How to Grow Your Instagram for Influence

You’ve probably noticed that Instagram has made some changes that have affected your growth, engagement and influence. Don’t worry! I’m going to help you grow at the ultra low cost of $free99.

There are organic methods and there are paid acquisition methods and you’ll have to choose the right ones in order to become a respected Influencer (and to make some money). This article will show you how to grow organically to become a legit Influencer.

Brands are marketing their products through Influencers on Instagram to reach 13–36 year olds. Retail companies like Lord & Taylor partnered with 50 Instagram influencers. All of the Influencers wore the same dress and posted pictures of it. By the following weekend, the dress sold out.

Two years ago, Instagram hit 400 million active users and it’s become considered a better marketing place than twitter.

But after a few candid conversations with Social Media Brokers, I learned of some bad ways that people have become an “Influencer.” One broker I spoke with said, “There’s a lot of fraud.” Many of the terms set up in agreements between brands and Influencers aren’t met. Often, the “Influencer” has built their following using paid acquisition (for followers, likes, etc.). They don’t have genuine relationships or influence. As a result, everyone loses.

Generally, people who use Instagram (IGers) are trying do at least three things:

(1) Grow their account by acquiring and retaining followers, likes, comments and social influence (to eventually make money).

(2) Searching for people, places and other things.

(3) Make more friends.

You’re going to learn some best practices and learn how to improve your acquisition and retention techniques that will benefit you and all of these types of IGers without paying for it.

Acquisition. How do I get more followers?

Your post needs to “stand-out” from other posts in a hashtag. Optimize to be in the top 9 posts to get more impressions.

In the Instagram world, ask yourself how does this post visually stand out from other IGers photos or videos based on a hashtag you used. Click on a hashtag you used and start scanning for posts that stand out. Does yours? If your posts doesn’t stand out from the pack, then consider the following two options:

  1. Use a different hashtag that is less popular or
  2. Improve your image that’s seen on your post. You don’t need a DSLR camera and I’ll use an example from @SanFrancisco_Toys to illustrate how you can pick up some extra likes…But first you need to know a little science.

Some Geeky Science of Standing Out

Many Instagram users unconsciously scroll and automatically like photos that stand out. So you’re going to learn how a picture stands out to the unconscious mind. You want your photo or video cover to stand out to an unconscious brain in the same way a flower stands out to a bee.

The way most humans see flowers is on the left. Bees see the flowers as targets (on the right) because they can see different wavelengths of light.

You want your photo to stand out to the unconscious brain because IGers will be more likely to stop and examine your photo.

There are parts of your brain that unconsciously pick out information to get you to automatically do things. You’ll probably struggle if you don’t do what your unconscious brain wants you to do. Don’t believe me? Try this test:

Was it difficult? Was it easier just to say the word? Your brain is wired to automatically do things or you’ll struggle from fighting it.

When you’re thinking about what image to post, choose something that will get picked up by this unconscious brain. Your sensory system is sending visual, auditory and tactile information to your amygdala and it’s filtering for information that affects your survival, group survival, identity, and belongingness.

Below is a flow chart that simplifies how this works:

If your image affects your survival, group survival, identity or belongingness chances are good that your photo will standout. If it doesn’t stand out, your brain and body will go back to conserving it’s energy.

To illustrate, I used a Go Pro to take this picture of a great white toy. I gained way more likes than I had followers (almost 3,500 likes).

No Photoshop was used for this photo.

This photograph wasn’t created with a DSLR camera, or manipulated with photoshop and this account wasn’t older than 7 months.

This photo got IGers to stop scrolling because it invoked a question of survival. It was different than what most people see on hashtags like #goldengatebridge.

