Likes. Comments. Followers. Ratios.
There’s no point obsessing over them, but let’s be honest. Everybody seeks validation, and social media is one of the quickest and easiest ways to get it.
Facebook might still be king in terms of total users and daily engagement, but it’s no longer the so-called “young and hip” social media option.
If Instagram’s growth continues to accelerate at the same pace, the photo-sharing platform will hit 1 billion users by the end of 2017.
Instagram is valuable not only for showcasing your personal life, but also as a way to advertise your business and grow your brand.
86% of top brands around the world use Instagram.
And this is for good reason: at Socialbakers’ 2017 social media event in Prague, the company displayed research showing that brands get approximately 4x higher engagement on Instagram (4.21% per-follower) than on Facebook.
According to data compiled by Louise Myers, about 1/3 of Instagram users have a college degree.
Combine that with the fact that 37% of Instagram users make over $75,000 income per year. There’s a lot of popularity — and money — to be gained through the gram.
We’ve analyzed the latest trends and come up with 14 methods on how to get more followers on Instagram — a lot more followers on Instagram — and brand yourself, big time.
I don’t care if you’re just an average Joe with 100 followers or if you’re looking to take the next step because you’ve already got 10,000 followers.
Put these steps into action and you’ll be on your way to Insta-fame.
Here’s a quick preview:
Before we dive into the details on exectuting each step, I have a special section for you.
I reached out to a handful of social media influencers (many of them featured on the Forbes Top 25 Marketing Influencers of 2017) and gained some valuable advice.
Here are some highlights:
Lewis Howes, NYT bestselling author and world Top 100 podcast host (378k IG followers)
Q: “What’s the most common mistake you see people make when trying to grow their Instagram following early on?”
A: “They don’t add value to others. They make it only about them.”
Josh Steimle, marketing expert and Founder / CEO of MWI
Q: “What’s the most common mistake you see people make when trying to grow their Instagram following early on?”
A: “The most common mistake I see people make when trying to grow an Instagram account is a lack of focus. Think of your account like a box of breakfast cereal. It needs to clearly say on the box what it is. Every time I pour the cereal out of that box, I better get the same cereal coming out of it — if I wanted a different kind of cereal I’d pick up a different box. Pick a theme, a focus, and stick to it.”
Nicolas Cole, Inc. magazine writer and columnist, 3x Quora top writer
Q: “What’s the most common mistake you see people make when trying to grow their Instagram following early on?”
A: “The biggest mistake people make, not just on Instagram but any social platform, is not understanding what their true value is.
Growth hacks, the habit of posting on a daily basis, collaborating with other influencers — all of those things are fairly basic and part of the process of growing a following. But they are not the root of the root, and none of them will attract a large and loyal audience.
If you want to be a content curator, you really need to ask yourself why people should follow you — what VALUE you are giving them. Are they following you for travel destinations? Are they following you to learn how to cook and eat healthy? Are they following you to be inspired on their entrepreneurial journey? You have to pinpoint the value you’re giving them and what they are expecting, so then you can refine your content to deliver on that value better than anyone else in your space.
People follow those who are the best at delivering the value they’re looking for. In the same way you wouldn’t watch your local news station over CNN, for example, big social audiences aren’t going to pay attention to you over someone who is delivering the value they seek in a much more refined and effective way. If you want to build a big following, you have to challenge yourself to be the absolute best in that space, and the only way you can do that is by first understanding what it is your target audience is actively looking for.”
Joshua Medcalf, author and brand advisor, Founder / CEO of T2BC
Q: “What do you think about Instagram’s recent growth? How should brands react?”
A: “Instagram’s growth from just a cool picture app to the most trusted source of social approval is nothing short of mind blowing. If brands don’t shift serious marketing resources towards Instagram, they’re wasting their budget at best and guiding their company towards a calamitous future at worst.
Even though you haven’t watched a TV commercial in over two years, over $75 billion is still spent on TV ads. The future of advertising and marketing for brands, both big and small, depends on figuring out how to create compelling content that leverages influencer’s talent and reach.”
Jason Stone, @MillionaireMentor founder (2.5 million IG followers)
A: “They dont provide enough value and go straight to selling. Or they dont distribute their great content enough to be seen, to make an impact. You can have the best content in the world, but if no one sees it, you might as well go out of business.”
