If you are looking for a quick formula on how to grow your Instagram followers it’s pretty simple – you just need to post between 5-7 times a week and have an engagement rate of over 7%. (There are other ways to grow, of course, but this is just a general formula that works).
The problem is, that’s REALLY hard to do in reality. Posting almost every day is very time-consuming. And creating amazing content that will consistently perform very well at this pace is even harder. But if you know what to focus on and how to balance between the high times and the low, you can do it.
Over the last 2 years we’ve been growing our Instagram following to over 200,000 people organically, while trying and learning every little trick along the way. We love analyzing data so we’ve taken every chance to test and decode the all-powerful algorithm. Over time we realized that learning how to grow your Instagram followers is both an art and a science.
On one hand you need to develop your own style and learn how to create your best content to hook people to your art. But on the other hand, if you don’t know how the algorithm works, you could get stuck with nobody seeing what you create.
To summarize quickly, here are the steps to growing your Instagram followers successfully:
- Create beautiful content
- Be consistent
- Tell a good story
- Connect with your audience. Be authentic.
- Connect with the community
- Use your momentum
- Post at the right time
- Use the right hashtags
- Balance your engagement
- Organize contests
- Get publicity
How To Grow Your Instagram Followers – People Vs. Algorithm
Overall we divide our growth strategies into two main buckets – People and Algorithm. What do we mean by that?
We find that most articles on how to grow your Instagram followers tend to focus on the Algorithm side of things – what’s the best time to post, what hashtags to use, engaging to get engagement back, etc. And those things are definitely important too.
But in our opinion, People are way more important. After all, the algorithm is just an aggregation of how People are behaving on the platform. You can focus all you want on tricking the algorithm, but at the end of the day, if you can’t connect with people it won’t matter. Beating the algorithm can only take you so far. Connecting with people and providing them with something they are really interested in is what will lead you to bigger and more sustainable growth.
So our first 5 tips are more focused on how to connect with People and the last 5 – on how to work the Algorithm.
1. Create Beautiful Content
Of course, the most important thing on any platform is content. We can’t stress this enough – having beautifully composed and edited photos is a requirement to grow your followers on Instagram. This is less important for people who are already known for something else outside of Instagram. But if you are just starting out on Instagram and don’t have another talent, you need to create beautiful photos.
It’s important to realize this takes time. No one was born a great photographer. Everyone had to learn through a lot of practice. Understand your photos won’t be perfect from the start. And in most cases you will need to post for at least a year consistently until you start to get the hang of it.
Just keep learning and growing and improving your art. If you have been trying for months but don’t seem to get a lot of traction – the answer is always content. You just need to learn how to be better at it.
Are your photos of good quality? Are they unique and creative? Does your feed look professional? That’s what you need to invest in over anything else.
Read more about how we take our photos here.
2. Be Consistent
Because of the way the Instagram feed is designed, consistency really matters. On average people spend about 2-3 seconds looking at your feed when they see it for the first time. In those few seconds they decide whether they want to follow you or swipe back out. How do they make that decision?
They need to understand what your page is about in those quick few moments. If it’s something they’re interested in and want to see more of, they’ll follow. If not, they’ll just go back to browsing. Think of it as a mini magazine. If you subscribe to a travel magazine, you want to keep getting issues on travel. If all of a sudden the magazine starts writing about politics, you’d get pretty annoyed. This is not what you signed up for!
A consistent feed is like a promise to your followers that you’ll keep creating the type of content they followed you for in the first place. You do that through the colors you’re using, the vibe of your pictures, and the type of photography you create. If you start to deviate too much from it, people will get confused and unfollow you.
One of the ways we keep our feed consistent is through developing our own style of romantic couple photography and editing style. We pretty much always use the same Lightroom editing presets on every single shot.
3. Tell A Good Story
And we don’t just mean Instagram stories. Yes, they are important. You should post stories every single day. But your stories, just like your photos, need to be connected.
Nowadays success on Instagram is not just about pretty pictures. There are a lot of amazingly talented people on the platform creating top content and people are more or less used to it. So to really stand out, you need to not just be a great content creator, but also a great story teller.
People love stories. We are social creatures and stories are one of the main ways in which we connect with other people. So if you want to gain attention on social media and keep it long term, you need to appeal to that human need. You need to tell a good story.
Whether it’s the story of your life, or your travels, personal struggles, success, relationships, fashion… no matter what it is you need to tell it well. You can post pretty pictures all day long and get a lot of likes, but unless people get to know you well, get to know your personality, your struggles, your joys.. they won’t really remember your account and keep coming back to it. People need something to relate to.
Think of your Instagram feed as a never ending book with chapters that unfold every single day. Every time you have a new post ask yourself – does this belong to my story? How does it tell my story?
Focus on turning your page into a story people can’t wait to read the next chapter of.
How can you tell a good story? This leads us to our next tip.
