I have to admit it… when I first signed up to Instagram, I didn’t get it. I didn’t see the point in growing an audience on a social network where you can’t even give people a link to your blog.
But a few months ago, some friends told me that they were seeing some interesting results on Instagram, so I decided to commit myself to it. I would give it three months. After that, if I wasn’t seeing results, I would give it up and go back to focusing on Pinterest and Twitter.
It’s been just over two months, and I’m hooked.
Not only am I accumulating a following on Instagram, but I’m actually seeing results. Instagram is now a measurable source of traffic for my food blog, but more importantly, I’m starting to draw the attention of brands (i.e. sponsors) and bigger bloggers who want to partner with me.
For me, 3000 followers was the tipping point. And, I worked really hard for those first 3000 followers. When you’re huge on Instagram, going from 170,000 to 173,000 is nothing. It’s a long weekend, a few extra posts. But when you’re starting from nearly nearly, you have to celebrate every single follower.
Today, I’m going to share with you my TOP TIPS for growing your Instagram account if you are brand new. If you follow these tips, I guarantee you can get your first 3,000 Instagram followers too. 🙂
It Starts with Great Content
The very first thing you need to do if you are serious about growing your Instagram following is to get your content up to speed. Instagram is all about the photos, but it takes more than pretty pictures to grow a following on Instagram. Here are my best tips for getting your content up to speed:
- Focus on one topic.
When I first started using Instagram, I posted pictures from my everyday life, without much of a thought about what people would actually want to see.
It’s time to get honest about what you’re posting. Yes, your biggest fans like to see a slice of your life now and then, but they don’t necessarily want random pictures you take whenever you feel like pulling out your phone.
I saw a massive difference in my follower growth when I stopped posting random pictures and started focusing on my topic: food.
Occasionally, I throw in a quote image or a selfie, but the vast majority of what I post on on Instagram are food pics, and I’ve even narrowed my topic even farther – most food pictures I post are attached to a recipe, either on my blog or someone else’s blog. Every now and then, I’ll post a picture from a dish I get while out at a restaurant, but that makes up maybe 5% of my posts.
- Think about how your photos are working together.
I’ve focused on food, but that is still a large niche, so I try to make sure there’s something for everyone. I make sure that I don’t post 15 cookie recipes in a row, because that’s going to alienate my fans who are more interested in health. Even if you narrow your focus more and do, for example, health food… a bunch of breakfast recipes in a row will alienate your followers who do not love breakfast. Or, even if you only post healthy breakfast recipes… six egg dishes in a row is not a good thing.
Instead, vary what you post, while still staying within your niche. So if you do food like me, you could post a great burger, then a gooey cookie, then a drool-worthy smoothie… you get the point.
- Edit your photos so they look cohesive.
I’ve tried several photo-editing apps, and I have to say that I personally like using the Instagram in-app editing best. But it doesn’t really matter if you like to edit your images in Instagram or using another app… come up with a formula so to speak and stick to it.
For example, on my Instagram account, I typically only post images that are more jewel-toned with darker backgrounds. My images tend to be cooler and have vignette (dark edges). When using a pre-programed filter, I typically stick to 2-3 options only.
If I need more robust photo editing, I almost always use PicMonkey. Super easy to use, and you can do a lot for free. Photoshop is of course good too, but you really need to know what you’re doing to make your photos sing using Photoshop. Some people also like the app VSCO for editing their pictures, since it integrates with Instagram.
You want someone to look at your profile and see a cohesive look and feel. If a photo doesn’t really fit right with my personal Instagram style, I don’t use it, no matter how pretty or cool a photo is. When I started thinking of my feed as more of a magazine, I instantly started getting more followers on Instagram.
