagement tricks, and here’s what you can do in order to stay connected with your audience on Instagram, while enabling better discovery and creating your brand.

How can I create engaging and authentic content on Instagram?

Your audience wouldn’t be following you if they didn’t love your mission and ideas, your photography nor your graphics.

Your audience is following you because they want to learn more about you, your talents and your brand (if you are creating one, either a personal brand or a business of your services). That’s why we made an “About Us” page on our website!

We’ve found that we get varying engagement based on different types of photos and content we share. Photos of us together get the most engagement, and photos of coffee, food or mountains (with no people or human figures) get less.

We’ve found, over time, that this is because people love people. Similarly, we get the most hits to our blog when we share some expert advice we have, whether it has to do with photography or remote work and travel.

Find out what makes your audience interact with your Instagram, through posts or stories, and keep doing it! If your audience comments the most when you show one of your baking secrets, then do it again! If your audience answers the questions box the most when you ask for help on making a decision, do it again! This helps everyone feel connected and valued.

How to get more followers on Instagram

Well, this is now an age-old (or however old Instagram is) question. There are a few bad ways to ‘get followers,’ and one of them is buying followers. Don’t do this. Buying followers will link you to spam, robots and auto-bots, and also will feed into the plots of scammers. Stay far away.

If you want to ‘build an audience,’ rather than ‘get followers,’ follow these positive tips:

Maintain consistency in your Instagram brand

Be your brand, and radiate your brand’s concepts and missions! Be transparent, be clear about what you stand for and work for, and hopefully like-minded users will follow along.

Tell your story through Instagram

Tell how you got from A to B. Create a storyline that users can’t wait to follow and see what happens next.

Use unique hashtags

We all know that “#instagood” probably won’t get you anywhere, and won’t get you the type of audience you’re looking for. Times when I’ve followed a hashtag have been times when we’ve booked a trip and I’m looking for photo spots or ideas for an itinerary. I follow a hashtag like “#mexicotravel” to get a constant feed of accounts, hoping I will find a few I like.

Post stories every day to engage followers

If you’ve seen how it looks when someone posts “too many” stories photos in a single day, you know that as the user, you probably won’t click through them all unless they’re wildly enticing. Post a fair number of stories per day, with a limit of 8-10, spaced in a few different bursts during 24 hours.

How to stay positive and radiate positivity on Instagram

If you’re like me, you’ve probably un-followed anyone who complains, whines, bashes others or fails to provide enough positive vibes. I don’t like my day being dampened by anything less than what’s positive and forward-thinking.

If you want to shine like a star on social media, stay positive. Always.

Nobody is perfect. That’s a fact! You can be honest about having a bad day or failing at something, but it helps to pick yourself back up (or your text or your posting strategy) by asking for positive advice, or acknowledgement of a goal of doing better and improving. You never know who you’ll be inspiring!

How to give your Instagram audience helpful tips

We are living in this special age where we can surf Instagram and learn things. Isn’t that incredible?

Recently, we’ve provided tips regarding how we stay healthy while traveling, how to take your first trip as a couple and how we “actually” save money while we travel.

Are you an expert in something? It could be anything, from painting to baking. Your audience wants to see some behind-the-scenes tips and tricks, as you likely want to see from the industry experts. Everyone loves a good tip here and there, either when we’re seeking them or even when we least expect it.

Make someone’s day by showing a trick you learned recently, or provide help on a common problem. You’ll likely make a connection and have people thanking you soon.

How to curate engaging Instagram stories

Instagram stories have provided Insta-users with a quick way to reply to photos or videos, send direct messages and answer interactive features like quizzes, polls and questions. These are the ways in which we’ve learned about what our audience wants to see, and also the way in which we’ve formed connections with people around the world.

You’re probably using Instagram to get some type of interaction. Maybe you want to be following others with your trade, skill or talent for some inspiration. Maybe you want to learn some tips from experts. Maybe you want to look at photos of birds all day — who knows!

By creating ways to interact with your audience and ways for them to interact and contact you, voilà — you’ll start making connections! Be sure to keep asking questions, getting answers and replying to them and keep the conversation moving from day to day.

How can I create an Instagram meetup or insta-meet?

One of the most challenging things to do over Instagram is to translate the Insta-world into the real life world.

