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How to Grow Your Instagram

Growing Instagram accounts is not easy and requires strategy and perseverance.

Below we have assembled data-driven and battle tested practical ideas, DOs and DON’Ts that will help you grow your Instagram account.

This is not meant to be a complete guide and will never be. There are many details and tactics that work in some situations and fail in others. However we tried to keep this guide as objective, honest and universally applicable as possible.

Why?

Asking yourself this question is good step before deciding to invest your time and resources into growing an Instagram account. Are you looking to:

  • Sell products directly from the Instagram profile?
  • Sell ads from your Instagram profile?
  • Increase brand awareness?
  • Generate new leads for your service?
  • Maybe you are building a new marketing channel for your business?
  • Or you just want to increase your followers count?

Growing Instagram accounts is no joke and might feel like a full-time job. Success does not come overnight. There could be better ways of reaching your goals. Or an end result might not worth an effort.

Make sure you’re motivated enough to take this journey.

Measuring success

Before you begin, you will have to decide how much time per day or week, and resources you can allocate, how to measure your success and when (if) to stop.

Just keep in mind Follower Count is not the best measure of success. Account engagement (saves + shares + comments + likes) is generally a better metric as it shows how engaging your content is and is a key metric that companies look at when selecting influencers.

Getting a high Follower Count might look as a matter of buying fake followers. However, fake followers won’t engage with your account which is a red flag for both Instagram algorithm and sponsors.

Do not buy fake followers. And if you did, remove them to improve your account engagement rate.

How Instagram works?

Instagram algorithms are complicated and evasive. “Hacking” them rarely works, however “working with them” does. Instagram makes money from Ads. The more engaging a content on the platform, the more people use the app, the more ads can be served. Instagram will do everything in their power to improve engagement and client retention.

Attention Markets

Social Networks can be perceived as “Attention Markets”. User attention is a limited resource and billions of posts, including yours, compete for that simultaneously.

Instagram algorithm works as a referee which decides which posts get shown more. It makes decision by looking into how much time people spend and how many actions they take on your posts, and compares those metrics with posts in your Niche.

Niche and Interests

People have widely ranging needs and interests. Instagram groups interests into Niches and Niche Trees. For example: a root niche Travel has a branch niche Outdoors which has a leaf niche Outdoors Equipment.

It then assigns niches to posts and accounts and matches users with interests in a particular niche with accounts in that niche — under hashtag, explore and account recommendation pages. Instagram will also sort the user home feed based on their niche interest, popping posts for the most engaging niche for that user first.

Instagram will use a number of factors to understand what niche(s) your account belongs to: account BIO, post captions, your follower interests, following interests, and computer vision to scan your posts for clues.

This sounds complicated, but the key rules to follow are:

  • Define your niche.
    It should be clear what your account is about from the BIO and the posts.
  • Research your niche to find similar accounts. Your audience will hang out there.
    You will need to get their attention by engaging with them (see below).
  • Stay within your niche to reduce followers churn and help Instagram understand what your account is about and promote you more. This is covered in details in our guide Reducing Followers Churn.

Make sure to know your audience: demographics, geographic, what interests do they have, what cultural influence are they exposed to? Answering these questions is important to tailor your content.

Content

Nothing beats stunning, high quality content. Such content is hard to come by, so you need to ask yourself how you are going to get that. Basic options are:

  • Create your own content.
    Time consuming but possibilities are limitless and is the safest option.
  • Find and repost content.
    Easy but risky. Make sure to properly attribute the content you repost and ask for permission before reposting. Otherwise your account may get flagged which could kill your engagement or get you blocked or even banned.
  • Pay someone to create content for you.
    Makes sense for large accounts when outsourcing is an option. This may cost a lot though and rarely works when you’re new to the game.

Content strategy

Research top accounts in your niche to find out what they post and what works. You can use Inssist Insights module to find out top performing posts and hashtags of your competitors as well as their posting times.

Then prepare your content strategy. Content strategy should answer the following questions:

  • What to post and how often.
  • Your content topics, e.g. what you are posting about: your product or service, tips, behind the scenes, audience education, lifestyle, quote, something funny, etc.
  • Your content visual style.
  • Guidelines for engagement.

Write your answers to these questions down. This will help to create a consistent, easily recognisable Instagram profile. You can find more info on Content Strategy in these handy guides:

Profile optimisation

Convert your Instagram account from Personal to Business or Creative. Business profiles have extra features such as Instagram Insights, Ads, Shopping, Message Inbox, Scheduling etc.

Write and rewrite your BIO. In 150 characters, your Instagram BIO needs to make a great first impression, convey your brand personality, tell people why they should follow your account and provide a call-to-action, a way for Instagrammers to interact with you directly from your profile page.

If you are getting stuck at this, find successful accounts in your niche, study and apply their ideas to your BIO.

Create a memorable and sleek profile picture. Do not try to put too much into your profile picture. Try to keep it minimalistic, handy and easily recognisable even on high scroll speeds.

Post the first 12 to 24 posts. Make sure to fill your profile with a visually consistent and eye-popping content and the best you can create or get your hands on.

While you are at it, create extra posts for the next few weeks of posting and schedule them upfront. There are dozens of post scheduling apps for Instagram. Find the one that suits you the most.

Craft post captions. Every post caption must be unique and engaging. Make sure to include the following into your caption:

  • Value, your caption should provide value for your audience. For example, if you posted a mountain photo, tell a story how it was made.
  • A call to action, such as: “a question”, “share this tip with your friends”, “make sure to save this for later”, “leave a comment if you agree” etc. Calls to action tremendously improve engagement on your posts.
  • A touch of personality, use emojis, take up a conversational tone.
  • Hashtags.