Take this photo for example:
These beauties are #ontheblog right now! Link in profile or go to http://thepintertestkitchen.com/boston-cream-pie-cupcakes/ for the full #recipe bet you can’t eat just one! #cupcakes #foodblogger #foodblognation #sweetmagazine #feedfeed @thefeedfeed #chocolate #boston #sweet #droolclub #yum #dessert #eeeeeats #yahoofood #buzzfeast
I posted this same picture with different editing previously and a much lower percentage of my followers liked it, and it had no comments.
- Add an awesome caption.
On Instagram, some people focus so much on the image that they forget all about the caption. While your text on Instagram isn’t as important as it is on Twitter or even on Facebook or Pinterest, you should maximize every letter.
On the main feed, your followers will only see a few lines of the caption, so make sure you lead with what is most important, and also entice them to click the more link to see your entire caption. For me, the name of the recipe is important, and people like to get a link to the full recipe.
Whatever you do, don’t leave the caption empty.
Depending on your audience, you might have luck with a “call to action” in the caption – a request for your current followers on Instagram to like or comment. Personally, in the foodie niche, I’ve found that asking for a comment doesn’t increase my rate of comments. Asking for a like does increase the number of likes I get, but it also increases the number of people who unfollow me in the hours following the posting. I want to encourage you to do your own research when it comes to writing a great caption, so you can find what works for your audience.
How to Use Hashtags the Right Way
When you are new, hashtags will be your best friend. It doesn’t matter how new you are or how low your following is… hashtags can help you get seen.
I’ve seen some people give the advice not to use more than one or two hashtags because it clutters your caption and potentially makes you look like a spammer. This has not been my experience, and I wholeheartedly disagree with this advice. I always use at least 10 hashtags with every single photo, and since I’ve started doing this, my follower rate has increased drastically.
There are three types of hashtags you should use:
- Broad hashtags
- Narrow hashtags
- Regram/community hashtags
A broad hashtag is one that a lot of people are using, like #love or #cool. Because so many people are using these hashtags, you won’t stay on the recent feed long, but it does expose you to a large audience for that short amount of time. I recommend using 1-2 broad hashtags with every image. (For purposes of this advice, I’m going to say that anything with more than 5 million photos is a broad hashtag.)
Next, you have narrow hashtags, which are hashtags that are used by fewer people. They are closely related to the specific topic of your image like #taco or #blackandwhitephotography. I recommend using at least 1-2 of these hashtags, at minimum. When choosing narrow hashtags, make sure you’re looking for hashtags with at least 10K photos. Anything lower than that, and no one is really looking at the feed. I like to find hashtags that are in the 500K ranger personally, because I find that’s the “Goldilocks” sweet spot in my niche – enough people following that I get some new followers on Instagram, but not so many that my post disappears in a split second.
Last, I strongly urge you to find some regram or community hashtags that people in your niche are using. These are hashtags that band people together, and tell others that you want to potentially be regrammed (i.e. you want other people to repost your picture). Usually, these hashtags are curated by one or two accounts, such as another blogger or a major media publication. For example, in the world of food blogging, #buzzfeast is the hashtag you can use to tell Buzzfeed that you want your recipe featured.
Here’s an example of one of my recent posts that used a variety of hashtags:
Old Fashioned Peach Cobbler… Sometimes the old #recipes just hit the spot! I can remember my mom making this for me ever since I was little. What family favorite recipes always hit the spot for you? Comment! Link to this recipe is in the profile or go here: http://thepintertestkitchen.com/old-fashioned-peach-cobbler/ #peaches #peachcobbler #dessert #eeeeeats #bhgfood #yummy #droolclub #sweet #sweetmagazine #homemade #memories #comfortfood
Not sure what hashtags to use? Here’s what you do: Find a few other Instagrammers in your niche who have 100K+ followers and go back through their feeds. What hashtags are they using? When you get a lot of likes, you will show up on the “top” posts for a hashtag, not just the most recent. This is KEY for getting more followers. It’s way I like to go for some of the more narrow hashtags; there’s a lot less competition for the top spots.
