How To Grow Your Instagram (The Healthy Way)

Introduction

One of the most popular questions we get is “How Do I Grow my Instagram account to 10,000 followers?” We always like to frame these conversations in a way that educates our clients. The first question we like to ask is, “Why do you want 10,000 followers?” followed by “what does a follower mean to you?” There is a lot of hype around Instagram and having a robust presence on that app. Many companies see it as a form of social proof, which is completely valid. As a social media marketing agency, we always want to guide our clients to search deeper into what a follower actually means.

How to Grow Your Instagram Graphic

Wouldn’t you rather have 1,000 or 200, or any number of followers who exhibit the precise interests and behaviors of your ideal end-consumer, rather than having thousands of followers who might not even be considered a potential customer? Further, having followers for the sake of having a lot of followers is completely missing the point of social media marketing. When your focus is solely on the number, not only are you potentially leaving money (and real customers) on the table, this tactic can have long term adverse effects on the growth of your business from a marketing perspective.


The Problem with Growth Strategies

There are thousands and tens of thousands, and maybe 100’s of thousands of real people on Instagram (heck even millions) who exhibit the precise behaviors and interests of your ideal end-user. This is what we call your “target audience”. Once we understand the avatar of our client’s ideal consumer, and we have narrowed down, as closely as we can, to what we believe their behaviors and interests are, then we can start growing our client’s Instagram presence in a healthy way.

There are countless strategies and tactics out there on the internet that all claim they have the answer and the “magic sauce” to grow your Instagram account. The two major problems with a lot of these tactics are:

Problem #1
They are centered around hope. “If you do these things repeatedly, hopefully, people will start to see your posts.” They are usually solid suggestions on how to post, what to post, what hashtags to use, and the list goes on. However, none of these tactics can actually guarantee that what you are doing is going to give you the mass exposure that you need in order to actually grow your account.

Problem #2
None of these truly take into account what you are actually trying to accomplish, which is finding your potential customers. They are all focused on the surface level vanity metric of the number of followers.

From a digital advertising standpoint, having an Instagram account filled with thousands of people who don’t actually exhibit the behaviors of your desired end-user is extremely harmful to the health of your advertising accounts. Facebook ads operate on an algorithm, and is constantly collecting data, and optimizing on that data. The risk here is that if you were running an advertising campaign, and you had a robust amount of non targeted followers, the Facebook ads machine is going to optimize based on people similar to your followers, sending ads to people who aren’t even interested in your product or service.


The Right Strategy

There is only one strategy that is going to guarantee you mass exposure to a group of people who exhibit the precise interests, behaviors, and demographic of your ideal customer. That strategy is running ads. Instagram has collected a robust amount of data, from interests, behaviors, and demographics, and at the click of a button, you can put yourself directly in front of that group of people, while they are scrolling through their Instagram feed. It is important to understand best practices for Instagram Advertising, however, it should be encouraging to you that you are at least guaranteed exposure to a hyper-targeted audience.

Getting in front of the right people is a vital step to healthily growing your Instagram following, however, there is a difference between having a follower and having a true fan. Your goal, once you have started building your audience, is to turn as many of your followers into super fans, people who consistently engage with you and freely share your content whenever you post something. Not only will this benefit you in the long term with loyal customers, but it will beget more followers. Instagram’s goal is to keep people on their app, so when they see that people are actively engaged and sharing your content, they will reward that strong engagement with more organic reach to similar people, which can quickly turn into a more robust audience, having a snowball effect on the growth of your followers.


It’s All About Them

Above all strategies and tactics included in your organic social media content strategy, what should take precedence over everything is meaningful content. What we mean by this is, your Instagram posts should be explicitly for the edification, entertainment, or education of your followers.

One of the most common mistakes we see small businesses making over and over again is posting content about themselves, rather than about and for their followers. Flooding your feed with sales-y, self-absorbed, greedy content and media, has the exact opposite effect than what you are wanting (sales). Instead, it is turning away people that already love and support your brand, and intimidating those who might be interested. This is because many marketers and business owners consider Instagram to be a mass media outlet, i.e. one-to-many, so they shout from the rooftops – “Me, Me, Me!” Realistically, Instagram is a one to one relationship with the end-user. Think about it, they are sitting on their couch half-watching Netflix when they are scrolling through their feed, not in a stadium at a rock n roll concert.

It's All About Them

Knowing that you are virtually in your audience’s house should inform the type of content that you are posting. Another way to think about it is if you were on a first date. Typically, successful first dates include a lot of asking about the other person, rather than boasting about yourself the entire evening (see customer acquisition journey for 12 stages of intimacy). In general, your social media feed isn’t meant to sell, it is to nourish your current audience with the content that they want and need, and to educate and entertain potential new audiences who are visiting your profile. Building this trust is critically important, as it will impact follower engagement, which impacts follower growth.

