Not a day goes by where I don’t see at least a single post blabbing on about Instagram comment pods, “shadow banning” (I’m a non-belieber, in case you were wondering) or stories of people miraculously growing their Instagram following overnight.
I saw one yesterday that really got me thinking: When the heck did Instagram become so bleeping complicated.
Back in 2012 when I signed up for my first Instagram account, filters were the bomb-diggity and vignettes were next-level cool. I pretty much only used the app to edit my photos before uploading them to Facebook.
Fast forward two years to when I launched my first blog and it was a totally different story. I Googled strategies for growing my blog audience and everyone said the same thing: Get more Instagram followers. So, I did. I made some “friends” within blogging circles and managed to get it from 0 – 1000 followers in about a month. Not entirely terrible for someone who didn’t have a clue what they were doing.
Skip ahead another two years to when I launched The Sugarfree Box. Even though it was just over 18 months ago, Instagram was a vastly different landscape to what it is now. I built up the following from 0 to 20,000 in under 12 months. Under. 12. Months. Without using Instagress or any of that rubbish. You’d have to be pretty good to achieve that these days. Unless you’re Schapelle Corby, that is. She hands-down wins the prize for quickest Instagram growth in 2017.
The point is that 18 months ago, I didn’t have to use any hacks or cheats or tips to grow an engaged Instagram audience. All I had to do was two things: (1) consistently post good content and (2) engage with my target audience in a non-spammy way. 10/10 can guarantee that if you’re ever subscribing to any influencer’s course on how they grew their Instagram following in 12 months, this will be what they tell you. Simply because it was a different game back then.
I’m in the throes of relaunching my personal blog as a health and wellness and travel website. I picked up my Instagram account where I left off and found that, because I hadn’t posted in a while, followers had jumped ship and engagement had dropped off. When I posted my first post, people ran for the hills and unfollowed me. Talk about a blow to the ego! This was ~3 weeks ago and I’ve since managed to turn it around and have grown my following by 700-odd people. Don’t believe me? You can check it out for yourself (insert shameless plug about following me on Instagram here).
So, how can you get more Instagram followers in 2017? Step 1: Stop making it more complicated than it needs to be. Step 2: Do the following…
1. Make the most of Facebook groups
There are a ton of Facebook groups out there for just about every single niche imaginable. I should know; I’m only a member of around 150. Hi, I’m Steph and I’m a Facebook group addict.
Anyway, my point is that many of them have specific days of the week where you can post your Instagram account, or share a post, or just promote any of your platforms in general. Join these groups. Set a reminder for when these weekly sharing posts go live, so you can be one of the first to share your Instagram account.
But don’t leave it there. Check out the other accounts people are sharing. Follow the ones with good content. Then, comment on their most recent post saying that you found them from the group. Genuinely engage and be social with them, and chances are they’ll genuinely engage back.
Think of Instagram as a party. You wouldn’t go up to someone you’ve never met before and say “nice shoes” and then turn around and walk away. At least, I hope you wouldn’t do that…
2. Write blog posts
This applies regardless of whether you’re trying to grow your Instagram following or not.
Blog posts are magic. Seriously. One of the start-ups I’m working with grew their website traffic from 0 to ~4k hits per week in under 2 months, simply by regularly posting good content and running strategic Facebook ads to it. And they say content marketing is dead. Ha! Not sure who “they” is, but they don’t know what they’re talking about.
So, how does writing blog posts help with growing your Instagram following? You insert shameless plugs throughout your post. In a non-spammy way, obviously. Did you notice my little shameless plug earlier on in this post?
The other way to plug your Instagram throughout your post is by peppering your images throughout the post. A little something like this:
Not only does that make people interact with that particular post, it also makes them curious to check out the rest of your feed (assuming that the post you shared is not complete and utter horse poo).
Don’t have an active audience? Share your blog posts into relevant Facebook groups. My number one source of traffic to these blog posts is from Facebook groups. If you’re reading this, chances are you came from a Facebook group. Right?