Choose 30 Relevant Hashtags that Help You Get into a Top 9 Post Position

You get 30 hashtags to reach new people. Use them all. Each hashtag is like a fishing pond and every post is a fish (including yours). When you choose a relevant hashtag to your post, you’re increasing your reach. There’s a few points to make about this:

  1. When your post stands out compared to the other posts in a hashtag pond, more people will want to engage with it. We talked about this earlier.
  2. Optimize your hashtags to be in the top 9 posts. If your post becomes one of the top nine posts in that hashtag, your post potentially gets more impressions. What this means is that if you’re new to Instagram, you might want to use a hashtag where your average likes and comments are similar to others who are in the top 9 posts. In other words, if the top nine posts in a hashtag have 5,000 likes and 100+ comments, and you get on average 100 likes with five comments, you might want to consider using a different hashtag. You want your photo to be in the top 9 posts. Optimize your hashtags to be in the top 9 posts.
  3. The idea of using less hashtags is nonsense. Savvy IGers were able to use 60 hashtags before April of 2017 and then Instagram created an algorithm that shadow banned a post from appearing on the 31–60 hashtags used. It’s probably safe to deduce that Instagram implemented shadow banning because using more hashtags created an advantage.

Choose relevant hashtags based on what you posted or you can do some long term damage with your brand equity. For example, if you use a hashtag like “#Goldengatebridge” and you don’t have the Golden Gate Bridge in your photo — you’ll be identified as a spammer. When you continue to do this on a daily basis, you build a reputation that hurts your Influence and relationships.

Can you recall the three types of IGers? You’re affecting all three types of IGers when you’re using a non relevant hashtag.

  • You’re affecting the experience of IGers who are searching for a person, place or thing.
  • IGers who do this and get into the top nine popular posts are taking away a position for other IGers who have a relevant photo for the hashtag. When this happens on a daily basis with the same hashtag, people take note of the IGer who is doing this. When I shoot with new artists, big influencers or big feature account managers one of the first things I hear is about how much they dislike an IGer who is doing this. They’re spammers. Check out the hashtag #goldengatebridge and see how many photographs don’t include the golden gate bridge.

Spamming damages relationships so make sure you’re using relevant hashtags.

Typically, these IGers will have poorer “Influencer metrics.” A company named TrackMaven did a study with fortune 500 companies engagement rates and found that typically for every 33 likes you get, there should be 1 comment.

If your average comments are continuing to slide below this 33 to 1 ratio, you are probably getting a signal that you need to work on your relationships. Your engagement is slipping and the value of your account and Influence is declining.

It’s very important to make genuine relationships. Relationships are important for at least ⅔ of the personas who use Instagram.

I highly suggest you spend time in real life with the people you meet on Instagram. This is also how you retain more followers.

I still remember the first time I converted a digital friend to a real life friend and I’ll never forget it (…or at least until Alzheimer’s sets in). We met before sunrise at Kirby Cove and there was a small group of his friends that he was inviting. I’ll never forget that day because I felt so out of place (I think I had 100 or so followers) and everyone else had thousands…

Today, all of those people are still my friends. They also manage Feature Accounts or have friends who manage Feature Accounts. It wasn’t my intent to make friends with people who also manage these Feature Accounts, but it made a difference.

I took the shot above on this day and it was featured on a big account called @wildcalifornia_ . As a result I tripled the amount of followers I had. Again, no photoshop was used here (just a fast shutter speed).

Getting featured by big Feature Accounts is hands down the most powerful way to increase your followers, likes, and comments. But beware, the people who manage these big accounts are a tight group. Don’t ever be disingenuous because you will get labeled. Thankfully it never happened to me, but I overhear it all the time in their conversations.

There’s a growth strategy called, “follow4follow” which I advise against because it’s disingenuous and can hurt the most important metrics which value the influence of your account. Often people will follow you in hopes that you follow them. While this is how some people start growing, it’s also how you lose out on building powerful influence in the long run.

IGers who grow using the follow4follow method will inevitably drop you. They follow thousands of people and then at a certain point, will begin to drop as many as Instagram will allow them to. They’ll follow maybe a 100 or so followers. These IGers usually have a reputation for being disingenuous and it will bite them in the butt in the long run.

The more powerful social media management software will evaluate how IGers grew. They show IGers relationship behavior over time to calculate their social influence.

