Instagram is simultaneously one of the easiest platforms to grow a following on, and one of the hardest to manage, and it all depends on how you go about it. If you go into it as a central pillar of your marketing or your brand, you can focus your attention on it and grow quickly and easily. If you’re trying to make it one facet of an overall marketing plan that encompasses half a dozen social networks and your website, it’s going to be harder on you. If you’re trying to use it solely for traffic generation, you have an uphill battle ahead of you.
That said, it’s possible to “force” fame on Instagram. It’s actually not even all that difficult, it just takes time and the right set of actions. Some of them may seem a little counter-intuitive, but that’s why I compiled this list. If you take advantage of these techniques, you can get ahead of the game in no time.
1. Fill Out Everything
The first thing you have to do with any good social profile is fill out everything as completely as possible. Buffer has a great post about how to completely fill out your profile, how to set up links between Instagram and your website and other social profiles, and how to start spreading your presence online. This is all a great foundation from which you can build a larger audience. Their tips alone can be enough to get you to your first thousand followers, which is a great place to start.
The number one tip for this and every other Instagram technique is to post high quality images. If you’re a designer, your art should be high resolution. If you’re a photographer, make sure your photos are as crisp and clear as possible. If you need to take a step back as a business and hire a good contract photographer, do so. The worst thing you can do on Instagram is post mediocre content. Even bad content can get ironic followers; boring content gets you nowhere.
2. Post Every Day
Instagram is an interesting social network compared to others, because unlike other networks, there’s no major drop-off for engagement when posting more than the “ideal” frequency. For example, if you post twice per day on Facebook it’s ideal, but if you post a third time, that post generally has a dramatically lower engagement rate. Instagram doesn’t drop off after the second post, but it does require that you keep up whatever level of posting you establish. If you post five times a day, you should be posting five times a day every day. Otherwise you’re just spamming one day and posting reasonably the next.
I recommend sticking to about two posts per day, maybe an extra on weekends, and avoiding posting more often. If you have that much content to post, you can stretch it out with scheduling and filter it to just the best posts.
3. Include Hashtags, Emojis, and a Link
Every post should have the right kind of content in it. Emojis actually do quite a bit towards boosting engagement rate, particularly for brands, because a brand correctly using emojis is a novel experience. Hashtags are also important, though you want to stick to relevant tags. Avoid posting random tags just because they’re popular. I recommend a couple of branded tags, a couple of specific tags for your image, and some more generic tags for your industry. That helps to cover all of the bases and draw in users from all around the site.
As for a link, I like to have something relevant to link in about a third of my posts. If you’re linking more often, you had best have something very relevant, or people will start to get suspicious about the purpose of your posting. Don’t just blindly link your homepage in every post.
4. Ask Followers to Tag a Friend
Tagging other people on Instagram is the fastest way to get their attention. They get a notification and can come see the post, and from there they can engage with it via comments, likes, or whatever else they want to do.
Some people advocate tagging dozens of people yourself, but I always found this to be a bit spammy. Instead, simply encourage people to tag their friends. Every fifth or so image, I like to add a “tag your friends if ___” where the blank is filled in with something relevant. Post a picture of a nice beach and “tag your friends if you wish you were here.” That sort of invitation can boost engagement through the roof, and a lot of the people tagged will follow as well.
5. Follow Accounts Posting Similar Content
About once or twice a month, you should do a few searches through hashtags and browsing randomly from tagged user to tagged user. This aimless browsing should be guided towards finding and following accounts that post content in the same niche as your account. It’s like tagging people in your posts, except it’s more powerful because a follow gets people looking at your account as a whole, not just one post. Many will see that you post the same kind of content they do, and will follow you back.
6. Host a Photo Contest
One great way to get more followers and more engagement is to host a contest. You know, incentivize following your account. A lot of software and game developers host contests for submitting images or screenshots, and the winner has to be following their account.
Pretty much anyone can do the same thing; pick a theme for the photos, tell people what the prize is, and get them to submit their images by following you and tagging them with a contest-specific hashtag. You’ll get a ton of people following you on the strength of your incentive alone, and you only have to give out a handful of prizes to prove that you pay out and encourage participation in future contests.
