November 10, 2017 Last updated on July 1st, 2021
comment_bubble 10 comments

Right now, it seems like it’s harder than ever to grow your Instagram organically. So many of us have been experiencing a drop in engagement and follower numbers, which can be extremely frustrating when you’re sure you’re doing everything right.

In fact, it can be so frustrating that lots of people are turning to third-party apps that promise to grow your Instagram account through automatic engagement. It can be quite tempting – after all, you just want your engagement to get back to normal! But tempting though it might be, it really is too good to be true 😞

Using Instagram ‘bots’ can actually result in Instagram restricting the visibility of your content, limiting your account or – even worse – disabling your account altogether. You might have already heard of the Instagram shadowban, a term used to describe the nightmarish situation above. There are quite a few things that Instagram doesn’t like you to do, and using bots to generate fake likes and engagement is one of them.

You’re probably thinking “If I can’t use bots, how am I supposed to grow my Instagram organically?! It seems near impossible!”

Well, impossible is nothing, my friends!

In this article today, we’re going to focus on 9 techniques to grow your Instagram organically, without buying followers, using bots, or any other shady practices.

7 Ways to Grow Your Instagram Organically

1. Research your target audience thoroughly

There’s no long-term benefit of promoting your content to people who have no interest in you and merely want a like back. They’ll unfollow you in no time, and you’ll be left wondering where it all went wrong. There’s no loyalty there, really. Nil. Nada.

If you get your target audience on Instagram right, you’ll get a higher engagement rate, and this means your posts will appear higher up in your followers’ feeds. It’s a win-win.

There are a few things you can do to better understand your target audience on Instagram.

  • Get an overview of the demographic makeup of your follower-base, including age, gender and location. Then, try to research more in-depth stats, like when your followers are online (to make sure you post at the right time) or what language they use, etc.
  • Keep an eye on your competitors with a similar target audience – what kind of imagery are they posting? Do they post captions? And if yes, what do they say there and what tone of voice do they use? Focus on the most successful posts of your competitors and then break it down to understand the most probable reasons that post worked so well with their audience.
  • If you want to know something, just ask! Ask your existing audience about their favorite kind of Instagram content and the accounts they’re following. Ask them in your next Instagram post or Story, and wait for the useful insights to roll in!

Kim Kardashian got it right when she asked her followers for feedback to step up her Insta game. So why don’t you do the same?

7 Ways to Grow Your Instagram Organically


In any way, to grow Instagram followers organically, you need to make sure that you deliver at the right time, according to your audience’s expectations. Which leads us to the next point:

2. Plan ahead

OK, so you have an idea of who your audience is, you know what your competitors are up to, you know what kind of content works well in your industry. Now, it’s time to think about your content strategically. In other words, don’t post anything you’re not totally sure about, stick to your brand ‘look’, and use a scheduling tool to plan your feed in advance, making sure everything fits together visually before you post. Planning ahead can make a big difference to the overall look and feel of your feed. Plus, if don’t plan and just post everything at once, you’ll run out of content, and that sure ain’t gonna bring you new followers!

7 Ways to Grow Your Instagram Organically

Iconosquare’s Instagram Feed Preview

3. Like and comment on accounts similar to your own

As I mentioned, likes and follows for the sake of likes and follows are not going to help you in the long run, but there’s nothing wrong with liking, commenting on and following accounts relevant to your own to get some exposure. Just be sure you’re doing this manually yourself (no bots), and of course, make an effort to be genuine, interesting and NEVER spammy! You don’t need to write an essay, but referring to the actual post and giving an opinion or asking a question is a good place to start. Setting aside between half an hour to an hour per day to focus on engaging on Instagram will have a big impact on your growth over time.

Here’s an example from a photo we posted about the rumour that Instagram is getting a 4×4 grid. In the caption, we addressed the rumour, and some people left genuine comments, partaking in the conversation:

9 Ways to Grow Your Instagram Organically

Comments on Iconosquare’s 4×4 Grid Post

4. Use a variety of relevant hashtags

Hashtags are still a great discoverability tool, but there’s no need to use the full 30 hashtag allowance that Instagram provides. Rather than using 30 different hashtags on every post (which is pretty time consuming anyways) and running the risk of one of those hashtags being blacklisted, use fewer but better-researched hashtags that clearly reflect your content. Between 7 – 10 hashtags will definitely be enough. And remember, your content should deliver what your hashtags promise!

7 Ways to Grow Your Instagram Organically

Whatever your industry, pick your hashtags wisely!