Iconosquare is the best way to track your hashtag performance, along with other analytics (I’ll mention them again later). They do have a free trial and a free version, but if you actually want analytics for Instagram, it will cost a few bucks per month.
Getting More Followers with Follows/Likes
The method I like best for getting more followers on Instagram when you are new is to follow others and like their photos. It seems so simple, right? But if you just start following people willy-nilly, that’s not really going to be effective, and you’re going to have a feed filled with crap (which is going to hurt you later with the regram method I’m going to cover below). You want to keep your feed tight, and filled with awesome people, and you don’t want your follower count to go through the roof.
What I recommend is following the people who follow accounts that are similar to yours. These are the people who are already interested in your niche, and many probably post about the same topic themselves. You can do this manually by simply going to other accounts, clicking on their followers, and then clicking through one by one to follow them.
There are also some programs out there to help you automate this system, the most notable of which is Crowdfire, which as a “copy followers” tool. Using this system, you do want to unfollow anyone who doesn’t follow you back after a certain amount of time, unless you really love their account. Otherwise, you’ll see your “following” number skyrocket higher than your “followers” number, which might make some people think you aren’t a legitimate account. I like to keep these numbers even, worst case scenario.
My biggest piece of advice with the follow method is to BE CAREFUL. If you’re following people too quickly, following and unfollowing really quickly, etc. Instagram may flag you as a spammer, which could mean that they throttle your activity or even *gulp* shut down your account. Make sure you are growing consistently and posting great content every day so you don’t have random spikes in your follower accounts. That’s what I’ve done, and I have not had any problems with Instagram so far.
Using Follower Apps to Grow Instagram
If you search for “Instagram followers” on the app store, you will find dozens of third-party apps that claim to help you grow your Instagram following fast. Some of them work. Some of them don’t. All of them are filled with fake accounts, so you need to proceed with caution.
Fake accounts are basically “dummy” accounts that have few posts (if any) and follow a ton of people. Some of them post nothing but spam, trying to get you to spend money. Others look almost real, but they have a HUGE number of followers compared to the amount of content they’ve posted. Instagram typically shuts down these fake users pretty quickly, so it doesn’t really matter if they follow you, because they’ll be gone again inside a few weeks. Follower apps typically work like this:
- You get coins by liking pictures from other users or following other users’ accounts.
- When you accumulate enough coins, you can “buy” followers with these coins. You just put in your order, and your account starts to show up for other people to follow (and they earn coins for following you).
- You can earn bonus coins by watching videos or completing offers.
- You can buy coins with actual money.
- If you unfollow people you’ve followed really quickly, the app recognizes that and takes coins away from you as a punishment.
Okay… now for the reality check. I tested out several of these follower apps, and AT BEST, my estimate is that only 10-20% of the followers I got from them were real.
Seriously, at best.
Some apps are better than others. I tested out a bunch of them, and the best I found was InstaFollow. It seems to have the highest rate of real users, plus other features that I like (keep reading).
Now, this is advice you’re not going to hear from many people, but I actually think that using these apps to boost your follower numbers is okay when you are first getting started and as long as you don’t overdo it. When you’re a complete newbie, it’s hard to get people to follow you, because they look at your account and think you must not be worth following, simply because you are so new and you have such low follower numbers.
And, if you use a good app, you are going to get some real followers on Instagram. That’s a good thing!
If you do use a follower app, make sure you pick one that allows you to earn coins through likes instead of follows, like InstaFollow does. Otherwise, you will quickly find your stream filled with crap. If you just have to like a pic to earn coins, you aren’t committed to following the person.
I do not think you should 100% rely on follow apps, and once you get a few thousand followers, follower apps really aren’t worth your time anymore. They’re just good for giving you that initial boost you need to look like a worthy account to follow.
