1000 Instagram followers in 2 weeks PLUS my SECRET WEAPON. YOU’RE WELCOME.

As an amateur photographer, I’ve been looking for ways to increase my online profile. I started, of course, with my portfolio site, but the next obvious step was to conquer Instagram. Most how to articles assume you have either a niche, a dog, or that you can repost other people’s content. None of those really apply to me. So here’s my experiences with various strategies and my own benchmark for what you can expect. Plus, I built a super useful tool that I’ll tell you about at the end.

I’ve read all the advice online and basically it boils down to this:

Post Good Content, Find a Niche, Post Regularly, Be Generous with Likes, Reposts, and Comments, Have Competitions or Start a Hashtag, Use a Bot Service, Find Similar Channels, Recycle, Master Hashtags

We’re gonna spend most of this conquering hashtags but I’ll very briefly touch on each of these and my success with them.

On Good Content: Your content doesn’t have to be the best in the world, but it has to be something. Funny, pretty, interesting… something share worthy. No one cares about your pictures of your family or meals unless your family is famous or your meals have a following. Sorry.

Good Content. Are there better lighthouse pictures out there? Probably, but this is above the “like” bar.
Bad Content. There is literally nothing of interest here. Scroll down now just to get it out of your sight.

On Finding a Niche: I’m primarily a landscape and wildlife photographer, but sometimes I’m inspired by architecture and culture. The point is, I love to photograph everything, and am still growing as a photographer, so I don’t really have a niche. I guess I’m a “travel” photographer, if that means I’m inspired by nature, wildlife, buildings, culture, religions, and people. I kinda think “travel” photography is a meaningless genre. You only take pictures when you’re away? And then you take pictures of everything? But let me be clear, if you are hiring travel photographers than I am very much a travel photographer. My point is, I don’t want my channel to be focused on “dog fashion” or “wedding photography” or “wildlife” as much as “Jon’s photos.” If you have a niche, it definitely helps, but I wont put in a box darn it! Maybe you feel the same way. So my goal in getting users is to drum up interest in my existing portfolio and potentially find some new clients. I can’t do that by posting other people’s content. What I was able to do is use a lot of my photos from Egypt, Petra and Israel with some Hebrew and Arabic hashtags to get my first 200 users. That was my early niche. You don’t have to stick to one area, but you have to start with a focus to get the ball rolling.

On Posting Regularly: This I’ve found to be very important. It’s important to stay top of mind of your followers, but another reason to post regularly is that you’ll begin to recognize your promoters and supporters. You really do begin to develop a relationship and recognize people.

On Being Generous: I’m honestly not as generous with the likes and comments as I should be. People have been really kind with my work, but honestly it’s kind of hard to tell who’s genuine and who’s a bot. I always reply to comments when they’re substantial. I obviously can’t repost other people’s content, so I’m at a handicap there. I always try to follow someone back when they follow me. Some of my followers ask me for advice or critiques. It’s amazing. I always try to provide as much value as possible. I’m happy to provide tips or engage in conversations, even if I find commenting on other people’s posts tedious.

On Competitions and Hashtags: This doesn’t work if you have no followers. Sorry. Once you have a few hundred to thousand followers this can be a really rewarding strategy.

On Using a Bot Service: This is an obvious one. Find a service that suits you. I use Archie.co and it works well for me.

On Similar Channels: Definitely make sure you are tagging similar users in your pics and using their hashtags. If you’re posting a picture of a bird and there’s a bird channel with a million followers and a hashtag, tag them and use the hashtag!

On Recycling: It’s really true, people will be less likely to follow you until you have a critical mass of a few hundred users. That’s why the first 1000 followers are the most important. Recycling means, post what you have to in order to get your first few hundred followers, then delete the posts and recycle them over time. For me it was my pics of Petra and Egypt, but I also recycled some images from Hawaii and various mountaineering expeditions.

Use Hashtags: This is where we’ll spend most of our time. Hashtags are the most important resource you have to get your content out there. Used correctly, they can seriously increase your followers. The problem is that finding the right hashtag is a serious time investment. What’s worse, is you are often reusing hashtags for similar posts. So you end up with documents full of hashtags that you copy and paste. It’s a nightmare. If you’ve spent ANY time Instagraming you know what a hassle hashtag research is. It’s 2017, doesn’t my phone know what’s in my photos yet? Why do I manually have to add hashtags? I feel like Instagram should just automatically be applying the optimal hashtags to promote my photos. Needless to say, I hate doing the research and organization. It’s by far the most time consuming part of all of this, and yet, somehow, its the most important.

So I built a solution.

I made an app called Sheesh. All you do is select a photo and Sheesh uses artificial intelligence to find related hashtags. Then you can copy the tags and paste them into Instagram or whatever social network you’d prefer. Sheesh can find tags based on photo content and image location when available. I’ll be adding new categories all the time as I improve the image recognition models.

You can get it for free here: https://itunes.apple.com/app/id1207980715

Before you start playing with it, let me just show you some of the powerful features. You can filter your search results by how popular the hashtag is. For instance if you only want to see hashtags with between 50,000 and 100,000 posts, you can do that in the settings page! Set the min to 50,000 and max to 100,000 and hit save. Bam! Now you’ll only see hashtags with between 50,000 and 100,000 posts!

I recommend sticking to hashtags with between 10,000 and 500,000 posts, but it depends on what your goals are. My goals are growth. If you want to maximize eyeballs, try numbers in the millions but then make sure you’re posting ALL THE TIME. For narrow niches, try low thousands.

There’s one other setting I need to explain. Each photo passes through an image recognition engine which returns a list of related concepts. Basically the confidence threshold is simply how “confident” the algorithm must be in order for a concept to be included. A low confidence threshold will return more results, but of varying relevance. A high confidence threshold will return fewer results that are highly relevant. If you’re not getting enough results, try lowering the confidence threshold and reuploading the image. If you’re getting too many results, try increasing it.

I’ll exclusively be using Sheesh for hashtag research over the next few weeks and I’ll report back with my success. This is VERY much a beta, so I’d love your feedback. Try out the app, find me on Instagram, and let me know what you think! Drop me a line with bug reports, positive and negative feedback, as well as feature requests. Thanks so much!

PLEASE, hit the 💚 below if you liked this story or want to share some love! It encourages me and helps other people discover Sheesh. Doesn’t everyone need to up their hashtag game?