How The Knot Got 1 Million Instagram Followers Without a Single Ad

They say a snowy wedding day can bring prosperity to the bride and groom. It certainly did for The Knot, a wedding-planning resource site. In January, a photograph of a couple who got married during the Northeast’s “Snowzilla” blizzard became the brand’s most popular Instagram post ever, receiving 44,000 likes and 1,600 comments.

Six months later, The Knot has surpassed 1 million Instagram followers. It’s an impressive feat. Not only is The Knot the first wedding brand to reach the million mark, but it also did it all organically, without a single paid ad.

The brand launched its Instagram account in 2012, right after Facebook acquired the photo sharing app, but it’s really taken off in the last year. Its follower count has doubled, and the site, owned by lifestyle media company XO Group, is now averaging 8,000 likes and 200 comments per post. It’s generated more than 20 million likes and 500,000 comments overall, and was named the best brand on Instagram in the 2015 Digiday Content Marketing Awards.

“We decided not to use paid advertising because we were already seeing such success organically,” Jessica Molinari, The Knot’s social media editor, said of the company’s approach.

The Knot posts a combination of user-generated content and images from professional wedding photographers, which it sources from Two Bright Lights, a platform designed to connect photographers with magazine editors, but its strategy goes deeper than that.

Couple with influencers

“The best way to get the word out about your Instagram,” Molinari said, “is through other influential accounts.” Around 40 percent of consumers have made a purchase online after seeing an influencer use the item on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, or Vine, according to a study by Twitter and analytics firm Annalect.

The goal is cross-promotion. The Knot encourages influencers to promote its handle on their own accounts and does the same for them. “The relationship should be mutually beneficial,” Molinari said. “People are more likely to follow an account that is being endorsed by a person or brand that they trust, which is why these key partnerships are so important.”

The Knot also favors takeovers, in which an influencer will take the reins of its Instagram account for the day, thus expanding awareness of both the influencer and the brand.

Mix old hashtags with something new

Part of The Knot’s success lies in the nature of its content, which allows users to sneak a peek at another bride’s big day. The Wall Street Journal calls these content-hungry users “digital wedding crashers.” Through personalized hashtags—which are now used by almost 50 percent of couples—consumers can get a glimpse at venues, dresses, flowers, and even honeymoons.

Like those couples, The Knot leverages hashtags to help other users discover its content, mixing existing, long-time Instagram favorites like #ringselfie, #FashionFriday, and #ThankYouThursday with new custom hashtags like #theknotrings and location-specific alternatives that correspond with its regional print magazines, like #theknotmaine. Using hashtags that are both relevant and popular allows The Knot to reach users in wedding-planning mode who it hopes will become followers and, eventually, brand loyalists, Molinari said.

Ask your followers to help

Brands are notorious for creating custom hashtags, often with disastrous results. Usually, nobody uses them, and they’re lost in the ether.

Molinari’s solution for encouraging its followers’ use of tags like #theknotweddings and #theknotcakes is to offer something in return. “Consider doing a call out for user-generated content by having your followers use your hashtag and handle in exchange for a potential regram,” she said. The Knot has also run contests that require people to use its hashtag and Instagram handle to enter. “The more opportunities you give your followers to use your hashtags and handle, the better.”

Consider time of day and frequency

Although Instagram’s new algorithm no longer organizes posts on users’ feeds in chronological order, Molinari notes that posting time and frequency are still paramount.

In fact, timeliness is what led to the popularity of that snowstorm wedding post. “We had an advantage because a good majority of our followers were sitting at home waiting for the storm to pass,” Molinari explained.

As she sat back and watched, the photograph collected thousands of likes. The lesson? “Staying on top of and reacting to trending events will almost always give your post a bit of an engagement boost.”

Never stop making your content better

Like a marriage, your Instagram account requires near-constant care and attention. Molinari said that while Instagram’s new algorithm ranks highly engaging content over other posts, “granting you the top spot,” factors like how often your followers engage with your content play a role as well.

Her suggestion for gaining—and keeping—brand visibility is to assess your content’s ability to engage your followers on a weekly basis. For lifestyle brands like The Knot, understanding content trends and photography styles that resonate with consumers is a good place to start. “You don’t want to flood your feed with just one of these,” she said, “but adding them into the mix more regularly will boost overall engagement over time.”

That The Knot has been active on Instagram for years may give it a leg up, but it’s never too late to launch an organic social strategy that leads to a lasting relationship with your followers.

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