I had someone recently in a Facebook group who was looking to grow their Instagram following but didn’t want to fall into the shitty trap of follow / unfollow & automated comment bots (hi Katrine, if you're reading this!). I don't blame them. It’s a horrendous tactic that is ruining the Insta landscape and I really hope it will die by fire very soon (I discussed it here recently – have a read!). I also realised that this is a common problem - most people DO want to grow their accounts in an engaging, ethical, human way, but find themselves left for dust in a world of #ClickHereForFreeFollowers. Cue eye-roll emoji here.
First of all, let me tell you one very important thing - and write this down because you will want to remember it...got a pen? Good. Here goes - THE NUMBER OF FOLLOWERS YOU HAVE IS NOT AN INDICATION OF ONLINE SUCCESS. I caps locked that one for full effect. If I teach you anything, I want it to be this: As a brand, 100 genuine, loyal, engaged followers will mean more to you than 1000 so-so ones. Please try and take that on board. But now that we have that out of the way, I do understand that you might want to grow your following to boost your brand awareness and find potential new customers.
Growing the RIGHT Instagram following (and it’s about quality, not quantity) is of huge value to your brand, but you do need to put in the work. However, it’s not as hard as you would think – you just need a strategy! Below are some tactics you can use to consistently grow your following a little bit every day. Yes, it’s slow and takes a bit of time, but the effort is worth it as you will build valuable, lasting connections with your audience, and you will ENJOY being on Instagram because your feed is full of accounts you actually like! WINNING!
10 steps to growing an authentic, engaged Instagram following
Step 1: Know who you’re targeting
As a brand, you know exactly who your ideal customer is and what their interests are (and if you don’t, get researching friend). Do a bit of digging and find out what kinds of hashtags they are using and searching, what Instagram hubs and communities they frequent, and who else they are likely to follow. Seek them out.
Bonus tip: don’t just look for your ideal customer. Also seek out your ideal collaborators. Collaboration is a huge growth tool if you can find someone who complements you.
Step 2: Develop and refine your hashtags
Hashies are a great way of getting your content seen by a wide variety of people (I blogged about it here), but it pays to ensure that you are including hashtags that are likely to be seen and frequented by your target audience. Do some research. Create a ‘model group’ of your ideal audience (e.g. 20 or so of the key accounts you would like to work with) and see what common hashtags they are using. Then use them.
Step 3: Stalk your competitors followers
It stands to reason that if someone is following the account of your key competitors, then the chances of them following a similar account (i.e. yours) would be pretty high, yeah? YEP. Make a list of competitor accounts you admire and have a scroll through their followers. Find accounts you genuinely like and follow them.
Bonus tip: if you actually engage with these accounts rather than just do a random follow, the chances of converting them is over 50% higher. I find that liking 3 photos and commenting on 1 gives you the highest conversion rate. But please god don’t EVER go through and like every single one of their photos – it makes you look like a psycho.
Step 4: Stalk your key hashies
Regularly search your key hashtags to find accounts you like. Repeat Step 3’s process.
Step 5: Choose your follow-backs wisely
Yes, it’s always nice to follow back people who have followed you, but you don’t want your Insta feed turning into a dog’s breakfast of random accounts, because that won’t make your own experience enjoyable. If the person who has followed you is not an account you like or someone in your target market, just leave it. If they unfollow you, who cares? If the person who has followed you IS in your target market but is NOT an account you would particularly like to follow, that’s ok – maybe just find some time to thank them by liking a few of their posts. If they choose to unfollow you just because you haven’t followed them back, I would dare say you either don’t have content that has kept them interested or they are not someone you’d ideally like to work with. If they are both in your target market and have a cool account that you’d definitely want to follow – HALLELUJAH! Start building a relationship now.
Step 6: Focus on your content
You’re probably sick of hearing about how your content needs to be valuable to your audience, how it needs to be high quality and informative. There’s a reason everyone is banging on about it – because it’s the key to attracting the right types of followers and keeping them once you have them. Make creating your content an essential part of your working week. Make sure it is on-brand and delivered consistently. And make sure it delivers on one of the three E’s – Education, Empowerment or Entertainment. Trust me, your hard work will pay off.
Bonus tip: I pre-prepare all my content in advance, usually in bulk on the weekend, so I don’t have to fluff around with what I’m going to post every day. I draft my captions and keep my hashies in the notes section of my phone, so it’s a literal cut & paste job. A real time-saver.
Step 7: Be consistent
It’s hard to run a business and I know you wear a lot of hats, so finding the time to focus on your social media can be challenging, but it’s important. While there is a school of thought to suggest that posting 3-4 times per day is optimal for gaining followers on Instagram, if you simply don’t have the time then don’t lose sleep over it – just make your presence consistent. I only commit to posting once a day to keep my sanity and make sure I have time to focus on my client work, and that’s fine with me.
Step 8: Have some manners
If people leave genuine comments & feedback on your posts, thank them. If someone regrams you or tags you in a post, thank them. If you want to reach out to someone you’d like to work with, be polite and respectful. I realize this is common sense but I feel like it needs to be said. Having some manners goes a long way toward building genuine relationships. Don’t just go in for the hard sell every time.
Step 9: Get into a routine
Find a social media routine that works for you. For me, when I first wake up in the morning I get up, shower (sometimes – I work from home, so…) and make a coffee. Then I sit down, log into Instagram and it goes a little something like this:
8.00am-8.10am: reply to any comments that have been left overnight.
8.10am-8.15am: check accounts that have followed me overnight, and like some of their posts or follow them back if I like what I see.
8.15am-8.30am: scroll through my feed and engage with the people I follow. I like their posts, I make genuine comments, and I contribute to discussions.
8.30am-8.45am: find 10 accounts that I would like to follow (see Steps 3 and 4!).
All up, my morning ritual takes about 45 minutes (all before the working day begins!). Then I repeat that whole routine after I have completed work for the day, usually with a glass of wine in hand!
You don’t have to do exactly what I do if you don’t have the time, just find what works for you, schedule it in and do it regularly.
Bonus tip: Spending time engaging with your followers and the people you follow is a great way of discovering new content ideas. Pay close attention to the conversations happening online, and develop ways you can contribute or solve a problem.
Step 10: HAVE FUN!
Instagram is not meant to be a chore, it’s meant to be enjoyable even when it’s work! Stop stressing about the number of followers you have and comparing yourself to others, and focus on having fun with your audience, creating the best content you can, and finding amazing partners to collaborate with for even more growth!