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“Why you need to understand the Instagram algorithm” With Brian Peters, digital marketing manager at Buffer

Understand the Instagram algorithm. Social media algorithms play a very important role in the ability for marketers and business owners to make an impact online. And although the Instagram algorithm is often difficult to understand, businesses need to learn to work with it and not against it if they want to find success. In hundreds […]


Understand the Instagram algorithm. Social media algorithms play a very important role in the ability for marketers and business owners to make an impact online. And although the Instagram algorithm is often difficult to understand, businesses need to learn to work with it and not against it if they want to find success. In hundreds of conversations with marketers around the world, we’ve found that something as simple as posting consistently can dramatically improve your business results.


I had the pleasure of interviewingBrian Peters. Brian is the digital marketing manager at Buffer, a social media management platform that makes it easy for businesses and marketing teams to schedule posts, analyze performance, and manage all their accounts in one place. Based in the Rocky Mountains, Brian manages Buffer’s digital marketing campaigns and initiatives across the board such as social media, partnerships, advertising, content, video, the Buffer podcast, and more. Brian and his wife Katelyn have lived in eight different cities over the last two years, including New York, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, and Vancouver, B.C.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I am very fortunate to be in the position I am today at Buffer — it’s truly a dream come true to be able to live and work remotely from wherever makes me happiest in the world.

I started out in the insurance industry in 2012 and quickly realized that insurance wasn’t going to be my long-term career path, but I had no idea what I wanted to do. That’s when I met a professor at my alma mater that introduced me to the world of marketing. Although I was really good at sales, marketing captivated me in a way that is hard to explain. I never looked back.

Five short years later, after various marketing roles in social media, brand management, and digital marketing at one of California’s top universities, I am proud to say that I’m going on my third year at Buffer. Every day brings a new opportunity and challenge to solve as digital marketing manager, where my role includes a bit of everything: social media, advertising, podcasting, content marketing, partnerships, product management, video marketing — you name it.

Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about Social Media Marketing?

There are so many incredible people working in the social media industry these days; I feel super grateful to be able to play a small part in helping marketers, and business owners improve their social media results on crucial platforms such as Instagram and Facebook.

Over the years I’ve helped multiple organizations grow their social media accounts — followers and engagement — while simultaneously impacting the bottom line. As the digital marketing manager at Cal Poly University, I led the team that increased engagement by 800% over the course of two years. I also managed all social media and communications for the Office of the President. At Buffer, I’ve helped to increase our total audience size from 400,000 in 2016 to more than 1,000,000 followers across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Perhaps most importantly, I’ve worked with several great brands such as Animoto, BuzzSumo, Delmondo, and others to publish original pieces of research in the social media industry. This science-backed approach to social media marketing is one of the main factors that have helped us to be so successful over the years.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

I’ve always believed that in the world of marketing and social media, if you focus on consistently helping and educating people, eventually someone will take notice.

That’s precisely what happened in early 2017 when we partnered with Animoto on a big research study that looked at how landscape (16:9) video format performed vs square (1:1) video format on social media.

That partnership led to an invitation to speak alongside Gary Vaynerchuk and Sue Bryce at the Animoto Video Summit in New York City. I was out of my league, but Gary and Sue were terrific people. They gave me some advice on those starting their marketing careers:

Learn to love failing. Trying and experimenting with new strategies almost always leads to failure (and that’s a good thing!) Success is often by a byproduct of failing and getting back up.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my career!

However, one of the biggest mistakes I made when I was first starting out, and one that I now look back on and laugh, was when I was personally managing the President of Cal Poly University’s Twitter account.

As many social media marketers know, you can easily switch back and forth between Twitter accounts in the app. Well, I thought I was Tweeting from my personal account, but I was still logged in under the President’s account. I Tweeted something about the Los Angeles Dodgers and didn’t realize for about two hours that I had sent the Tweet out under the wrong account. Needless to say, the President wasn’t too happy with me!

I learned that when you’re in a public-facing position such as roles within marketing and social media, you have to be nearly perfect with everything from timing to spelling to grammar. That Tweet is the reason why I still double-check everything before posting anything to social.

