You can’t do much on Instagram without a following. You can run ads constantly. This will drive some traffic to your website. But without a social media presence to support it, you’ll end up spending a lot more acquiring new customers than you should.
It’s not easy getting followers. That’s why many turn to buying them. They want a captive audience they can market to. They want it quick. But once you learn how to grow Instagram followers organically, you find out the difference between a paid follower and a real one. It all has to do with the end-product, actual customer value.
Let’s explore how to grow Instagram followers organically to actually get those results with Instagram.
1. Focus on Quality (Followers)
Why do people buy followers? A teenager with some money might buy them to appear more popular. They don’t know how to grow Instagram followers organically. But they want to reap the perceived rewards of popularity. Businesses buy followers for much the same reason even though the end goal is likely different.
They understand that having a lot of followers can actually attract more followers because you look “popular”. People turn to follower buying when they don’t know how to grow Instagram followers organically. Or they don’t try.
Buying some initial followers may make sense in the moment. But does it really?
It feels like you’re “buying” an audience of people who may appreciate your work. But is this really what you’re getting?
The social media software company Hootsuite decided to put this theory to the test. They wanted to know for themselves. What’s the difference between a “bought” follower and an organic follower?
What They Did
First of all, they created a dummy account. They needed to look at this the way many businesses do. You’re growing a following from scratch. They needed to mimic that. Having their well-respected name attached to it would flaw the study.
They then explored the options. They found sites selling 100 followers for as little as $3. But other sites were selling followers for as much as $1,000. For their test, they decided to buy a package somewhere in the middle to make sure they weren’t just getting a bargain bin product because they paid a bargain bin price.
The company portrayed itself as reputable with reviews for what appeared to be actual customers. It promised “quality followers”.
After 2 hours, they had 400 followers. That’s enough followers to get some action on a post. They decided to post something to see what would happen. In Instagram terms, the post was something that would normally be very likely to get some double-taps and comments.
No response. But maybe it was just too early.
They waited 24 hours and now had 1,000 followers. Still nothing. They waited a month and continued to post. Not a single double-tap.
So who were these 1,000 followers? Who has actually “chosen” to be sold as a follower?
Browsing through the accounts, they found what appeared to be:
- Very old, inactive accounts
- Adult content accounts
- Accounts belonging to silly teenagers taking selfies
- Accounts that had never been active in the first place (no posts)
In other words, these were very likely not real people at all.
This experiment isn’t isolated. They didn’t just happen to choose a bad service. This happens again and again. You can increase that price tag. You can try one of the seemingly harmless side strategies like automating following and liking to get followers.
It doesn’t make a difference.
Bought followers aren’t engaged followers. They’re not your target customers. In most cases, they’re not real people.
Hootsuite had one more thing to test before the test was done. Would having 1,000 followers help them gain traction on Instagram to attract real followers? They left the account up and continued to post.
The follower counts remained at or under 1,000 followers the whole time. In fact, it appeared that the fake followers were somehow scaring away real ones. How could that be?
Most people can tell if an account has purchased followers. There are even tools now that spot accounts that buy followers using an algorithm that analyzes following accounts. There are some tale-tell signs. Yes, it does scare people away.
What doesn’t scare people away is using Instagram how it’s supposed to be used by learning how to grow Instagram followers organically.
That’s what this article is all about.
2. Focus on Quality (Posts)
Instagram is a beautiful virtual world. People are very visual creatures. They appreciate visuals that provoke an emotion or tell a story. They spend time here to learn about various lifestyles and products. They want to be inspired by what they see.
People don’t come to Instagram to read lengthy image or product descriptions. They rarely get into deep conversations. They don’t typically follow accounts that post low-quality snapshots or selfies. They like images that transport them.
Put Images First
Instagram isn’t the place where you want to say something. Then you find an image to complement it. The image is the message. Start with a high resolution image that communicates a message.
There’s a reason YouTube and Instagram are 2 of the top 3 social media platforms. People love visual. Giving people what they want out of these platforms is how to grow Instagram followers organically.
Make it Stand Out
Images that just blend into a newsfeed will be scrolled by even if they appreciate your brand. Use bold colors, images and contrasts to get noticed.