I will mention that there is one tool out there (that I’ve found) that is a little different: IG Wildfire. Instead of being an app that works on the coin system, this is a service that will get you more followers by using the like/follow method I talked about previously. When you sign up, they actually ask you for your target market and whether you want to follow or just like, so using IG Wildfire is going to be a lot better than follower apps that us a coin-based system. IG Wildfire isn’t free, though. You’ll pay a monthly charge, based on how fast you want to grow and the other features you want. They have a free trial so you can see if it is worth your money.
Growing Your Instagram Community with Shoutouts/Regrams
When you repost someone else’s image on Instagram, it’s called a regram. Good etiquette says you should always credit the regram by saying who took the original photo, and there are actually apps that allow you to easily regram someone the same way you would retweet on Twitter.
However, I like to do my regrams in a different way, and this has become an AWESOME technique for growing my community. Instead of just regramming using an app (which copies over the person’s original caption and credits by including their username), I actually use my phone to take a screenshot, then I turn the regram into a shoutout.
On Instagram, a shoutout is when you tell everyone why another user is so cool, and encourage people to follow him or her. So, for example, I might see a cupcake that looks awesome, posted by another food blogger. I’ll take a screenshot, then repost, and in the caption I’ll say who took the photo and that everyone should go follow that person for more delicious recipes. I usually also tell people to click the link in their profile to visit their blog, since that’s what every blogger wants – traffic! I also always tag the person in the photo (instead of just including their name for credit in the caption).
Here’s an example:
So, my method works really well for a few reasons.
- It puts me on the radar of the person who I’m promoting. If they aren’t following me already, they usually do. +1 follower, woo!
- More importantly, it means we can start building a relationship, so we can work together in the future to do mutual shoutouts, round-robin Instagram contests, etc.
- They almost always like the photo and comment to say thanks, which means anyone following this person will potentially see me on the screen that shows your followers’ activities.
- The tag means that the photo (and thus, my account), show up on the other person’s profile, on the list of photos where they have been tagged.
- Other people see that I do shoutouts all the time, so they interact with me in the hopes that they will get a shoutout too.
- Occasionally, someone will do a shoutout in return. I don’t ask anyone to do that, but it’s nice when it happens! Wheneven someone does a shoutout to me, I get at least a few new followers.
- Because I’m being really complimentary in the shoutout and encourage people to follow and click their bio link, people never request that I take down the image. I have never had a single take down request. Sometimes, when I see other people doing regrams, the original poster does come back and ask for the photo to be removed, because they feel like they weren’t properly credited.
In short… shoutouts are awesome!
When I do a shoutout, I don’t go wild on the hashtags, especially the “community” or “regram” hashtags that I mentioned before, because I don’t want to imply that I’m giving someone else permission to post another blogger’s work. I only use a few more general hashtags that describe the photo when I post a shoutout photo.
In addition, I also do shoutouts in a second way… I give what I call “like shoutouts.”
Basically, a day or two after I post a photo, I’ll go back in and give a random shoutout to 3-5 people who liked the image. I just randomly pick people from the list of likes and say thanks.
This has been awesome for both my rate of engagement and for my follower count. About 25% of the people I mention in a “like shoutout” comment back to say thanks, and I’ve noticed that those who are not already following me typically do. I’ve also noticed that when I give a shoutout to someone, they typically like future pictures. It’s really helping me build a community.
Even better, I’ve noticed that whenever I do a comment shoutout, I get other random followers and likes. People see that shoutout comment and want to be given a shoutout too, so they follow me and like my photos more often to be “in the running” so to speak. Instagrammers definitely consider shoutouts to be an awesome prize!
Running Contests for Even More Followers on Instagram
If you’ve been using Instagram for any amount of time, you’ve probably seen people promoting contests to get more followers. The good news about Instagram contests is that you can get a lot of new followers running them. The bad news? The follower quality isn’t very high, plus you actually have to pay for the prize.
