Instagram target audience research should be one of the first things on the list when developing an Instagram strategy.
Think about it.
To produce great content, you need to know what your followers like seeing in their feeds.
To write killer captions, you need to know which voice they find more relatable.
To find your best time to post, you need to know when your audience is online.
In other words, to experience Instagram greatness at its fullest, you need to know a lot about your audience FIRST. Actionable insights into your audience’s interests, preferences and behaviour ultimately pave the road to a successful Instagram strategy.
Question is, though: how do you find a target audience on Instagram? Where do you even look for it?!
I’m glad you asked, because, as always, you can find this helpful information on the Iconosquare blog 😉
Keep reading to find out:
How to Research an Ideal Instagram Target Audience
1. Start with bigger marketing personas
If you’re running a business, you probably already have a buyer persona: that is, a profile of an ideal customer that you want to market your product to.
This information should be reused when defining your ideal Instagram audience — there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Ask your marketing team about what the typical customer looks like. Later, once you’re digging into Instagram analytics, you’ll be able to add more nuance and detail to these customers’ profiles based on your social data.
You’ve got to ask yourself these four questions first:
- What is my product?
- What audience do I want to attract? (Or, whom is my product designed for?)
- What is my audience looking for?
- And, how am I going to attract that audience?
To exemplify this, let’s look at @recreationalstudio, a Sydney-based jewelry account.
Their product? Clearly, it’s jewelry. But it’s more specific than that: it’s 9K gold jewelry, with a minimalist design, made in Italy, complete with price tag.
That means that the target audience needs to a) have a refined taste for minimalist design, b) like gold jewelry, c) enjoy high-end products, and d) be able to afford them.
In other words, those are the boxes they must check in order to be considered an ideal customer, both offline and online.
Relying on your existing buyer persona is a great place to start. However, be aware that your Instagram target audience might be somewhat different than your typical customer that buys from you offline. That’s why it’s important to make sure it’s aligned with your demographic data from Instagram.
2. Check your Instagram demographics
When starting your research, demographical insights into your Instagram audience can be quite useful. Go to your Insights on the Instagram app and click Audience. There, you’ll be able to see the three most fundamental statistics on your followers: their gender, their age, and their location.
This is particularly important for when you will want to run Instagram ads in the future, as you’ll be able to get your content in front of your Instagram target audience by using this data.
Here, you might get a useful insight into who’s already following you. If your ideal target audience is, say, middle-aged men but Instagram tells you that most of your followers are millennial women, then you are clearly doing something wrong with your posting strategy and probably need to rethink it.
If your general buyer persona is in agreement with your demographic stats from Instagram, then well done!
Now, knowing this, the next step is to understand what the audience is looking for.
Let’s come back to the @recreationalstudio example.
So, from previous general research, we know that their typical audience is obsessed with minimalist, elegant jewelry with a touch of luxury. But the trick here, really, lies in understanding what this type of audience, that is looking for this type of product, is looking for on Instagram specifically.
In other words, what are they doing on the platform?
Are they looking for inspiration on Instagram?
Or are they looking for tips to accessorize?
Or perhaps they’re interested in a behind-the-scenes look at how the jewelry is made?
Or want to educate themselves about the difference between 9k and 18k gold?
Demographic stats would never tell you that information because they’re, well, demographic, not qualitative. The key in audience research lies in finding out your followers’ personal preferences, interests, habits, life philosophies — something that statistics simply can’t show.
How do you find this out?
Follow the next steps in this guide.
3. Stalk your followers
Stalking. Something that you should never do in real life, but something that is definitely worth doing during your Instagram target audience research.
A good place to start is to see who are the people that are already following you — or, better yet, engaging with you.
Go onto your Instagram.
Click on people who liked or commented on your latest posts. You’ll end up on their accounts. From there, check what they’re posting themselves, what hashtags they’re using, and, interestingly, what kind of captions they write and the language they use. If you find that your followers use lots of emojis, abbreviations like LOL or YOLO, you might want to include those elements in your own captions to make them sound more relatable.
After you’ve done that, click on your followers’ Followings and see whom they follow themselves.
This will give you an impression of what is it that they’re looking for on Instagram. They might be following your competitors or other similar accounts you didn’t know about. Or, you might also find out that they have interests you didn’t think they might have. For instance, in addition to being your follower, they might appear to be architecture geeks. Or interior design lovers who follow the #scandinaviandesign hashtag. Or follow a lot of fashion influencers.
How can you use this information?
Say you discovered that your followers, apart from following you, also follow lots of inspirational quotes accounts. Then what you could do is post an inspirational quote yourself once in a while, and see how it resonates with your audience. Or, another example, you discovered that many of your followers follow this one fashion influencer. Then reach out, partner up, and create a co-marketing campaign together!
You get the idea.
4. A little DM never hurt nobody
There’s nothing wrong with sending a DM to a new follower to ask why they decided to follow you and what is it that they expect to see on your account. Especially if you notice that someone likes your content on a regular basis or, even better, comments on your stuff all the time So just slide into their DMs with a casual message!
Here’s a simple example that you can use:
“Hey! We’ve noticed you’ve been following us for a while, thanks so much for the love! Quick question: what kind of content would you like to see us post? We’re trying to deliver best XYZ to our followers, and your feedback would be much appreciated!”
Easy. Peasy. Just be cool!
5. Check content your competitors are posing
Another way to find you ideal Instagram target audience is to steal one from your direct competitors.
