So, you want to reach that 1000 follower milestone?
You’re trying everything to grow your account. Now you’re even dreaming about how to get followers on Instagram…
Maybe you’ve already got a few hundred followers, and you’re finding that the numbers go up, only to come back down again a few days later.
I know – it can be so disheartening 😩
The good news is, you’re in the right place! The not so good news? Well, you already know the not so good news: It’s not as easy as it used to be. There’s definitely some work to do. And not just in attracting new Instagram followers, but in getting them to stick with you.
In this post, I’ll be looking at the best ways to attract followers on Instagram who are genuinely interested in your content, and how to make the most of every opportunity to grow your account. I’ve also included some helpful tips from Instagram influencers and experts who really know their stuff when it comes to growing an engaged following on the platform.
So, let’s get stuck in…
Part 1: Creating engaging, quality Instagram content
This section will outline the 3 key steps you can take to create quality, tailored content that will get you your first 1000 Instagram followers.
1. Create content for your target audience (and be specific!)
First thing’s first, you need to know exactly what you want to do with your Instagram and why. Ask yourself: a) What the goal and purpose of your Instagram content is, and b) Who you’re creating this content for.
Once you’ve got the first two down, you need to figure out how to tailor your content to your chosen audience and niche.
If you find that you’re publishing posts with no one in particular in mind, then it’s important to take a step back and re-evaluate your whole strategy. By defining the goal of your Instagram account, and developing a profile of your ideal follower, you’ll find it much easier to create consistent content.
So, who is your ideal follower? Who are you targeting your content towards?
It’s always helpful to do some research to really understand who they are and what kind of content they’re already engaging with on Instagram. It’s pretty likely your ideal follower on Instagram is going to be very close to your ideal customer persona. If you haven’t created a customer persona yet, check out this beginners guide to personas from Buffer, which covers all the basics.
When it comes to understanding your ideal follower, it’s important to keep your competitors close – and by that, I mean keep an eye on what they’re posting on Instagram! If they’re a competitor, by definition they share the same audience as you. This means you can learn a lot from what they post and, more importantly, from who is engaging with their content and how.
Check out the engagement on your competitor’s posts to gauge what your target audience is most responsive to. Which images are they using? What tone are they striking in the caption? Keeping track of the most popular and engaging posts from competitor accounts is a great starting point for getting a clearer picture of what could work for you too.
However, once you’ve built a small following, the best way to find out what your audience wants to see is simply to ask them! Use Instagram Stories polls to discover what your followers’ main goals and pain points are. Ask questions in your captions to encourage specific responses that will help you to create more relevant content. Go Live on Instagram to give your followers the chance to have a conversation with you! You’ll learn more from interacting directly with your community than through any other ‘research method’.
2. Create a consistent feed aesthetic
So, you have some ideas for posts. You know what’s already working well within your niche on Instagram, and you’re ready to try some out.
But not so fast!
Before you post, you’ll want to make sure all of your posts work as whole.
Think of your Instagram feed as a complete outfit, and the individual posts as pieces of clothing. You’d never team stilettos with tracksuit bottoms (I mean, maybe you would, it’s your call), because it just wouldn’t look quite right.
Take the same approach to your feed and think in terms of overall aesthetic. Visitors to your profile will judge whether they want to follow you in the first 0.05 of a second. So, you better make that first impression count!
Choose a theme, consider what color palette you want to go for – whether it’s a soft, pastel look you’re after, or something cooler and crisper – and play around with editing apps to find your ideal filters.
There are loads of great editing apps out there to improve the quality of your Instagram photos, as well as planning apps – such as Planoly and UNUM – which allow you to plan and rearrange your content to create an Instagram feed that works together visually as a whole, like this:
Of course, there’s more to creating a great feed aesthetic than filters and color palettes – check out this post on creating better quality Instagram content to learn more about designing your feed.
3. Go the extra mile with your content
Don’t settle for content that’s just ‘good enough’ – a little extra effort can go along way in catching the eye of visitors to your feed. And, of course, in giving them the incentive to click that follow button!
For example, you can create some unique posts that go the extra mile by playing around with animated content, such as mini videos, boomerangs (which are native to the Instagram app), and cinemagraphs.
You can create a cinemagraph – which is basically a gif type video that displays a still image with a single moving element – for free with Loopsie. When you take a video, Loopsie will stabilize the image, and then you can select the element in the video that you want to animate. If you’re really serious about creating killer cinemagraphs, you can sign up for Flixl’s Cinemagraph Pro, which lets you create high quality cinemagraphs for 200 dollars per month (ok, so you need to be really serious!).
Check out this example from the Flixel blog of what can be achieved…if your camera skills are 👌
Of course, there are plenty of other ways to make your content stand out: investing in a high-quality camera rather than just relying on your phone is one way to do it, or if you’re not the best photographer in the world, you can hire someone else for a one off photoshoot that will give you plenty of content to use in your feed over a period of time. Basically, don’t skimp on the visuals!
Part 2: Optimizing your Instagram content for more visibility
As you probably know, the path to Instagram success doesn’t stop at creating great content – you have to optimize it according to Instagram’s ‘rules’. This section will cover 5 ways you can optimize your Instagram content to get it in front of more (and more of the right) people.
