You’ve finished your digital marketing strategy, filled with tons of great ideas for your Instagram page. You have beautiful templates and an exciting brand voice, and you’re ready to share your business. There’s just one problem: your only followers are yourself, your team, and your mother.
Building your following is a vital part of establishing yourself on Instagram. Many people take your follower count as a sign of a brand worth noticing, and they may not even follow an account with a small following. This vicious cycle can be discouraging if you know you have great content to share.
So, how can you get your own devoted tribe of Instagram followers? It’s not as easy as making excellent posts — and yet it’s simpler than you might think. Here’s what to know.
How Instagram Helps Businesses Grow
Instagram is a social media platform that’s highly visual yet also rewards lengthy captions and engaging stories. Its robust set of features allow businesses to develop a versatile content strategy. From polls and question features to auto-play videos and carousel posts, the possibilities are endless, making Instagram an excellent option for businesses that want to build a strong brand.
While Instagram has a reputation for being young people’s platform, the truth is that millennials are now approaching their 40s, and plenty of older generations use it as well. Instagram’s diversity of content makes it appealing to people of all walks of life. In other words, whoever your target audience is, you can probably find them on Instagram.
There are more than 1 billion Instagram users around the world, and many of them are businesses. That means you have a broad audience pool, but you’re also competing with many, many other users for attention. The first hard truth to learn about Instagram is that you can’t cast a wide net. It’s simply too hard to cut through the noise. A creative marketing strategy combined with the right following techniques can help your business acquire followers who actively engage with your brand. Once you have this base, you can build their trust in your business — and prime them to make a purchase.
Insights Into The Instagram Algorithm
Nobody besides Instagram knows the exact details of the Instagram algorithm. After all, if we did, we could easily hack the system. That said, we can look at successful accounts to figure out what helps accounts gain followers.
Social media moves fast, and few platforms are faster than Instagram. Posts are dominated by a primary visual element, i.e., a photo, graphic, or video, and accompanied by a caption. On Instagram’s discover tab, these visuals appear in a grid, and users can also scroll through them. Every user has a custom feed that Instagram builds from accounts and hashtags they follow, as well as ads and sponsored content. This means that users are constantly encouraged to scroll, viewing dozens of posts in mere minutes. The more you post engaging content, the more likely you will appear at the top of the feed. So, you should post every day and on a regular schedule.
Diverse Content and Hashtags
Recently, Instagram has been cracking down on spam content. If you post too often or use the same content from multiple accounts or across multiple posts, you could be triggering the spam filter. Instagram has been known to “shadowban” accounts that it deems spammy. Many popular hashtags can cause your account to be shadowbanned simply because so many spammers use those tags. That’s why it’s crucial to carefully research your hashtags and avoid using the same or even similar captions and hashtags from post to post.
As we’ll discuss in further detail, you can’t just post and run. Instagram is a social network: the key word being “social.” To provide you with recommended content, Instagram tracks your activity, including your likes and comments on other posts. There is also evidence that they prioritize your content in your followers’ feeds based on your engagement levels. So, you could post great content and have thousands of followers, yet still not be seen by your target audience. (Plus, people will unfollow your account if they don’t get any love from you.)
Once you’ve incorporated these basic requirements into your Instagram marketing strategy, it’s time to start recruiting followers. It all starts with optimizing your profile.
Why Your Instagram Bio Is Important
Let’s approach the problem from the perspective of an average user. When you’re browsing Instagram, you see posts in one of three ways:
- You’re scrolling a stream comprising posts from accounts you already follow.
- You search for content by entering a hashtag, location, or keyword.
- You hop over to the Discover tab to see content recommended by Instagram based on your interests.
The last two types of content consumption are where you’ll encounter new accounts to follow. When you see a post you like, you may “heart” it, comment, or share it, and you probably head to the poster’s bio to see what they’re all about. That’s where most follows originate.
With this in mind, let’s flip the script and look at following behavior from a business’s perspective. If you want to gain followers, you need to reach people via the Discover tab and hashtags. That at least gets your posts in front of them. But the real magic happens on your bio. That’s where people decide whether or not to follow you.
A strong bio communicates your brand in a nutshell and tells users what they can expect to see. Generic descriptions of your business do you no favors. Your Instagram bio is the place to get creative. Draft some witty copy that gets people excited, and include a compelling, specific call-to-action to follow you, e.g., “Follow us for tips on making your own delicious homebrews!” Plus, there’s evidence that Instagram scans your bio for keywords to show your content to a relevant audience. Take some time to craft a bio that (1) is relatable and engaging, (2) naturally uses relevant keywords, and (3) gives visitors a can’t-refuse reason to follow you.
