Growing an instagram following was such a mystery to me for a long time. I’d post what I thought were great photos and see slight upticks of followers—but for a year, I stayed at around the same follower count. My team and I decided to do an experiment and really focus on increasing instagram followers on my account over the last six months.
Truth is, before this experiment, I didn’t have a consistent posting process, hashtag strategy, or even content focus. My Instagram following was essentially the same from 2017 to 2019 with very little growth. But now we have all those things—and a sure fire way my team and I have been increasing my Instagram following.
Growing Instagram Following By the Numbers
Over the last six months, my team and I have been focused on systemizing content production for my Instagram grid and building my following on the platform. We haven’t focused on systemizing stories yet so I’ll be back with another post once we get that strategy in place.
In terms of results, we saw a 70% growth of my Instagram following in 6 months! We didn’t go viral by any means, but that’s also nothing to shake a stick at. We’ve also seen the rate of growth increase in the last month as we doubled down on strategies that worked to build my Instagram following.
Last 3 months from Later Analytics
In February we started with just around 480 followers are are up to around 820 as of September. While growing to 10k followers is a future goal, we’re shooting for a follower growth rate goal of around 10% per month. We’re a little under that an average of 8.75% per month so we’re still working on it.
Within the last month, you’ll notice the growth rate skyrocketed as we hit onto something that made a huge difference that I reveal below.
While we’d love for my Instagram account to get to over 10k followers to get that handy swipe-up feature, my goal is rather to build a highly tailored following of a very specific audience that is highly engaged with my content. After all, there’s more power in a small but engaged audience!
The rules? We didn’t use any Instagram-questionable apps or bots. We didn’t buy followers. We didn’t want to use a ton of apps that cost an arm and a leg.
Instagram Growth Strategies that Didn’t Work
I did a lot of research on strategies to grow my Instagram following, watched countless webinars, read hundreds of articles. And most advice on how to build an Instagram audience was completely useless.
Post daily! Use 30 hashtags! Like other photos like yours! Follow and unfollow! You’ve heard it before.
I tried some of it. Some of it I felt was questionable ethically so I avoided it. But for the most part, none of it really worked. These are often some of the most recommended ways to grow your following out there you’ll see repeated over and over.
And I’m here to tell you most of that advice is completely useless for growing your Instagram account. Here’s what didn’t work for me:
Instagram Growth Don’t: Geotagging
Geotagging my posts only created interest with people who were interested in the place I geotagged. If my account was a local-focused account, this would have been GOLD. But my audience isn’t specific to a location so it wasn’t right for me.
I went to Paris for my honeymoon in April, storied my trip, and tagged a lot of places after we came back months later—and it actually reduced my reach and following significantly.
It took a few months for my reach to return and my follower growth rate to recuperate!
I’d recommend geotagging as a way to build a following if you’re targeting an audience in a specific region or if you’re doing a travel-focused account that location matters. If not, I found that using location tagging was actually a negative.
Instagram Growth Don’t: Commenting on influencers in my niche
I spent countless hours leaving authentic, meaningful comments on other accounts. In the beginning, I did the strategy of posting comments on other big accounts in my niche. And most of the time, the comments got buried by hundreds of others.
So I decided to focus on smaller accounts. It didn’t do much either and maybe produced a handful of followers for hours of work. Most of the time the larger accounts I commented on didn’t even follow me, much less their followers!
Verdict on this is it’s a waste of time. While it might work on the long run, it’s primarily time intensive with little payoff to comment on other influencers’ content.
Instagram Growth Don’t: Liking & Commented Based on Hashtags
I also spent a lot of time commenting on and liking Instagram posts hashtagged with the same tags I use myself. And while this got a couple new followers, the time I spent doing it wasn’t worth the increases to my account.
I’d easily spend an hour and get a handful of 2-3 followers as a result over the few hours after spending time engaging. And most of the followers I would get would be competitor accounts, not the people who I actually wanted to follow me!
Similar outcome to commenting on competitor accounts to mine—just not worth the time to do it manually.
Instagram Growth Don’t: Follow & Unfollowing
I steer clear of bots of any kind because I know the damage they can cause first hand from friends & colleagues. But after talking to some other folks I trust, they used a follow-unfollow method they manually did of people by searching their followers to see if they followed them back. No bots required but it still felt a bit icky.
But for you, I did it anyway. And guess what? It didn’t work very well.
It worked better than commenting and liking on influencers & hashtags, certainly, but most of it was a waste of time. I followed lots of accounts, unfollowed within two days, and started the process over again (thanks to that handy chronological organization on followers in profile now).
In the end, it produced 5-6 followers per session of following & unfollowing for about an hour—but many of them unfollowed shortly after I did.
Instagram Growth Maybe: Tagging feature accounts
Tagging feature accounts, or accounts that repost users’ content on their feeds, is a popular way to increase following. And despite six months of stellar photos & tagging accounts that featured others in my niche, I was never featured on a single feature account.
I’m guessing that my photos are very different treatment than most of the accounts in my niche (more on that below) so my posts didn’t match the feature account themes as well—so I didn’t get my posts reshared. But if part of your goal is to stand out as a unique voice, feature accounts might not work for you either.
I’ll update if I do get featured on another account in the future—but for me, this technique didn’t work (yet). I’m likely going to still keep trying and report back but after 6 months of no results, it’s hard to endorse this strategy to grow Instagram followings.
How I Grew My Instagram Audience – What Worked Well
Instead, I took what I thought was the best of the best for Instagram growth advice and put it all into practice. Remember though, I didn’t focus much on Instagram stories—but primarily on my grid.
(Keep reading for the thing that worked the best!)