There are many ways that social media management software evaluates your influence. Here is a basic way to calculate your influence:

To calculate you social media influence:

You add up the total number of likes and comments for one post, and divide that into your total number of followers.

Let’s say you have 5,000 followers (your reach) and you get 1,000 likes and 100 comments on a post. You have a 22% influence. That’s really good.

Basically, anybody over 6% is an influencer. So the idea is that its not necessarily a good thing to have a huge following, if your following isn’t liking and commenting on your posts at least 6%. If you have under 10,000 and have at least 6% influence — you may be called a micro-influencer.

Companies like Hootsuite, Iconosquare, Simply Measured & Sprout Social have some of the best Social Media analytics for Instagram. Each have a slight twist on how they measure influence and other key growth drivers. These tools could be an entire article or more so I’ll talk more about this another time.

Tagging IGers is really affective to organically Grow

Tag a Feature Account to help them notice you. Feature Accounts are basically hubs of the best content, as deemed by the Feature Account. They don’t usually create any of the images or videos they post, but they mention you and provide a link for their followers to find you. If a Feature Account or “reposter” does not provide a link and give credit to the creator of the image/video, then they deserve a slow a painful death or should be blocked at the very least.

Feature Accounts often have their own hashtags. So an account like @ig_color also has an #ig_color hashtag. They use this to find people to feature but it also helps to TAG the Feature Account (you do this in the process of posting).

Tagging a Feature Account is super important because it gets their attention. They’re often super bombarded with requests to be featured so you do have to be careful when you tag them. Do not over use this tool especially when you do not have a relationship with the Feature Account. If you continue to Tag the Feature Account and you have not received at least one like a post from them, then stop tagging that Feature Account. You’re being annoying.

Feature Accounts are valuable because they can show your content to a wider audience. They help little artists grow and become known. This is one of the most powerful ways to grow organically.

Another way to grow is to create a Feature Account with a “unique voice”

I’ve never actually done this, but my wife did it with @my_kitten_fix and it works. Our first cat became “instafamous” by featuring other cats. My wife is also brilliant at captioning and she created a “voice” for our cat. The cat was the Account Manager. You couldn’t help but speak in the cat’s voice while reading because of the way my wife spelled words and the grammar used in the messaging. The account got a little muddy, between being a Feature Account and a personal account so I’d suggest just making your Feature Account only a Feature Account. If you want a personal page, just keep that a personal page. Keep your Feature Account about other people. Here’s why:

This is our newest cat Orbit. Our Instafamous cat died from FIP. Good news is that our new cat loves me more than my wife.

Often Feature Accounts name the person who selected the post to be featured. People follow the person who selects posts to be featured. Eventually, you will start to see more people follow your personal account as your Feature Account grows. People want you to post their photos.

Creating a Feature Account is fantastic for businesses to get customers and leads engaged. Anytime you recognize a person for their work you make a positive impact and create a connection. This connection has more influential power than you know.

It’s also a great way to learn how customers are using your product. It can provide valuable feedback for your product design, engineering, sales, and marketing teams if the information is transformed for your different teams. This is probably a subject we’ll leave for another time.

Engagement is as essential as water.

Whether you use 30 Hashtags, tag Feature Accounts or create a Feature Account yourself, focus your time on ways to ENGAGE your audience. There’s four key ways that you can do this:

  1. Tell a Story for retention
  2. If someone comments on a your post, immediately like it and comment back
  3. For every person you follow, like & comment on their most recent posts
  4. Consistency is more important than posting many times per day

Telling a Story

People need a compelling reason to look forward to the next post. One way to do this is to tell a story in multiple posts.

  • Each post should tell one part of a longer story.
  • Use a unique hashtag for each post that is part of the story. This way a person can more easily see all the posts related to that story.
  • Storyboard your shots with messaging and hashtags you plan to use.
  • Create an Editorial Calendar to help you manage getting it done under the best conditions.

I tried this for a Halloween special when I was six months into San Francisco Toys, and as a result our average likes were over 1,000 and many were over 2,000. The story I created was more of a musical ballad that discussed identity issues in a playful way (a relevant topic at the time). In the story Jack wasn’t able to make friends and he thought it was because of the way he looked…See below for an example of the picture, messaging and results.