Q: “If you could go back in time and give yourself just one piece of advice when starting your Instagram account, what would it be?”
A: “I would have invested more money into paid influencer marketing to grow my brand.”
Let me break down the takeaways from the influencer advice above:
One point I heard quite often was collaboration with other accounts. As Michael Jordan put it: talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.
Everyone seemed to agree that the single biggest mistake beginners on Instagram make is not providing value. That leads us into our first point on the list.
Unless you’re already a celebrity, people don’t want to see your everyday life on their Instagram feeds.
Sure, those posts might be great to share with your college buddies or family members, but the average stranger has zero interest in how much fun you had at that party last Friday or what you’re eating for dinner tonight.
The first step on your way to Insta fame is to identify your focus and stay true to it.
For example, you should only post pictures of your food if you’re a chef or nutrition specialist. Once you know your focus, make sure all your posts relate to that focus and don’t stray away from your central topic.
Julia Marcum of @chrislovesjulia — a home decoration page — demonstrates this point by making sure all their posts begin with the core reason people follow the account: their home.
In the occasional post where you’ll see Julia or her family, notice that they aren’t the focus of the pictures. Each post still centers around a home decoration aspect while featuring a bit of their personal life only in addition to the account’s main focus.
In order to really engage your audience, you can’t just log in a couple times per week to get your posts up and then disappear for the rest of the time.
You should be highly responsive when people comment on your posts or tag you in their pictures.
It’ll be impossible to respond to every comment once your account grows large enough, but people love to see witty responses from celebrities and larger accounts.
Right now, you need to communicate especially well with your followers because you’re still in the early stages.
Until you’re getting completely flooded with likes and comments, make an effort to reply every time you can.
Keep push notifications turned on for at least one of your devices. You won’t get spammed with alerts until you grow to at least the mid-thousands follower range.
Think about social media interaction as a metaphor for marketing in general. There’s two fundamental marketing styles, known as inbound and outbound.
It’s important to achieve a good balance of both.
The inbound side involves interacting with people who come to you, while the outbound side involves going out and finding people yourself.
Remember to engage with your audience by dropping likes on other accounts’ posts in your niche.
Commenting is even better.
In comparison to the number of people who like posts, almost nobody comments. This means people remember when you comment.
You’ll stand out even more if you think of clever or meaningful comments to post, but even leaving basic compliments on posts you enjoy will give you a leg up.
The more comments you give, the more comments you’ll receive. It’s an easy way to make personal connections.
As we discussed earlier, engaging with other users on Instagram — both your followers and your following — is very important.
Engagement is a great way to build connections with other accounts, and it can often result in mutually beneficial relationships.
If you communicate with similar Instagram accounts — not necessarily competitors — who have many of the same goals as you, they will oftentimes be open to featuring you in a post if you’re willing to do the same.
When your featuring partner promotes your account on their page, you’ll gain followers. This works especially well if you find accounts similar to your own because its likely that people interested in one category will have more interest in following other accounts in the same category.
Try reaching out to accounts in your niche and offer a feature-for-feature type deal.
There’s nothing manipulative about this strategy; in fact, it’s very useful to both accounts’ followers because you’re introducing them to new brands and pages whose content they might enjoy.
Jahns now has 1 million followers.
Osmann has grown even more, with 4.6 million followers currently on his main account. He mentions later business collaborations with brands such as NBC and Michael Kors.
The account centers on carefully curated pictures of Osmann’s girlfriend holding his hand and leading them to exotic locations around the globe. See for yourself.
The goal of getting featured is to grow alongside other pages.
Here’s a simple breakdown of the steps you should take to get in touch:
1. Look for other Instagram accounts of slightly larger size in your area of focus. Make sure these accounts aren’t too big (4-5 times as many followers as you max), or it’s unlikely they’ll respond.
2. Make a list of 10-15 accounts you can contact. Write a brief note explaining that your page’s audience is similar to theirs, and that you can both help each other grow by recommending the other. This makes sense because, for example, followers of one adventure travel page are more likely to be interested in another adventure travel page.
3. Reach out to each account on your list through email, if you can find one. Many professional accounts will have “email” buttons in their bio. It’s better to do some research online and identify the exact person who’s running the page. Personalization is always better.