1. Optimize your Instagram profile
One way you could be missing out on bringing new followers to your account is by forgetting to optimize your profile.
To optimize your profile, you first need to make sure your name is searchable so that people can actually find you! Your name is different to your username, which doesn’t have to be your actual name or brand name (though it helps if it is).
By adding your own name, people will be able to find your account easily by searching either the name of your brand, or for you specifically.
Next, choose a high quality avatar that summarizes what your brand is all about. Use your logo so that visitors instantly recognize who the account belongs to, or, if you’re a ‘one-man band’ and don’t yet have a logo, choose a picture of yourself that reflects your profession, or at least clearly shows your face. After all, to grow your brand, you need to humanize it! The more recognizable you are, the better for your brand.
You can also add keywords to your bio that define what your brand is all about. If you’re an interior design company, for example, adding the keywords ‘interior design’, ‘home decor’, and ‘architecture’ to your bio will help get you discovered when people search for these terms on Instagram.
Whatever keywords you choose, it’s easy to add them to your bio. All you need to do is: go to your Instagram Profile → click “Edit Profile” next to the “gear” icon → find your “Name” category → put the keyword in.
Et voila! Easy.
2. ALWAYS tag your posts
Never pass up the opportunity to reach more potential followers. Always tag your posts and Stories, either with geo-location, other accounts (when relevant), and hashtags. If you can use all three in a post, go for it!
Tagging your posts with hashtags and geo-tags can increase your visibility, as there’s a good chance (depending on the competitiveness of your tags) that people searching for these specific tags will be shown your content.
Tagging users who are featured in your content means that your post will definitely show up on their Instagram under the ‘tagged’ icon, so when people browse their profile, they can find yours! It can also help you build relationships with brands and influencers in your field and get some tags in return.
Say you tag a brand or influencer in your Instagram Story, and they decide to screenshot your post and tag you in that – it could bring quite a few users to your Instagram without you having to do much at all (and they’ll hopefully click that follow button if they like what they see).
We’ll talk a bit more about building relationships with brands and influencers a bit later, but while we’re on the topic of tags…
3. Use hashtags strategically – and create your own!
To get the most out of your hashtags, you need to be selective. Don’t throw a bunch of hashtags into your post and hope for the best.
There are some best practices you can follow when it comes to researching and using hashtags, but I’m not going to go into too much detail here. You can find out everything you need to know in this article on how to use hashtags to grow your Instagram account.
Here’s a quick summary of what you can do to make sure the hashtags you use are effective.
- Research industry hashtags – check out the hashtags similar brands and direct competitors are using for inspiration
- Check how many times content has been tagged with these hashtags to see if you stand a chance of showing up on the discover page – if a hashtag been used more than 100,000 times, you probably won’t be discovered through this hashtag. You can use it, but mix it up with some more specific hashtags with fewer associated posts
- Vary your hashtags across your posts. Copying and pasting hashtags over and over again can result in your account being shadowbanned
- Create your own brand hashtag! This is an easy way to collect all of the content relating to your brand, including UGC and influencer content. Encourage your community to use your branded hashtag in their posts to give your account more visibility
4. Cross-promote your Instagram account
Cross-promote your Instagram account across your email and other social channels to make sure everyone in your circle knows to follow you on Instagram. You can (and should) use incentives to get email subscribers, blog readers or website visitors to go to your Instagram and click that follow button. These incentives could include:
- Special offers that are only announced on your Instagram
- Instagram-specific competitions
- Product discounts for Instagram followers
I asked Nathan Chan of Foundr how they managed to grow their Instagram account (@foundr) to 1.3 million followers. He said it all comes down to 3 key things, the first of which is running giveaways and competitions to get people to constantly engage with your content. Along with collaborating with influencers to share your content, and posting engaging content that is tailored for your target audience, this is how you’re going to hit that 1000 mark.
Swedish fashion brand Weekday recently ran a campaign offering visitors to their stores 10% off their purchases if they could show that they were following the brand on Insta at the checkout! I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of this campaign – even a bad wifi connection wasn’t going to stop me from hitting that follow button and getting my 10% off.
So give it a go and spend some time nurturing the audience you already have. Offering incentives and special offers is also a great way to inspire brand loyalty in your existing community, so it’s a win-win.
5. Boost your posts
For extra visibility, you can boost your posts or run ads on Instagram. This might not make so much sense if you’re, say, a blogger or just starting out as an entrepreneur, but for brands and businesses, it’s almost a necessity.
With more users and more content comes more competition to get your content seen and attract new Instagram followers. This is especially true in the industries that dominate Instagram which, as outlined in the Iconosquare 2018 Instagram Trends & Benchmarks study, are fashion, beauty and sports.
It’s pretty easy to boost a post and run ads on Instagram, but you do need to have an Instagram Business Profile and a Facebook Page to do this. To be honest, it’s going to be tricky to grow your account without the insights offered by an Instagram Business Profile, so you may as well make the switch even if you aren’t planning on running ads just yet.
