So your Instagram profile is up and running. You’ve posted some great pics, created Stories that show exactly who you are and what you do, and you’re following the cool kids on your block. All that’s missing is … followers. You’ve got content that your family agrees is terrific, but how to get people to see it? How do you get more followers? Well, there are lots of ways to do it, some easy, and some that take more effort. We’ve collected some best practices here, but before we dive in, let’s look at the mystical gatekeeper’s keymaster that controls what Instagrammers see — the algorithm.
The Instagram algorithm
Back inna day, Instagram would feature posts in reverse chronological order — the last thing posted would be the first thing you saw. The Instagram folks realized, though, that customers were missing a ton of their feeds. If your sister posted a pic of your new nephew 10 minutes after you went to bed, you would probably miss it when you checked your feed in the morning. Bogus!
So Instagram put their secret elves to work designing arcane machinations that would make sure the posts that are important to you show up at the top of your feed. The algorithm looks at what posts you like, what types of things you post, who your relationships are, what you comment on, and how you engage with other users. It uses that info to determine what you see. That means you’ve got some work to do if you’re going to show up in your followers’ feeds. So let’s see how it’s done.
Do not buy followers
Listen, there is a really easy way to get followers quickly: buy them. There are services that can provide lots of followers for very little money. Like, seriously little money. It’s totally tempting. Want 1,000 followers? You can get them for two bucks. Two bucks! There’s no reason not to do that! Get the change out of the couch and do it! What do you have to lose? Well …
Remember how in grade school there was good attention and bad attention? Same deal. It’s true that adding 1,000 followers can make your fledgling brand look more legit. But in the long term, it ain’t gonna help. Why? Because of the algorithm.
See, the followers you get for your hard-earned two bucks are usually dead accounts or bots. They’re not going to like or engage with your posts, so you’ll end up with a lot of followers but low engagement (the number of likes divided by the number of followers). The algorithm interprets that as you putting up a bunch of unpopular content, and it knocks you back in the rankings. And no one wants that. So let’s look at some strategies that will help you get more legit followers.
Optimize your whole profile
If you’re an established global brand, you might not need to worry about this. People are going to follow the Cokes and Nikes and Volkswagens as soon as they find their profiles. But as cool as your product/service/guidance/attitude/opinions are, you aren’t as well known as those corporations, and you need to quickly let people know what you’re about.
Add to your user name
Your name’s pretty cut and dried, yeah? No. Not here. You can use that name real estate to let people know more about you. Put your business name in there and what you do, like “Lola Ray | Beauty and Lifestyle Vlogger.” Naturally, the “what you do” part is going to have your best keywords, and visitors will instantly know more about you.
Complete your bio
Don’t forget your bio. You can do more with it than say how long you’ve been in business and what your office dog’s name is. Hashtag it up. Add clickable links to other profiles. And of course, stick a CTA in there with a link to your site. Create 150 characters worth of compelling info and have at it.
Remember the phony followers we convinced you not to buy? They’re bad for your Instagram game because they don’t engage with your posts, and again, the algorithm hates that. There are some basic guidelines to follow regarding engagement, and surprisingly, they’re not too different than what your folks told you about making friends before they sent you off to middle school: Ask questions. Make thoughtful comments. Conversations go two ways. See? Your parents might have known what they were talking about, because these same concepts can up your engagement.
Instead of replying to a design post with a quick, generic thumbs up, try, “That’s gorgeous! How’d you create that effect?” This is a good reply on a couple of levels. One, it’s friendly and honest — you’d want to get that same kind of comment, right? So it shows the person you’re following that you like their work and that you’re not the Thumbotron 2000, programmed to blindly add a positive emoji to posts. And in terms of the algorithm, it’s more than four words and it’s not a generic “Nice work” or “Like it.” Also, since you’re asking a question, you’re inviting a reply. Never a bad idea.
Do this throughout your space. Once you’ve found the movers and shakers you admire, follow them and their most active followers. Be really active and supportive with your comments. This encourages them to comment on your posts in return. Which leads us to …
You know what they say — timing is everything (unless they’re saying location is everything — they need to stay on topic). There are a couple of things about timing you need to keep in mind if you want to get more followers.