4. If you can’t find an email, try Direct Messaging within Instagram. Keep in mind that the larger the account, the less likely this will work. Big accounts get flooded with DM’s and can’t respond to all of them.
There’s no doubt that hashtags are a valuable tool on Instagram.
Most successful accounts use them for a reason: hashtags get your popular posts in front of larger audiences.
In fact, 88% of top Instagram posts use 1 or more hashtags, and posts with at least one hashtag average a 12.6% increase in engagement. TrackMaven found that more hashtags resulted in more engagement on average, but only until about 5 hashtags. Instagram caps the number of hashtags per post at 30.
Don’t use dirty tactics such as #likeforlike or #followme in your hashtags.
While these may seem to be getting you more followers at first, you’ll eventually see why they end up backfiring.
The followers that you gain from these hashtags won’t be “real” followers who have a genuine interest in you or your brand. Therefore, they won’t engage with your posts or provide value in terms of referrals or potential sales.
Many of the accounts that will follow you from these “dirty” hashtags aren’t real people at all. They’re just bots or disposable accounts created to generate likes and follow-backs.
Among the others, quite a few accounts will unfollow you within a few days; the only reason they followed you in the first place was so you would follow them back.
The type of hashtags you should be using will be relevant to your niche and include specific keywords that provide value in specific areas.
For example, many Instagram travel pages will use hashtags like the names of the countries or landmarks they’re visiting at the moment. This is valuable because it provides insight to their followers and makes it easier for people to find their photography on the “Discover” portion of Instagram.
Travel and style blogger @anna.everywhere provides a great example of effective hashtag use, as shown below.
Here are a few quick tips to recap coming up with hashtags.
1. Use 5-6 relevant hashtags in each post.
2. The more specific the better. If you’re at a specific monument or even a town or city, hashtag the location. If you’re cooking a specific recipe, hashtag its name.
3. Check hashtag traffic. You can do this by searching for the hashtag on Instagram, where it will show the top posts under that hashtag as well as the total number of posts across from “most recent.” It’s easier to come up on top posts for hashtags with less traffic, so target those first.
You can make your own hashtag. And it actually works.
Sounds weird, but taking a one-of-a-kind phrase and making it your own can do wonders for your marketing.
Think of your hashtag as your catchphrase, your slogan. It’s something that people will recognize you by, and it can become quite a trend if it catches on.
Take the story of Ryan Glick, for example. Glick’s Instagram page first took off in 2014 when he posted a picture of himself in a stylish outfit, sipping on some coffee. He included the hashtag “#coffeenclothes” in the caption, apparently just as a bit of clever humor.
But his followers liked it, so he did the same the next weekend. And the week after that. Before he knew it, #coffeenclothes had gone viral. People loved it.
Explore Arizona (@explorearizona_) offers another great example of creating a catchphrase. For the local nature and hiking photography company, #ExploreArizona was all it took — plain and simple.
The page recently posted a story announcing that their hashtag — which they make sure to include on every post — had been shared 135,000 times.
Buying followers is equally bad as using dirty hashtags, if not worse.
There are various websites and services which allow you to simply pay for followers — sounds convenient, right? It is, but shortcuts don’t pay off in the long run.
None of the followers you buy will interact or engage with you. Hardly any likes, no comments, and no valuable contributions.
What’s even worse about buying followers (and using dirty hashtags) is that your real followers will be able to tell. This reduces your credibility and makes you seem even less popular than before.
Take a look at the statistics from this AdEspresso case study by Andrew Tate, which involved using genuine methods of attracting followers during one month and switching to a fully bot-run method the next month.
AdEspresso then tracked their website traffic from the Instagram page and compared the results for each month.
You’ve probably noticed it sometime yourself if you pay attention to the number of likes and followers your friends have.
One day Johnny has 200 followers, yet suddenly this number jumps up to 1000. It’s pretty obvious he’s using the dirty tactics we talked about or paying to boost his follower count. Either way, it’s easy to tell something’s off and Johnny doesn’t seem very cool anymore.
This one seems pretty obvious, but most people don’t do it.
They’ll post every few weeks in short bursts, or post just for special occasions. It’s true that different posting frequencies work for different people.
Well, here’s the simple answer: 1 post per day.
The majority of Instagram users struggle to create enough high quality posts.
In order to get more followers, your posts need to be out there for people to see.
