How To Grow Your Instagram Without Buying Followers

Growing an Instagram isn’t about how “cool” or “social” you are…

Growing an Instagram is about recognizing the most impactful activities on the platform and consistently executing them at a high level. Anyone can do it, it just requires a bit of elbow grease…

Find it hard to believe? So did I, until I started my own pin-related Instagram, @pinlord, back in the Summer of 2015 and grew it by implementing a few common behaviors I noticed some big accounts were practicing at the time. A year and a half later, I found myself at 90K followers, making a full time living from my Instagram. I kept wondering if it was just plain old luck? Then in June of 2016, my beautiful wife was asked to launch the Instagram for Screamers Pizzeria, an all-vegan pizza joint in Brooklyn. We had an opportunity to replicate the results by implementing the same behaviors. Guess what? It worked! In less than 9 months @screamerspizzeria has gained over 12K followers with an engagement rate of 6%+ (which is really good).

If you’re creating differentiated high quality content, how fast your Instagram grows relies on two main variables: the amount of people you Reach and what percentage of them you Retain (that “Follow” you) once they find your page.

Growth = Reach x Retain

Increasing your Reach depends on the following 4 activities:

Reach = Posts + Hashtags + Interactions + Tags

Posts: This means the number posts (photos, videos, stories, live sessions) that maximize your new followers per week. Each piece of content you create is an opportunity for someone to find you, so you want to create as much content as possible and measure its impact on your growth. How to do it? You can start by posting once a day for a week and measure the new followers you gain, then the following week by posting twice a day and measuring, and so on the week after… If you continue this process you’ll eventually find the optimal number of posts that maximize your new followers per week. For most people, most of the time, 1 feed post per day is usually maximizes growth.

Regarding tools that can help you here, I’ve used Instagram’s Business Account Insights for a while and it’s the easiest way to get a quick (and free) overview of your weekly growth stats. To be as efficient as possible with posting, use Onlypult to schedule all your content ahead of time. I use it every day and it’s a life saver.

Every audience is different. A simple spreadsheet tracking each week’s new follower stats will be enough information to find the number of posts that’s right for you.

Hashtags: In every post, use the 30 hashtags that funnel the highest number of relevant people to your Instagram. Identify the best ones for you by first researching which tags influential accounts in your community are already using. More likely than not, they are the most popular for that topic. Once you have your core group, introduce new hashtag variations to test if they generate measurable improvements on the engagement your posts receive (engagement = likes and or comments per post / total followers). If your engagement rates are high, you’re more likely to be featured in each hashtag’s “Top Posts”, which will significantly increase the amount of people that discover your page. The best tool here is Instagram’s own “Related” hashtag recommendations. You can find them when you search for a tag and they usually provide the most up-to-date information on what’s trending.

To continually improve, pay attention to recommended hashtags and the accounts that are featured in the Top Posts .

Interactions: The more interactions you have with people who don’t know about you (but may find your content valuable), the more you’ll grow, so use a Bot to automate as many interactions as possible. Think quality over quantity here. Do your research to find the hashtags and Instagram accounts that people in your target community already engage with, then program your Bot to interact with them. It’s easy to program a “spammy” bot and it’s not effective. To avoid this, stick to automating your “Likes” only and make sure you’re paying close attention to how you program. If your content is relevant, people who get a “Like” from your Bot will be glad they found your account. Now that Instagress has been shut down by Instagram, your best entry level option is Archie. If you want more intricate automation (and you have Windows), try MassPlanner — it’s not as user-friendly but you can program some very specific automations with it.

Update: Instagram has officially shut down Instagress, Archie, MassPlanner and a bunch of other automators. Although new companies that claim to offer these services are springing up every week, you’re going to have to stay on your toes moving forward since most companies that provide this service are likely to get shut down in the future. If you don’t mind paying a bit more, I’d recommend trying a service like Social Sensei (you can use code “INSTAGROWTH11” for 11% off their monthly rate). They are slightly more expensive but it’s hands off and the automation is managed by someone with experience in the subject (the founders taught me everything I know about the topic). If you can’t afford a service like that and you’re desperate for an option, I’d recommend Instazood. Starting at $9.99 per month and offering interaction as well as posting automation (and a few other more complex options for the pros out there), Instazood is where you’ll get the most bang for your buck if you’re willing to do the automation yourself. Here’s an article on how to automate a bot that isn’t spammy.

