Using Instagram to Drive Conversions and Grow a Community

Using Instagram to Drive Conversions and Grow a Community

Edwin PlottsEdwin Plotts

July 15, 2021

NOTE: Instagress is now a defunct service, as of May 2017. Some other services that have similar functionality still exist. However, the general concepts in the post — using conversational language to build a community and drive leads & conversions — still apply.

January 2017 Update: We used the Instagram + Instagress tactic detailed below to grow Ladder’s own Instagram following and validate the channel as a potential source for high-quality leads.

Spoiler Alert: It worked!

Click the button below to read about our setup:

Ladder + Instagram = ? >>

Over the course of five months, we ran tests for a consumer-focused social platform aimed at driving app installs. And developed their Instagram community.

Here are the results >>

  • A 530% increase in Instagram followers, from 1300 to 8000+.
  • More than 350 new app installs.
  • A customer acquisition cost of $0.14 per app install.

All that in just five months.

AND the followers we attracted were highly engaged and interested in our client’s feed. This is not the #follow4follow method many use on Instagram.

What we did was get people to follow us because we engaged with them. They checked out our client’s page and loved the quality content on their feed.

So here’s the takeaway:

The most efficient and cost-effective way to grow your Instagram audience and get more conversions from that social channel is by actively engaging with a targeted audience.

Not exactly breathtaking right? Sounds logical. Except good luck trying to engage with these people all day and night. Even if you could, you’d never engage with enough people for your efforts to truly make a difference for your business.

It’s a labor-intensive process when done manually.

And that’s where Instagress comes in.


Buying followers is generally a terrible idea on any social platform. It pollutes your audience data, makes it impossible to do proper follower targeting, and just results in your content showing up for bots and irrelevant accounts.

Following a million people in the hopes that they’ll follow you back isn’t the greatest either. Again, it pollutes your audience with people who don’t really care about your content, instead just following back for the sake of it.

Instagress allows you to create a very human auto-commenting system based on some surprisingly expansive targeting options (hashtags, @handles, followers of @handles, location, and more).

You want people to follow you because they discovered you, engaged with you, and want more from you.

Instagress allows you to automate that process while still retaining the human factor in your messaging.

Want to try this tactic for your brand or client?

Test this tactic >>

Don’t have an account? [Get a free trial]

Before we get started, let’s talk some numbers that show exactly how cost-efficent this strategy is to grow your Instagram following and snag conversions.

The Instagress tool only cost us $0.33 a day ($9.99/mo), drove 350+ total app installs across 5 months at an average of $0.14 each, and increased the client account’s social following and engagement exponentially.

In the first two months, the client’s Instagram account grew from 1300 to 4000. By the end of the five-month engagement, it reached 8000+ with very little hands-on management or manual work on our part.

But it gets even better!

We acquired extremely cost effective app installs. And we did it by optimizing the Instagram profile bio with strong copy and a direct CTA.

Here’s the breakdown >>

Total cost (5 months of testing):

$9.99/month x 5 months = $49.99

Profile link clicks (to App Store):

~2000 @ $0.02 CPC

App installs (iOS):

~350 (17.5% CVR) @ $0.14 CAC

Note: We had ~700 clicks from Android users, but the client’s app was iOS only. Factoring that in, our iOS app install conversion rate was 28% at a $0.03 CPC and $0.14 CAC.

Now getting ~350 app installs at $0.14 CAC and a 17.5% overall conversion rate on profile link clicks is terrific…

And how did we scale up? Let me tell you.

One thing we tested was creating a “fake” account with content that matched what a member of the target audience might post. We then used that account to leverage Instagress’ commenting feature to drive people to the client’s main Instagram profile.

This tactic increased our Instagram profile link clicks by 43%, installs by 74%, and follower growth by 15%.

And we could potentially have created several more profiles from which to comment on differing hashtag groups and direct people to the client’s Instagram profile.

It’s a pretty simple but highly effective system.

Now it’s your turn.

Your first step is to log into Instagress with the Instagram account that you want to accelerate.

Just a quick note, I discovered this particular template of settings on a forum over a year ago and can’t find the link. If you happen to discover the source, please let me know so I can link to it and give proper credit!