It’s a numbers game: the more posts you send out, the more shots you have at every new follower stumbling across one and coming to your page.
The more shots you have at bigger accounts picking up your post and sharing it or giving it a shoutout. The more shots you have at standing out from the crowd and increasing your engagement.
But be careful. Like most good things in life, too much posting can indeed hurt. People don’t want to be spammed with 5 posts per day.
If you’re posting anywhere close to that often, chances are that your post quality needs to be checked as well. It takes some time to put together a high quality post, and this is why most people struggle to post enough content.
Remember: if you don’t have a solid post, don’t post at all.
Not posting is simply neutral; it won’t add or subtract any followers in most cases. A subpar post, however, is negative.
You’ll end up annoying your followers and losing them due to low-quality content.
As a general rule of thumb, stick to posting about once per day — twice per day maximum — until you’re confident that your posting quality is excellent.
If that feels impossible to you right now, start with a minimum of 2-3 times per week. And make sure all your posts provide value.
You should take a look at other popular accounts in your niche and see what’s working. After all, different audiences have different preferences.
It’s also worth checking out the best times to post on Instagram.
This may also vary depending on your niche, but here’s a useful chart that Sprout Social put together displaying the overall best posting times of the day and week.
This way, you can get your posts ready to go and schedule them out whenever you’re free. The app will post for you automatically at the time you choose.
This one is very important. It’s related to knowing your focus, but not the same thing.
Your focus is what your posts are about.
Your theme is how these posts look, laid out next to each other.
If you have a distinct visual theme, people will remember you.
Without one, you’re just another average guy or girl on Instagram with a couple hundred followers.
Even if your post quality is top notch and you’re content is focused, you can’t grow your page without a theme.
It’s the first thing people will notice when they come to your page.
Virtually every one of Instagram’s most popular accounts have a theme which is unique to some degree.
The design of your page helps you distinguish yourself and stand out from the crowd. Here are some examples.
Or a combination theme, like @coffeenclothes, which we discussed earlier.
Or @ihavethisthingwithfloors, which combines feet and floors.
You can also make your page look nice by planning out the layout of your entire page.
Notice Instagram’s signature 3 x 3 grid design. You can create a checkerboard pattern or a row by row theme by planning multiple posts together.
Who doesn’t appreciate creativity and good design? Case in point: this not-so-small company.
Creating a theme will make your account feel more memorable and unique to your audience. Check out this one by @bossbabe.inc.
This is a continuation of the previous point on identifying a theme.
If all your posts have an appropriate filter which matches your focus and theme, it adds one more visual element for people to remember you by.
Take a look at @jayscale‘s feed, which uses a constant shadow-heavy filter in only black and white.
And it doesn’t even need to be an Instagram filter.
Also keep in mind that most top Instagram accounts use high quality DSLR cameras for much of their original photography. However, this isn’t required for popularity. Some bigger accounts still use iPhone cameras because it matches their style and spontaneity.
Either way, try your best to stick to your favorite filter. Or no filter at all, if you can pull it off.
If you’re wondering what the most popular Instagram filter is, the answer is Clarendon — #1 in virtually every country worldwide.
10. Fix your caption game.
You might be thinking, “Do people even read captions anymore?”
And the answer is not really. Because they suck.
Bad captions are a dime a dozen. Good captions are few and far between.
Your captions should cater to your audience’s tastes and preferences.
For example, if you run a meme page or an entertainment-themed account, you could try to make people laugh.
If your account focuses on business and entrepreneurship, on the other hand, it’s probably better to come up with more motivational captions.
Make sure your tone matches the personality of your page.
Some accounts do well with short and basic captions.
Others thrive on longer captions that tell stories and provide background to the picture. @natgeo is a great example.
Neither long nor short captions seemed to outperform the other; it really depends on what works for you.
According to a 2014 study by Simply Measured, caption length has little effect on engagement. Check it out.
Here’s another useful caption tip: ask questions.
It might sound lame, but asking your followers questions increases engagement and increases comments on your posts.
A question can also be a valuable conversation-starter.
People will be more likely to tag their friends and start a discussion, further increasing your engagement.
If you see another account’s post that matches your own style, why not #regram it?
Regramming is code for reposting another account’s picture on your account. It’s basically the same thing as sharing on Facebook or retweeting on Twitter.
