A Comprehensive Guide to Growing Your Instagram
Disclaimer, we are not talking about a get rich quick methods nor about buying of fake followers or likes from fake accounts. Those methods has been proven to either shorten the lifespan of your account or kill engagement completely. If that is what you are looking for, DO NOT PROCEED!
However, if you are looking for a guide meant to help you get a better understanding on how to grow your Instagram account organically and in a structured manner. Read on!
*WARNING* This is not your usual touch and go guide. The explanations are detailed, thus please be ready for a 15mins read!
First, lets understand why Instagram has rapidly grown to become a good channel for building brands, personalities or promoting a product or service.
Instagram started on Oct 6, 2010 and over 7 years, it has grown to a 700 million user base. Between 2015 to 2017, they doubled their users from 350 million. Noted as the Super Power of Social Media, they have 2x more monthly active users compared to Twitter and 3x more monthly active users than Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp combined!
Picture Source: sproutsocial.com
It is visual, because 90% of data transmitted to a human brand is visual.
The ease of use, anybody can post anything they see at anytime easily.
Here are some other stats to justify their leap in growth:
- 70.7% of US Businesses are using Instagram, edging out Twitter for the 1st time
- 80% of the users follows at least 1 Business
- Instagram expects $4 billion revenues on Mobile Ads (as of Mar. 2017)
- 15 million registered business using Instagram Business Profile
- 120 million Instagrammers visited a website, got directions, called, emailed, or direct messaged to learn about a business based on an Instagram Ad. (as of Mar. 2017)
- Most Instagram Users are between the age of 18 - 29
The above facts and figures tells you why there is a growing pool of Brands and Influencers on Instagram. It is the place for companies to build their brand visually and get customers. Also for Influencers to build their profile and get sponsors from Brands looking for ambassadors in line with their brand image.
Note the age group on pt. 6, this is the emerging group of digital aged kids, where internet and social media has been a part of their everyday lives. Where purchases doesn't have to be made through a brick and mortar shop.
Thus, we can see a strong wave of brands moving towards the social media space to get in touch with the younger crowd.
Now, at this point I hope you are feeling pumped and ready to go, because the following read takes about 5 to 10mins. Lets get started!
The Flow Chart of Instagram Growth
Growing Your Instagram
Now that you are convinced that Instagram is a place to advertise your product, grow your brand or fish for potential clients. The next question is, how do I grow my fan base / followers / users, whatever you call them.
Its not rocket science, but pure hard work. We have started a graph to track our own Instagram Account growth started since the Aug 24, 2017. Its updated bi-monthly and serves as an "experimental proof" of what we preach here. You can view the graph here.
Lets start with the equation of "Growth"
Your account growth rate is mainly dependent on your Content Reach and Followers Retention.
To further break down, Content Reach is Post and Interaction. While Followers Retention is Relevance, Quality and Niche.
Having a great reach for your content is a combination of a Great Post and Constant Interaction. Both are equally important especially if you are in the early stages of growing your account (lesser than 50K followers, not a data from Instagram, just consensus from an experience crowd of Instagrammers).
What is the optimal post I should have per day, per week you may wonder? There is no hard and fast rule and it depends very much on what your niche is and how much you want to stick to quality content.
A post can mean many things on Instagram. It can be a picture, a video or using stories. There is also an option to engage your users through Live Sessions. So how much is optimal?
For starters, when you are growing your Fan Base, you need to keep your audience and potential followers excited and engaged. The rule of thumb is to have at least 1 post a day. To put it clearly, 1 Quality post. We will touch on quality posts later.
You will then monitor the response from the audience. If the response is weak, you may want to increase the number of posts per day with a better content. Needless to say if your post goes viral, just continue what you are doing.
When should you use Photos, Videos, Insta Stories or Live Sessions?
Before I get to that, let me give you more stats that will give you a clearer picture.
- Photos generate 36% more engagements than videos
- Videos posted at 9pm garners 34% more interactions
- Photos with faces gets 38% more likes
- Insta Stories has more than 250 million active users daily
- Live Sessions are most used for:
- Q & A sessions
- Behind the scenes
- Launch announcements
- Interviews, Collaborations
- Experimenting Content
As of today, Instagram is still very much a picture based platform. Thus to stand out from the crowd, it is important to create a niche for your profile. Post photos that are within your niche.
If you have something that you really want to post, but is not within your niche, consider using Insta Stories (by the way, they disappear after 24hours from the time the picture or video is taken).
Stories can be used to engage your followers even though you do not post on your Main Page daily. You can also use it to promote the urgency to a Call of Action. Like "Use the discount code posted on my Stories before it disappears!"