As a first-time user, you’ll get your first 3 days on the platform for free, and after that it’s an affordable $9.99/month or less.

Once you’re logged in and synced to your Instagram account you’ll arrive at the dashboard:

instagress dashboard

Below your profile you’ll want to click “Settings”:

instagress settings

Now there’s a ton of options but don’t worry about anything other than the ones specifically listed below for this test!

At the top, under “Select what you want to do”, turn on Likes and Comments. Don’t worry about follows for now.

instagress likes

Under “Targeting”:

  • Select “Tags”
instagress targeting

Under “Speed”:

  • Set “Activity speed” to “Fast”
  • This should automatically set “Likes/hour” to 40, “Comments/hour” to 10, and “Delay range” to 50%
  • Don’t worry about the Follows/Unfollows
instagress speed

Under “Filters”:

  • Set “Media age” to “2 weeks”
  • Set “Media type” to “Any”
  • Set “Max likes” to 50 (this ensures that our engagement will actually be seen)
  • Set “User relation” to “Both” (to have the largest reach)
  • Use the image below as a reference for additional settings
instagress filters

Under “Comment”:

  • Check on “Don’t comment on same users”


Now enter a list of tags into the “Tags” section.

The key here is to try to avoid tags that are likely on images that don’t pertain to you. That can be a tough ask, but the aim will be to stay as specific and relevant to your brand & product as possible.

For example, entering “throwbackthursday” as a tag would be a poor choice. Why? Because the comments that we’re about to set up might not make sense for every photo in that tag.

The goal for the comments will be to make them relevant and to ensure that they actually address the picture in question. So if you’re automating comments on pictures of cute puppies, you would want your comments to talk about how cute or adorable the pictures are. But if those comments land on, say, an amazing football catch video, they’d be entirely out of place.

An easy way to visualize this is through a hypothetical, so let’s do just that:

Let’s pretend we were running this tactic for Hired (a talent marketplace for hiring vetted high-quality software developers through a bidding process against other companies).

Given their goal of getting great job offers to software developers, I might choose the following tags:

  • freelancelife
  • freelancedev
  • programming
  • Hireme

Now, let’s add some comments in the “Comments” section. Instagress is particularly cool because it uses spintax, which allows for variables in each input.

For example, I might write “{I dig|Nice}. :thumbsup: If you {got|have} JS or Ruby skills (warning: shameless plug {inbound|incoming}!) {you might|you’d probably} like #Hired…we’ll help you get {a|the} job.”

Each bracket group contains randomized variables, so the comment above could start with “I dig” or “Nice”. So each bracket compounds the changes in the sentence creating many versions.

Now this is a simple example, but for yours, you might want to get a bit more complex so you’re properly addressing all possible variables here.

Best practices for this are:

  • The more comment strings the better. The greater variety you have the less likely Instagram will think you’re a bot.
  • The more variables in the comments the better – for the same reason mentioned above.
  • Open with a compliment. Just like dating, a compliment sets a positive stage.
  • Try to ask a relevant question. This will skyrocket your engagement if done well.
  • Be transparent. That’s why I added the “shameless plug incoming”. Sneaking a pitch in will get you marked as spam. Being up front and offer info in a human/silly way will get you engagement

Once you have a set of comments and hashtags, click start!

IMPORTANT NOTE: once Instagress is running you should stop liking photos. Just let Instagress’ automated system like them. And try to only comment on photos that you’ve already commented on, or on your own photos. Commenting on and liking posts that have not been engaged with by Instagress may cause Instagram to think you account was hacked and will require a password reset. This will also stop Instagress from running until you reconnect with the new password, which obviously defeats a lot of the purpose of automating this process.

Now that you’re all set…

Try to post 1 quality post every day for 30 days.

Yes, this is a manual process, but it shouldn’t be that different from what you were doing already if you had an active Instagram presence to begin with!

*That said, always go quality over quanity so 3-4 posts a week will work too, but it would not grow as quickly.

What this does is it keeps your profile fresh and updated, giving new followers a reason to keep coming back, engaging, and interacting with your brand.