Posting Only Great Content by Removing Quotes & Posting 3-4 times a Week
Most Instagram advice says post daily, which means you spend an eon shooting & editing photos to have enough varied collateral or you have to resort to quotes. My life is not highly Instagrammable—so creating daily content without quotes was hard.
So we tried using pretty quotes—and they absolutely tanked. Quotes saw low engagement, low reach, and did little to increase following. Overall, we decided that quotes weren’t the path forward because while they allowed us to post daily easily, they weren’t creating the Instagram account we wanted.
So, despite production bottlenecks, we tried posting daily with my face on it, committing to a larger number of photoshoots and editing. But it didn’t positively impact the growth rate versus the commitment of time. It was marginal, at best, versus the 4-5 hours minimum of time spent per shoot and 10-12 hours of editing post shot to get daily shots for a month.
In the end, posting shots of me outperform everything else—but posting daily wasn’t important. I post 3-4 times a week on my account with really great photos and see more growth than when I posted daily with quotes to fill in gaps.
The evolution of my grid, from left to right!
Work with a pro photographer & create a consistent editing flow
I’m lucky that I have a very skilled photographer and editor on my team at my agency that allowed me to tap into a skillset I don’t have. We also have production quality camera equipment that not everyone has.
But posting polished, professional photos has made a huge difference in my brand perception and following. People who follow me see me as a serious entrepreneur who knows her stuff, which is part of the story we’re telling with my account.
We also created a consistent editing flow to make sure that each photo stands on its own merits but also fits into the overall tone, color family, and saturation of my entire grid. We do not, however, use filters. Every photo is retouched by hand by my team.
This isn’t a small investment of time (or money if you outsource) but posting these kinds of photos is helping to increase my following. Sure, you can grow your account with iPhone photos and filters—but that’s not what worked for me.
Think about the story I’m telling
With every single image, we asked what story the image was telling. Was it in line with my brand and what I wanted people to take away from my Instagram? Did it stand on its own two feet? Did it fit with the overall message?
I can remember debating with my team for a good fifteen minutes between two nearly identical photos. Which one said “professional, confident business woman” best?
We picked one—and it became the highest engaged, highest reach post we’ve ever had.
Not only do I have a consistent look from photo editing, it’s telling a consistent story people want to follow. Photos that we feel display the target brand message best also happen to be the best performing posts on a consistent basis.
Identifying the storytelling we wanted to capture with my account and creating a rundown sheet of criteria every single piece of content we shared had to hit was the difference maker when it came to visual asset creation for my grid.
Short & Sweet Captions like this worked best!
Simplify & shorten Captions
Captions used to take me forever to write. Give value, right? That’s what is an oft-repeated slogan for building an Instagram following.
I thought that meant long captions with lots of detail, almost a mini-blog post.
But after reviewing a lot of other accounts that perform well in my niche, almost none of them have long captions that give a lot of value more than 1-2 times per month. Instead, most accounts that performed the best had short, sweet statements that were more an affirmation of the brand story.
What I mean by this is captions like “What is the price of success? And what are you willing to pay? ” and “Never apologize for being an ambitious woman.”
Autoscheduling freed up time to engaged—and actually build my following
One thing that was the most influential to my success was using Later, an Instagram scheduling tool that allowed me to plan out my grid well in advance. Like we’re talking 3-4 months in advance.
After my photographer would edit, he’d drop in all the photos in my Later account and we’d organize them into a pretty grid and schedule them based on highest engagement times calculated by the app.
Once every two to three weeks, I’d sit down and write captions, add hashtags to the caption, and hit autopublish. And then I’d leave it alone.
My account isn’t fashion focused, though many of my photos are fashion-style shots. I don’t have to change up my content as often as a fashion blogger does with new pieces & outfits. Instead, I can add the same outfit 4-5 times in different locations and it looks varied enough. Since I’m not selling what I’m wearing but who I am on my grid, it makes sense for us to do one photoshoot per quarter with a bunch of outfits in a location with a lot of different settings.
Planning out my content well in advance gave me time to spend instead engaging—and actually growing my Instagram following by getting new eyes to my content regularly instead of posting & hoping they’d notice.
Months worth of content ready to go!
What Made the Biggest Difference in Growing My Instagram Account
One strategy stands out though as the best of the best. One thing I did grew my account the most more than any thing I did over the 6 months.
This Instagram growth technique singlehandedly increased my monthly growth rate to a whopping 21%.
I started liking and commenting on followers of similar accounts to mine who I believe will follow me.
It’s not something you can do with a bot, although there are bots that do this technique. Because I’m qualifying each follower in a quick decision process before I like or comment on their posts—not everyone who follows my competition on Instagram is right for me!
And this has also helped me stop losing followers. If I stopped engaging on Instagram for a few days because my life got busy, I’d easily lose 4-5 followers a day. Most of them seemed to be bot or spam accounts so I wasn’t concerned—but it hurt all the same to see my numbers drop.
Now that I’ve not only increased my growth rate, I’m also keeping those followers too.
My Technique to Quickly Grow Instagram Organically
- Find & follow accounts similar to yours
- Go to their followers & scroll through to look for legitimate accounts who aren’t bots or spammers
- Go to those profiles, like a few and comment on anything you love with an authentic comment.
- Follow them if you actually want to, not just to unfollow them later!
That’s it! I spend a few minutes doing this while I’m waiting in line or waiting for my coffee to brew throughout the day and likely spend 30-40 minutes doing this cumulatively.
This technique gets me 15-20 new followers a day! Compared to the handful of followers using the other methods, this works infinitely better.
What I’m Doing Next to Continue Instagram Growth
I’ve really only focused on my Grid so next up is systemizing my stories. Later allows you to schedule stories in advance too so we’re looking into how to use this technique to build my following even more.
Either way, I’m hopeful that my research & trials will help you grow your following quicker too. Let me know if you see results or have any other suggestions!