Select the best time to post. Here is a data for an Instagram as a whole:

The most consistent engagement can be found Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Engagement goes down every day before 6 a.m. and after 9 p.m.

Try to stay consistent with your schedule and post content at certain times a day and avoid posting content over weekend when engagement is low.

Hashtag strategy

Hashtags are important to get right. We’ve assembled a separate guide on using Instagram hashtags properly. Make sure to check it out. Here is a short version:

  • Always use hashtags that are relevant to your post.
  • Check for banned and flagged hashtags and avoid them.
  • Build a Hashtag Ladder: 8-10 of the hashtags on your post should have an engagement lower than you profile, 8-10 similar to yours, and 8-10 higher.
  • Rotate your hashtags often.

Inssist Hashtag Analytics can help you build a hashtag ladder.

Engagement

Engaging with your audience is the key to growth on Instagram. Engagement is the primary metric Instagram relies on to rank content. The more you engage with your audience, the higher your account engagement.

Engaging should take 80% of your time on the platform, remaining 20% should go to research and posting. Here is a list of what you may consider doing to rank higher:

Before you post

Make sure to allocate 10-15 minutes before you post to engage with your audience in a meaningful way:

  • Reply to and like comments you received on your posts.
  • Reply to all Direct Messages and message requests.
  • Search for large accounts in your niche, follow them, like and leave genuine comments on their posts.

Engaging with people before you post guides them to your profile.

This boosts your post engagement in the first crucial hour. Instagram gauges post popularity by the number of actions it receives in the first hour.

This in turn makes your post rank higher among the top posts for hashtags and explore page in that niche.

When you post

Here is a checklist:

  • Make sure to write an engaging post caption. Tell a story, ask a question, suggest to save a post, etc. Get creative!
  • Build a hashtag ladder (see Hashtag Strategy section) and add hashtags to your caption. Using hashtags in the first comment has a slight negative impact on hashtags performance.
  • If you have a brand hashtag, fill that in too.
  • Select a location for your post. If you’re running a local business, select your business GEO location.
  • Tag your business partners, brands, followers and relevant accounts (e.g. content creators) mentioned in your post whenever you can, but do not spam.
  • If you are posting from phone, make sure to provide alternative text under advanced settings page.

After you post

Repost your post to your story, add a mention and hashtag stickers if possible. You can “hide” them under the post image if you want to. Repost your post to Facebook, Twitter and other social networks if you have relevant account.

Come back an hour later to engage with your audience and answer their comments on your new post.

First 2 weeks

If your account is fresh, you may grow it to the first 500 to 1000 followers by finding relevant accounts in your niche, commenting on their post and liking and following hundreds of their followers per day until you get action blocked and then repeat.

This takes a couple of hours a day to do and works because action limits are higher for fresh accounts in their first 2 weeks.

This approach is a bit risky and you may get banned if you get unlucky by being reported. So, whenever you engage, try to provide value to people, follow only accounts that are interested in your product or service, write helpful and meaningful comments.

This strategy works only after you optimise you profile by posting a great content at least 12 times and filled up your BIO (see Content section).

Past 2 weeks

Continue to post consistently, focus on engaging people before you post and collaborating with other accounts. Here are the things you might do:

  • Focus on people-centric content.

    Posting photos of people and personal stuff gets twice the engagement over business related topics.

  • Experiment and analyse.

    Monitor engagement on your posts to see what works and what does not. Rotate post formats and topics. Track engagement on your hashtags.

  • Create a unique style.

    Stand out from the crowd by using a consistent visual theme, photo setting, filters, colour palette.

  • Work with influencers.

    Find influencers in your niche (use hashtags, manual searching or Instagram analytics tools) willing to promote your content, pay to get featured in their posts. This is the fastest way to boost your profile. However make sure the influencer is in the same niche and has an engaging audience.

  • Run a contest or giveaway.

    Some studies show that brands that run contests grow their followings 30-70% faster than those that don’t.

  • Take advantage of new Instagram formats.

    Stories, IGTVs, Guides, Videos & Carousel posts, Reels, Going Live — try to use as many format as you can and experiment with them. Instagram promotes accounts that use the platform to the fullest.

  • Run a paid campaign.

    Do not neglect the potential of paid promotion on Instagram and Facebook. A paid campaign might be a push your account needs to get to a new level.

Remove ghost & spam followers

This may sound counter-productive, but removing certain followers has a positive effect on your account and business.

Ghost followers do not engage with you or your content. They do not watch your stories, they do not like your posts, do not leave comments and do not send DMs. Ghost followers bring your engagement down.

Instagram algorithms rank your content based on your engagement. Removing ghost followers who do not engage with your posts at all will shoot your engagement through the roof and get you a new authentic and engaging audience.

There are Instagram products and services that can scan your account for ghost followers (INSSIST team is also working on one as you read this guide) and then slowly and gradually remove them for you.

If you decide to remove followers manually, make sure to hit “Remove follower” button and not the “Block” or “Report” buttons. Reporting multiple accounts will get you under an Instagram radar.

What is your Instagram Strategy?

The tips and practices highlighted above were assembled together from online guides, marketing vlogs, influencer podcasts, Instagram data crunching researches and our own experience with the platform.

From optimising your profile to engaging your followers and beyond, knowing what clicks with your audience is a matter of consistency and experimentation.

We’d like to hear from you. Do you use any of the ideas above? Have you made any changes to your Instagram marketing strategy? What works for YOU and how do YOU grow your Instagram account? Hit us at @inssistapp on Instagram and let us know.

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