This way, your followers will know that you are still active on Instagram and that you take pride in your work by not posting on your main page with low quality content. But still time to interact through stories.
Live Sessions are best for Q & A, Live Make Up in my opinion. Followers can interact with you and get to know you more or learn more about your brand, products or niche. Questions can be answered right away.
Now that you have created your content, whats next? You need to get people to come into your gallery and look at your work!
Interaction in the "Gramming World" is how you reach out to your audience, excite them and get them to look at your the profile. Once they have seen what they like, it is only natural that they will click on the "Follow" button. There you go, done deal!
But wait, what is Interaction? What are tools available that can be used to reach out to the targeted audience?
What are Hashtags?
Hashtags is a passive way to be seen.
Imagine your IG profile to be an Art Gallery or Fashion Lookbook or whatever it maybe, hashtags are like the "Signs Boards" you place in front of your shop. Sign boards that will entice and interest like minded people to come into your Gallery to take a look.
It is therefore important to use hashtags that are relevant to your posts. Meaning, you don't want to be using "#dinosaurs" and when they click on the hashtag your food posts pops up instead!
There is a whole topic on Hashtag research and we will keep that for another session. For now, use hashtags that are of high relevance to your post.
You may also consider using some generic hashtags that may have no relevance, but could represent something you are trying to portray, e.g. #throwbackthursdays #tgif #mood #positivity #transformationtuesdays #etc...
Need ideas for hashtags. Use tools like IQTas.
Some hygiene factors to note on using Hashtags:
- Instagram allows you a maximum of 30 hashtags per post, so use them wisely.
- Place your Hashtags in your captions and not your comments. Some have said it results in better engagement while others mentioned that placing hashtags in the comments section may result in "Shadow Banning" (a topic we will touch on in future).
- Try not use the same exact hashtags in consecutive posts, especially if you have multiple posts per day. Instagram sees this as spamming and your engagement may be reduced, if not a "Shadow Ban".
A passive way to be noticed!
Using the same Art Gallery analogy, you are now on the street and talking to people and getting them to come in and view your work.
In Instagram, it is simply liking, following and commenting on other users content. By doing this, you may encourage other users to look at your content and thus leading them to follow you if your content appeals to them.
IMHO, this is actually the most important part of getting exposure. However it is a tenuous job and gets neglected more often than not. Leisure liking and commenting will not bring you a lot of viewers. When I talk about serious growth, I mean liking, following and commenting every other hour.
Why do it every hour (staggered) and not engage all at a time? This is because Instagram has an algorithm to detect spammy activities and if you are liking and commenting a few hundreds of photos in an hours or less, they will deem your activities as spammy and temp ban or ban your account.
Many business owners dread having to do this, because that is not their forte. Also, as an entrepreneur myself, Instagram is only one of the few social media channels to publicise.
Influencers spend a lot of time to create a beautiful reviews or blogs and most of them thinks that creating a great content or product is enough to gain attention. In a way yes, but not in most cases.
The thing is when you are not known, a great content with no interaction is like having a Van Gogh (before his death) standard gallery with no viewers. Therefore, I can't emphasise the importance of Content and Engagement, especially when your follower size is below 50,000 (don't quote me, as Instagram do not share their limits, this figure is based on yet again the consensus of experience Instagrammers.)
As such, most brand and influencers outsource the "Engagement" part of their Instagram accounts to companies like the one I am working in, The Social Butlerfly.
The Social Butlerfly works like your business partner in your Instagram Growth Journey. Business owners, Influencers or Bloggers do what they do best by creating niche contents, promoting brands or marketing ads. Whilst The Social Butlerfly takes care of engaging your potential viewers and bringing them to your page.
A very active way to gain fame.
This is like asking the person you are engaging to go through his contacts lists and call friends whom may be interested to get down and view your gallery.
Having people tag you in their post or in your post comments is the most effective way to reach out to their audience.
However, for practicality reasons, get someone with high follower counts to tag you, because they have a longer contacts list and they will reach out to more people.
Reach out to other accounts in your niche or social groups and do cross collaborations or cross promotions (shoutout for shoutouts).
Giveaways are a good way of getting people to tag their friends, comment and give likes to a particular post. This will boost engagement and creates buzz on your profile.
So far, we have talked about creating great contents and how to use hashtags, engagement and tags to bring potential audience to your profile. Now lets discuss about Followers Retention. In other words, what drives people to click the "Follow" button. How to grow your Instagram Followers?
The relevance of your content to the hashtags you use and meeting your followers' expectation of your content.
