Before we get down to business, I’d like to say I don’t have any hacks to get a ton of followers overnight or grow an Instagram following at a rapid pace. The 175,000+ people that follow my Instagram have come around over the course of 3 years. It’s taken a lot of time and effort, but I’m confident you could do the same if you’re ready to put the time in.
Below you’ll find 12 things I think are important things to do (or not do) to grow a following on Instagram. It’s not a conclusive list, but it’s a great starting point. If you read through everything and have any questions, leave a comment at the bottom of the post. I’d be happy to help you out!
Post Consistently and Frequently
My go-to tip when it comes to growing your Instagram is to simply post more. I recommend posting 3x per day, every single day if possible. If that’s impossible due to a lack of content, get to work on creating more content!
You’ll also want to get better at repurposing content. You could split a blog post into 3-4 Instagram captions with new images or split a YouTube video into clips for IGTV or Reels. Have a podcast? Playing clips over a cool graphic with your guest or about the episode would be a great way to repurpose content.
Like I mentioned in my 30 Lessons from 30 Years post, now is the time to be prolific.
Once you’ve built a solid content library, you can ramp up your posting frequency. You can also recycle content and posts at a faster rate once you’re posting more. In the beginning, I’d try not to recycle content more than once every month or two.
You may think posting this often will annoy your followers, but it won’t. They’re probably not paying all that much attention anyway. And if it does annoy some people, they weren’t the right fit for your audience anyway.
Give Away Your Most Valuable Content
For me, my most valuable content has typically been recipes. How annoying is it clicking through to someone’s bio, clicking another link to their blog, then scrolling as fast as humanly possible to get to a recipe card? Well, that’s how we make money, and it’s the tradeoff for free content.
But in the beginning, I posted recipes directly to Instagram. I would either post the full recipe in the caption or create recipe infographics to post directly in the feed. These posts were highly appreciated and engaged with. They got tons of comments and shares.
If you’re trying to grow a following on Instagram, you’ll want to sacrifice any kind of blog traffic for more engagement on the platform itself. Then as your audience grows you can slowly transition to driving traffic again, now with a much larger audience to visit your target destination.
Simple recipes worked really well for infographics and the minimalist cooks always found them very helpful. I’d also pull info from long form blog posts like my macro friendly fast food guide and put it into easily digestible graphics.
Respond to Every Comment and Direct Message
This was tough. I’m not exaggerating when I say I used to spend 4-6 hours per day on Instagram. It was a full time job, but it paid off in the end.
The good news is that in the early days you won’t need to spend that much time because your posts won’t have a ton of engagement. I think this is a great time to go above and beyond to build relationships with your early audience. Don’t just like comments or tags, type out thoughtful responses and show your appreciation.
As your audience grows, you won’t be able to keep up with this. I think around the 100,000 follower mark is when I lost control of my inbox. Then the comments went shortly after. It was a combination of the sheer volume, doing it all on my own, and burnout from the past few years of keeping up.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this topic it’s to just do the best you can and don’t feel guilty about falling behind sometimes.
Build Relationships with Other Creators
One of the biggest keys here is connecting with creators that have an audience that’s close in size to your own. It’s going to be difficult to connect with someone with a much larger audience because they’re so conditioned to everyone asking for something. Which is another key—don’t ask for things.
To make connections, be a fan. Follow, like, comment, respond to stories, and do it consistently. Sharing their content also goes a long way. And if they create content that’s relevant to your audience, it’s a no brainer.
I’ve made all my Instagram connections in this organic way, but that’s not to say asking is entirely out of the question. If you have an idea for collaborating on a project or doing something that’s beneficial for both of you, pitch it to them. But be sure you’ve put in the time building some rapport before pitching.
Stick to Your Niche in the Beginning
Your best bet for building an Instagram following in the early days is to talk about one specific thing. It’s nothing personal, but nobody cares about your dog, significant other, fashion choices, or dinner unless that’s what they follow you for. Save it for Instagram Stories.
Once you’ve made some progress with your Instagram following, you can start to pepper your usual content with other things. This is actually how your followers get to know you more and go from follower to fan.
Your following will eventually even enjoy seeing personal posts. But early on, stick to your niche.
Show Your Face in Instagram Stories
Speaking of saving it for Stories, let’s talk 15-second clips. While I don’t think it’s a great idea to go totally off brand in stories, you can certainly get more personal. If you’re comfortable on camera, show your face and actually talk to your audience. There’s a reason YouTubers have such passionate fans.
The Q&A feature is a great way to get started with this. I like to do a mixture of actually talking to the camera and some photos with written answers.
And here’s a a little insider secret. You can ask yourself questions or have a partner ask you questions if you’re not getting much action. Just don’t forget to type out answers in addition to video. Who actually listens to Stories these days?
Avoid Posting Stories All at Once
Every time you post a story, your little face gets a bump to the front of your follower’s Stories feed. If you post 10 stories all at once, you’ll miss out on that. Spread your stories throughout the day if possible.
Grow on Other Platforms
My Kinda Healthy Recipes email list, Facebook group, Pinterest, and about page all occasionally point people to my Instagram. And my Instagram occasionally points people to those places. There’s a constant cross pollination because you never know who’s going to stumble across one platform and share with others.
This is even more important if you’re in a niche that’s not particularly Instagram friendly or have skills that better suit other platforms. For example, if you’re great at long form blog article or video essays, your true fans may want to find you on Instagram. Even if you don’t build a massive following on Instagram, you could build a highly engaged audience (which is what really matters).
Oh, and in case you don’t have a blog already, you should start one. Check out our guide to starting a blog.
Never Buy Instagram Followers or Participate in Shoutout Groups
It will kill your engagement rate, waste your time, and teach you bad business practices. Just stay away and spend your time and money improving your content or skills.
Avoid Monetizing Too Soon
Like I mentioned when discussing giving away your most valuable content, nobody likes ads or being sold to. I see way too many people promoting terrible products to smaller audiences that will never make enough money to even matter.
The tradeoff for your trust is not worth anything you’ll make early on. You’re much better off making money from other things (like a job) until you’ve grown a meaningful audience that’s worth monetizing.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic number. Every audience and niche will be different. If you earn affiliate commission from expensive software or courses, you won’t need a large audience for it to be worthwhile. Whereas someone with an audience interested in budget fashion will need serious volume to make meaningful money.
Do Things in Exchange for Exposure
Usually this means doing things for free. If you have a skill or content that could be helpful for someone with an audience, reach out and offer it up. You never know what could happen.
I accidentally stumbled into being the Recipe Dude for Stronger U, a nutrition coaching company, early into my food blogging career. That gave me a ton of exposure to their passionate members, and they were even kind enough to pay me. (Giving away my most valuable content for free in the form of infographics helped land this opportunity.)
In a content-driven world, pretty much every creator is in need of more content or help producing more content. Even if it doesn’t make sense for them to expose you to their audience, they may just pay you. And that’s not all that bad.
We’ve all spent too much time arguing on the internet. Early on, I made a decision to simply delete any negative comment or message. While it’s tempting to try and troll the trolls, it’s a waste of time and they’ll always win for that reason.
Ignore or delete and get back to work. It’s that simple.
Okay, here are your action steps:
- start posting 3x/day
- create more content, repurpose existing content, and recycle content every 1-2 months
- post your most valuable content directly on Instagram
- build relationships with creators who have similar audiences (in size and interest)
- stick to your niche early on and save the personal content for stories, if at all
- show your face and personality in Instagram stories and post stories throughout the day
- trade your skills or content for new audience exposure
If you do all these things, I’m confident you’ll be well on your way to getting a beaucoup of Instagram followers!