Amanda and I have grown our @van.project Instagram account, which we started roughly eight months ago, to a respectable 13k followers. We’re still ‘babies’ in terms of potential long-term growth but we’re definitely off to a good start. In this article, we’ll share some social media strategies that helped us get past the daunting 10k hump.
Why do you use Instagram?
There is no way around it, Instagram is a marketing platform. It started off as a way to share moments from our day to day lives (we still use it that way too). But now, in addition to your awkward family members accounts, Instagram is full of businesses, and advertising, all managed by teams of people working to get you to convert.
Converting means acting on something: entering a contest, signing up for a newsletter, clicking a link to a website, these are all examples of actions you might be enticed to do.
I’m asking why you use Instagram because growing past a 10k follower base is not easy. If you’re not a celebrity and want your account to grow, you’re going to need to employ strategic decisions every time you post.
For me, Instagram is a great way to share my photography with people who appreciate visual storytelling. Instagram is also a great tool for Amanda and I to communicate with people living similar lifestyles to us. Finally, we use Instagram as a source for website traffic – we let our followers know when we post new articles (like this one!) and if they are interested in the content they can visit our site.
Instagram Growth Strategy: 4 tactics to use right now!
Ok, so you’ve decided that one of your main goals is to grow your followership. We’ve used the following five tactics to grow our account and we think they’ll work for you too.
1. Pick A Niche & Develop Your Aesthetic
This is often the first place that people wanting to grow their accounts face a challenge. It can be fun to post anything but your Instagram account stands a much better chance of growing larger if your content is specific. The specific topic that you choose is your niche.
Amanda and I chose to focus on ‘vanlife’, which includes but is not limited to images of us traveling, adventuring outdoors, and of course our 1964 Clark Cortez RV.
I’ve also developed an aesthetic or ‘look’ for our photos. I edit our photos so our collection is visually consistent.
Keep in mind that you can have more than one Instagram account! If you’re wanting to post outside the niche/aesthetic of the account you are trying to grow, consider starting a separate, ‘anything goes’ account where you allow yourself to post whatever you want. This practice will make it easier for you to stay focused regarding your branded content account.
Master your Instagram niche:
- Research – find other accounts in your niche. See what they are posting and take note of which ones are successful + growing.
- Develop a recognizable aesthetic (don’t be afraid to do something different!) and be consistent when editing your photos.
- You don’t need Photoshop or Lightroom, the native editing tools in Instagram are sufficient for developing an aesthetic – learn how to use them.
- Know your audience – find posts on successful accounts within your niche and see how their fans are interacting with them – let this guide your actions.
2. Be Consistent
If you only adhere to only ONE strategy to grow your Instagram followership, it should be to stay consistent.
Just as you stick to your chosen niche, you should also practice consistency with your Instagram activity.
- Instagram provides you with follower metrics (if you choose a business account). Use this information to your advantage & post consistently at the peak time for your users.
- Be consistent with your post copy. Choose whether your posts will generally be lengthy or short.
- Don’t play favorites, respond consistently to your ALL of your followers when they comment.
3. Interact With Your Followers
I mentioned it when I discussed consistency & it’s one of our favorite things that makes Instagram great: interacting with your followers – your community.
Since you’re providing unique content in your chosen niche, naturally you’ll attract people who are interested in this niche. They may post questions – answer them. They may just leave a comment saying how much they love your post – thank them!
It’s 2017 and just like internet dating, making friends online has also become socially acceptable! Communicating with our followers has led to some really fun meet-ups, interactions, and even just saying quick hellos in passing.
Communicating Effectively on Instagram
- Make sure to hit the ‘reply’ icon when responding to a comment – this will automatically populate the users name into the response so that they get a notification of your reply.
- Keep things positive.
- Do your best to respond to comments in a timely manner.
- Take time each day to give your followers some love – like and comment on some of their photos. You have to give love to get love.
- Use DMs (direct messages) for longer conversation.
- Asking a question in your posts can generate comments (this seems to be audience dependent – expect varied results).
4. Use #Hashtags Properly
Instagram users frequently use hashtags improperly. The purpose of adding hashtags to your posts it to help them show up in searches, however it’s not guaranteed.
