If you’re looking for the “new Facebook,” look no further than Instagram. After displaying year-over-year growth of more than 900% two years in a row – booming from a million active users to more than 100 million active users, according to a compilation of Instagram statistics by TOTEMS – Instagram was actually bought out by Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion. And then it kept growing. As of December 2014, the social network has more than 200 million active users, with 20 billion photos shared – averaging roughly 60 million photos per day. That’s a lot of sharing.
The concept of Instagram is simple: Users post images taken in everyday life directly to the platform, using captions and hashtags to connect and share with other users. And while the reasons for growing an Instagram account are varied – some people want to make a living by selling photography, while others simply want an easy way to share their lives with friends – it’s easy to get lost in the sheer volume of photos that get uploaded to the network.
Tips to Grow Your Instagram Following
Whether you hope to become the next big Instagram star, or you simply want to develop a stronger social network with family and friends, use these tips to grow your Instagram following.
1. Share Interesting, Relevant, and Beautiful Images
If you scroll through your Instagram feed, you’ll probably notice a trend of similar images – maybe it’s food, or family photos, or yoga posts. Take a moment to really look at them and note which ones you’re drawn to and which ones you find yourself scrolling past. Then ask yourself, “Why?”
Chances are, the ones you’re drawn to tell a story. They’re probably clear and simple, and offer something that’s just a bit different than the basic picture of a hand holding a Starbucks cup.
Take High-Quality Pictures
First and foremost, it’s important for your photos to be high quality. This means taking a moment to think about setting, lighting, and background before snapping a shot.
For instance, if you’re in a dark restaurant at lunch, try to use natural light from a window to get a snap of your food, or wait until you’re outside to take a pic with friends. Likewise, if you’re taking a picture at home, peek over your shoulder to see what’s behind you before taking the shot – you don’t want an overflowing laundry basket to add clutter to your photo.
It may also mean foregoing your smartphone camera altogether and opting instead for a standalone digital camera. For instance, my smartphone takes excellent photos when I’m outside in natural light, but there’s something wrong with my phone’s camera when I take pictures inside – the lens gives all my photos a purple tint that I can’t edit out. If I want to take a photo inside, I snap the pic with my DSLR camera, email it to myself, then upload it to Instagram from my phone. It’s a three-step process, which can be annoying, but it ensures high-quality images every time.
Keep Pics Relevant
Before you post a picture, think about who you’re trying to reach. Who is your community? If you’re trying to grow a personal brand as a frugal shopper, you want to gain a following with other frugal shoppers, or with those who wish to become a frugal shopper. As such, you may not want to document a several-thousand dollar shopping spree at a designer clothing store. Likewise, you may not want to post 10 pictures a day of your cat. These types of pics dilute your message.
Of course your community will want to get to know you as a person, so it’s okay to sprinkle your feed with “off-topic” personal pics here and there, but it’s a good idea to follow the 80/20 rule. Keep 80% of your posts focused on your overall message, with 20% on other subjects.
Make Pics Interesting
I once asked a photographer how a fitness blogger could take more interesting social images, and the first thing he said to me was, “Don’t share aerial images of your running shoes after or before a run.” He was referencing a trend in the fitness and running community – a trend that has been overdone. Ultimately, his point was that you want to make your images stand out from what everyone else is doing.
Given the sheer number of photos uploaded to Instagram daily, this is no small task. It’s not like you need to reinvent the wheel completely – it’s perfectly fine to post an image of your Starbucks cup, you just need to think about how to make it a little bit different or quirky. For instance, if your barista is wearing a Santa hat while handing you your cup, ask if you can take a pic as he or she hands it off to you. Or if you’re drinking coffee on the beach, take a pic that focuses on the sunrise over the ocean.
It’s also a good idea to consider using video or Instagram apps to add interest to your shots. Android and iPhone versions of Instagram enable you to take video directly from the app, so rather than taking a single picture of your family dinner, take a short video as you all sit down to eat.
If you’re not a video fan, consider taking a series of photos throughout the night, piecing them together for a virtual photo flipbook after you eat. I recently started using Flipagram (an app available on Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone) to put together short slideshows – it works well and it makes your images stand out from the crowd.
Finally, you don’t have to post plain images. There are many available photo editing apps that enable you to add text overlays, or to simply create text-based images. InstaQuote is the one I use, which is compatible with iPhone and Android.
Adding text or text overlays is a great way to hit your message home. Not everyone will read your caption as they scroll through their Instagram feed (it’s all about the images, after all), but they’re likely to read an overlay placed atop your image. For instance, you could place your web address across the bottom of the image like a watermark, or you could highlight a particular hashtag appropriate for the image.
For example, I’m starting a campaign for my website called “Push Your Boundaries, Challenge Your Expectations” with the hashtag #pybcye. Any image I post that’s applicable to the campaign, I’ll use a text overlay to tag #pybcye. This way my followers will see the hashtag and be more likely to say, “What’s this about? I’m going to stop and read the caption.”