Of course, you need to be able to communicate vital information about products, sales, and other revenue making considerations, however, that should carry the smallest percentage of weight in the content you are posting.


Give Them What They Want – Posting Shareable Content

Running Instagram ads will do a lot of the work for you in finding potential customers, however, there are things you can do to capitalize on that growth to further expand your reach of the platform. Not only should your content be audience-centric, and value-driven, it should also be shareable content.

It is known that the end-user is more likely to engage with content that is familiar to them. This type of content usually has the “caught on camera” feel, but more generally, it just seems authentic and non-intrusive. Most importantly, this type of content makes the end-user feel like they are in control, and they are the ones to discover it (as opposed to you discovering them, and them feeling violated). As soon as someone feels they are being sold to, their guard goes up, and it is much harder to engage with them moving forward. Your goal should be to appear on your audience’s feed just as their friends would appear on their feed.

Give them what they want

Examples of Shareable Content:

  • Memes
  • Home Videos
  • Live Videos
  • Quote Blocks

Help Yourself Out – Boosting Posts

A common misconception small business owners have that is ultimately hurting their social media marketing efforts is this: “What I post, my followers will see.” Even if you mastered the above tactics, generating a high engagement rate, you still are not guaranteed complete exposure to your audience.

Instagram (and Facebook) have spent a lot of time and money building a platform that most people in the world use. For a small and glorious period, when these platforms were still developing and collecting data, we DID have nearly complete organic exposure to our audiences, however, those days are long gone. Now that Facebook and Instagram have provided us with proof that our audiences are indeed on these platforms, Facebook and Instagram, of course, are going to ask us to pay to get in front of said audiences.

One way to give your posts a small catalyst to encourage engagement and trigger algorithms is to boost the post to your current audience. Just like an ad, this will guarantee that your post is placed in front of a specified audience. There currently isn’t an option to send directly to followers, however, we can build audiences based on the data Instagram is continually collecting, including interactions with our Instagram business pages. For example, we can build an audience that includes those who have interacted with a post or an in the last 30 days, and boost a post directly to those users.


Other Considerations:

As we mentioned before, the amount of Instagram growth hacks that live on the internet can be quite overwhelming. It isn’t that they are necessarily wrong, however. Some of the tips and tricks you find on YouTube or other information platforms are quite useful.

Hashtags
These do serve an important purpose. Once you have found the type of posts that get quality engagement on their own, with the correct hashtags, these posts might be placed in front of a broad range of users across the globe who are following those hashtags. The important part is the quality of the hashtag and the organic engagement of the post. A hashtag on its own will not get you exposure. It would just get lost in a sea of thousands and thousands of posts with that tag on it. However, if your post performs well early on, Instagram will move your post further up on the hashtag page, giving you free exposure to a wide range of users.

Hashtags

In general, use 1-5 large hashtags (1million+), 15-20 midsized hashtags (100K-1M), and 1-5 small hashtags (50K-100K). Your goal is to rank as high as you can on each hashtag. Knowing that the hashtags should be well researched and aligned with your industry. Otherwise, you will be in front of potentially millions of people who aren’t interested in being a customer.

Utilize all of Instagram’s Features
If Instagram sees that you are using all of their features, they will reward you with more exposure. For example, using features like IGTV, or posting the full amount of pictures (10) into a carousel, Instagram will prioritize that content.

Mine and Grind
Identifying hashtags or complimentary accounts, and interacting with the users that follow those accounts is another way to get yourself in front of potential customers. It is important to be authentic and real when doing this, for two reasons: 1) The end-user will easily sniff out a brand just looking for followers, and immediately lose trust. 2) If you post two many one-word phrases or emojis, you may get flagged as spam, which can have adverse effects on your account.


What Not To Do

The one tactic that we strongly advise to avoid is the “follow unfollow tactic”. There are multiple reasons, all of which end in hurting your account one way or another. Firstly, and most importantly, it is dishonest. Following people just so they will follow you, and then unfollowing them shows that all you care about is the number of followers you have (even if that isn’t your intention). As we have discussed, building trust is a priority, and this does the opposite.

Additionally, Instagram will flag your account as spam, and ghost ban you or worse delete your account. Ghost banning will dramatically hurt your organic reach.


Conclusion

Is it necessary to have a big Instagram account? No. With the option to run ads directly to the end consumer, we don’t necessarily need to build a robust Instagram account. However, growing your Instagram account utilizing healthy tactics will benefit you in the long run with more engaged and trusting customers. People want to feel involved in the brands that they love, and most people do that through apps like Instagram.