4. Connect With Your Audience. Be Authentic.
Try to open up, share the good and the bad, show your real personality, not some sanitized polished version you think will be well-accepted on social media. You’d be surprised at how much people enjoy it when you get real.
We used to think we need to post only the most insta-worthy stories, only beautiful beaches and views, only when we’re traveling. But some of our most popular and engaging stories were the ones we do at home, or in our car, or just very simple everyday things. That’s what people can relate to after all.
Remember, Instagram is not a museum where you just display your art and wait for people to come marvel at it. It’s a community. Form real connections with people, engage, interact. But above all, do it genuinely.
Should You Do Like-For-Like And Bots?
Like-for-like is the practice of liking and commenting on other people’s photos in the hopes they’ll notice your profile and return the love. It is a popular tactic especially when you are just starting out as a few extra likes and comments can make a difference when you don’t have too many followers yet. Some also follow accounts with the same purpose and just unfollow them a few days later. Even further, people use automated “bot” services that do likes and follow/unfollow from their account automatically.
We do not recommend these tactics for a few reasons. First of all, it’s not genuine. People can tell when you keep commenting a few heart emojis or something unrelated to the picture. And they will definitely notice when you follow them just to unfollow a couple days later. This is not a sustainable strategy if you want to build a genuine community around you. Only follow and engage with people you are genuinely interested in – it will help you build a more engaged community.
Second, Instagram is really cracking down on these activities lately. They have removed a lot of the notifications that let people know you’ve liked or commented on their pictures. And they have aggressive algorithms that detect bot activities and will limit the reach of your account for it.
And third, even if you do gain some followers this way, they will most likely not be very interested in your content. If you are planning to make an income from Instagram and grow your business, unengaged followers are not what you need. It’s better to have fewer followers but ones that genuinely love your account.
Needless to say, buying fake likes and followers falls into the same category.
5. Connect With The Community
One of the fastest ways to grow your followers on Instagram is through re-shares. There are many “curator” accounts on Instagram that do not create original content but just re-share other people’s content in a certain niche. They are travel accounts, fashion accounts, drone photography accounts, couple accounts, etc.
Make sure you know which are the key curator accounts in your niche and try to get them to notice and repost your content. But don’t just reach out and ask for a favor. Build a relationship! Engage with their photos, chat with them, tag them in your photos.
Connect with other influencers in your niche as well. It’s always good to chat to people who are going through similar things as you. Often they know what’s going on on the platform and can give you tips and advice that’s hard to find on the internet. And if you are able to meet with other creators in person, you can tag each other in stories, which can help you get exposed to more people. Again, don’t do this for the exposure only, people can tell when you are not genuine.
Now, let’s move on to the Algorithm part of our growth strategies.
6. Post At The Right Time
One of the factors that determines who sees your posts in their feed is timeliness. In other words – how recent the post is. An Instagram post gets about 20-30% of it’s total engagement in the first 2 hours.
That makes the time you post pretty important. Make sure you post when most of your followers are online or just before, so you can maximize the amount of people who see your post in the first 2 hours. You can see a graph of when your followers are most active in your audience insights if you have a Business or Creative account.
If you don’t have a Business or Creative account on Instagram yet, make sure you switch to one. Some people say this will decrease your organic reach and engagement but we have not found that to be true. Our secondary account for our editing filters exploded in reach and followers just after we switched to a Creator account. And the source of growth was completely organic and not driven by shoutouts from our main account. The account grew from 3000 followers to more than 20,000 followers in just a few weeks with each post getting to more than 80% non-followers through IG pushing it to more and more people.
Instagram’s algorithm likes people who post often, so posting every day will definitely give you a boost. But if that’s too much for you (it definitely is for us), we recommend 5 to 6 times a week. If you are serious about growth, never miss more than one day in a row. And continue to do stories on days that you don’t post.
From our algorithm experiments, any time we had 2 days in a row without a post, we noticed slow growth and decreased engagement. It’s our theory that if Instagram is planning to hide likes, they want people to care less about engagement and to post more often. We think this means the algorithm will support and encourage creators who post more and penalize those who post less.
It’s also great to pick a certain time of the day when you post and keep it consistent. People learn over time and your biggest fans will wait for your posts every time.
7. Use Your Momentum. Balance Your Engagement.
When you start posting consistently on Instagram for a while, you will notice how momentum works. If you post one great picture that everyone likes and it reaches a lot of people, the effect will spill over to the pictures right before and after it. When you post 2-3-4 popular pictures in a row on consecutive days, it becomes a trend with a snowball effect and your whole account will benefit.
This gives Instagram a signal that your account is popular so they will make sure it’s promoted more and more on Explorer and other discovery areas of the app. If you look at your insights, you will notice a hockey-stick type of growth in your reach and account interactions. And this will lead to high follower growth.
This is your moment to step on the gas. Keep posting consistently, and keep posting your best content. This is how you grow exponentially in a short period of time. It can be a lot of work and a bit stressful but it’s a sure way to grow.