2. Interact With the Community
As with all social networks, it’s important to actually interact with the community in order to gain a following. Don’t be shy about following other users’ feeds. You can do this by heading to your “options” tab within Instagram, where you can opt to “find friends,” then follow friends from Facebook or from your email list.
There’s also an option to find those “suggested for you” by Instagram. Pick and choose those that interest you the most. In many cases, a simple follow will result in a follow back.
Once you follow other users, take the time to like or comment on the images they share. You don’t have to spend hours of your day doing this. Simply select a handful of images you truly love, and write a genuine comment about the image. As nice as it is to hear, “Cool pic!” try to go deeper. For instance, you could ask a food blogger which brand of crackers he or she serves with a favorite dip, or you could ask a photographer which app he or she used to edit a photo.
When you interact with others, they’re more likely to interact with you. In many cases they’ll comment back, and may give you a follow as well. And just as important, their followers are more likely to take notice of your account, and if you asked a question or posted a relevant or helpful comment, the followers might just follow your account as well. It’s almost like setting up a row of dominoes – you knock one over, and slowly but surely, a ripple effect takes place that eventually adds up to more likes and follows.
One other simple and effective way to interact with the community is to repost other people’s images. However, Instagram isn’t like Twitter, where it’s incredibly easy to retweet someone else’s tweet. You actually have to use a third-party app to repost images.
I use the app Repost, which pulls images from the accounts you follow, enabling you to easily select those you’d like to repost. It automatically tags the original poster, giving him or her credit for the image, and also notifying the original poster that you’ve reposted his or her content. Not only does this make it possible to post great images that other people have taken, but it shows the original poster that you appreciated his or her content, so he or she is more likely to take note of you.
You can play this to your advantage by finding influential Instagrammers in your niche to occasionally repost. The keyword here is “occasionally.” You don’t want your feed to become mostly content produced by other people. If you start reposting, try to stick to a 3:1 ratio of your content to content from others. This way your feed remains your own.
3. Use and Search Hashtags
On Instagram, hashtags can be your best friend. Instagram’s search is set up to use hashtags, so by hashtagging your photos with relevant words or phrases, your images are more likely to be readily found by those interested in your niche. So if you post an image of your dog, you could use the hashtag #dogsofinstagram to place your image in the search feed for all images with that hashtag.
You can find popular hashtags by using Instagram Tags to search by most popular overall or most popular by category, such as makeup or music. Or you can use an app, such as Tagstagram, to copy and paste popular tags directly into your Instagram posts before you publish them to the network.
Aside from using hashtags to become more searchable, you can also use hashtags to search for those interested in your niche. For example, if you’re a big fan of yoga, you could search the hashtag #yoga to find other yogis to connect with. This helps expand your reach beyond those you already know to the broader Instagram community.
4. Share Frequently
To gain more followers, you must be active on Instagram. Your images will only live in your followers’ feeds for about four hours, so if you’re not posting on a regular basis, you’re likely to be forgotten, fading into obscurity.
The key is to post frequently without posting too much. Aim for 1 to 10 posts per day, spaced out over the course of a full 8- to 12-hour period. If you take 20 photos while vacationing at Disneyland and dump them into your feed all at once, you’re going to annoy your followers and get unfollowed. Instead, choose the top two or three photos that you really love, and share them individually over the course of a full day.
If you forget to log in to Instagram regularly, look into scheduling apps available for your smartphone. I now use the free TakeOff app, available on iPhone and Android, but you can also look into Latergramme for iPhone, or ScheduGram. While the apps themselves can’t actually post to Instagram because of Instagram’s API rules, they do enable you to schedule your posts, including the images, comments, and hashtags. The app sends you a reminder at the designated time so you remember to actually do the posting yourself.
5. Promote Your Account
There’s nothing wrong with a little self-promotion. Link your Instagram account to your Facebook and Twitter accounts so you can cross-promote your latest Instagram posts to your other social networks. If you have a website or blog, be sure to include a social follow link to your Instagram page on your site, and consider incorporating Instagram galleries into a few of your posts. These galleries can be specific to your own Instagram profile, or you can select a specific hashtag.
For instance, when I start using the #pybcye hashtag, I plan to incorporate a gallery of images tagged with the hashtag into blog posts about the campaign. SnapWidget is an easy and free way to generate the HTML necessary to add this type of gallery to your website or a blog post.
And don’t forget, it’s okay to ask for followers. Send an email out to your contacts asking who else is on Instagram and suggesting a reciprocal following arrangement, or remind your friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter that you have an account you’d like them to follow. You’d be surprised how readily people are willing to respond to such a simple request, especially if they’re already following you elsewhere.
Whatever your reasons for having an account, keep it fun. Your followers and potential followers will know if it seems like a chore to you. But if you’re really committed to growing your Instagram followers, the most important thing is to stick with it and be patient. You may see significant growth here and there, but like any social platform, long-term consistency is what pays off.
Are you on Instagram? How have you grown your following?