7. Stick to a Broad Theme
Focus is the key for most Instagram accounts. If you look at any of the famous accounts, you’ll see focus. Kevin Hart posts lifestyle photos. Victoria’s Secret posts fashion and experience. Demi Lovato posts casual selfies and intimate moments joined with professional photos and modeling. Nike is constantly posting about the broader aspects of their brand.
A broad, general theme gives you plenty of flexibility without making your account so scattershot that people don’t know what they’re getting. You want to be reliable with your content, while still having the open-ended options necessary to experiment and shift perspectives if necessary.
8. Like and Comment on Related Content Liberally
Remember how I suggested that you troll around looking for relevant profiles and follow them? Do the same thing, on a larger scale, for content. You don’t need to follow every account you see, but if you see an image that sticks along with your brand, you can like it. If you see one that’s particularly compelling or that somehow ties in with you or your brand, you can leave a comment as well.
The goal here is to use the following as the heavy weaponry and the commenting as the infantry. You have a lot more of the latter, so you have more ability to engage on a low level and attract people, while the follows can directly result in more focused returns.
9. Find Amplifiers and Tag Them
Amplifiers are a certain specific type of influencer that pops up on social networks, particularly Instagram. They aren’t really influencers in the sense that they don’t really post their own content. They’re more like Buzzfeed; taking content from around the web and curating it in a way that draws in millions of people. You can tag them as a way to submit your content, and if they share it themselves, you’ll get a massive boost of exposure. Ideally, you will also get a significant boost to your following out of the deal as well.
You can do the same thing with standard influencers, but be aware that a lot of influencers directly in your niche are going to be competitors, and a lot of the rest aren’t really keen on helping out other people without something tangible in return.
10. Experiment with Instagram Video
Instagram video is like Vine, only with slightly longer length limits and a few different requirements. It’s interesting to use, but very few brands are able to consistently make use of it. That’s why I say experiment with it. Post a video and see how it does. Don’t post videos every day, or even every week if they don’t get a good return on investment. Video can be complex to make in a way that is compelling, much more so than a photo, so you have to really get something out of it if you want to get returns.
11. Dip Into the Casual Side
One of the best things you can do as a brand on Instagram is occasionally post a little more casually than normal. If you’re a model used to producing a constant flow of professional pictures, take the time to take some selfies and candids. If you’re a band used to posting pictures of shows or recording in a studio, post pictures of an impromptu little concert or some behind the scenes shots. Drop the façade just enough to let people see there’s more to you than production values, but keep it totally planned and monitored to avoid driving off people who prefer the production.
12. Branch Out to Broaden Horizons
In addition to the occasional casual shot, you want to occasionally share photos that are outside the norm of what you usually produce. The idea is to experiment with your general theme. If you’re usually posting one type of content, but a photo of another semi-related piece of content gets a ton more engagement, you might want to start shifting your overall profile’s tone in that direction. This way you can slowly expand your audience with different areas of interest, as well as finding new things to photograph that aren’t quite as stale as your usual subjects.
13. Bring Science Into It
At some point, you’re going to stall out on growth, and the way you get past that hump is by taking a more scientific approach to min-maxing your returns. You want to get the most return for the least effort. There are three areas you want to explore.
The first is optimizing your posting. Are there some times of day that are better for engagement than others? The second is optimizing your hashtag usage. This is where the field of Instagram keyword research comes into play. The third is content optimization. Do certain color ranges, certain types of descriptions, or certain subjects perform best? Answer these questions for yourself and you’ll be able to optimize your posts into needle-sharp follower boosting tools.
14. Buy Low Numbers of Followers
It’s okay to buy followers on Instagram, though it’s tricky how much you should buy, what source they should come from, and how much they should cost. Ideally, you want real followers, because fake bots will be purged and won’t do you any good while they exist. I highly recommend that you keep your buying to a low, background level, though. If you have 1,500 followers, don’t buy more than 100 or so at a time. You’re looking to simulate a small amount of growth, not double your followers overnight.
15. Buy an Established Account
Another interesting technique you can use if you want a head start is to buy an entire account, rebrand it, and run with it. This is a good way to get over the initial hump, but it throws you into the deep end where you need to know what you’re doing or else you’ll lose all of the value you purchased before you get up to speed. You also need to try to find an account that starts in the same niche, so you aren’t abruptly alienating all of your existing followers. Many of them will jump ship as it is, so you want to minimize those losses.