Choose a Theme
Grams that adhere to a single color theme or pattern get the most attention. As a person is scrolling through their feed, they recognize your posts instantly because of the theme.
From a branding perspective, this is a goldmine.
Each time they see a post from you, they instantly think of your brand. This creates a repetition that keeps you top of mind when they need your product or service. That’s the primary psychology behind branding and Instagram itself.
There’s a lot of negativity on social media. People come to Instagram to escape all that. This isn’t the place to call out competitors or go into in-depth conversations. Grams should bring about positive feelings through visuals.
How about a funny throwback picture of you wrestling with your son who you now run a business with? Depending on your branding this is a great way to keep things light.
Tell a Story
Keep them engaged with stories. Tell stories with visuals. Or create storytelling video that helps them with their day like this one about dealing with toxic people.
Figuring out how to grow Instagram followers organically isn’t so hard. Just be yourself.
Use Editing Tools
Yes, Kim Kardashian does get some flack for photoshopping every selfie she posts. But despite the seeming hate people feel for modified images, they love them in droves.
Keep it simple. You don’t want to appear inauthentic or overproduced. Don’t make products look different than they do in real life. But do use filters and editing tools to bring out the best in your images. Make colors pop. Enhance the lighting. Give the image a warm or cool feel based on your branding.
3. Consistently Post
Want to know how to grow Instagram followers organically? Be present. Be there every single day. That’s a tough one for many businesses. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. Some days are worse than others. Some weeks you might realize you haven’t posted anything for 5 days.
This is where getting dedicated support from a professional gives you more time to focus on running your business.
Plan your posts out around themes. Post at least once a day to keep people engaged. That’s the bare minimum.
Instagram has the most active followers of any platform. People see. They double-tap. They do it day after day. Hour after hour.
A single post may really make you stand out. But it’s the accounts that stay consistent that get results. On top of appearing consistent to followers, Instagram is judging you as well.
They promote accounts that are consistent and have good engagement on the Explore page. They realize that these are the kinds of account people want to find and follow.
4. Post on a Schedule
Like so many social media platforms, timing matters. People are more likely to see your posts if they appear while they’re browsing Instagram. What time this is depends on your audience.
Busy professions may be most likely to check Instagram on their lunch breaks. If your target tends to commute via train, you may want to catch those peak commuter hours.
For a restaurant, you’ll want to post during lunch and a few hours before dinner service to catch people who are deciding where to eat.
Post each day at the time you think will be best. Test 2-3 different times to find the best time or times to post.
5. Know Who “They” Are
Knowing when and what to post is essential to figuring out how to grow Instagram followers organically for your unique business.
There are now over 25 million businesses on Instagram. This number doubled in 2018. Trying to appeal to everyone will have you attracting no one. But getting clear on who you want to attract will help you create images and videos that your specific kind of customer appreciates.
Do some research. Learn as much as you can about your target. Write 2 or more written personas to build your content around them.
6. Run Tests & Learn
An Instagram strategy is never set in stone. Yes, you should develop a strategy to provide a consistent experience. But if you’re paying close attention, you’ll continually learn how to do it better.
You make note of what times get the most engagement. You’ll see which posts lead to the most clicks back to your website. You’ll start to make clear connections between posts and revenues.
An unoptimized social media account will include a lot of waste both in time and money. But investing some time to do the research and running the tests cut the waste to maximize your return on investment.
This is one area where having a dedicated account manager is so important. Managing Instagram isn’t a something you can do just half-way. It takes commitment to growing a following and getting lasting business results.
7. Be Social
Instagram isn’t a place for long conversations. Most businesses are happy about that. But it is important to be social with others. When people comment on a post, they’re looking to interact with you. This is exactly what you want. Interact back or this person goes elsewhere.
If they say something simple like “Beautiful”, a simple “thank you” will suffice. But if they do take time to share their feelings or experience, be ready to provide a more engaging response.
Treat it like a lukewarm lead. They’re perhaps not quite a viable warm lead. But with some nurturing, they’ll make that transition.
Leave them hanging. And that lead goes cold.
8. Have a Comprehensive Hashtag Strategy
Be honest. When you post something on social media how much time do you spend considering the hashtags to add? Have you ever just made up a hashtag that doesn’t exist on the spot?