It always makes me laugh a little. Some of the same people who are VERY vocally against Instagram follower apps run a lot of contests. Personally, I’ve found that the “fake follower” rate is about the same (at least 75%). People follow with brand new profiles they don’t intend to actually use just for a chance to win, and even the real followers often unfollow you really quickly if they don’t win.
The BEST way to run a contest on Instagram by far is to team up with other people in the same niche as you and do a round robin style content. Here’s how it works:
- You band together with 5+ other Instagrammers and you all chip in for one pretty good prize.
- Everyone posts the same graphic (or a version of the same graphic) on the same day.
- In the caption, person #1 tells you about the prize and to win, people have to follow them and person #2, who will tell you to follow the third person, who will tell you to follow the fourth, and so on until you’ve made the full loop and are back on the original profile.
- At the end of the contest, a winner is drawn at random, and all the bloggers involved make sure that the person played by the rules.
Typically, you have to be following ALL of the Instagrammers involved to win, and sometimes the rules state that you also have to like or comment on each post. Some contests that have really good prizes say that you have to tag a friend in the comment. People are pretty hesitate to tag their friends, so the prize has to be pretty good to get them to take that step.
The beauty of this kind of round-robin contest is that you’re reaching all the followers of the other participants, not just people who are following you already or people who find you via a hashtag.
In my opinion, contests aren’t really that great unless you do them in this round-robin style, because there’s such a crazy high rate of unfollowers after the contest is over.
My best advice if you do want to run a contest on Instagram is to KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid. The more you ask people to do, the fewer people will actually do it. I’ve seen contests running where you have to like, follow, comment, tag, and then go to a link to enter your email address. That’s really rough. People just aren’t on Instagram to do all that work. Unless the prize is AMAZING, stick to one or two things that someone has to do to enter. I recommend either follow + like or follow + comment.
If you do have a large blog following and want to get those readers to follow you on Instagram, Rafflecopter is the best tool I know for running this kind of a contest, instead of running the contest directly on Instagram.
Facebook Groups for a Landslide of New Followers on Instagram
There are a lot of people trying to build their follower counts on Instagram… so they’ve banded together on Facebook to help one another. Joining these groups has really helped me get more followers and they’re almost all real, active people who are interested in my content!
I have to admit: I don’t really like Facebook. But promotion groups on Facebook make it totally worth logging in!
The rules for every group are different, and I want to heavily encourage you to play by the rules. If you don’t, you’re a jerk, and it is only a matter of time before the admins delete you. If too many people act like jerks in Facebook groups, they close down because the admins get sick of it… so you aren’t doing yourself any favors in the long-term. But if you help the community and it continues to grow, your Instagram account is going to grow as well. Win-win!
So here’s generally how it works:
- First, one of the admins posts a thread that is for follows, likes, or comments (sometimes all three).
- You can drop your link on this thread if you do so before it “closes”.
- Within a certain amount of time, you have to come back and follow, like, or comment on the Instagram accounts of the other people who posted on the thread.
Sometimes, the rule is that you have to follow all, comment on all, or like all. These threads are awesome if the group is comprised of people who are mainly in your niche (i.e. people who you want to follow and who want to follow you). These threads are, on the other hand, not so great if you are in a more general promotion group, because it means you’re obligated to interact with everyone who left a comment, even if you think they account is crap.
Trust me: if you do not follow/comment/like all, people WILL call you out on it, and the admins will eventually delete you.
I personally prefer the threads where you have to follow/comment/like a certain number instead of EVERYONE who posts their link. For example, you might have a thread where the rule is if you post your link, you have to follow at least 10 other links that were posted in the thread.
You don’t get as many followers this way because not EVERYONE will follow you. In fact, it is possible that no one will follow you. But if you have a high quality account, and get your link in there as soon as the thread goes live, it is likely that you will be one of the most-followed in the thread.
Here’s a little trick: Whenever I post in these threads, I always leave the preview up unless the admin/rules specifically say you have to delete your preview. It’s really easy to skip over a comment that doesn’t have a photo attached.