Gaining followers is crucial to your success on Instagram. But like any social network, you get out what you put in. You can’t just wait on people to follow you. If you follow them, you’ll put your name in people’s notifications. That’s an essential first step toward building your community. There are three main following strategies.
This strategy is usually coordinated outside the platform. The idea is that you connect with fellow business owners and offer a follow-for-a-follow. Whenever someone in the group follows you, you promise to follow back, and vice versa. Assuming that you deliver on your promise, you’ll gain a bunch of new followers. The problem with this tactic is that you’re not necessarily reaching people who care about your content, and your feed might get filled with content that doesn’t interest you. However, if you just need to get the ball rolling to boost your Instagram profile, this strategy can be beneficial.
Follow Relevant Accounts
Many people instantly follow back anyone who follows them, so if you can identify your target customers on Instagram, try following their accounts. If nothing else, you’ll appear in their notifications, which encourages them to check out your bio. This approach is generally considered the best way to gain engaged followers. That said, there are some pitfalls. If you follow your target customers and never engage with their content, you’ll come off as insincere. And if you follow people who have zero interest in your business, you might appear spammy. Do your research before identifying relevant accounts to follow.
Follow The Leader
By following popular accounts in your industry (not necessarily your competitors, but someone else in your vertical or someone serving a different demographic), you can glean valuable insights into what works well in that field. Let’s say that you’re a home repair business. You should definitely follow accounts such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc., and engage with their content. You’re unlikely to get a follow back, but you’ll appear more visible to your target audience.
Follow Related Accounts
No business operates in a vacuum. Your target audience will always have other problems, interests, and needs, and you can reach them by engaging with them outside your industry. So if you’d like to gain followers for your home repair business, try following Instagram accounts for gardening businesses, DIY tutorials, homemaking guides, etc. You can tap into their pool of followers to reach people in “home improvement” mode. Just leave comments on their posts, like other people’s comments, and follow target customers from those pages.
Follow – Unfollow
If you’re desperate to gain followers quickly, you might deploy this controversial strategy. Typically used with bots or apps, this strategy entails mass following hundreds or even thousands of accounts, then unfollowing them as soon as they follow back. While this used to be a way to get quick results, it’s risky for a couple of reasons. First, Instagram does NOT like it when accounts use third-party services to inflate their numbers artificially. Second, if you unfollow someone, you’re communicating that you only care about boosting your follower count — not exactly a reasonable basis for building a community around your brand. Sadly, there’s no quick fix to grow your followers. It takes time.
A quick note: Never, ever, ever buy followers. Not only does Instagram identify fake followers and take swift action against offending accounts, but you’re wasting money on followers who are usually not even real people — and therefore unable to engage with your brand or buy from you.
How to Create Content That Attracts Instagram Followers
Once you’ve got people to look at your bio, you’re on the home stretch. But you also need to “walk the talk.” People will look at your past content to see if you’re worth following. If your posts are nothing but sales pitches, you won’t appeal to most consumers. No one wants yet more ads in their feed. Instagram is well known for its entertaining videos, beautiful photos, how-to tips, and behind-the-scenes content. Those topics should guide your posting strategy. Once you lure in new followers with valuable content, you can gradually roll out promotional content. Try to limit it to one post per 4-5 pieces of non-promotional content.
Compelling content isn’t enough, though. You also must build trust with your audience. If potential followers look at your past feed and see inconsistent, confusing posts, they’ll likely turn the other way. Humans are wired to appreciate routine and predictability. When you put the “social” in social media, you start to think of it as a relationship. If you’re dating someone and their behavior changes wildly from day to day, you’re going to break up pretty soon. But if you like what you see initially and then continue to have a positive, consistent experience with them, that’s a relationship with long-term potential.
Of course, good relationships aren’t just one-sided. So once you have your followers, treat them well. Browse your feed regularly and comment on other people’s posts. If you see that someone is following you, give them extra attention. By the same token, if you’re following someone and they never engage with your content, feel free to unfollow them. You want to curate your feed to show you the most relevant posts from people who appreciate your brand. Many Instagram marketers call this a “tribe,” and it’s a critical component of Instagram success.
Gaining Instagram followers can be a daunting task, but it comes down to forming good Instagram habits. If you show up once in a blue moon, post confusing or sales-y content, and fail to follow relevant accounts, you won’t have much success on Instagram. On the flip side, if you engage with your growing community every day, provide valuable entertainment to your audience, and use authentic engagement strategies, you can quickly grow your following. After all, there are millions of people from which you can build your tribe. It just takes consistency, cleverness, and a little bit of patience.
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