Part 3: Engaging with the Instagram Community
Engaging with people on Instagram is one of the most important parts of using the platform, regardless of what kind of business you are, or what your goals might be. Not to be dramatic, but without engagement, there’s really no point in anyone being on Instagram!
This section will focus on how to engage strategically on the platform, and how to boost your own engagement and follower numbers as a result.
Instagram expert Tyler J McCall, who has built a following of 17,000 on the platform, says it best:
He also points out that “each time you engage with a new person, you’re introducing your account to them and giving them a chance to check out what you’re sharing.”
So, seize the opportunities that are right there in front of you by following these steps:
1.Set yourself engagement goals
Set aside a certain amount of time per day to reply to comments on your own Instagram, and to comment on other accounts that are relevant to yours. How many accounts can you realistically engage with in one day? 30? 50? 100? And how many comments can you manage to reply to?
It’s important to be genuine when commenting, and have something to say. It doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, but it’s always better to reference the image or caption and show genuine interest in the post and the account. Avoid generic one word comments and take a little extra time to personalize your messages. You can find great examples of real, meaningful conversations in the comments (yes, it does happen on Instagram sometimes!) at @tylermccall.
2. Follow the accounts engaging with your competitors’ content
Follow the accounts genuinely engaging with your competitors’ content! It’s not underhand and it’s not follow for follow. Think of it as making people who are likely to be interested in what you have to offer aware that you exist. After all, you want to target the right accounts and not just aimlessly follow everyone hoping for a follow back, only for them to unfollow you a day later.
The best way to go about it? Unfortunately, you’re going to have to search for your competitor’s handle on Instagram, and add their followers manually.
It can be time consuming combing through hundreds of follower accounts, but you want to make sure the accounts you follow aren’t spam accounts. You want real people who could become customers! Although with the Instagram API deprecation in April this year many bot services went out of business, bot accounts do still exist on the platform, so be wary.
A quick side note: keep in mind the ‘follow limit’ imposed by Instagram, which is 160 accounts per hour! If you exceed the limit, you’re going to get temporarily blocked from following accounts.
3. Follow hashtags related to your content and engage with the associated posts
Are you using the hashtag follow feature on Instagram yet?
You might be thinking “I don’t want to clog up my feed with posts from accounts I’m not following!” but actually, it’s a pretty cool feature for Instagram marketers. You can follow hashtags that relate specifically to your niche, firstly, to get some inspiration for the content in your feed, and secondly, to find new accounts to engage with.
When you follow a hashtag, relevant content associated with that tag will pop up in your feed. You don’t even need to leave the main feed to find new accounts that you can interact with and communities that you can participate in.
To go back to our Instagram Expert Tyler once again, he recommends that you invest your time into “having conversations with others through hashtags and geotagged posts”, rather than pouring all your efforts into creating content for your own account. Leaving a few thoughtful comments still takes less time than preparing a post, so what are you waiting for!?
4. Up your Instagram caption game
It’s time to throw those crusty old captions in the trash and come up with something more inspiring!
An Instagram post is about more than the photo – it needs context and personality. If you tend to just write a description of the photo, and don’t really pay your caption any thought, then you can do better!
Ask questions, reflect on something relevant to your audience, speak to them like you would a friend, be casual, be funny! There are so many ways you can utilize your caption to engage your audience and let your brand’s ‘personality’ shine.
Here are some examples of on-point captions from brands who really get how to create a complete, effective post for their target audience.
Example 1: Reformation
Be sharp and quippy like @reformation (and use those tags!)
Example 2: Letterfolk
Have a sense of humor and encourage your audience to tag a friend like @letterfolk
Example 3: Oatly
Dry humor and some more elaborate storytelling is working for (my personal favorite) @oatly
5. Reach out to influential accounts
Finally, be really proactive when it comes to starting conversations and building relationships on Instagram. Don’t just wait for your account to get noticed. Reach out to influential accounts in your industry and establish a connection. Being part of an Instagram community of brands, businesses, and industry leaders that shares your values and is willing to support you can be a huge help when growing your account. Think of it as networking, just without the business cards and the buffet.
This tip comes straight from our very own Social Media Manager, Marko Petric (@markopetric.ig), who knows what it takes to build a following on the platform. He currently has over 9,000 followers on Instagram. His advice:
“Building strong relationships with like-minded people is an indispensable tactic for growing a following for your brand — whether you’re trying to reach your first 1,000 or your first 100,000 followers.”
Some easy ways to start building those relationships:
- Follow the accounts that align with yours
- Repost their content (with full credit)
- Leave personalized comments on their posts
- Reply to their Stories
- Send them a friendly DM to see if they want to collaborate
Small steps can make a big difference over time. And that’s the thing, it does take time to grow your account and get your first 1,000 followers on Instagram – but it’s totally achievable if you’re committed and ready to put in the time and effort!
Hopefully this article has given you a clear idea of how to move forward so you can hit that milestone and start achieving your Instagram (and wider business) goals.
What has your experience of growing your Instagram account been like so far? Do you have any extra tips for reaching the first 1,000 followers? Leave a comment and let us know!