If so, you may be missing the point of hashtags. Hashtags are hugely important to knowing how to grow Instagram followers organically and building your strategy. They’re not something to just tack on as an afterthought.
Learn the types of hashtags and how people use hashtags to find content on Instagram.
Social Media Filing System
That’s what hashtags are. They are like file folders on your computer. If you’re looking for your tax returns from last year on your computer, you probably search for your “taxes” folder. If you’re really organized, you likely have it broken down by year so that all of the documents and receipts for that year are in one place.
People use hashtags to find things. But on social media, a piece of content might fall into several very relevant categories. Putting it into each category “folder” helps people looking that “folder” find your posts.
This is how people who are not already your followers find your content. This is one of the primary direct methods to get more followers.
Types of Hashtags
There are several types of hashtags you need to know about. Each one serves a specific purpose. Researching the best ones in each type helps you reach the most potential customers with each post.
- Industry Tags — this is a high-level tag. You need high-level tags to reach people who are unsure about a specific brand, service or product to search for. #Realestate, #Restaurant, #Blogger, #Digitalmarketing are all examples of industry tags.
- Niche Tags — Some people know precisely what they’re looking for. For this group of people, you add niche tags like #Indianfood, #Luxuryhomes, #Wellnessblogger #HighendFurniture
- Branded Tags — A branded tag may be your actual company name. It may be a brand of a product or equipment related to a service you provide. It may be a tag you’ve created for a contest, event or other branded term. This term should always be well researched to ensure you know if and how it’s being used to avoid an embarrassing hashtag faux pas.
- Community Tags — People want to feel a part of something. What communities do your target customers belong to? Build posts around these communities. How about a non-profit community, e.g., #ScoutsofAmerica, #BigBrothers. A business is also a community. If your post is related to a specific business or job role add a community hashtag like #NorthsideHospitalAtlanta, #Girlboss. Sports fan hashtags could also fall into the community category, e.g. #GoHawks. If you have built your own community on Instagram, create a community tag for it.
- Location Tags — A location may be a whole metro area. Or it could be a neighborhood. #AtlantaRestaurants
- Event Tags — Did you host an event? Create a hashtag for it. Did you attend an event, find out what the official hashtag is and use it. Is the post highly relevant to a certain event? Then it’s okay to use the tag there as well. But be selective to avoid appearing to spam. #EarthDay2019
- Event Type Tags — #WeddingDay #BirthdayIdeas, #EngagementSeason, etc.
Unlike Twitter, where too many tags is seen as tag-spamming, on Instagram, it’s seen as helpful (to an extent). So don’t be afraid to use a handful of tags in the various categories.
PreviewApp, a hashtag analytics company, shared the categories in this helpful chart.
Just like keywords when doing SEO for your website, hashtags have difficulties.
If a hashtag has over 1,000 posts associated with it, it’s a difficult tag. If it has a couple hundred, it’s low difficulty. When someone searches for a high difficulty hashtag, your post will likely be buried. But if it’s low difficulty, you’re more likely to appear near the top.
People can see and find your posts on easy hashtags. These will be more niche tags.
So why bother with the difficult ones? Because as you gain traction with the low difficulty hashtags, you shoot up the ranks in the more difficult ones. But this only happens if you include a good mix of both.
9. Run Contests
Entertainment is one of the top 3 reasons that people are on social media. This is no different for Instagram. Part of being social on social media is interacting with people in a fun way. And running a contest is one of the best ways to do this.
Contests on social media serve several purposes:
- Engage your existing followers. If those are real, quality followers and you’ve built a contest with them in mind, you’ll see amazing participation.
- Reach new people who follow your followers. People tend to be followed by people who have similar interests and values. In other words, they’re likely to be target customers. Instagram contests encourage people to share pictures that somehow relate to your brand so the followers of your followers see them as well.
- Start a chain reaction. The followers of your followers will want to participate too. This means their followers also see your brand and contest. The chain can go on and on. When you run a contest, you can let people vote on the winners. This means that someone who wants to win will actively share their entry with friends and family to try to win.
- Reach people looking for certain hashtags. Another way that the contest may reach people is through the hashtags so be sure to think out that hashtag strategy.
- Get many, many new followers. If they see that you run fun contests, they want to know when the next one is by following you directly.