The time that you post matters. If you run the analytics that are included with Instagram business accounts, you’ll find that follower engagement follows some kind of pattern — you’ll get more responses at one time of day than another. Our buddies at Later have analytic tools that will show you your best posting times, and they also have a great scheduler that lets you create your posts in advance and post them at specific times. This is a great way to manage your posts — set up your week’s posts all at once rather than carving out time throughout the week to post. Makes it pretty easy.
And if you want to up engagement, you have to post regularly. If your customers see the same content a few days in a row, they’re going to be less likely to check back. So if you want to build your brand and get more followers, you oughta be posting once a day.
Work your space
Working your space is important. If you have a dog walking business and the majority of Instagrammers you follow are plumbers, you’re not going to get as much engagement as you would if you were following dog trainers, pet sitters, pet product manufacturers, and breeders. Being active in your area gets you seen, and if you’re seen, that’s a step closer to getting followed.
And don’t just follow the heavy hitters. Is Purina going to like your reply to their post? Maybe. But the dog daycare down the street? And the pet photographer who’s blowing up all of a sudden? And the local organic pet food market? You bet. And once you get a bunch of them following you, maybe Purina will start to notice. Start relationships with influencers, and you’ll not only get high-profile followers, but you’ll get many of their followers, too.
Use your personal network
Don’t think for a second that we’ve forgotten about your family and friends. Other than your brother-in-law, who, well, you know. So next time you’re hanging out not talking about business, start talking about business. Ask them to reply to your posts. Telling them what time you post will help, too. The algorithm weighs engagement in the first hour more heavily than later engagement, so call in some favors, offer to do the dishes, whatever you need to do, but get those folks rolling.
Don’t forget to follow your friends, too. They might not work in your space, but you can always count on them to have your back and engage with your posts.
Wow. There’s so much you can do to increase your following that we’re only now digging into hashtags.
Hashtags are organizational tools that help new audiences see your posts. Users tag their images or posts with descriptive phrases preceded by the hash sign (# — so that’s what it’s called!), and all of a sudden they’re searchable. So when you tag your awesome pic with #poodleguitar, your tagged photo appears with all of the other #poodleguitar photos. Seems like a great way to find like-minded people to follow — and they might feel the same about you.
You can follow hashtags just like you can follow an Instagrammer — search for the term you want, select it from the list that pops up, and tap Follow. Do this to find communities and users to turn into followers. And it works both ways — if you have a unique hashtag, you can invite users to follow it, just like they’re following you.
If you have an Instagram business account you can use Instagram Insights to track your hashtag metrics without even leaving the app. It’s seriously like three clicks, and you can get some really useful info.
Create your look
Instagram, obviously, is a visual platform, so what’s a good way to attract followers? With visuals. Duh. And the better your images look, the more people are going to take a peek.
Have you noticed how a lot of the images in the profiles you follow have a similar look? Even if the subjects are different, you can tell by the effects, lighting, composition, whatevs that they’re connected to the brand or person. How do they do that? How can you do it? Hmm … if only there was a fast and easy way to edit your photos … oh! Right. Us. PicMonkey.
To give your profile a cohesive look, open up PicMonkey, choose a photo effect you like and apply it to your photos. But that ain’t all you can do. Find a font you like. Apply effects to the text, or add a graphic as an accent. Or choose one of our Instagram templates to get a pro look fast. Creating a recognizable style that people will associate with you and your brand doesn’t have to take long, and it’s a great way to grab extra eyes.
Buy some ads
All right. One last option for getting followers, and it’s all about the Benjamins. Again, don’t buy fake followers. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend any money at all. There are times when ya gotta spend it to make it, yo. But you don’t need to hire McMann and Tate. You can set up your own ads with just a bit of work.
Instagram has five types of ads you can buy, depending on your goals and audience. Choose the type of ad you want, craft the message, pretty up your pics, and set your budget. You’re on your way to finding your own segment of the one billion monthly Instagram users.
It’s just that easy
Okay, it’s not really easy. It’s gonna take some research, legwork, commitment and maybe some money. But you don’t need any special training to put these things in place and grow your list of followers. This is stuff you can start right now. So what are you waiting for?
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