7 Steps for Growing Your Instagram Following

by Rachel Sawden

Building a brand on Instagram and growing an Instagram following can seem like an impossible feat, but it just takes seven steps. When I decided to grow my Instagram, I employed these steps, and grew from 2000 followers to 20,000 in the span of 12 months.

Here they are:

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1. Pick Your Niche

To start your journey as a content creator, it’s important to think about why people should follow you. Approaching this with a mindset of being a value add for your followers will help greatly. This is where the niche comes in. What will you be posting about? Travel? Beauty? Lifestyle? Choose your niche, and if you can, make it specific. This specificity will set you apart from others in your niche.

My niche is travel, but I have honed-in my niche to “tropical travel”. I post images from tropical locations, particularly with water in the background. People know what they’re going to be getting from me when I post on my feed.

Do not stray from your niche or you will lose followers. Save non-niche related content for your stories.

2. Define Your Aesthetic

Now that you have your niche, you’ll need to define your aesthetic. This will be in the way your images are shot and edited. If you’re not sure where to start, look at other pages that you like. Look at the way they’re edited. Are they saturated or desaturated, what color tones are used? Does the content have a modern or vintage feel?

Many of the larger creators will have editing mobile presets for the (free) Adobe Lightroom app, so if you’re new to editing I would buy a preset pack and download Adobe Lightroom. Upload the preset, and then go into the settings and see what they’ve changed them to and play around. It would also be worth watching some tutorials on image editing so you can understand how the controls work, and what they’ll do to your image. A great place to start is Skillshare – they have hundreds of classes on photography and photo-editing. Click here to get 2 months of Skillshare for free!*

Please for the love of all that is beautiful get in the habit of straightening your horizon as your first editing step!

Edit your content consistently the same or use presets for not only the look of the individual images but the overall look of your gallery is incredibly important. When people go to your page, the consistency will be indicative to a potential follower of what they’ll be following you for, and what kind of content to expect. Here are some accounts with beautiful and well-defined aesthetics:

It would also be worth downloading a gallery planning app, like Planoly so you can see what your gallery will look like with your planned posts. You can identify potential aesthetic issues and fix them before posting.

3. Post Only Quality Content

Your gallery page should be reserved for the best of the best content. Everything that ends up on your page should be the best image shot and edited to perfection. One poor image can not only lose your engagement but also lose you followers.

Nothing on my gallery is shot on a camera phone. This is not to say that mobile photography is bad. Quite the contrary, phone cameras have improved so much that they rival and even surpass some cameras. Many creators use their phones to shoot their images (however I the vast majority I’ve met use DSLR or mirrorless cameras). However, I still prefer to shoot on my Sony Mirrorless camera, so I can edit RAW images and have a lot more flexibility with my editing.

Take a look at my travel friendly camera gear here!

4. Post Consistently

Once you have your content lined up, choose a goal posting schedule and stick to it. Once a day is ideal, but you can grow with 3-4 posts per week. Post around the same time also. If you sign up for a creator or business account, you can get your analytics that will tell you when your followers are most active.

I’m based on Atlantic Standard Time, and no matter where in the world I am, I like to post around noon AST. My analytics have told me that this is when my followers are most active, and it makes sense. Eastern and Atlantic time zones are heading into lunch, European time zones are checking phones in the evening, and Pacific time zones are just waking up.

This is another area where it is worth studying those accounts that you admire to see how often, and when, they post.

5. Use Relevant Hashtags and Tag Aggregator Accounts

A hashtag is a metatag or label for content. They are a way where random users will find your content. You’ll want to research hashtags as you don’t want to use generic ones that are massive like #travel. This has nearly 500 million posts and your post will not rank on the “Top” tab, and it will get lost in the “recent tab”. You’ll want to use a mixture of smaller hashtags – 10K-100K posts, and some larger ones – up to 1M post, but the more mid-range the better. If you rank on a top tab, the algorithm will favour that piece of content. You can find how many posts a hashtag has by searching for it in the Explore tab.

It will also give a list of relevant hashtags. Save these! 

Make sure to regularly change up your hashtags or Instagram will think you’re a bot!

Besides the related hashtag suggestion list, the best place to look for hashtags will be accounts that are similar to yours that have a great engagement rate on their posts.

Some of these hashtags will be for larger aggregate pages. These are pages like @travelgram (#travelgram) who repost other peoples’ content. Many destinations you travel to will have a number of these reposting accounts so research and identify these beforehand or while you’re there. Product and apparel brands will also have their accounts and you can get reposted by tagging them. By using their specific hashtags and tagging their accounts, you can get their attention and possibly be reposted by them. Getting reposted is a surefire way to gain followers, as their followers will be seeking similar content and therefore will follow you.

6. Engage with Other Users

If you post but do not engage, you will not grow and the engagement on your posts will be stunted. You will not only want to engage with people who you follow, and who follow you, but also those who do not follow you – or how else will new people find you!

Remember, Instagram is a SOCIAL media. It doesn’t want content factories; it was engaged users that keep eyeballs on the platform (ad revenue!). Instagram is run by an algorithm, or a program that is a set of instructions. The algorithm will either promote or hide your content based on how your account behaves. If you are behaving in the way they like – an engaged user who posts regular quality content, then it will favour and promote your content. If you are not, then it will restrict your content’s reach.

The first twenty minutes of your post are the most crucial, here is when you want to be liking other photos and responding to comments. The algorithm will either promote or hide your post (even to your own followers) based on your engagement rate and the response that your post receives during this time.

Engaging when you’re not posting is pretty simple – just scroll through your home page commenting and liking the content of the people you follow. Be sure to respond to all of your comments in a timely manner. To reach people who do not follow you, you can do these two ways, and I suggest that you do both:

The first way is to go to accounts that are similar to yours, and then go through their follower lists. Click on followers’ pages, like 1-3 photos, and leave a complimentary comment.

The second way is to go to a relevant hashtag that you use often. Click the recent posts tab, and then like and comment on the photos.

Be very careful about doing this and go slow. Instagram may think you’re a bot (an automated program) if you do this too much or too quickly. If you like a post and the heart bounces back to empty, this is their soft warning that you’re doing this action too much. Close Instagram and do not like another post for at least an hour.

If you continue to like photos, then IG will put a block on your account from liking for up to 24 hours.

Follow-unfollow has been a popular method of growing accounts, but I personally have not done this. With this method you follow a number of accounts per day, and then if they don’t follow you back within three days you unfollow them and continue this method. This has been effective in the past, but many creators used to use bots to automate this function, so Instagram has cracked down on botting and automated activity.

7. Find Your Tribe

Never think of other creators as competition, they are your tribe! Follow others with similar accounts both large and small and reach out. The larger accounts may not follow you back but are for inspiration and to learn from. The smaller accounts are likely to follow you back, and as you build your circle of friends you can help promote each other.

To promote each other, you can get a DM group where you alert others in the group when you post so they can like, comment, and save your posts, and they do the same. You’ll need to define the rules of the group such as everyone must catch up with commenting on other posts before announcing theirs.

With stories you can “shout out” each other’s accounts and everyone can piggy-back on everyone’s following.

Bonus Tip: Don’t Give Up!

It’s easy to become discouraged, but if you fall in love with the process and remember your reason as to why you want to grow, then you will persevere.

Never forget the Universe rewards a stubborn heart!

If you have any more tips I haven’t covered, please leave them in the comments section below!

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