Insta­gram can be an effec­tive and inex­pen­sive tool for mar­ket­ing your busi­ness. But when the algo­rithm that ranks and shares posts changes, you can be left won­der­ing whether any­one is see­ing your con­tent.

Entre­pre­neur Melis­sa Camil­leri isn’t intim­i­dat­ed by algo­rithm changes, though – and she does­n’t think oth­er busi­ness own­ers should be either.

The founder of jew­el­ry and gift com­pa­ny Com­pli­ment Inc., Camil­leri grew her busi­ness by using Insta­gram to con­nect with cus­tomers and estab­lish a brand. The store’s Insta­gram account now has over 34,000 fol­low­ers, and Com­pli­ment Inc. has grown to include a year­ly schol­ar­ship fund, men­tor­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, a pod­cast and an online course in which Camil­leri teach­es oth­er small busi­ness own­ers how to use Insta­gram.

Camil­leri has been using Insta­gram long enough to have sur­vived sev­er­al iter­a­tions of the plat­for­m’s struc­ture and algo­rithm. She rec­om­mends nine strate­gies for using Insta­gram to suc­cess­ful­ly con­nect with cus­tomers, no mat­ter what changes the algo­rithm throws your way.

1. Stay on-brand

If you are using Insta­gram to pro­mote your busi­ness, every­thing you post should rep­re­sent your brand.

I noticed that my posts that includ­ed humor or some­thing inspi­ra­tional, which is in line with my brand voice, got the most inter­ac­tion,” Camil­leri said of her ear­ly days on Insta­gram. Once she under­stood that pat­tern, she was able to plan out future con­tent that rep­re­sent­ed her busi­ness in the same way.

Stick­ing to on-brand con­tent helps cus­tomers get to know and feel con­nect­ed to your busi­ness. Both the images you post and the cap­tions you write should reflect the tone, val­ues and mis­sion of your busi­ness.

2. Show up consistently

One of the biggest mis­takes that busi­ness­es make on Insta­gram is post­ing spo­rad­i­cal­ly. With­out con­sis­tent work and engage­ment, Camil­leri warned, you won’t see much trac­tion on Insta­gram.

Incon­sis­ten­cy means cus­tomers will stop inter­act­ing with your posts. When that hap­pens, the Insta­gram algo­rithm is less like­ly to show your account in fol­low­ers’ feeds, or your cus­tomers may stop fol­low­ing you.

A good busi­ness Insta­gram account stands out from oth­ers through its thought­ful­ness and inten­tion,” Camil­leri said.

Suc­cess­ful users “make Insta­gram a pri­or­i­ty in reach­ing poten­tial new cus­tomers,” she added. “They are show­ing up every sin­gle day to post and com­ment.”

3. Make real connections

Inter­act­ing with oth­er Insta­gram users is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant for busi­ness­es that need to make gen­uine con­nec­tions with cus­tomers to see any impact on their bot­tom line.

Gen­uine con­nec­tions hap­pen when you par­tic­i­pate in the Insta­gram com­mu­ni­ty. This includes respond­ing to com­ments that peo­ple leave, answer­ing ques­tions, par­tic­i­pat­ing in chal­lenges, host­ing give­aways and writ­ing your own thought­ful com­ments on oth­er users’ pic­tures.

Insta­gram is a social media plat­form,” Camil­leri empha­sized. “The accounts [that] do the best … are the ones who are actu­al­ly social and com­mu­ni­cate with [cus­tomers].”

4. Consider your grid

The spread of pho­tos vis­i­ble on your pro­file page, known as your grid, is often a poten­tial fol­low­er’s intro­duc­tion to your busi­ness. Because Insta­gram is a visu­al plat­form, the aes­thet­ics of the grid mat­ter. These pho­tos should look good togeth­er and pro­vide a visu­al clue to what your brand stands for. Hav­ing an incon­sis­tent or thought­less grid can lose you fol­low­ers, while an aes­thet­i­cal­ly coher­ent grid encour­ages new peo­ple to fol­low your account.

