Instagram is a strange beast if you think about it. The platform is exclusively built sharing photos with short captions (and now Instagram Stories) but there are some people who have harnessed the platform to reach Instagram fame, and then real fame.
For example, models are using it as a stepping stone to launch their careers, and there are bloggers who have ditched their WordPress sites altogether to focus on their much more lucrative Instagram accounts.
With the power behind the platform, it’s only natural that people are scurrying to grow their followings. Now there are endless ways to go about this, and some are ickier than others.
I’m all about growing a genuine and authentic brand, and my Instagram is an extension of my brand, so I focus on organically growing my account with followers who fit my targeted audience.
I’ve already spent some time in the past covering methods that I don’t encourage*, but if you’re looking for advice on what you should be doing, stick around. These are the methods that I’ve used to double my Instagram following in the past six months.
*Though I don’t encourage those methods, nothing against you if you use and love them! To each their own – everyone’s journey and end goal is different.
The basics for growing your Instagram
Before you’re going to see real growth in your account, there are a few steps you’ll want to take up front to get your account #InstaFamous ready.
Establish an Instagram theme
Instagram theme, cohesive feed, aesthetic….whatever you want to call it – have it. I have a huge in depth post on how to establish your Instagram theme, but here is the gist:
- Have a consistent color palette so each photo flows into the next. This doesn’t mean you need to have a monotone theme or even stick to a two or three color palette. Even a very subtle palette can pull things together. Me? I have stark white and brown in 90% of my pictures.
See? Those colors are pretty easy to accomplish as a brunette who wears a lot of neutrals. Look through your camera roll and see what colors are the most prominent and choose your palette based off of that.
- Post consistently. OK, do as I say, not as I do. If you can post every day – that’s awesome. Some superhumans even post twice or three times a day (#jealous). Me? I try to post at least 5 times a week. Being consistent means that your content is going to be put out there more often and your followers will get to know you more quickly so they’ll be less likely to unfollow.
- Use hashtags. If you’re new to the world of marketing yourself online and are used to only using Instagram to share selfies with your friends and family, hashtags can feel tacky. (Trust me, I resisted them for months.) But, they’re necessary to see growth. Check out how you can grow your account with hashtags here.
Now that we’ve got that covered…
Let’s dive into strategy! Like I said, there are a million different ways to grow your account, but I won’t be talking about methods like Instagress or Loop Giveaways because I believe they are detrimental in the long run. Instead, let’s dive into growing your account authentically.
The number one strategy I use takes a few steps:
Identify key players in your niche
These are the people whose followers would also be interested in the things you’re posting. These people probably have 30-100k (the huge accounts don’t have targeted enough followers for this to be effective, though you can throw a few into the mix.)
For me, I am looking for people whose followers are women in their late teens and early twenties who are interested in fashion and lifestyle. I check to see the content of their feed, and the more similar to my feed, the better.
Turn on notifications for these people and engage
Identify ~10 of these people and turn on their notifications. When you get notified that they posted, like their picture and leave a genuine and thoughtful comment. Other people who see your comment might check out your account and follow if your aesthetic is similar.
I get anywhere from 5 to 20 notifications a day (usually close to 10, though) and sometimes I don’t get any followers from my comment, but more often than not I’ll get two or three. It’s not a game-changing number by any means, but it’s an easy way to get followers who are genuinely interested in you.
And you have the bonus of being one of these larger Instagrammers’ “regulars” and I find now some of these people will come back and like my pictures which usually leads to a boost in engagement.
Take it a step further
If you’ve got extra time go through and interact with the other people who have left comments. You don’t need to follow them, but liking a few pictures and leaving a genuine comment can go a long way. When I do this I’ll get around ten new followers.
Why this works
This method is introducing you to an audience that has already proved to be interested in content like yours but who may have never found you otherwise.
By engaging with someone that they are a fan of they’ll see you have common interests, and by engaging with them they’ll be likely to check your account out and engage back. If you’re lucky, they’ll follow.
Commenting right away accomplishes two things: The person who posted is on Instagram right when you comment and they might comment back or like your pictures which helps you gain favor from the algorithm, and also the other people commenting will still be on, too.
The hashtag strategy:
This one is a little less effective if you don’t do a good job researching your hashtags, but it’s still a great way to get your name out there and introduce yourself to a new audience.
Research your hashtags
This step is crucial to seeing results. You need to find a hashtag that is active but not oversaturated. Look for one that has a very clearly defined niche audience that would be interested in what you’re sharing. For example, if I were a vegan food blogger I might choose the hashtag #veganlunch. It has around 250k post so it’s active but not crazy saturated like #vegan is with over 32 million posts. It’s also comprised of 95% food shots so your vegan food photography will fit right in.
My go to hashtag for this step is #collegeblogger. I no longer am in that category (#adulting) but that’s where I got my start, where people know me, and where a lot of my target audience hangs out. Plus, with only 33k posts, it’s not too busy.
Same here as when you’re interacting with a bigger Instagrammer. Like pictures, leave comments, and follow any beautiful accounts that you find.
As always, comments have a higher return than just liking does, but sometimes if I only have a minute or two to kill I’ll go through and just like 15 pictures super quick.
For this if you’re leaving comments you can expect a higher return on followers than if you’re just liking, but either one should yield great results.
Why this works
Again, we are finding an audience that has already proven to be interested in content similar to what you post so engaging with them in a natural way puts you on their radar.
By leaving genuine comments catered to the picture (i.e. “That lip color is great on you, red is definitely your color!” rather than “Great pic!”) you’ll leave them feeling proud of their content (yay!) but now they might also check you out and return the favor.
Follower appreciation strategy:
This one takes the longest and you get the smallest return in terms of followers, but you get a big return in follower loyalty and actually getting to know your followers.
Go through your following list and repeat the same exact steps I mentioned earlier. Like your followers’ pictures, leave comments, and be your charming self!
Why this works
The benefit of this is that your followers’ followers are now going to see you engaging with them and might check you out, too.
Plus, you’ll win extra brownie points with the people who already know and love you!
As always: stay authentic and make your mark
There are so many “get rich quick” schemes when it comes toInstagram, but so many will come back to bite you in the butt in the long run. You’re better off going with a slow and steady approach if you want to have positive, long-term results.
Want more Instagram tips? I created a BRAND NEW Facebook group called The Instagram Fam where you can share your feed for critique, partake in follow Fridays and engagement threads, and meet other like-minded, Insta-obsessed bloggers!