“But Olga, how can you STEAL an audience from the competitors?”
I know. Doesn’t sound feasible. But hear me out.
First, identify your competitors. You can even start tracking them with Iconosquare, if you like.
Then, go to their profiles and check these two things:
- What do they post?
- What’s the engagement on their posts?
Say you’re a German-Indian fair-trade, sustainable clothing store account, like @jrotifairworks. One of their (somewhat indirect) competitors could be @hemper_, a brand of handmade backpacks from sustainable production, made in Nepal, with an audience that is into sustainable fashion (duh). Now, if we go on their account, we can see that apart from posting product pics (backpacks), the account often features Nepal travel content which gets a very high engagement rate. In fact, the highest engagement rate in comparison to anything else on their feed.
This means that Hemper’s target audience on Instagram isn’t following the brand for product only — it also follows the brand for inspiration, community, and that wholesome brand experience that is achieved through content diversity on the feed.
So if you’re a German-Indian fair-trade clothing account, perhaps featuring some India-inspired content wouldn’t be a bad idea 😉 It might attract an audience on Instagram that is currently ‘hanging out’ at your competitors’ accounts!
Another thing you can do is follow your competitors’ followers and engage with their accounts. Literally, smash their posts with likes and comment on a few. You’d be surprised to see how many people would follow you back!
Additionally, you can also check directly who’s liking and commenting on your competitors pages — and like and comment back! If you’re bold enough, you can even do it directly on your competitor’s page 😇 Just don’t be shameless and do a lot of self-promotion, the idea is to engage and feel relatable!
This tip works especially well if you’re starting from absolute scratch and you don’t have any followers at all yet.
6. Ask directly in the feed
The power of asking is often an underappreciated artform in marketing. Which is a pity, because, if you never ask, you never know what is it that your audience is into. Even Kim K doesn’t shy from asking feedback from her audience. Earlier this year she asked her followers directly in the feed about what kind of aesthetic they’re into, as she was looking to develop a consistent Instagram theme.
End your captions with a question and ask your followers what they want to see on your Instagram page. What kind of content? What type of format? Stories or Feed? Caption no caption?
Don’t be afraid to ask!
7. Use Instagram Polls
Instagram polls are also a way to research what kind of content the audience prefers seeing in the feed. You might already have some ideas of why people follow your account in the first place, but it never hurts to ask again to get confirmation you’re on the right track — or an indication that you’re not.
National Geographic, whose audience is very travel-focused, uses Stories Polls once in a while to ask what kind of destinations their followers find more attractive and, therefore, what kind of content is more engaging for them.
Look at this example:
If people would vote for “city” in the second poll, that could indicate that ‘city guides with useful tips’ kinda posts would probably get quite a lot of engagement if published on the feed. On the contrary, if the audience doesn’t vote for ‘country’ at all, it means they’re simply not interested in this topic, so no matter how much of that you’re going to post, they’re not going to be very engaged.
Use Instagram Polls to do your user research. Ask questions, just like you do with the CTA’s in your captions. Ask what topics they’re interested in. Ask what format they find more engaging. Is it short videos? Carousels? You can also ask why are they following your account in the first place.
In other words, ask for valuable insights that would help you refine your content strategy and make it appeal to your target audience more.
8. Use hashtags to find your Instagram target audience
Using the right Instagram hashtags can dramatically increase your reach on the platform.
What hashtags do is put you in front of the right audience.
However, a lot of people use hashtags passively, that is: they research them, post them, and hope for the best.
Thing is, a target hashtag is the type of hashtag your audience would use on Instagram themselves, so it only makes sense to be proactive. Your target audience should have the same interests as you, so if you use and follow the same hashtags, that’s a clear indication you’re a good match!
First, research well-targeted hashtags (here’s a guide on how to do it).
Then, take an active approach and go through content under these hashtags.
When you see something that is relevant to you, like it!
Then, go into the user’s profile and like their other photos. Don’t be shy, it’s okay! Leave a meaningful comment, or even two, and if you feel like this user is a perfect fit into your audience, you can also give them a follow.
It’s okay to follow other people as a brand, especially in the beginning of your Instagram journey. Just don’t do a shameless follow-for-follow and unfollow them instantly. Instead, use this opportunity to create a meaningful connection with someone who could become your Perfect Follower.
9. See what’s been working, and replicate the success
If you’ve been posting for a while, you should start backtracking the engagement rates of your posts to understand what kind of content your audience finds most interesting — and replicate that content in the future. It’s those who are genuinely interested in your content and are eager to interact that are your ideal Instagram audience — and the goal is to find that similar, lookalike audience by posting the type of posts that have proven to be successful before.
For instance, if I look at my own account (Analytics → Engagement), I can clearly see that my audience find portraits to be most engaging. Interestingly, my followers also tend to interact more with carousels, than normal posts.
So what should I do if I want to grow my followers and attract an engaged Instagram audience? Probably post more selfies and probably post more carousels.
Get what I mean?
10. Post at the right time
To reach your Instagram target audience, you should be posting your content when your audience is, well, online.
It doesn’t make sense to publish your content according to Central European Time time, if your target audience is in the LA timezone. From your demographic overview, you should be able to see your followers’ location, per country and per city:
Researching your ideal target audience on Instagram is not a one-time project. There’s no way to figure this out one time and go straight into content creation and promotion and never have to worry about it again.
Instagram target audience research is a work in progress. The more time you take, the more you learn about your audience — and then ultimately, the more refined and targeted your content strategy becomes.