It’s easy to program a “spammy” bot and it’s not effective. To avoid this, stick to automating your “Likes” only and make sure you’re paying close attention to how you program.

Tags: You want to receive as many tags, from as many people, as possible — preferably, those who have highly engaged followings and already like what you do. The bigger the following and the higher the engagement, the more people will find you. Nothing beats sincere relationships, so don’t be afraid to reach out to other accounts in your community to find ways to cross promote. Giveaways, content collaborations, great packaging and anything else that will give people value for posting about you, are worthwhile investments.

Partnering with other Instagram accounts to create content is the best way to cross-pollinate your audiences. Here’s an article that will show you how to find the most valuable ones.

Now that you know how to Reach people, let’s talk about how to Retain them! To increase the percentage of people you retain, work on the following 3 activities:

Retain = Content Fit + Post Quality + Grid Visuals

Content Fit: The more relevant, useful, and entertaining your content is to the people that discover your page, the higher percentage of them will “Follow” you and continue engaging with your content moving forward. Like any other business, your ability to fulfill your audience’s expectations depends on how well you know them. What does your audience care about? What type of visuals and captions give them value? How and when do they want to see your posts? The better you are at surpassing your audience’s expectations with good Content Fit, the higher your engagement(= average likes per post/total followers) will be. Having high engagement is important because, not only will it increase the number of people you Retain but it’s also the main variable Instagram’s algorithm takes into account when surfacing your content to a larger percentage of your audience and surfacing you on the Explorer Page(= Growth). A good way to understand what your audience wants from your content is by using the Engagement filter in your Instagram Insights POSTS page. Here’s how you do it:

Go to your Instagram Insights page, tap into the POSTS section and tap in the filter section at the top within that page.

Here, filter All posts by Engagement within the last 6 months and Apply. At the top of this feed you’ll see the posts which get the highest engagement from your audience. This is the type of content that your audience gets the most value from and it’s the type of content you should optimize and do more of in the future. You can also scroll all the way down this feed to see the content your audience engages with the least. This is the type of content you should most likely stop or do less of in the future because your audience doesn’t respond to it.

My audience for this account clearly prefers photos of the macrame makers with their creations, large elaborate pieces and colorful macrames. They don’t get much value out of photos of smaller, simples macrames hanging on walls.

The better you get at executing content your audience finds value in, the higher your engagement will be, the more people you’ll retain and the faster you’ll grow.

Post Quality: The better your photo/video/story/live session quality is, the higher percentage of people will “Follow” you once they find your Instagram and continue engaging with your content moving forward. “Good content” depends on what your audience wants but you should always post high-res (1080px in width by 1350px in height) vertical photos and videos, in 4:5 format. This will ensure that your content is displayed in the largest format possible, which makes it more visually appealing. To continually improve, always test new types of content, measure the engagement, then keep what works and drop what doesn’t. Engagement is the best indicator of success. A simple way to keep track of your numbers is by making use of Instagram’s “Insight Stats” (available to those with a “business profile”) so be sure to check-in on those daily.

Bigger is always better when it comes to photo and video display.

Grid Visuals: This is a measure of how appealing your content is when people first find your Instagram and scroll through your feed. The better you’re able to visually communicate your value, the higher percentage of people will stick around and “Follow” your page. Check out Instagram accounts like @asaprocky, @stefansagmeister, @tasteofstreep, @michel_e_b, @pinlord (that’s me), or @miserable_men to get a better idea of what well-executed grid visuals mean. A simple way to achieve an attractive visual style is by paying attention to the main color of the photos you’re posting and staying consistent to that theme. You can also post specific types of photos in a consistent pattern over time. Test your ideas out with rough draft mock-ups and use UNUM or Planoly to see how your grid will look ahead of time.

Something as simple as making sure all of your photos/videos have a similar background color will have a noticeable effect on overall grid visuals.

And that’s it! If you focus on executing all of these activities at a high level, you will 10x your Instagram growth.

The Instagram Growth Formula

Growing a sincere Instagram following and creating good content is a marathon, not a sprint, so don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to see traction and growth. Like any other skill, it requires time and patience to master, but as long as you’re practicing it, you will get there :)

There are accounts out there implementing these strategies and growing!

Are you an early stage start-up or brand that needs help with Instagram? Get in touch. I want to work with people and products that challenge the status quo by creating a positive change in people’s lives.

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