- Get new customers. When you have a strategy to effective convert Instagram followers into paying customers, you’ll see direct revenue generation from contests.
How to set up an Instagram Contest
- Choose a prize. The prize should ideally be something uniquely valuable to your following. The more uniquely valuable the more targeted the contest will be.
- Write out the rules. The simplest contests are often the easiest. Ask people to take a picture of something related to your brand and tag it with a hashtag.
- Create a compelling design. You have to get their attention first. Use a design that aligns with your Instagram visual brand but also stands out.
- Track your performance. Learn from past contest to continually improve.
Here’s a great example of an Instagram contest for a hair salon. They got an overwhelming response. It’s easy to see why.
What do you find works so well with this contest? Here’s what we found.
- The prize is enough to get excited about. You might have trouble giving away a $500 service. But when a contest is well done, this will pay for itself many times over. This salon understands that. Some audiences may get excited about $100. For some, it may need to be $1,000. Consider your audience.
- The prize is targeted. It’s a hairstyle and makeover. This appeals to mostly women who want a new hairstyle and professional makeup. And since 64% of Instagram users are between 18-34, they’re naturally targeting Millennial women and older Generation Z.
- The design is attention grabbing. It adheres to a clear color scheme with bold colors.
- The images tell a story. The woman shows off her new hairstyle and then moves her head to reveal her makeup.
- The contest is fun. They’re asked to photograph themselves enjoying the summertime.
Just look at those happy faces. Although one appears to be showing that she’s not having fun because she needs a makeover. That’s one strategy to use for a contest like this.
10. Reward Your Followers
Give people a reason to follow. Post tips and hacks they’ll really appreciate in images and videos. Inform them about limited time offers to exclusive content on your website.
Sometimes a simple “thank you” is a reward. Share a lovely image and express your thanks to top interactors and fans.
Showing appreciation when you can while engaging followers is how to grow Instagram followers organically because they’ll want to share your posts with others.
11. Get People Back to Your Website
This article is about how to grow Instagram followers organically. So how does your website fit in?
You can think of Instagram like a party where you meet people. You interact with them. Yes, you do get to know them to a certain extent. But if you really want to get to know a person, if you really want them to get to know you, you ask them out for coffee or lunch.
Your website is a space where you have more control over the experience and the conversation. Getting them back to your website allows you to build a stronger connection to your brand.
You can’t include links in your posts. This is one of the ways Instagram has kept a lot of the spam off its site that other social media platforms deal with. You can, however, add a link to your profile that will likely never get clicked unless you ask people to click it.
Create a customized Instagram landing page on your website. Add that link rather than simply linking to your home page. Put a call to action (CTA) in your posts. Incentivize people to click that link.
Try to avoid seeming openly salesy with it. But make clicking the link have value to the person. Test different CTAs and landing pages to see what works best to both get people to click your link and get them to take a desired action once they do.
This action might be to:
- Download a free app
- Enter for a chance to win a contest off Instagram
- Get a free eBook or report
Gather their email in exchange. Then you can nurture them through email marketing. That’s how you convert a fan into a paying customer.
Here’s another great example of a post getting the follower back to the website.
12. Integrate Other Channels
Instagram is a great way to reach people through social media. But the best digital marketing strategies are comprehensive. Don’t spread yourself too thin by trying to be on every social media platform.
But do branch out to strengthen your following on Instagram and the other channels. Here are just some of the ways you can intertwine your Instagram with other platforms.
- Become a guest author on a popular site to reach new fans. Add your Instagram handle to the bio.
- Submit a press release for something notable going on in your company
- Add your Instagram hashtags to your posts on other platforms
- In your email campaigns, invite people to follow you on Instagram
- Create a dynamic SEO website where you can lead your Instagram fans into a great website user experience
- Run Facebook and Instagram ads for your Instagram contests
That’s how to grow Instagram followers organically.
How to Grow Instagram Followers Organically
This is how to grow Instagram followers organically. Focus on quality. Post consistently. Have a clear hashtag strategy. Run contests. Be social. Have a strong digital marketing strategy.
Does it feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to apply these strategies and figure out how to grow Instagram followers organically? See the difference when you work with a dedicated account manager who can help you grow your following and leverage that following to grow your business. Contact us today for a consultation.