After the 1st 30 days you don’t have to be as consistent, but it’ll certainly help and is a smart way to grow your social presence at a steady pace.

Pro Tip >> Although commenting on “virgin” photos might mess up your Instagress flow, I do recommend that you keep an eye on the replies that will soon be filling your notifications bar. Try to respond when appropriate. If someone asks you a question or provides a well thought answers to one of you automated comments, be sure to respond back.

It can be as simple as a few emojis. This will help build your engaged community and ease people’s suspicions of you being a bot. The extra step will make you stand out from all the random comment bots, so it is key!

I’ve actually done this for my personal account, @edplotts.

Using this system I ask other amateur photographers for tips, and have seen my account grow from 100 to 3000 highly engaged followers.

It’s also given me a stream of interesting advice from different perspectives…which is hopefully improving my photography. 😉

Now go experiment for yourself and let me know how it goes! Hit me up with your results – would love to hear about it.

January 2017 Update: Instagram + Ladder

We put our money where our mouth is and decided to use the above Instagram + Instagress tactic to work on the Ladder Instagram account. Two months ago, we began to use Instagress to grow Ladder’s Instagram following, all for the sake of generating new leads.

Keep in mind — Ladder is a B2B company offering tech-powered marketing services, so we’re not expecting thousands of followers or hundreds of leads generated. Our growth expectation isn’t the same as that of a B2C business. This is important to note when considering our numbers and results below.

Let’s look into our setup:

Step 1: Populating the Account

We started with a basic idea for our account: taking the warehouse of growth hacking value that we built in the form of the Ladder Playbook, modifying it for a more social platform, and bringing it to a new audience.

For that, we began putting together some posts like these:

instagram post

We also made sure to set up our bio to direct people to the right page — it’s the only link we’re allowed on Instagram, so it’s critical we send people to the right place. We chose the Ladder Planner page.

instagram profile bio

We made sure to use a Bitlink to keep things short, but added in proper UTMs to the link so we can track performance in Google Analytics.

Step 2: Targeting on Instagress

Next, we needed to figure out who to target using Instagress. Since we work heavily with startups, accelerator-backed companies, and seed-stage businesses, we decided to target the followers of the Instagram accounts of major startup and career accelerators like Y Combinator, TechStars, and Startup Institute.

accelerator targeting

And with that, we created an early audience to test. If this audience worked, we’d have validated the idea that these are the types of accounts whose followers we should target.

Step 3: Messaging

Now let’s look at our messaging for these followers-of-accelerators. Here’s what we put together:

messaging copy

Simple, casual, friendly, and human-sounding. We made sure to make things relevant to the specific person we’re reaching out to so we don’t sound spammy.

Step 4: Responses

One of the most important things we did along the way was monitor our Instagress activity — whenever we got a response, whether positive or negative, we replied back. This is key to showing that a real human being is behind these messages, even if they are automated, and it helps us garner positive impressions from people we message.

instagram reply

Step 5: Results

Now for the fun part: what actually happened over the last 36 days?

Here’s the breakdown:

  • $0.27 spent per day = $9.72 total spend
  • 764 new followers (from original following of 16)
  • 172 sessions to Planner
  • 5 leads generated @ $1.94 cost per lead

$1.94 cost per lead. That’s pretty insane considering our ideal maximum cost per lead is $60 and our current AdWords campaigns perform between at a $30-$50 cost per lead.

instagram growth

And these leads were high-quality as well – real businesses in our target audience that we qualified as great potential partners.

None of those leads have closed to date, and chances are none will, but that’s not the point of this test. We’ve now validated that Instagram is a strong tool in our content marketing and social media arsenal, and the future is looking exceptionally bright for this channel. Time to double down.`

We’ll keep investing in Instagress and growing our Instagram following, optimizing and tweaking along the way. And by the end of Q1 2017, there’s a good chance we’ll land our first client through Instagram.

So there you have it – Instagram CAN in fact be used to grow B2B businesses. So use the Instagress guide above to implement this tactic for your business.

Keep an eye out on the Ladder Blog for a full, more in-depth case study on our internal use of Instagram and Instagress in the future!

And finally, make sure you keep up with Ladder as we share our entire tactic database — Follow us on Instagram!

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