But there’s no 1-click option to repost on Instagram.
Instead, you’ll need to either:
1. Screenshot the image and repost.
2. Use a regram app like Repost for Instagram.
Make sure you always ask for permission when regramming another account’s post.
Always tag them in your post with photo credit as well.
Regramming saves you time and effort because you’re literally repurposing content from other accounts. And who knows, they might give your page a shoutout in return.
Many big brands regram relevant posts from their followers. Take a look at this one from Jaguar, who reposted a photo from follower @sidhu88.
Here’s another regram from H&M, who borrowed content from @andreafaccio.
It hasn’t even been one year since Instagram Stories came out. It’s been rightfully pointed out that IG stories’ features are nearly identical to Snapchat’s.
But Instagram Stories has already overtaken Snapchat in daily active users. Below are statistics as of June 2017.
If you’re not familiar with the way Stories (on Instagram or Snapchat) works, here’s a very basic review:
1. You take a picture or video using the app.
2. You can edit, apply filter, and post it to your story.
3. Your followers can view and reply to your story for the next 24 hours.
4. You can see who viewed your story by swiping up on it.
5. You can view other accounts’ stories at the top of your feed.
6. After 24 hours, the post disappears.
If you want more details on how Instagram Stories works, The Verge put together a comprehensive guide you can find here.
So what should you actually post on Instagram vs. Instagram Stories?
If you’re running a business or product account, you could use stories to promote current sales you have going on. In fact, your followers can simply swipe up from your story and get sent directly to your sales page.
Another one of the best uses of Stories is as a behind-the-scenes tool.
For example, if you’re a video producer, you could add clips of the set or funny blooper type pictures to your Story.
Your final-production video could then go on your Instagram’s main account.
If you’re a chef or dietary specialist, you could post your finished recipe on your main account while adding sneak peeks of the cooking process on your Story.
Instagram has also introduced hashtag and location-based stories, which make it easier for you to follow current stories on topics you’re interested in.
Similar to regramming, hosting giveaways and contests is one of the easiest ways to make others work for you while growing your brand.
These involve laying out a course of action for your followers and granting them a contest entry if they complete the necessary actions.
You’ll then select a winner randomly out of the completed entries and give that winner the prize.
There are 4 primary types of contests for Instagram which Social Media Examiner does a great job of explaining. I’ll describe each one briefly below.
1. Like Contest
2. Like + Comment Contest
3. Photo Sharing Contest
4. Original Photo Contest
Like contests are the simplest type of giveaway: if a follower likes the post, he’s entered into the contest.
Like contests often create higher numbers in terms of engagement because they’re so easy to enter.
Social Media Examiner analyzed the results of a series of like contests hosted by @buffalojordan, a wings and rings restaurant.
The account’s likes increased by 4x on average for posts which utilized like contests vs. normal posts.
Like + comment contests are slightly different because they ask followers to comment on the post in addition to liking it. This creates one more step for them, but it increases your engagement from those who do complete it.
It’s important to keep in mind that more engagement also results in higher chances of appearing on users’ Explore page on Instagram.
Your explore page is composed primarily of posts that your friends have liked or commented on. The exposure is another reason like contests and comment contests are so valuable.
The only thing better than appearing on the Explore page is appearing on the Home page. If users create and share posts for your contests, you’ll make it to the primary feed for each of those users’ followers.
Photo share contests involve you asking your followers to repost your photo on their own accounts. Because this is asking a lot more than like or comment contests, the rewards from share contests are usually more significant.
If you were active on Instagram in May 2017, there’s a pretty good chance you saw a picture of a girl in a red swimsuit. Multiple times.
That’s because Sunny Co Clothing, a swimsuit company founded by two University of Arizona business students, released a sharing contest.
A sharing contest which went viral.
Here’s the post that started it all:
Sunny Co offered their “Pamela” swimsuit (which retails for $64.99 on their website) for free if users reposted the image and tagged @sunnycoclothing in their pictures.
Customers still had to pay shipping and handling fees of about $12.88, and the giveaway was only live for 24 hours.
The compelling offer combined with a bit of luck sent the now-famous post viral, bringing Sunny Co’s audience from around 7,000 to over 700,000 followers in less than a week.
