Want to grow your brand’s Instagram account? Wish to dramatically improve your Instagram influence?
Well, I am going to show you how I organically grew my Instagram followers from 550 to almost 1,070 in three months. All without spending a single cent.
Before I do that, however, let us first look at why Instagram matters.
Instagram – Rock Star of Social
In case you don’t already know, Instagram is the rock star of the social mediaverse.
With over 300 million users worldwide and approximately 1.35 million users in Singapore, Instagram overtook Twitter in active users in Dec 2014.
The world’s fastest growing social network, Instagram is the preferred social platform for youths and young adults. Over two-thirds of the world’s top brands are on Instagram.
Beyond growth in users, Instagram is also the king of social engagement and influence.
According to Forrester Research (see WSJ article here), Instagram posts generate 58 times more engagement per follower than they do on Facebook, and 120 times more than on Twitter. This can be seen in the chart below (courtesy of Forrester and WSJ).
My Instagram Growth History
First, I must share that I’m not an Instagram newbie. In fact, I’ve been an Instagram user since September 2011!
However, I was doing everything wrong then. I posted any photo which I wished on the platform, and did little to engage and cultivate my followers. It was literally a visual dumping ground!
And then something happened on 9 December 2014.
The Great Instagram Clean Up
Instagram announced that they wanted to get rid of the numerous spam accounts on their system. This led to a significant drop in the number of followers on Instagram accounts, and this drop was especially significant for Instagram stars.
I have never bought any followers. However, I discovered to my horror that I did have about 150 over fake followers!
My follower count then dropped from 720 odd to about 550-ish after the clean up.
After recovering from my mild shock (remember that I didn’t really care about Instagram then), I decided that I should do something about it.
Three Influential Ladies
Around the same time, I happened to tune in to Michael Stelzner’s brilliant Social Media Marketing podcast and listened to two podcast episodes which changed how I viewed Instagram.
The first featured Sue B Zimmerman, also known as the Instagram Gal, while the second focused on visual marketing extraordinaire Kim Garst.
Yet another Instagram power user was Chalene Johnson. I heard her on Mitch Joel’s wonderful Six Pixels of Separation podcast, and was enamoured by how she used Instagram to grow her fitness and training business.
Collectively, these influential Instagram experts and their power tips helped me to sharpen my Instagram marketing game.
Doubled Instagram Followers in 3 Months
From mid December 2014, I pivoted my account and experienced significant growth. My followers grew from about 550 in mid December 2014 to its current 1070 followers – which is almost a doubling in just under three months.
This trajectory can be seen from my Instagram accounts’ two-month growth rate below (snapshots via Iconosquare):
Exponential Growth in Instagram Likes
That’s not all. Engagement on my Instagram posts also increased significantly.
Previously, my photos and videos averaged between 15 to 25 “likes” (ie hearts) each. This improved to about 50 to 60 “likes” per media on average now.
My progress in “likes” can be seen in the chart below.
Some of my most well liked media on Instagram can be viewed below. Notice that they are not half-naked selfies!
Significant Growth in Instagram Comments
Beyond likes per media, I’ve gained a lot more comments. Previously I barely received 1 to 2 comments per post, if ever. Now, I hit between 8 to 10 comments per photo or video.
My progress can be seen in the chart below.
Beyond likes and comments, my posts were also reposted. On average, about one post per week was reposted (ie reshared) by my fans.
10 Ways to Rock Your Instagram
So how did I transform my Instagram account to grow my influence in three short months?
Well, it did take some effort to change old habits and adopt new ones. However, it sure isn’t rocket science.
1) Stop Posting Random Photos
For the longest time, I snapped any odd photo I wished and share it on Instagram. They could be pictures of food (tonnes of them), cats, gardens, family members, weird quirky signs, hotels, and streetscapes.
Now there isn’t anything wrong with these. In fact, many successful lifestyle bloggers and Instagrammers do it all the time.
However, the difference is this: I am not a lifestyle/food/fashion/travel/photography blogger. While I do take nice photos now and then, I’m more of a B2B blogger focusing on content marketing, social media, business and management.
2) Focus On Your Niche
Think of which vertical you want to specialise in, and commit your Instagram focus to that singular area.
Are you a food Instagrammer? Do you travel frequently and can take gorgeous photos?
Or are you an aspiring fashionista with a different Outfit Of The Day (aka #OOTD)?
For me, my area of focus has always been in marketing. More specifically, content marketing, PR, influencer marketing, and personal branding. These were the niche topics that I zoomed in on.
3) Optimize Your Instagram Profile
Next, optimize your Instagram profile page to reflect who you are/your brand is.
This can be written in many ways – quirky and zany, straightforward and sombre, chic and hipsterish… the list goes on. For me, I’m more of a “geek marketer”, so I have branded myself as such:
Important! If you see the page above, you will notice a space below where you can insert a clickable link to your website or blog. Do update the links to reflect a recent post, and encourage your fans to click on it.
4) Create Instagram Friendly Content
As a visual marketing platform, Instagram works well for content that is visual led and sized appropriate. All images on Instagram are displayed as a square with a 640 x 640 resolution.
Because it is a mobile native platform, Instagram images and videos cannot be too complex. Don’t squeeze in tonnes of text, or share a 20 step flow chart. Remember that it needs to be legible on a small screen.
Beyond taking and sharing gorgeous square-shaped photographs, consider the following:
- Share content which meets the four Es: Educational, Entertaining, Encouraging, or Enlightening
- Include a catchy caption or headline in your design
- Weave in your logo or website URL in your content
- Adopt a consistent “brand feel” in your content (I am still working on mine)
- Use tools like Canva and Pic Monkey for photo edits and design, Word Swag or Instaquote to add text to images, or Instafit to make a rectangular picture square.
