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Instagram Top Posts: How to Get there.

Instagram Top Posts have existed for a good year now but I have yet to write about them. However, getting my content trending in the top posts area is one of the most important aspects of my Instagram marketing strategy. First, I should caveat that if you go all laser-focused/obsessed about creating content that will trend, or “go viral,” you are going to live sorely disappointed. The ability to trend is not a given, but you can be aware of what the good qualities of “trending” content are. Use this knowledge to put forth your A-game each day. (Isn’t this what we should be doing as marketers, anyway?)

Instagram Top Posts are one of the most important aspects of my #Instagram marketing strategy. Click To Tweet

What are Instagram Top Posts?

When you go to the Explore tab in the Instagram app and type in a hashtag, the “Top Posts” area is the grid of 9 posts at the top. These are posts that Instagram has selected, presumably through some kind of algorithm, to be featured. Per usual, we don’t know the EXACT formula for getting to this coveted spot, but I’ve identified some general “rules” through trial and experience.

In the above image, I’m showing two examples. One for the hashtag #handlettering (which has quite a few results, 3+ million), and one using the hashtag #instagramtips (almost 50k results).

I’m going to get to the “how to get here” in a moment. Before that, I wanted to break down the top post results for both of these hashtags for context. Here is how things break down:

Top Post Examples Breakdown in a table

Remember that #handlettering has over 3 million results showing for that hashtag, and #instagramtips has around 50k. A few observations here:

  • The trending posts are not always from the biggest accounts. On #handlettering, the top result is from an account with 72,000 followers. An account with almost a half a million followers is in the four-spot. A “smaller” account with just 27,900 followers is trending at the six-spot.
  • While you don’t have to have the biggest account to win the top spot, for hashtags with a higher number of results (like #handlettering), you are more likely to win a trending spot if your account is larger. While I have seen some really small accounts trend for a giant hashtag, it doesn’t happen all that often. If you are sitting there with 600 followers, I wouldn’t become obsessed with trying to trend for #handlettering. I would look for something else in that hashtag family with fewer results to try and trend for.
  • The larger the hashtag, the more quickly the trending posts are refreshed. For a large hashtag like our #handlettering example, it’s unlikely that you would stay in a trending spot for more than 24-hours. But for smaller hashtags, like #instagramtips, you may be able to remain trending for a day or two (or more)!

These observations are not just based on these two examples.  They are based on my ALL observations from the time that Instagram Top Posts were rolled out, but I’ve chosen these two examples to illustrate my thoughts.

Tips for Trending Content

So now that we understand a little bit about who is sitting in these top spots, I’ll share my tips for getting there:

  • First, you don’t see spammy, crappy content up here. The one thing that all of this trending content has in common is that it is high-quality and adds value to the person consuming it. Learn more about developing high quality social media content here. Tip: Bring your A-game every day and post beautiful images with valuable captions.
  • Because you see a mix of larger and smaller accounts (even on the #handlettering example, a 27k follower account is WAY different in size than the 445k follower account), I believe that engagement is a huge success-factor. Likewise, whenever I post something that gets a lot of likes and comments, it trends 99% of the time. Tip: ASK for engagement, post things that inspire comments and likes, and post at your best time.
  • Engagement is great, but quick engagement is even better. Trending posts generally take their position within the first 24 hours of posting, so you need it to happen fast. Tip: (Again) Post at your best time, but also use the right mix of hashtags to get some quick engagement (even if it isn’t the most genuine).
Help your #Instagram content to trend in the top posts area by posting at your optimal time. Click To Tweet

Picking the Best Hashtags

If you spend any time on Instagram at all, you know that the spam game is strong right now. Like, for every genuine and thoughtful comment, you get 9 emoji-only smiley faces that mean squat. While it’s usually really annoying, it can actually be helpful if you are trying to get to the Instagram Top Posts area.

The first step here is being aware of what is realistic for YOU to trend for. For me, while I HAVE trended for #socialmedia before (4.6 million results), with my current 11k followers, I’m more likely to trend for smaller, highly targeted hashtags like #socialmediamanager or #instagramtips. I’ve talked a lot in the past about picking hashtags, and how hashtag relevancy is more important than the number of results for that hashtag. That holds true here.

#Love has a gazillion results, but it’s very, very generic. If you are selling shoes, it isn’t going to serve you well. The same principle applies here. It would be awesome to trend for some huge hashtag like #instagood, but who cares if your target audience isn’t looking there?

You know your hashtags should be highly targeted and relevant, regardless of size. However, if you want a shot at trending, you will also want to include 3-5 “big” hashtags, that are less-targeted. For me, it’s hashtags like #entrepreneur, #business, and #marketing. They are still highly relevant to me, but they have a lot of results, and therefore a lot of folks double-tapping up a storm.

A Frequently Asked Question

I’m feeling like someone may ask, “Can I go pay for some likes to get my content to the top posts area?” And the answer is NO. You can’t. It might feel good in the short term, but this kind of practice dilutes the effectiveness of Instagram (or any social media) over the long term. You are ruining it for everyone, including yourself. So just don’t.

Have you ever had one of your posts reach the Instagram Top Posts area? What would you add to these tips?






Molly Marshall teaches small business owners and online entrepreneurs how to systematically and simply grow a profitable online presence through social media. Get your FREE Instagram Strategy Guide now!

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