Original photo contests are somewhat similar to photo sharing contests, but the goal is to get your followers to post original content instead of just reposting.
This type of contest requires the most work from your followers, but it produces the highest level of dedicated quality content.
Original photo contests work better if you’re a brand with a somewhat sizable and dedicated following.
Ask people to tag you or use a specific hashtag with post themes based on your contest topic. Here’s an example.
It might sound boring and outdated, but email is the most effective way to communicate with your followers and build your brand.
It’s also one of the best ways to turn your Instagram popularity into real money.
What is an email list?
It’s a collection of email addresses from people who might be interested in buying from you later on.
These people — prospective customers — are known as leads in business jargon.
Here’s why you should too: social media marketing is getting increasingly competitive as platforms such as Facebook and Instagram grow.
According to Slate, the average Facebook user has over 1,500 posts in his newsfeed over the course of a week. For users that have several hundred friends, that number rises to as much as 10,000 posts per week.
Unlike email, social media outreach works in a news feed format. There’s no inbox in Facebook: it’s a steady stream of photos, videos, news stories, status updates, and much more.
Out of the 1000’s of posts per week in each feed, most people will only see a few hundred max.
Average organic reach for pages on Facebook dropped from 16% in 2012 to about 6.5% in 2014. That number dropped even farther to about 2% for most sizable pages as of early 2016.
In mid-2016, Facebook announced another algorithm update that prioritized posts from friends and family.
This caused organic reach on Facebook to drop even more, below 2% in many cases.
Which means that if your Facebook page has 100,000 followers, less than 2,000 people will see your posts. If your page has 1,000 followers, less than 20 people will see your posts.
Here’s the takeaway: Facebook’s reach and engagement is steadily dropping. Instagram works in similar fashion.
Use social media to reach new people and add them to your email list. Then reach out to those people via email.
The new algorithms for both Facebook and Instagram highlight the difficulty of rising to the top and getting maximum views.
It’s no longer just most-recent post first.
According to Buffer, there are 7 key factors which determine how Instagram’s algorithm orders posts.
Do your best to rank well for the algorithm and get your posts more exposure, but keep in mind that there’s a lot of competition out there.
Email delivers your messages directly to your prospects.
According to a 2017 MailChimp study, emails get an average open rate of about 21% across various industries and company sizes.
Here are a few email statistics compiled by Optinmonster comparing Facebook marketing and email marketing.
Notable among them:
Lots of companies use methods like offering newsletter signups or free eBooks in exchange for your email.
You’ve probably seen a few of those offers yourself. But when was the last time you stopped to read an eBook or were actually interested in signing up for a newsletter?
My guess is: not very recently, because those ways to capture emails are boring and outdated.
The average human’s attention span is dropping like a rock — researchers estimate the exact number is now under 8 seconds.
Yeah, 8 seconds. That’s less than the average goldfish attention span of 9 seconds.
People want engaging and interactive content that provides immediate value.
A quiz works like this:
1. The start page
2. The questions
3. Email capture
4. Results and offer
In no more than 5 minutes, your quiz takers have learned something about themselves and been given advice on where to go next.
People love learning about themselves and getting personalized feedback.
Quizzes hit the spot. Check out LeadQuizzes to set up a new quiz within a few minutes, for free.
Instagram ads is one way to promote links, but it costs you time and money. Leveraging your valuable link in bio is a faster and simpler way to grow.
Instead of making short-run cash by accepting deals from sponsors, the best way to sustain and accelerate your growth is by driving your followers to your own site.
You’ll see lots of Instagram pages promoting specific products which lead to sales pages. But this isn’t very smooth or effective.
Because Instagram has a strong user base of younger people and millennials, fun and interactive content like quizzes work better than direct sales.
Use your Instagram posts to drive people to take your quiz, which is linked in your bio. You’ll engage your followers, add to your email list, and very likely earn immediate money while growing in popularity.
BuzzFeed has taken full advantage of interactive content by using quizzes to generate massive traffic on their website. Some of BuzzFeed’s most popular quizzes — like What City Should You Actually Live In? — have been shared millions of times.
Use quizzes to provide value to your followers while growing your own brand as well.
What’s your biggest struggle when it comes to Instagram?
Do you have a social media rags-to-riches story?
Want more advice on how to brand yourself?
Comment below and let me know. I love to hear it.