If you want to get really good at writing stories, start with a Joseph Campbell’s, “A Hero’s Journey.” You’ll learn a model that you can apply that’s way better than the three post “beginning, middle, and end” story model.

Engage with People who Engage with You

Engage with IGers who like and comment on your post. These IGers are diamonds! Even though you may not know who these people are — nurture and convert them into your core followers!

After you post, some IGers will leave a comment. Make sure you like the comment and ideally thank them for it. Start a conversation with them. Then make sure you go back to their page to like and comment on one of their posts. The faster you are at responding, the greater your engagement and influence scores will end up being (pending on the social media management software). You don’t have to follow this person but if you feel a relationship happen…follow them!

It’s important to continuously engage with a person you follow

When you are following a lot of people, it gets very difficult and time-consuming to like and comment on every photo they post. So either:

  • reduce the amount of people you follow (start with feature hubs)
  • accept you’re not going to be able to do this all the time but get better at it

There is a lot of controversy with social media management systems right now because of some of their features. Basically there are companies like Instagress (before they got shut down) that an IGer would pay in order to do things for them. These “bots” would act as if they were you and they would

  • Like photos of people you follow
  • Comment on photos of people you follow
  • Like photos based on hashtag
  • Comment on photos based on hashtag

Even though you have never seen the photo, the “bot” would like and comment as if it were you. Instagram is taking action to stop this and I am very happy they are doing that.

When you had a “bot” that liked photos and commented on photos for you it reduced the amount of time you spent on Instagram to build relationships. Obviously this was good for the person who was using this “bot software” but it hurts a lot of people and algorithms that try to find and elevate the best, relevant content.

Engaging people in conversation is one of the most important aspects of growing your account. Some people take a lot of time to write a witty comment. Try to write a witty comment back to the user. Keep the conversation going and exercise these relationships. People will want to join in on the conversation and will follow you because of it. Your influence will grow, your friendships will grow and so will your personal development.

Posting consistently over the week is more important than posting many times in just one day of the week.

On average, you should post about two times per day. There is no exact answer to the number of posts you should do per day and it largely depends on what type of an account you are and your audience. Generally, it’s best to post two times per day, once in the morning and once in the evening.

The reason why no more than two times per day is that your photos will clog the feed of your followers. It’s overwhelming and you start sucking the time of your core power-followers who are liking and commenting on every photo. You don’t want to turn off your followers, no matter how awesome your posts may be….Start using Instagram’s “Story” feature.

The reason for morning and evening is because it’s:

  • often the times people are checking their Instagram (before and after work)
  • you’re covering differences in world time zones (when it’s work in the US it’s Instagram time in Turkey)
  • You’ll learn a lot more about your audience. You may find out that posts do better at night than in the morning. You might want to save your better content for the evening so it can gain you better (more engaged) followers

It’s more important to post once every day in a week, than it is to post nine times in one day. Consistency is key. Your followers will want to look forward to what you post next. The more you can create that excitement for what you’ll post next, the more engaged your followers will be.

Finally — the Conclusion to this article

Growing @SanFrancisco_Toys has been one of the most wonderful experiences over the last year. It has done a lot of social good beyond generating smiles. When I was most actively growing it, the account influenced people to make donations to the oldest and biggest toy drive in the United States (a 501 c3 non profit). With around 4,000 followers, San Francisco Toys influenced over $2,000 to be donated in cash and toys. I hope to do this again, but even bigger. It’s not a big account, but it’s influential in helping others.

Check out @sanfrancisco_toys and join the fun. I’ll be looking forward to learning about you and your account.

Thank you,

Oliver Anderson

Special Thank You For Your Contributions:

Thomas Martino You can find Thomas on Twitter by clicking here

Nick deWilde You can find Nick on Twitter by clicking here

Alexey Samkov

Ben Smith

Rodney Chan

Mafalda Ramalho da Fonseca