Growing your Instagram Following

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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.

 

Family focused Instagram grid - outdoor family adventures

 

Post regularly

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.

 

Autumnal Instagram grid - conkers, autumn colours, toddler running through leaves

 

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.

 

Interact

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.

 

Screenshot from Hot Pink Wellingtons Instagram

 

Don’t Follow/Unfollow

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.

 

Use Hashtags

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!

 

 

  • Natalie @memeandharri

    Great post lovely, I need to up my game a little with Instagram but sometimes I worry all my pictures are the same. I also need to work on my hashtags. Your feed is beautiful xxx

    • Thanks Natalie – it’s a fine line between having a focus and feeling like your photos are all the same, isn’t it? I definitely don’t feel that about yours though, I love your feed 🙂

  • Louise – Mummy Miller

    Great post, I hate the follow/unfollow game, Crowdfire is great to keep on top of whether people are genuinely following you though. I need to up my Instagram game! I love your feed Katy, it’s the one that I always keep an eye out for! X

    • Thanks Louise, that’s lovely of you! I’ve been a bit off the Instagram ball lately – need to get out and about a bit more again! If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the year though, it’s that it feels like a slog at first, but it’s a bit of a snowball effect once it gets going. I love your feed too, love seeing all your posts.

      • Louise – Mummy Miller

        It’s hard when it’s so miserable out, I’ve been off my game recently we seem to have been ill for ages!

  • Laura @dearbearandbeany

    I love Instagram and its by far my favourite platform. I struggle with nothing if I need a niche, a theme etc. I haven’t tried doing one, because I’m never sure if I can sustain it. Its an area I definitely want to focus on in the new year. I hate the follow/unfollow game, who has time for it! x

    • I would say you have enough of a niche with your feed as it is – people who follow will know that they’re going to see lots of lovely photos of your children, and that’s as far as a niche needs to go I think. I would love to have the kind of account that you see my photos and instantly know that it’s mine, but realistically I think I just don’t have the photography skills!

  • Leah Miller

    This is a really great read! I have been searching for ideas for growing our Insta account and as much as I do the things you mention above, maybe I do need to do them more regularly! Hashtags do baffle me, but I will get there. I completely agree about the follow/unfollow game, I must have unfollowed two or three accounts since I opened my account t but my followers fluctuate so much, it’s frustrating! I might have to check out Crowdfire!! X

    • Sadly I do think some way to track the unfollowers is essential! I would say maybe 1/10 followers I get lately is a ‘genuine’ follower – the rest are just the follow/unfollow brigade. I am also pretty active on Instagram, checking it probably 4 times a day on average and liking and commenting on hundreds of photos every day!

  • justsayingmum

    Oh instagram is my favourite social media platform too! Definitely regular posting, engaging with followers, good photos and hashtag use are the best way to grow those followers #BigPinkLink

  • Winnettes

    This is great advice. I love Instagram it is also my favourite platform. I’m not too fussed about growing numbers or at least not quickly. I like engaging where I already do and slowly will do more. I agree about the follow/unfollow!
    #BigPinkLink

    • I think the slow and steady approach is best to be honest – if you build the number of people you’re following more slowly then you have time to properly engage with them and get to know them.

  • Coombe Mill (Fiona)

    2000 followers in a year is very good going. Well done and using all the right tactics too. Well done, just double checked and I am indeed following you! #BigPinkLink

  • This Mum’s Life

    What a brilliant post, with some really great advice for someone building up their instagram. I’ve only just started making more use of the captions, and it definitely does increase interaction and comments! And yes, content is really key, which may seem simple, but when I started out on insta, it was just an extension of my blog posts-I posted comical or ridiculous things, that had made me chuckle! But actually, it didn’t take long to realise people just don’t want to see that on there, and now I try hard to create unusual, but hopefully prettier images! I love your Instagram feed, it’s clear that you put a lot of work into the pictures, and enjoy taking them!
    #bigpinklink

    • Thanks so much, that’s always lovely to hear! My first insta pics are pretty cringey – I’ve left them there though as I still kind of like them! But it’s funny to see how your feed just naturally evolves over time – I always insisted I didn’t want a theme, but over time I’ve tended to fall into a bit of a theme naturally.

  • Susie Hawes at This Is Me Now

    This is really interesting. I am really struggling with instagram and it’s because of the follow/unfollow thing. I just think it’s so shallow. The other day my numbers went up and today I logged on to see 7 less followers. I can’t be arsed with it! It’s just anther thing to monitor and stress about. It’s just so annoying and rude. I’ve started using more hashtags and commenting on others more and I am seeing slow returns, but it’s time consuming and definitely not something I love. I’d love to know if you use the paid version of Crowdfire as I have it but it won’t show me Instagram info without paying for it? #bigpinklink x

    • The follow/unfollow thing has just become so rampant lately – it’s only in the last 6 months that I’ve noticed that the majority of followers I get will do this, and it really does put a downer on the whole thing. I don’t pay for Crowdfire, just use the free version – it won’t let me action anything without going into Instagram itself, but it will show me the info. I wonder whether they’ve stopped you linking IG without paying since the change? I’ve also dabbled with Unfollowers+, so that might be another option for you.

  • Hellooooooooo long time no bloggy exchange! Great little post (although I thought the opinion about slogans was quite interesting as one of the most striking IG feeds I’ve seen is one with mainly slogans!). For some reason I’ve really dropped my Instagram activity these last few weeks; my images are all over the place and I don’t do beautiful posts tbh but I ought to stick at it as it’s by far the easiest platform to grow. Lovely to read you again and by the way how did i NOT know you run a linky?! #bigpinklink

    • The slogan thing I guess is personal preference – it’s just not what I’m looking for from Instagram, I want a visual insight into someone’s life that I can’t get from anywhere else. I do agree that it’s the easiest platform to grow once it builds up a bit – I found it a real slog at first but once you reach 500 followers it seems to grow pretty rapidly. How was I not following you?!

      • lol I don’t know! Mind you I’ve not been on your blog for ages and it’s sooooo nice to see you doing well my dear xx

  • I agree I totally hate the whole follow unfollow poem, I was just talking about that with hubby yesterday. I get so many following me and they follow like 300 people and have thousands of followers so I think as if you are going to keep following me! They just seem so fake. I follow peoples feeds I really like, whether they follow me or not. I just love Instagram, it is my happy place too xx

    • I think that’s the best approach – to follow people whose feeds you genuinely love – that way you’ll enjoy using it and be inspired to post more yourself. The more I interact with other people, the more I love it!

  • Your IG definitely has a niche. It’s instantly recognisable as yours. I’m with you on all of these. When I started I used to follow everyone back, but now unless I really like their feed, or get interaction then I don’t. Especially as I get closer to the limit – I want to be able to see the ones I like in my feed. I really need to spend time going back over people I followed way back and recheck their feeds, but it all seems a bit like hard work.

    • Thanks so much Emma – that’s a really lovely thing to hear! I’m definitely conscious of there being a limit with the number of people you can follow, but also that I want to keep enjoying using IG and therefore want to limit my feed to those I really love. I’m strangely attached to the feeds that I started following when I first started – it would feel odd to unfollow them now for some reason!