Here’s a second little trick: If you post in a thread where people get to pick and choose who they follow, always say what the benefit is for following your account. For example, I always say something like, “Follow my account if you are into yummy recipes and foodie pics.” I’ve actually tested this and I get a lot more followers when I say something about my account.
Promotional groups on Facebook come and go all the time, but here are a two general groups where I’m currently a member and that are active to get you started:
I also recommend that you look for promotion groups that are specific to your niche. Just search your niche + promotion or your niche + Instagram. I’m involved with several groups just for food bloggers.
Consistency on Instagram
Before wrapping up this crazy long post, I want to say a few things things about consistency. I know we already talked about having a consistent look and feel to your account, but it is also important to stick to a consistent posting schedule.
I’ve tested this, and for my audience, posting 2-3 times per day is what works best. I typically post once in the morning and once around dinner time, then if I want to post a third time, I do it sometime between 9 PM and 2 AM EST (usually closer to 9 than 2 because I’m almost never up that late on week nights). For my audience, posting more often than 3 times per day led to more unfollows than I liked, not to mention that it can get time-consuming and some days it is hard to come up with stuff to post! If you have a bunch of really great pictures, save a few of them for another day when you are feeling less inspired.
Now, your audience will change as it grows. I recommend doing a test of post frequency right now so you have a baseline of what is good for your current followers, even if that list is small. Then do another test for a few days when you have 1000 – 1500. Then do a third test at around 3000 people. From now on, every time I double my follower count, I’m going to test to see what post frequency works best.
As far as post times go, Iconosquare, which I mentioned above, is a great tool that will help you determine when your audience is most actively. HOWEVER…
Something to consider when you are growing your list is that you don’t just want likes and comments from your current followers. You also want new followers! So you have to care when certain hashtags are getting the most attention. The bigger hashtags are popular all day long, so I did a little test. For one week, I posted when Iconosquare told me to post. For the next week, I posted when I felt like it (but still spreading out posts during the day somewhat).
In terms of likes, I got more when I followed Iconosquare’s recommendations. It wasn’t a landslide, but it was definitely more. In terms of followers, Iconosquare just barely edged out random posting, and some days, random posting heavily outperformed the recommended post times for my account. So, instead of blindly following recommendations about post times, you should run your own tests and compare your actual results.
Whatever you do… be consistent. I can’t stress that enough. If you usually post once or twice a day, but miss the occasional day, yeah, you’re going to miss out on some followers that day, but its no big deal. However, if you post sporadically… say, three times one day, then not for two weeks, then once a day for a few days, then a big gap of no posting for a week or two again… well, it’s going to be an uphill battle to gain followers. Posting daily and sticking to a consistent schedule is really going to help you show others that you are a worthy account to follow on Instagram.
A Few Final Words
I am still growing and learning when it comes to Instagram, but I can say without a doubt that the first 3,000 followers were definitely the hardest. I have momentum now, and am continuing to grow, even though I am not quite as active with all of the above techniques as I’ve been in the past. I no longer have to use follower apps, and I am not as heavily participating in Facebook promotion groups. Still, I’m growing as fast if not faster than I was before. So, chin up! Once you get a few thousand, things get easier and you don’t have to grind as much!
The biggest piece of advice I can give you is this: Think about what your followers like, and then surprise and delight them as much as possible.
For example, on my own account, I once posted a full recipe along with a picture of a smoothie I had made. On Instagram, most bloggers only post links to their recipes, so people loved it that I actually posted a full recipe.
What do your followers want most? How can you give that to them in a way that most other people aren’t? If you can keep your followers smiling and make them feel good about their day, they are going to keep following you and interacting with your posts, which will in turn make others want to follow you.
What tips did I miss? Leave a comment with the tips and techniques you used to get your first 3,000 followers (or that you’re currently using now to hit that 3,000 mark).