How To Organically Grow Your Instagram in 2018
Look guys, I'm no IG expert nor am I 'InstaFamous' in the least....But lately I've taken a lot of issue with how some of the Instagram and Influencer community operates at large. Call some of this a rant, but maybe you can take something from what I've learned over my one year on the 'Gram style blogging.
I will mention, upfront, that this is certainly NOT how everyone operates. However I will be speaking to some behaviours I've noticed over the past few months, as well as situations I've personally been in during my growth as a blogger on Instagram. I'll also be discussing alternative methods and strategies that I've personally used to help grow a social media community following you can feel good about.
I started fashion and Insta-blogging because I wanted to learn about photography, I love clothes and beauty, and I wanted to pursue a something creative after starting my career. I needed an outlet, and when I started my blog I hadn't done anything creative or for myself since high school.
When I started this, I also had some clue that people were able to make a career out of blogging and "influencing" (i.e. essentially advertising to his or her already established following for brands and companies using various social media platforms), but they often had the numbers and followings to legitimize their influence. Looking at it from an advertising perspective, the greater the following and audience, the greater the reach the company has to advertise their product or service to viewers. Influencers are the new supermodels, pro athletes and celebrity actors landing campaign ad deals, and this is often a part of how they are able to support "Influencing" full time as a career.
Now that sounds like "The Life". We all want a piece of this pie, don't we? We all want to be sent free clothes and make-up, go to events and be sent on free trips. How do you do this? Get a social media following, and get it fast. Or it seems that way.
I've seen a lot of amazing and deserving Influencers grow exponentially on his or her social platforms through a lot of hard work, consistency and by keeping true to themselves and their goals. On the flip side, I've also seen a lot of growth through inauthentic practices that I'll describe in this blog post.
Whether or not you feel that these methods used for growth are appropriate, I'll be going into depth as to why I do not support certain growth practices, and will offer suggestions on what you can do instead to keep your brand true, authentic and how to grow an audience of REAL people on Instagram this year.
1. Don't Buy Your Followers
Guys, it's 2018, and I'm just going to be frank: this practice is bullshit. Yes, it looks cool to have 20K followers on your account bio, but I think people can smell a fake from miles away. If you have 100K followers but only get 100 likes and 2 comments on an image, it gives me a sneaking suspicion that either you are completely neglecting any form of engagement on the app, or your following is illegitimate. Brands are getting wise to it too. With tools like Social Blade and agencies like Fohr Card that can now assess Influencer Follower Health Scores and determine what percentage of your followers are bots or fakes, just don't even go there.
And really, what's the point? If you are putting time, money and effort into your account to showcase something you've created that you're proud of, why would you piss all over it buy buying fake followers? Just don't.
2. To Pod or Not to Pod?
Okay, here's where it gets controversial. What's an Instagram Pod, you ask? Typically it's a group of 10-15 IGers who are in a similar niche as you, where you have all come to an agreement to like and comment on each other's post pretty much as soon as they are posted. There can be other rules, but this is basically the gist of it. Pods have the aim to boost Engagement on your post (Engagement = likes + comments / followers = the % measure of how successful or popular a post is in the eyes of Instagram). The theory is that the more comments and likes you have on a photo, the more likely it is to be seen by others, and the more potential you have to grow your following.
These Comment Pods sound like a great idea, right? They're real people, leaving real comments and likes that are not generated by bots or apps. They're a workaround to beat the new non-chronological Instagram algorithm. And since they're real people, your post engagement is therefore real and organic, right? Bring on the followers, the collabs and all the Benjamins!
Because I've felt the pressure of the numbers game, I've been a part of a handful of these Pods early in my InstaBlogger life. I will be honest, I have met some wonderful people through them with accounts I legitimately like, but overall, I do not support comment pods and am no longer a member of any.
I'm not a fan of Comment Pods and here's why: it's still inauthentic AF.