What a lot of Instagram users don’t understand is that hashtags will only help your posts if you choose the correct hashtags – and by ‘correct’ I’m referring to hashtags with the right number of uses relative to your account size.
For example, let’s say I want to post an image of our RV. My first thought might be to use the hashtag ‘#vanlife’ for this post. However, upon searching the #vanlife hashtag, we can see that it has over 1.5 million uses.
Let’s say that we did choose to use the #vanlife hashtag on our post. Our post would show up in search – but most likely only VERY BRIEFLY before being surpassed by every other post that people add the #vanlife hashtag to.
Because this hashtag gets used a lot, our post won’t be very visible. A much better choice for us would be the #vanlifestyle hashtag which has a more modest number of uses (37k).
Let’s take a step back for a second to look at hashtag use numbers as a function of your total number of followers.
** The Instagram Hashtag Algorithm **
You may have heard people talk about how they (Instagram or any other website) changed their algorithm again. Algorithm refers to a mathematical equation that controls the outcome of certain website functions.
Regarding hashtags, the Instagram algorithm *appears* to affect how likely your post is to make it into the ‘Top Posts’ section for any given hashtag.
What is the ‘Top Posts’ section? You’ll find this section at the very top of the search results page for any hashtag search (see below).
Here you can see the search results for the hashtag ‘#adventureoften’. Right in the middle of the ‘top posts’ section is our post – a picture of our friend holding up a nice portable speaker.
Below the top posts section you’ll see the ‘most recent’ posts which is a chronological list of posts that used the hashtag #adventureoften. On the bottom right you can see the total number of uses for the hashtag.
For your posts to end up in the ‘top posts’ section they will need to get higher levels of engagement (likes & comments) relative to other posts that used the same hashtag.
Here is where you need to pay close attention – your engagement is relative to the number of followers you have and you should pick hashtags accordingly. If you have 1,000 followers you wont be able to compete for a spot in ‘top posts’ using hashtags with millions of uses.
If you can’t compete on engagement you won’t be able to make it to or stay in the top posts section.
Making it into ‘top posts’ is important because anyone who searches a hashtag will see your posts first if it’s in ‘top posts’, even if they aren’t following your account.
The longer your posts remain in ‘top posts’ the more engagement they will likely receive. Make sense?
Steps to get your posts into the ‘Top Posts’ section
- Begin by researching hashtags before you post. See what aesthetic is working for a particular hashtag – will your post fit this aesthetic? If not consider a different hashtag.
- Next, look at how many uses a desired hashtag has – take note of this number.
- Once you post you should monitor the hashtag(s) you used.
- Confirm that your post showed up for the hashtag you used by finding your posts in the chronological list below the ‘top posts’ section.
- Check back frequently to see if your post makes it into the ‘top posts’ section.
- If you don’t succeed in getting into the ‘top posts’ section try a hashtag with fewer uses next time you post.
- Repeat the steps above until you get into ‘top posts’. ***once you get a post into ‘top posts’ take note of how many uses that particular hashtag has. Let this number guide you for future posts***
It sounds confusing but the longer you practice, the easier it will get. I know that I can generally hit ‘top posts’ for hashtags that have between 15k and 300k uses. You’ll have to experiment to figure out where your sweet spot is.
Reaching the top posts section of a less-used hashtag is a far more effective strategy for account growth than using hashtags with lots of uses but not appearing in the top posts section.
Remember, growing your account is all about engagement with your followers and having your posts be visible to non-followers so that they may follow you (if they like what you are posting).
A Couple Best Practices for hashtagging
- You can use up to 30 hashtags on any given post – use 30 every time.
- Don’t put hashtags in your post text, instead make the first comment on your post and put the hashtags there – this keeps things a little more visually appealing for your followers.
Instagram can seem confusing at first and success generally doesn’t come overnight (at least for us normal people). You’ll have to put in consistent effort on a longer time frame to grow your account to big numbers. Amanda & I managed to go from 0 to 10k followers in about 6 months.
If you have any input or feedback on the techniques I outlined above I’d love to hear from you! What other techniques have you found successful that I missed? Leave a comment below. If you find success with my methods above let me know! Good luck!