Which social media platform have you found to be most effective to use to increase business revenues? Can you share a story from your experience?

Today, I’ve found that Facebook and Instagram offer the most effective way for businesses to increase their revenue on social media directly. Not only do they offer more than 2 billion monthly users on their platform for businesses to target, but they also feature robust advertising tools to reach very specific audiences.

For example, I helped consult for a small e-commerce brand on the side during the Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend, and we were able to drive more than $2,500 in revenue from Instagram Ads alone — spending a mere $250 total in advertisements. That’s a 900% return on investment (ROI)!

Let’s talk about Instagram specifically, now. Can you share 6 ways to leverage Instagram to dramatically improve your business? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Utilize Instagram Stories

An incredible 400 million people around the world use Instagram Stories on a daily basis (with that number rapidly growing by the minute). Whether you’re promoting your product, giving your audience a behind-the-scenes look at your business, or simply posting entertaining content, the Stories format offers businesses an exciting new way to reach audiences. At Buffer, for example, we’re using Instagram Stories to drive awareness around various company initiatives that help drive traffic back to our key landing pages.

2. Understand the Instagram algorithm

Social media algorithms play a very important role in the ability for marketers and business owners to make an impact online. And although the Instagram algorithm is often difficult to understand, businesses need to learn to work with it and not against it if they want to find success. In hundreds of conversations with marketers around the world, we’ve found that something as simple as posting consistently can dramatically improve your business results.

3. Boost your top performing posts

Growing your account organically is wonderful, but it’s also a huge challenge for many businesses. By putting a few dollars behind your top performing posts, you’re greatly increasing the speed at which your account will grow. At Buffer, for example, we spend $20 per day on boosting our top posts, which has helped us to grow our account by an average over 50% month-over-month. Not to mention the thousands of engagements we receive in the process.

4. Embrace user-generated content

One thing that we hear from businesses is that it’s difficult to find and create consistently engaging content for Instagram. I believe that the best way to supplement your own branded content is to feature posts from your community and other users. There is an unlimited amount of beautiful content on Instagram today and businesses that know where to look and how to tap into that content are seeing tremendous results. During the period of six months in 2018, we saw a 300% growth in audience size after experimenting with a UGC strategy.

5. Maximize your hashtags

Instagram is one of the few social media platforms where hashtags truly matter and make a big impact on results. Hashtags play an important role in the Instagram algorithm when it comes to content discoverability in the Explore feed. When used correctly, hashtags can help users that have never heard of your brand or business discover your content. For pro users, we recommend adding the hashtags as the “first comment” on your own post in order to keep your caption clean and tidy. Also, try to use no more than 15 highly-targeted and relevant hashtags for best results with your content.

6. Pay attention to the small details

With more than 1 billion monthly users, Instagram is becoming a second “home page” for businesses around the world. In other words, your Instagram account is an extension of your brand’s website or storefront. Businesses should treat it that way. Pay attention to even the smallest details such as your company description, website URL, how your feed looks on the whole, the language you use, your captions, etc. Everything matters. Many of the most successful brands on Instagram today use their feed as a visual representation of what their brand is all about.

Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could spark a movement it would most certainly be in relation to social media and the 2 billion+ people that use the various networks each month. While there is a TON of good on social today, I also feel like there is a lot of negativity that is spread and passed along on social media.

I’d love to inspire and encourage a larger majority of people to use social media to positively impact the world. Whether that’s raising money for natural disasters, helping others that are going through tough times, or simply saying something kind each day to people in your network, there’s so much potential. After all, social media connects more than one third of the earth’s population, we just need to understand how to better leverage that power.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

If I could sit down with one person in the world for breakfast it would be the host of The Daily Show, Trevor Noah. He went through so much growing up in South Africa to get where he is today that I think I could learn a ton from him. He’s an inspiration in so many different ways.

Plus, Trevor Noah is an amazing storyteller and has a knack for understanding and conveying the human experience on a deep, personal level. That sort of thing is infinitely interesting to me.

Thank you so much for these great insights. This was very enlightening!

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