It’s also good to keep in mind that the more popular the hashtags you use are, the more competition you’re up against to get your content found. Opt for mid-range or niche hashtags to give yourself a better chance of being discovered – but avoid anything obscure that nobody will be searching for!

5. Promote your Instagram on your other channels

Don’t miss an opportunity to promote your Instagram account organically on your other owned channels. Think specifically about other visual channels such as Tumblr, or those with the potential to reach a large audience, such as Facebook. You can add a widget to your Facebook page, for example, which actually embeds and displays your Insta feed. Or you can create a post to announce a competition you’re running solely on Instagram, to bring your Facebook audience over to your Instagram account.

7 Ways to Grow Your Instagram Organically

The Iconosquare Instagram Feed for Facebook

You can also embed your Instagram posts in your blog posts, run a pop-up on your site, etc.

Another exciting update is the ability to share Instagram Stories to Facebook. Though businesses don’t yet have access to Facebook Stories, it should hopefully be possible for those with a business account too!

Another tip: Add an Instagram icon to your email signature, so that with every email send you give your readers the chance to discover your Insta profile.

6. Use tagging and geolocation as much as possible

An easy way to grow your Instagram organically is to utilise the geolocation tags, especially if you’re posting from a well-known and Instagrammable place! Also, if you’re working in collaboration with another brand or reposting content from someone else (make sure you get permission first!), be sure to tag them in your caption and on the photo itself.
Hopefully they’ll repay the favor in future ❤️ And this works both ways – if anyone wants to share your content, send them a friendly reminder that they should tag you and give you full credit in the post.

7 Ways to Grow Your Instagram Organically

@maggieontherocks giving credit where it’s due

7. Utilize new Stories features to keep your content fresh

Have you tried all the features Instagram has to offer yet?

Well, you should.

Having a beautifully curated feed is definitely a worthwhile goal, but don’t neglect the other more spontaneous and unedited type of content that you can create with Stories. If it fits with your brand, there are also plenty of fun features to experiment with such as face masks, filters, stickers and the new superzoom feature with sound. Play around with Boomerangs or create a poll to ask your audience’s opinion on something! There’s so much potential with Instagram to engage your followers and to attract new followers to your account, so if you haven’t tried it yet, now is the time!

7 Ways to Grow Your Instagram Organically

Instagram’s poll feature in action

8. Use collabs and influencer marketing

They say two heads are better than one. That kind of applies to Instagram, too: getting a mention or a repost from another account will do more good than just focusing on your own account.

Find your Insta-soulmate (a person/brand with similar target audience) and agree to give each other shoutouts, or feature each other’s content once in awhile, or, better yet, create a project together so that you both have a cause to talk about.

Another way to get extra exposure is influencer marketing. Finding the perfect influencer for Instagram can be tricky, but, if done right, you can see a flux of new followers or even potential customers. Just make sure you choose the right person!

9 Ways to Grow Your Instagram Organically

post from @worldwanderlust in partnership with @visa_au and @visa_nz

9. Get yourself featured on big accounts

Not tired yet?

Good. Because we have one last tip on organic Instagram growth. Which is getting yourself featured on big accounts. If your photos are good, being featured by another account is not THAT difficult. What you have to do, though, is quite a lot of homework:

  • Make a list of big Instagram accounts in your niche that feature other people’s content
  • Make them notice you: use their branded hashtag and tag them in the caption. Double check that you’ve spelled everything correctly!
  • Many of the accounts often have an email address in their bio. Take advantage of that and introduce yourself! Do NOT bombard them with emails, but rather write a casual “just saying hi, love your account, thought this could be perfect for your next post” kinda message.
9 Ways to Grow Your Instagram Organically

@bbc featuring @quiet_gaze on their Instagram account

It can be so frustrating feeling stuck at a certain number of followers or watching your engagement take a dive for reasons unknown, but if you play by the rules and follow the above tips, you will see an improvement. And while admittedly, growing your Instagram organically takes more time and effort, as a result you will have a loyal, engaged, involved community instead of a bunch of dead, bot-controlled accounts. And isn’t that what we all want?

Over to you! Do you find it hard to grow your Instagram organically? Let us know what tactics you use!

Click here to listen to the linked podcast episode esm²:

About the author
Caitlin Hughes

Caitlin Hughes

Caitlin is a Content Marketing expert at Iconosquare, based in Berlin. She’s passionate about creating ROI-driven content strategies and sharing her best tips on social media marketing. She’s also into true crime, loves ‘80’s music, and spends too much time online shopping.

More posts by Caitlin Hughes

Join the social revolution, try Iconosquare.

Try Iconosquare free for 14 days. No credit card needed.

Start 14 days Free Trial