Don’t have a blog? Ouch. I’m not going to embarrass you in public, but you should really fix that. In the meantime, reach out to guest post on other people’s blogs and link to your Instagram in your by-line/bio.
3. Get featured on “feature” accounts
Caveat: I don’t mean those spammy accounts with 100 million robot followers. I mean accounts like @darlingescapes that curate the best content in their niche.
(Warning: @darlingescapes may cause you to involuntarily pop over to Skyscanner and book a flight to somewhere your bank account doesn’t like).
The rules for getting featured varies from account to account. For most, all you have to do is tag them in your photo or use their brand-specific hashtag. It’s tough to get featured on some of these accounts as the bar is very high, but if you can then that opens up your account to SO many new potential followers.
Please know that you should NEVER pay to be featured on a curated content account. If someone ever offers you a feature in return for $X, run, Forrest, run! Almost all the accounts I’ve seen that are charging for features don’t have legit followers.
Not sure which feature accounts are appropriate for your niche? I’ve put together a downloadable list of Instagram feature accounts and hashtags for you to save and use on your next post. Simply pop your email in the box below and I’ll send a copy of it straight to your inbox.
4. Get featured in the “suggestions for you” section of large accounts
“Suggestions for you” is the little list of users that it suggests for you when you follow a new account. Go do it now and see what it recommends. Follow a smaller account and it will recommend you follow your Facebook friends. But, if you go and follow a larger account it will give you recommendations that are similar to that account.
Instagram hasn’t spilled the beans on how you can get into this spot. But, I’ve been there and it’s freaking awesome. My story goes something like this…
A while ago, I noticed my following was increasing by around 200 followers a day – even on days when I wasn’t posting anything. I got SUPER curious as to where all these followers were coming from, so I reached out and messaged a few of them to ask how they’d found me. Turns out that my account had made it to number one of “Suggestions for you” section of a rather large (300k+) account in my niche. Anyone who followed this account was shown my account as a recommendation, and they followed me straight away.
How did I get there? I still don’t 100% know, but my best guess is that we shared a lot of similar followers. I had been consistently engaging with people in this niche for around 1-2 hours a day for about 6 months. It was a long, hard slog. But, it paid off as most of our sales came from Instagram and I didn’t want to risk damaging the brand by using an automation tool.
Now, I’m not saying you should go out and engage with all your competitor’s followers in the hopes they follow you back and you get featured in the “suggestions” for their account. But, you should go and engage with all your competitor’s followers. When I say engage, I dont mean “Nice pic” – I mean “That’s an awesome snap of your smashed avo – are you a homeowner?”. See the difference?
5. Make the most of location and hashtag Stories
It was a total game changer when Instagram introduced location and hashtag Stories a few months ago.
Hashtags have been a great way for strangers to discover your content for a while now, but it’s become a bit of a fight to get to the top of the most popular ones. Now, you can get featured in the Instagram Story for a certain hashtag simply by including that hashtag when you post the Story. Likewise for locations.
It’s an interesting new discovery feature and I’m curious to see where it goes. Give it a try – but make sure you’re posting content that makes people actually want to check out your feed.
6. Have different content to everyone else on Instagram
If you’ve been following my blog posts, you’ll know we’ve had this conversation before.
At risk of sounding like a scratched CD; every man and his labradoodle has a beautifully curated feed these days. That’s not enough to make someone follow you! You need to stand out somehow. You can do that by niching down into a really super-specific topic, or you can do it visually by making your feed grid look so completely different to anything anyone has ever seen before, which is what I did with the Wildbloom feed You can see what I mean by visiting it here (see what I did there?).
My last blog post gives you step-by-step instructions on how you can create your very own Insta-grid collage. Check it out here. It’s simpler than you think.
So there you have it. 6 ways to grow your Instagram following that don’t involve bots, comment pods or paying ninjas to sneak into Insta HQ and add a few zeroes to your account.
Don’t forget to download the list of accounts that do feature posts. Just pop your email in the box below and we’ll send it out to you right away!