When I go to a page and it is a messy mish­mash with no rhyme or rea­son, it … does not encour­age me to fol­low that account,” Camil­leri said. “Busi­ness­es should not just be con­cerned about each indi­vid­ual pic­ture they are post­ing, but also how that pic­ture actu­al­ly looks next to all their oth­er pic­tures in their grid view.”

5. Embrace hashtags

Hash­tags are an inte­gral part of using Insta­gram, allow­ing you to engage in com­mu­ni­ties, par­tic­i­pate in chal­lenges and help new peo­ple find your account. Camil­leri strong­ly rec­om­mend­ed that all types of busi­ness­es use hash­tags on every post.

If you are a brick and mor­tar shop with a phys­i­cal loca­tion … find out what hash­tags are pop­u­lar in that city and in the neigh­bor­hood where your shop is,” she said. “If there aren’t any, get togeth­er with your neigh­bor­ing busi­ness­es and cre­ate one and let peo­ple know.”

You’ll see bet­ter engage­ment if you avoid gener­ic hash­tags, which are usu­al­ly one word like #cof­fee or #books. Instead, find mul­ti-word hash­tag com­mu­ni­ties that relate to your busi­ness or aes­thet­ic, such as #cupsin­frames or #dai­ly­dose­of­pa­per.

6. Reach out

Don’t just wait for cus­tomers to come to you on Insta­gram. Active­ly seek them out and pro­mote your account.

Ask any cus­tomers you already have to con­nect with you on Insta­gram,” Camil­leri sug­gest­ed. “Pub­lish your Insta­gram han­dle on your busi­ness cards, put it in your email sig­na­ture, include it in every newslet­ter, have it post­ed in your shop, include it in every pack­age you send out.”

You should also seek out oth­er store own­ers in your neigh­bor­hood or col­leagues in your indus­try. Being as con­nect­ed as pos­si­ble will put your busi­ness in front of more poten­tial fol­low­ers.

7. Be creative

Many busi­ness­es fall into a rut of post­ing only prod­uct shots or stock pho­tog­ra­phy. But assem­bling a cre­ative vari­ety of posts can help you stand out.

You see the accounts that infuse humor or teach their cus­tomers some­thing new or post beau­ti­ful, inspir­ing pic­tures with thought­ful com­men­tary doing real­ly well and con­tin­u­al­ly grow­ing,” Camil­leri said.

If you feel stuck, think about the reac­tion you want to cre­ate when peo­ple look at your con­tent.

Peo­ple con­nect with brands based on… how that brand makes them feel,” Camil­leri said. “How can you show your prod­uct or ser­vice in a way that evokes some sort of emo­tion from your fol­low­ers?”

8. Identify your target customer

As with any form of busi­ness pro­mo­tion, suc­cess­ful­ly using Insta­gram requires know­ing who you are mar­ket­ing to. The tar­get cus­tomer pro­file that you devel­op for your oth­er forms of mar­ket­ing should inform your Insta­gram strat­e­gy as well.

Know your cus­tomer,” said Camil­leri. “And then think: How can I edu­cate them, or enter­tain them, or inspire them, or encour­age them, or con­nect with them? If the pic­tures and cap­tions you post strive to meet one of those objec­tives, you’ll see your engage­ment on Insta­gram grow.”

9. Expect changes

It can be tempt­ing to antic­i­pate the changes Insta­gram might make to its plat­form and try to fig­ure out how to beat them. But Camil­leri notes that you’ll have more luck if you expect changes but don’t spend too much time think­ing about the algo­rithm.

Change is inevitable,” she said. “Just like we have the pow­er to make the deci­sions in our busi­ness that will ben­e­fit our bot­tom line, so do the own­ers of Insta­gram.”

Algo­rithm changes are less like­ly to affect your Insta­gram engage­ment if you are focused on your cus­tomers, rather than gam­ing the sys­tem.

If your busi­ness can mas­ter the art of real human con­nec­tion on Insta­gram,” said Camil­leri, “then you will be prac­ti­cal­ly algo­rithm­proof.”