Several times through the years, we’ve used our travel location and the power of IG stories to have a meetup. We’ve been lucky enough to partner with a local business or venue in order to have access to the power of the venue’s audience as well.

We’ve had insta-meet events in Peru, Mexico and Colombia, in conjunction with several brands. It has always been eye-opening and has allowed us to meet locals and other travelers!

How can I stay consistent with visuals and branding on Instagram?

Everyone considers the idea of the Instagram aesthetic differently. For us, it’s a consistent half-half effect that continues with our visuals. For others, it may be text, followed by a photo, followed by text, for a checkerboard look. I’ve seen other accounts that have a green period, followed by a blue period, or interconnecting horizon lines. The sky’s the limit.

If you don’t care about any of the meticulous visuals, but you still want to grow a consistent brand, think about what you have to provide to create awareness that you exist among the Instagram clutter.

Provide what your audience expects, and always think about if you’re answering a certain question someone may have, whether it’s, “How can I make any recipe gluten-free?” or, “Which oil paints can I buy for a beginner?”

If your brand is you, point out what you’re doing and exemplify how you’re doing it expertly. You can be a video gamer, a gardener, a portrait photographer or a marathoner. Show us (your audience) what you’re doing and how you got there, so that we see your story.

You’ve probably seen Instagram users make a call to action for accessing a “link in bio.” This means providing a URL in the profile link where you can link to virtually anything online.

If you want to tell us to head over to your website where we can download your phone backgrounds, sure. If you want to nudge us to look at the article you were featured in, yeah! Let’s do it.

If you aren’t selling anything and you don’t have a website online, show us an article we may like, or something you’re thinking about this week. You can provide value in all sorts of ways on Instagram.

How can I grow a brand through discovery on Instagram?

So, you’re doing something cool, right? You probably want more people to know and find out about it. Unless you’re Beyoncé, there’s likely always going to be someone or something bigger out there that has already created a following.

What can you do? Tag a relevant brand in a photo, or tag that brand in your story.

Use a hashtag (or 30, the maximum for Instagram in-feed posts). Send some direct messages to brands or influencers in a particular field and ask for a feature. Answer calls for questions and quotes from other bloggers and reporters. Enter contests.

Work collaboratively and then showcase your work by having someone else who can publicize. That’s what we’ve been doing with our series of awesome travelers who all have a different sort of super talent. We also have a curated list of NYC travel influencers!

How can I create dialogue through Instagram and create community?

If you’ve started building a brand or a following (or if you downloaded Instagram for the first time today), you are unlocking a powerful tool. You can build community around an idea and provide a way for people to connect with each other.

Even if you don’t know where to start, think about your strengths, your background, your passions and your talents. If you can’t figure out what any of those are for you, think about something you did today. Did you do it well? Do you want to do it better? It could be anything from making your bed to making a perfect bowl of cereal. You can start there.

Anytime you ask a question, you’re giving people a way to answer. When people answer, they may see another answer they like. This gives them a reason to make a connection, get an idea or keep building toward a goal. We’ve learned so much when our community contributes toward our blog posts.

You can use moments in time like a trend, holiday or season to switch gears and ask new questions. Or, you can use something like your birthday, a hobby you’re working on or something you saw in the news, to trigger an emotion or start a conversation.

How can I use the chat box on Instagram stories?

If you want immediate engagement, see who’ll join the IG stories chat box. We did this a few times, and created an immediate chat room of members of our audience from around the world.

Stay engaged by being present. As the creator and host of the chat room, you can lead questions and conversation topics. It’s a chance for your audience to chat with you, and to interact with each other, which is a unique way to communicate.

Ask an ‘if-then’ or a ‘this-or-that’ question as a caption

Post a photo and ask a if-then or this-or-that question as your caption. Everyone wants to contribute meaningful advice and opinions, and also get seen. This is a way to hear answers, comment, and also allow different users to see a variety of opinions.

A time we did that was with this photo. We asked our audience’s favorite destination in Asia, and received a wild array of answers that other users could see and reply to.

Create a branded hashtag for your account

We’ve had the hashtag #halfhalftravel that has let audience members hashtag their photos, with a way for us to find them. Every once in a while, we check for new photos in “Recent” that have used our hashtag, and then we share.

Every time we share a photo that has the hashtag, we are able to start a new conversation with a member of our audience.

Good luck connecting with your audience and using all the tools that are now available. You’ll do great!