1,000 engaged Instagram followers in 14 days.

And what I learnt getting there.

Ed Maughan
Sep 15, 2015 · 5 min read

I’ve been fascinated for a while by the insane growth and engagement that location specific Instagram feeds get. The feeds for London or Sydney, are good examples. Huge followings, serious engagement levels.

I worked on a New York based campaign in January and spoke to the owners of some of the biggest NYC based feeds. With hundreds of thousands of followers their Instagram real estate comes at a (pretty unaffordable!) premium. Particularly when you’re a brand wanting a slice of the action.

In many respects it makes sense. For me — my Instagram feed is pretty sacred. Unlike Twitter or Facebook, where my feeds are pretty polluted, my Instagram is a stream of stuff I actually like to look at. Many Instagrammers feel the same — that Instagram should be as organic as possible — and I’ve heard a fair few people complaining about the introduction of ads into Instagram over the last month.

Your Instagram feed is inherently personal. For me, growing up in Wales, feeds like Visit Wales and Brecon Beacons (my home area) are personal favourites. Especially when sat on the bus in grey, mountainless London. Both of the above are curated from the feeds of others Instagram users. The owners of the accounts select the best pictures from their select hashtag, and share them with the wider community.

And the results are stunning:

Pictures from @BreconBeacons

This got me thinking — could I create my own Instagram community, purely centred on sharing beautiful content?

Introducing @discovercymru.

I did some digging and bagged the above handle (and was pretty surprised it wasn’t occupied). I initially used some photos from my personal collection to brand the account and get the ball rolling.

From there I had 3 main objectives:

  1. Create an engaged community — I didn’t want just want any followers, I wanted people who gave a shit about Wales. And pictures of it.
  2. Maintain a decent editorial standard — Pictures must delight and attract followers.
  3. Not annoy anyone — Do people care if you ‘re-gram’ (share) their pictures? Will they volunteer? Let’s find out.

On day 1 I had:

  • 0 followers
  • 15 pictures on the hashtag #discovercymru (which I’d use to source images)

On day 14 it has grown to:

  • 1,000 followers
  • 300+ pictures on #discovercymru
  • 80+ likes/ engagements on photos shared

How?

Content is king. The pictures I had on my phone got me so far, but I needed more.

This is where I was concerned about annoying people. By asking if I could use their content, I worried they’d tell me to f*ck off. I surfed Wales specific hashtags and found some stunning creators and even more beautiful content. Then I commented asking people if I could re-post them.

And waited.

The response? Overwhelmingly positive:

Despite having < 10 followers at this point, people were more than happy to share their incredible imagery with the wider community.

And so the stream started to grow.

Asking people whether I could use their content was time consuming (and hard to keep track of). So with each post I invited people to tage their pictures with #discovercymru for a chance to be featured on the account.

14 days later there were 300 more posts on the hashtag — and I have an ever growing selection of stunning content to share with the wider community.

And people love being featured.

You don’t get 1,000 followers this quickly through beautiful content alone. So, I spent some time engaging with the vast community sharing their images of Wales. I liked great pictures, followed incredible creators and showed appreciation in the comments.

There are also tools to help you find relevant accounts to follow. I did this periodically, but ensured my follower base always remained bigger than the number of people I was following.

Remember rule 1 — the community must be engaged, plus care about Wales. So I made sure to only follow the followers of niche Welsh Instagram accounts. That way I could ensure they’d be interested.

While debating this with friends some argued that this kind of engagement is spammy. I’d argue the opposite, for a few reasons.

  • Firstly, you’re not buying the followers — and that is incredibly easy on Instagram.
  • In reality engaging/ following is simply sending a signal. They get a notification and then it’s up to the individual whether they follow back. Which brings us back to the content you pedal. Especially, if like me, your Instagram feed is a sacred space of things you like to look at.
Pictures from the @DiscoverCymru feed

Define ‘engaged followers’.

On average the posts I share through the feed are getting 80–100 likes (or 8% — 10% engagement rate at current follower level). Social Bakers report that the 25 most engaged brands on Instagram get 3.3%, while Sprout Social report 4.2%.

As a caveat, @DiscoverCymru obviously isn’t a brand so should expect higher engagement, but this is higher than many accounts I’ve found. The sentiment beneath the posts is also overwhelmingly positive. Plus, I receive regular DMs / tags from people keen to be featured.

Comments under a post.

People love to share and engage on Instagram — especially when the content is locally relevant, and more importantly, appealing. I’ve been surprised at the willingness of creators to share their content — but it’s also a positive reflection on the Instagram community.

Of course, as the feed grows, people will be keen to be featured for self-promotion. But I’m cool with that — there are some incredible photographers showcasing Wales on Instagram — and they deserve greater recognition.

The incredible @wallywanders, @steffjohn and @and1harry are all discoveries I’ve made in the past 14 days. Check them out.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to ping me on Twitter @edmaughan or email me at ed.maughan@gmail.com.

You can read an updated set of tips on building an Instagram following here.

And go follow @discovercymru.

Ed Maughan

Written by

Working on social media and content for Square.

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