You are forced to LIKE and COMMENT on content you may not necessarily even like
You are forced to FOLLOW accounts that may not align with your goals or aesthetic
Because of Instagram's new Facebook-like algorithm (where they only show you content you actively engage with or the system 'thinks' you'll like), you end up only ever engaging with other Pod members
Content you may like or want to see will be masked by Pod member content
Comments often end up being forced and inauthentic to fill the comment space/fulfill Pod rules and obligations
You may mislead a brand or agency approaching you to promote their products
Your Engagement becomes inauthentic and comments can become unrelated to your actual content
You are not really "Influencing" if your main audience is only there because of your InstaPod contractual agreement
When I left these Pods, I saw a bunch of followers disappear and my engagement plummet for a little while, but I found I still preferred to connect with people who were actually interested in my content, despite the risk of fewer followers or reduced engagement. You may not grow as fast or have as impressive engagement, but you can at least hope those who are actively liking and commenting on your content are actually there to see it and vice versa. I'd rather have a real audience who engages WITH me, not AT me, and who I can engage right back with in a real dialogue. I personally have learned that I value true engagement over 200 comments of just "filler" any day.
3. Use Hashtags Strategically
Instagram allows for a maximum of 30 hashtags per post. There is a workaround where you can post up to 60, but I don't feel this really helps with reach significantly, and Instagram will probably be onto flagging that practice soon enough. So stick with the 30 #'s if you choose to use them, but be strategic about it.
Avoid general hashtags like #love because you'll be swallowed whole - looking this up now, #love comes up in 1,229,657,503 posts. Will your photo be seen? Probably not. Scale down and search for smaller hashtags (depending on the current size of your IG account) between 10,000-500,000 posts - this way, you are more likely to be seen by those searching for these #'s and even end up in the "TOP POSTS" section of the feed. This may take some time and research, but it's worth it.
Be specific - use hashtags that are relevant to your niche and to your post. Use words that narrow you down like location, niche, clothing brand, feature accounts etc. For example, #seattleblogger, #torontophotographer, #NYCmakeupartist, #GTAweddingphotographer are all highly specific and relevant to your post, so others searching for these tags in your area are more likely to find you.
Avoid #like4like, #follow4follow etc. - these are BS to me just like buying followers are. It's temporary, inauthentic, and just watch how fast that person unfollows you after they gained their #f4f back - just forget it.
Engage with your hashtags - once you've hashtagged, the next thing to do is start engaging with new accounts you actually enjoy. You can find them using your mutual hashtags (e.g. If you are in San Francisco, search through #sanfranciscoblogger and see who or what comes up, then start engaging with those who appeal to you).
Note: Don't waste your time liking and commenting on accounts that you don't find appealing or inspiring - leave REAL, thought-out comments only on the accounts that speak to you. Find someone new, and start a conversation. You already have something in common to talk about via your mutual hashtag, and then hooray! You've made a friend! :) (...more on this below)
TIP: Try to do this within the first hour that you've posted. This way you are more likely connecting with ACTIVE users who are on the app in real time, and you can start a live conversation then and there
4. Be Consistent
Being consistent doesn't mean being spammy by posting multiple times a day. I tend to post 1x a day, at maximum 2x, but I always do my best to post. Because the IG algorithm is no longer chronological, 1-2x a day is more than enough. Choose a schedule and do your best to stick to it, as this is when your audience can expect to find you. The truth is, Instagram is very fleeting and your photo can easily be buried with the rest of them in about 20 minutes. The half-life of an IG post is very short compared to other apps like Pinterest (more on this in another post!), so the more consistently you appear on Instagram, the more likely you are to show up in feeds. Posting consistently also helps create a habit, and I think you'll let go of any hangups about having the "perfect photo" to post every time as well (more on this in point #6 below).
5. Keep Up
Instagram comes up with new features, filters, and updates all the time. Things like Instastories, GIFs, Story Highlights, geotagging, story hashtags, 'Snapchat' filters etc. Instagram develops these features to be used, so USE THEM. These all strategies to help better connect with your current and potential audience in real time. Your content may have a better chance of having further reach or impressions if you use all of Instagram's tools. For example, you can geotag your city in your Stories (e.g. "TORONTO") and expand your Story Views to a wider audience if that story is included in the "TORONTO" location tag. In doing this, I've seen my story views go from my average of about 150 views to over 700+ views after geotagging my stories.
