I don’t profess to be an expert on Instagram by any means. But it’s fast become my favourite social media platform, my ‘happy place’, and I’m really pleased to have built a following of over 2000 followers from scratch in a year. It’s perhaps not a hugely impressive figure compared to accounts with over 10K, but it’s one that is very achievable for someone starting out.
Of course, it goes without saying that follower numbers aren’t the be all and end all, but if you’re serious about using your Instagram account as a business, then a large follower count is a huge part of why a brand would want to work with you, as well as factoring into things like your Tots100 and Klout scores.
With Instagram’s timeline changing to using a Facebook-like algorithm, a key part of building followers these days is engagement, so lots of this advice is focused on building an engaged following of people who will like and comment on your photos – ultimately what we’re all trying to achieve anyway! The more people like and comment on your photos in those first few minutes after you post, the more likely it is that Instagram will show your photo to other users in their timeline.
People want to see glimpses into other people’s lives through Instagram. Photos that tell your followers what you’ve been up to. And a big part of that is posting regularly, so that your name is in people’s minds. Don’t dump a load of photos at once – save them up and spread them out over a few days if you really want to share them all. There are different schools of thought for what posting schedule works best, depending on the number of followers you have. If you have less than 5K followers, supposedly you’re best posting twice a day; once you have over 5K once a day should be enough to keep you fresh in people’s minds. I’ve definitely found that posting twice a day is best for me – first thing in the morning, and in the evening. Aim for the times when most of your followers will be online, as it’s those likes and comments in the first few minutes that are so important. If you have lots of US based followers, you may be best posting later in the evening, but I’ve found that between 7-8 (both am and pm) is the sweet spot for me.
Create good content
This one probably goes without saying, but Instagram is a visual platform – people want to see nice photos. Blurred shots, too many ‘inspirational slogans’ – these are things that will put many people off following you. So many people will debate whether you need to have a niche to be successful. While I started out saying that I didn’t want a niche, I think over time my instagram feed has naturally evolved into focusing on my son and our outdoor adventures, and this focus has definitely brought me a significant increase in my follower numbers. Although you don’t need a niche, I do think it helps to have a focus – people can look at my feed and know that if they click that follow button they’re likely to see lots of photos of children outside.
I personally don’t tend to use instagram to promote my blog. I just don’t think it’s what people are looking for from it – it’s primarily a visual platform, not designed for including links. I tried mentioning blog posts at first, but saw very very little traffic from them, so quickly stopped. I think Instagram is best used as a sideline to your blog – it’s a great way for you to show people the ‘behind the scenes’ of your life, and snippets of what you’re sharing on your blog. If they’re interested, they’ll visit your blog anyway.
Make use of captions
Although a picture paints a thousand words, sometimes words can bring a picture to life that bit more. You’re looking to tell a story with your photos, and sometimes the best way to do that is through words. I love an insight into someone’s day, and I love how well some people manage to use this as a space for ‘mini blogging’. It gives that extra push for people to interact with them through comments. Try asking questions in your caption which will inspire people to answer.
Instagram is all about interaction. When you’re starting out it can be intimidating to start commenting on people’s photos, but find feeds you genuinely love, follow them, like their photos, comment on their photos, and soon you’ll start recognising names and looking them out when you feel you’ve not seen a photo from them in a while. When someone follows me, unless I think their feed is completely amazing, I usually wait for a bit of interaction now before I follow back. I want followers who like my photos, and who will engage with me and leave the occasional comment. It’s the interaction on your account which is key for the instagram algorithm which dictates whether you appear in people’s feeds (or not). Focus on engaging with your existing followers, and with new accounts too, and your engagement will increase.
If you want to take this a step further, comment pods are a great way to do this. Get together with a group of like minded people, and the idea is that you all like and comment on each other’s posts as soon as possible after they’re published. This instant interaction is what the instagram algorithm loves more than anything else, so your posts will stand more chance of appearing in your follower’s feeds.
One of my least favourite things about Instagram is the Follow/Unfollow game that is so popular. This is how accounts manage to build huge numbers of followers – by following huge numbers of people, and then unfollowing a few days later. They don’t care if you followed them back or not, it’s all a numbers game. I use an app called Followers+ to help monitor this, and although it’s often depressing, I sadly find it’s key for monitoring. Don’t do it people! Although it’s clearly successful, it won’t build your engagement, and it’s just rude!
But, don’t feel that you can’t unfollow people. It gets boring liking and commenting on people’s photos who show no interest back. If someone doesn’t follow you back, and doesn’t respond to your comments, don’t feel that you have to keep following them. I unfollow accounts every now and again for various reasons – if I don’t feel a connection with their feed anymore, if I feel like I don’t get any interaction from them and they’re not following me back after a long time. I appreciate that not everyone will follow you back, but when you make an effort to interact and it’s ignored it’s a bit like talking to a brick wall.
That said, don’t be too quick to unfollow! I’ve seen this with quite a few UK bloggers lately – they’ve followed me, and then I’ve noticed that they’ve unfollowed a few days later (presumably because they can see I’ve not followed back yet). That’s fine if that’s your strategy, but because I’ve been just starting out this year I’ve followed lots of people who’ve not followed me back initially, and after a year of using Instagram, nearly everyone has now followed me in return. Once your followers get above a certain count, you’ll find it harder to keep on top of new followers – give them a while to notice, and interact with them, and they’re far more likely to notice you.
When I started out, I found hashtags baffling – they seemed either very generic (summer / autumn / flowers), or made up! But with a bit of hashtag research they can be one of the most effective tools in building your following. They’ll get your photos seen by like minded people, which is what it’s all about! I wrote an in-depth post on hashtag communities which have been really successful for me. Hashtag communities are great – by using a particular hashtag on your photo, you could be featured by the hashtag host to all of their followers, offering you great exposure to a whole host of new people. I always know when Instagram hashtags are broken, as my engagement plummets!
I hope this has been useful for you and has given you inspiration for how to build your instagram following!