5) Include Call To Actions
Call to actions (CTAs) are a good way to engage your Instagram followers.
Some common ones include asking them to tag a friend or two if they agree with a post, double tapping to give you a “like” (ie heart), or commenting with a hashtag.
If you are running a campaign, you can also invite followers to use a hashtag for their own photos or videos, and you can then do a “shout out” for them later on your own accounts (a shout out is one where you quote the nick of the users, eg @coolinsights).
6) Use the Right #Hashtags
Hashtags are the princes and princesses of Instagram (assuming your content is king, and your followers queen). Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post.
There are various schools of thought when it comes to hashtags. Some feel that the excessive use of hashtags may attract spammergrammers (more on them later).
Others feel that hashtags may seem like a desperate attempt to game the system for engagement.
After studying various Instagram best practices, here’s what I’d recommend:
- Don’t fall for the most popular hashtags. With a gazillion photos and videos tagged with these hashtags, yours may never see the light of day.
- Pick “long-tail” hashtags aligned to your niche. I use the hashtag #contentmarketing, #contenttips, and #contentstrategy in most of my posts.
- Introduce your own “custom-branded” hashtags. Sue B Zimmerman uses #instagramexpert. Mine is #coolerinsights.
- Only have one or two hashtags in your main post itself. Place the remainder in your comments.
- Tags for likes (#tagsforlikes) and Follow for Follow (#F4F, #follow4follow) are used by some to get more followers on their Instagram account. Personally, I shun these “gaming” techniques and prefer to attract followers that are more genuinely keen in my content.
7) Post Regularly
Like other social platforms, frequency and timing makes a difference on Instagram. Here’s what I did:
- Post at least once a day, even when I’m extremely busy or tired.
- Limit myself to two or maximum three posts a day (even when I’m like super-excited about something I want to share).
- Time my posts to achieve maximal impact. I notice that I have two peaks: one in the morning (before work starts), and another at night.
- Have at least 2 to 3 days worth of visual content ready to be posted.
This brings me to the next point.
8) Share the Love
Instead of trying to create every single post yourself, leverage on the power of your network. Doing so not only builds your influence – it also improves your reputation and likability.
There are various ways to do so:
- Search for appropriate visual content on the web;
- Save them and email to yourself;
- Adapt them to Instagram’s 640 x 640 frame;
- Share on your account; and
- Credit your sources. Include their website URL or organisation’s brand name.
Beyond this, you may also consider reposting content from other Instagram accounts and giving them a “shoutout” (ie referencing their account in your posts). I use the Repost for Instagram app for this purpose.
9) Network with Others
It is very important to socialize with other Instagram users, particularly like-minded others who may be interested in your content. Remember that reciprocity is one of the six weapons of influence.
Personally, I follow these steps:
- Locate the #hashtag with the topic of interest.
- Scroll through the photos and videos of that topic.
- See which ones catch my attention.
- Like a couple of photos belonging to the same user.
- Comment on one or two of them.
- Rinse and repeat.
- If I find interesting Instagram accounts with great visual content, I will go ahead and follow them.
The key thing here is that you must authentically engage with users whose content you enjoy! Don’t be a robot or a fake!
Important! Don’t comment spam with the same generic comment like “Nice pic!” or “Dope!” or a long comment like “I made $23,536 a month and grew my online business by 200% in 6 months….”
“Spammergrammers” do not attract genuine customers or partners. They are perceived as a nuisance. Don’t be one!
10) Engage with Followers
Last, but certainly not least, you need to continually engage with your followers as well as those you follow. The rule of reciprocity works equally well in both instances.
Here are some rules of thumbs to follow:
- Always respond to “non-spammy” comments with an acknowledgement. A short “Thank you!” works well.
- If interesting alternative view points or new found facts are posted, banter along with the commenter.
- Don’t ever be nasty or emo. If there be trolls, just do the simple delete function (backswipe on the comment and “trash” it).
- If followers post a suggestion, be sure to follow up on them.
- Likewise, visit the Instagram accounts you follow, “like” or comment on their posts, and interact in a genuine fashion.
Instagram Influence – a Journey Not a Destination
Like any social media channel, the way to grow your influence on Instagram is through regular daily habits. It shouldn’t stop when you have reached certain milestones.
While it becomes harder to engage with each and every follower when your following hits the 100s of thousands or even millions, you should still make it a point to be sincere, earnest and helpful in what you post. Unless of course you are a celebrity like Justin Beiber or Taylor Swift.
What are your experiences like with Instagram?
I go to instagram to get newest content, and get inspired by photographic angles. To me, building that personal unique brand is very important, not just for individual posts, but for the entire gallery.
Daniel, you are certainly an exemplar in Instagram! I think you are really kicking it on Instagram for sure, with your mouth watering and inspiring food photos and fabulous videos. You squeeze so much value in that tiny space! 🙂
I’m a book blogger, so I usually use Instagram to post pictures of my reading list. I’m targeting 1000 followers by the end of 2015. Fingers crossed! 🙂
Priscilla, thanks for your comments. I think there is scope for niche Instagram accounts focusing on books (I love to read incidentally). Perhaps you could highlight quotable quotes from your favourite books or feature occasional favourite authors in your Instagram? Maybe you already do! What’s your nick? I’ll go follow you.
@priscillaandherbooks Thanks for the suggestion, Walter! I’ll follow you too. 🙂
wow. Great guidance and tutorial. Thank you for sharing. This will really helpful me to increase my instagram followers. Thank you.
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