This tactic may not translate to followers and likes every time, but my point is to give it a try and use all the tools Instagram gives you.
6. LET GO OF PERFECTION
I'll be the first to admit that I'm a perfectionist and prefer all my photos to be taken on a DSLR with fancy Lightroom edits and filters. Perfectionism would often deter me from putting out content, where I would go weeks at a time without posting because I didn't think it was "good enough". There's something to be said about having a curated feed and stylized photos, but there is something equally alluring about posting "real-time", "real-life" photos with your iPhone. As boring or uninteresting as life may seem, people are often so interested in what you're doing, where you're going, who you're with, what you're eating and so on NOW in real-time. If you prefer to stick to a curated, stylized feed (there's nothing wrong with this!), you can also utilize InstaStories to help better connect with your audience and share a little more of the real you in your day-to-day. There's a great episode of 'A Drink With James', where the CEO of Fohr Card and Michelle Madsen of Michelle Take Aim have a discussion on this very subject (check it out here).
We all also need to remember that you don't always have to be perfect in real life (can we ever really be perfect anyway?), and you certainly don't always have to be perfect on Instagram. In fact, I discourage the idea of projecting that "perfect existence" on social media, as it's now becoming more apparent that IG can negatively impact mental health for that exact reason. I've personally experienced the "InstaLife" jealously myself, and it really, really sucks. We all get food in our teeth, stains on our shirt, and bed head sometimes. There is something to be said about sharing that side of your story.
7. BUILD COMMUNITY, NOT VOLUME
Now here's where the work comes in. This also ties into why I think Comment Pods are not helpful. We often forget that although Instagram is about the numbers, it's not ALWAYS about the numbers.
Social media is about just that: being SOCIAL. It's a tool that is about connecting with your audience, meeting new people, getting inspired and learning from each other. LOOK at the photo, WATCH the video, READ the caption. Build the community you want to be a part of by authentically and genuinely engaging with those you provide you with that "something".
There is nothing useful or authentic about commenting "Nice!" or "Cool!" on an image someone spent time and effort on. Think about it. It's not really SAYING anything about you or how his or her content really makes you feel. It doesn't start a dialogue. If you want to grow, you need to meet others and engage with them for realsies. Thinking of something genuine to say can be difficult and it takes TIME, but honestly at the end of the day, it feels good. It feels good to let someone know their content just made you laugh, inspired you to go do a photoshoot, or helped you discover new music, try a new recipe or push it at the gym.
TALK to people, LOOK at their content and BE GENUINE while doing it. These will be your people, and you should be thinking about them as people you want to be a part of your community, and you be a part of theirs. It's not just about the VOLUME of the numbers, it's about the QUALITY of those numbers too.
8. BE PATIENT
If you look at all your favourite Influencers who have 500K followers etc., how long ago did they start this? A common vein you might find, besides a few stellar exceptions, is they've been at this a LONG TIME. Let go of the expectation that you'll go from 0 to 100K in 2 months. It's this expectation and pressure we put upon ourselves that leads us to consider buying followers, using bots or joining Pods. Unless you go viral, which is very difficult to do, just be patient and work your ass off in the interim. There's no quick and dirty way of getting to the top for anything in life. You'll only get there if you really want it and put the work in. Buying followers, joining comment pods, using bots and other workarounds are all ways to fast-track getting there, but it's misleading and harmful at the end of the day.
Nothing is better than feeling proud of yourself. Knowing that you put in time, effort and HARD WORK to find your definition of success. You can't put a price or a follower count on that. Just put the work in, be proud of it, and hustle. People will take notice, and you'll get there.
There you have it, guys. These tips may not get you to 10K followers in 30 days, but they will help you grow a real audience who come to see you, check out what you're all about, and stick around. And do remember that at the end of the day, Instagram, blogging and creating content should be fun and something you enjoy doing. Any other perks that comes from it is just gravy.
How do you plan to grow your brand this year? Do you have any beefs with Instagram lately? What's your growth experience been like? Leave a comment below!