Relevance of hashtags used is easy. Like I mentioned in the hashtag section, if your post is of a dog, don't use a "#foodie" hashtag or #dinosaur hashtag with no relevance. Imagine you do a hashtag search on "#foodie" because you want some ideas on what to eat and it lands you on a dog's post instead. The user won't even bat an eye on your profile, much less follow.
Meeting your followers' expectation of your content is big word. In short, you have to study your posts to find out what kind of post attracts the most engagements and most follows. Understand what niche entices your crowd. Once you have identified what your audience likes, try to mimic the post but in a creative way. It could be a sort of filter that your are using, a certain angle of photo or maybe a certain people that is contained in that photo. The trick around this is to have a niche!
To summarise, you need to build contents that will make your target audience go Wow! I love this stuff and I am going to comeback for more! Let me bookmark this profile and re-visit when they have new content.
Post good quality content, photos or videos! That means curate and edit your photos before posting. Lets look at example.
Below are 2 flatlay food posts. Which one will you follow? The choice is pretty clear to me. Plus the number of likes says it all.
Have a theme for your post and be consistent. Need inspiration? Click here!
The highest resolution Instagram can go is 1080px by 1350px. Make full use of that!
Gone are the days of a square grid photos. In case you don't know how to enlarge your photo out of the square box, look at the photo below.
For "behind the scenes", non-curated or photos that do not fit your niche or theme, post them in your Stories. That way your audience gets to know you through your stories,yet does not affect your theme.
Another trick that I use is the multiple photos option.
Use the first picture that fits your theme or niche, the rest of the photos can still be anything you like. Can't picture it? Look a the gif below.
Notice on the main page, the pictures are still in line with the theme. But when clicked on one of the post, there are multiple pictures behind.
The 2nd most important thing to Engagement, is Niche!
Niche can be anything, an Interest (Food, Fashion, Fitness, Luxury, Memes, Photography etc...), a Picture Theme (Flatlays, Scenaries, Action, etc...) or even a Color Theme.
The trick to it is Consistency. Yes, make every post consistent to your niche or with a theme and that brings us to a point we mentioned earlier about, Meeting Followers Expectation of Content.
When you have a niche, e.g. Fitness, majority of your followers will most likely be a fitness junkies or somebody with that interest. They will expect you to post fitness content at least 60 - 80% (again not a hard and fast rule) of the time.
Commercial Influencers, this is also a niche by itself. However, my advise is not to mix a commercial profile with you personal profile.
If you really have to theses are the few options:
- Follow the 60/40 rule. 3 commercial post out of every 5 post.
- Using personal themed photos to promote a product.
- Create 2 separate accounts.
Why do I strongly advise against putting them together? Put yourselves in the shoes of a sponsor or advertiser. Given a choice to look at a commercialised profile with almost every post a sponsored one and a profile tilted more to a personal blog.
It is likely the former will attract the merchants attention. How is that so? The impression given is that their followers are following them because they want to see what these influencers are promoting and also that the influencer has been engaged by many sponsors for his/her post (a proven track record).
Whereas for a personal profile, you can't tell if the followers are following because they are more interested in the influencer's personal life or the product she promotes.
*This topic is highly debatable and in all honesty I am in the camp of separating work and pleasure.*
Many are adverse to the idea of commercialising their profile for the fact that they may lose their followers which they so painstakingly built. If you belong to this category, fret not. The simple solution is to create a personal profile and migrate those that are not interested in your product pitching to your personal one. That way you get the best of both worlds.
Businesses can also be categorised as a niche. Wait, don't go yay yet!
If not already known to you, Instagram has been introducing a lot of tools for businesses and encouraging them to change their account type as that they can track and monitor there post progress through the "Insights" feature.
Insights of a Business Account
The tools are very useful and I recommend all business owners to do so. Only 1 thing, it seems (not confirmed by Instagram and I doubt they will) that Business Accounts have lesser engagements than the usual. Which means you have to produce better content to get yourself noticed or you need a lot more engagements.
Adding this to the list of reasons why more and more Business Owners are turning to companies like us to help them engage their target audience.
In short, have a Niche and be Consistent with your posts.
I have seen a lot of mixed accounts and niche accounts in my lifetime of growing Instagram accounts and the results do defer.
Ending it off with some heart felt advise.
Growing an Instagram is never easy and it involves a lot of hardwork in trying and testing.
Hopefully, with this guide, it gives you a more structured approach. Like any other skills in life, you have to keep practising to make things perfect. Don't give up and never be discouraged. Who knows, one day, you might be the next Selena Gomez!
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Are you a Start Up or Influencer in the early stage of building your Instagram profile and need help? Contact Us! We are always open to interacting with you and share some pointers on growing your account and who knows what it may lead to.