If you post one great picture and then one less popular, one great, one less popular, skip a few days of posting, your account will never gain momentum. This is how you can sustain your account, usually at times when you are not able to create a lot of content or things slow down. But if you want to grow fast, you need to post the best content consistently and consecutively in order to take advantage of the momentum.
In the examples below you can see the difference in overall engagement when you post every other day or good photo after a bad photo (on the left) and when you use your momentum and post a lot of great photos in a row (on the right). Larger discovery translates into higher follower growth.
8. Use The Right Hashtags
Hashtags have been and still are a great way to expand your audience and grow your Instagram followers. But you have to make sure you use them correctly.
Use Relevant Hashtags
Spend some time researching hashtags that are relevant to your niche. And make sure they are as specific as possible. Don’t use huge generic hashtags that are just “somewhat” relevant as it can actually hurt your account.
For example, as a travel account, we used to use huge country and city hashtags like #Australia or #NewYork whenever we posted from those locations. Yes, #Australia is relevant to pictures of us with kangaroos, but it’s also way too broad. There are 50 million photos on that hashtags! Photos of bars and pubs, next to photos of Bondi beach, next to kookaburras, next to cheesecake, divers, rugby players…
It’s very hard to target people on this hashtag as they have extremely varied interests and a very low chance of actually being interested in your content. Maybe they’re on the hashtag just looking for a pub nearby to go grab a beer.
The algorithm looks at the number of people who saw your photo vs. the number of people who liked your photo. If a lot of people see your photo on this hashtag but none of them like it, the algorithm decides it’s not a great photo, so it will stop showing it to more people. With that in mind, it’s better to have 1000 people see your photo on a small targeted hashtag with a high percentage of them liking it, than having 10,000 people see it on a large hashtag but a small percentage of likes.
Use Hashtags Of The Right Size
The other thing to keep in mind is how large the hashtags you use are, compared to the size of your account. When you go on a hashtag you can see the total number of photos on Instagram that have this hashtag. You should make sure that number is no more than 10x-20x larger than your follower count. So if you have about 100,000 followers, don’t use hashtags with more than about 2m photos.
Also, make sure you use no more than 10-15 hashtags per picture, otherwise Instagram might mark you as a spam account and hurt your growth.
Don’t Repeat Hashtags On Consecutive Posts
It’s easy to start using the same hashtags over and over but don’t be lazy! Create a few different sets of hashtags and mix them up. Don’t post more than 1 post in a row with the exact same hashtags. Instagram will consider you spammy and restrict your reach.
9. Organize Giveaways
Contests and giveaways usually work in a few similar ways: you have a prize and a giveaway that people can enter to win it, either by tagging someone in the comments or by sharing your post or story on their own account. These methods help get your account to more people who don’t follow you, which in turn helps you grow.
The caveat is these giveaways can sometimes look spammy and disingenuous, especially if the prize offered is too small or if you are asking too much of people. We’ve seen giveaways with 5-6 entry requirements: follow, like, save, comment 10 people AND share on your story. Obviously, that’s too much to ask from people and it will just turn off your followers.
In our opinion it’s best not to ask people to follow you as a requirement to enter the giveaway. That is just asking for unengaged followers, who will unfollow you as soon as the giveaway is over anyway and screw up your algorithm. And especially don’t join those loop giveaways where people need to follow 20+ accounts just to enter. Those are just really detrimental to your account.
We did one of those giveaways a while ago and gained 10,000 followers in one day, but a third of them unfollowed us the next day and our account suffered from bad engagement for a while. Is it worth it in the end? We don’t think so.
Instead, create your own giveaway. Partner with a brand or a hotel on your own to secure the prize. Or offer something yourself, like a flight voucher or your own products. Think about your own goals for the giveaway but also make sure you are providing value to the people who enter and not just spamming. And again, BE GENUINE.
10. Get Publicity
This tip is oddly missing from a lot of articles on how to grow your followers on Instagram and we have no idea why. In our experience, most of the accounts that grow fast on Instagram and have great engagement have one thing in common: they are known for something else outside of Instagram. Whether it’s a YouTube channel, or a blog, or they were featured in news articles (for good or bad reasons), this is one common thread we see.
Once you have some following on Instagram, even 20-50k followers, it’s not that hard to get some articles written about you in online publications. You can reach out to smaller sites or news organizations in your home country for example. Or you can try to get featured on articles about “Top 10 Travel Accounts To Follow”, etc.
Spend some time researching online publications that write on similar topics, find out which writers are responsible for those sections and reach out to them. If you are serious about growing your Instagram followers, this is something you should be spending some time on.
Keep Your Eyes On The Right Target
These strategies may sound overwhelming at first but if you keep it focused you can get into your groove pretty quickly. If we could get you to remember the two most important words from this entire lesson, they would be Consistency and Momentum. Make sure you have a clear content strategy and stick to it. And when you see the hockey-stick curve in your analytics – push hard and post your best content.
And remember to have fun!! 🙂