5K new followers in 5 months? Yes, it’s still possible, althouth not very easy.
Instagram can be a tricky thing, we all know it. The way the algorithm works isn’t very encouraging and the reach seems to decrease more and more… It doesn’t mean though, that growing an account is impossible and my own example proves that.
When I started my account back in July 2017, I hardly knew what to do. I had some experiences with my previous one (now my photography one), but then the whole algorithm thing happened and everything started to be a struggle. Still, since March last year my profile started growing faster and faster, and then from September till February all the craziness happened. By craziness I mean reaching over 10K followers, when back in September I had around 5K. I promised you this post after reaching 10K and was trying to gather all the aspects I’ve been focusing on, that may have had the biggest impact on such effect. I also decided to include some pictures/screenshots from my Instagram, to better show you what I mean and give some ideas.
That’s how my profile looked at the beginning. Kind of messy, I’d say 😉
There are two things I need to warn you about though, before you start to read the actual tips. First of all, I’m not an expert, I have no idea how the algorithm works and therefore I can’t be sure if all the things mentioned here are 100% effective. I still think they play an important role in growing an account though. Secondly, building an actual community around your Instagram requires a lot of work. Really, A LOT. I’ve put probably hundreds of hours to get to the point where I’m now. Since I love it and Instagram is my main creative outlet (plus the best place to meet kindred spirits), I don’t really mind. But if you don’t have time or aren’t willing to put yourself out there, this post is probably not for you. There are no magic tricks here, only suggestions and work (did I just say this once again? Oops! ;)) But if that doesn’t discourage you, then please go along! And share your thoughts in comments after reading, I’d love to know if those tips are actually helpful. Okay… ready then?
How to build and grow an authentic Instagram account?
Find your unique style and be yourself
This may seem quite obvious, but it’s honestly the most important from my point of view. You need to share things you REALLY love, not things which are popular on Instagram. Be authentic and genuine. Because if you’re not, it will be visible. Honestly, it will. I’ve seen some accounts that mainly copy others’ ideas, I’ve heard stories of people who started to feel burned out pretty quickly after posting only trendy things. To be completely honest, I did that very thing myself few times, always with a poor effect.
Meanwhile, posting what you love attracts people with the same interests and allows you to find your niche. Being honest shows the real person behind an account and that’s what matters too. We all want to connect with people who are similar to us, who understand us. You may also consider sticking to your personal colour scheme – more about it below.
I managed to create a cohesive style in autumn 2017, but then lost it again for a while. Still, those pictures were pretty popular back then.
Quality and engaging over quantity
You don’t need to post every day. It doesn’t help in fighting the algorithm in any way, that’s a myth (for example, I’m posting 2-3 times a week). What you need to do, is posting nice pictures in a good quality. Snapping some random objects in a dark room won’t work. You need good light, composition, interesting idea and then some editing. You don’t have to use a professional camera, of course (I myself have an old, rather amateur DSLR model). A phone with a good camera will work perfectly. But then, spend some time on editing. There are lots of apps for that, you can pick whatever you like. I use Lightroom, Snapseed and ocasionally Afterlight for some dusty effects. Don’t recommend Instagram filters very much, maybe only for a final touch and just a bit of them. Since it’s not a post about photography and editing though, I’ll stop here.
Remember, there’s always something new to learn and practise. Focus on quality, look for inspirations and try to improve yours skills more and more. If you check out my old pictures from 2017, you’ll see a huge difference in comparison to the new ones. Honestly, I was sooo bad then 😀 And it was even worse before, when I didn’t know much about photography. If I could have learned it all by myself, so can you!
Picture on the left – Halloween 2018. On the right – Halloween 2017. The progress is quite visible, I assume 😉
Okay, you have a photo in good quality, edited in a nice way. Now, time for a post. A keyword here is ‘engaging’ and for me personally that’s one of the most important things in running an Instagram account. I put a real effort in most of my captions, not only because I love writing, but also because I want to connect with like-minded people (more about it in the next point). It’s like a conversation to me. I ask questions, raise important subjects and really want to talk rather than only post a photo. Well, if you read it and follow me on Instagram, you probably know about it anyway 😉 Let’s say it like this: I’d rather post 2 meaningful posts in a week and have a chance to discuss some topics or gather inspiration than post everyday, but have to rush with everything. I don’t say that’s the only right way to run an Instagram account, of course. But if you want to grow your profile, engaging captions shoud matter as much as the photos. And here’s the reason…
Build a community… and be active!
I know I keep saying that a lot, but for me Instagram is really about the community. It’s about sharing your interests and thoughts with others, connect and inspire one another. That’s why – and here’s another ‘secret’, which is probably quite obvious – I comment a lot. And by ‘comment a lot’, I mean I read the captions and try to get to know a person behind a particular account. And again, if I follow you, you probably know that my comments don’t look like: “This is lovely” or “❤”. Usually there is one or two sentences, sometimes more, and sometimes the whole rambling thing 😉 What I try to do, is to actually devote time to a person behind a profile. Answer to questions, if there are some. Refer to something he/she wrote and tell something nice about a picture too. I always do it sincerely and don’t expect anything in return. I also take time to reply properly to comments below my posts.
That’s what creating a community means to me: building real relationships, being authentic and treating Instagram as a meeting point with like-minded people.
When I’ve started posting about books, I almost instantly connected with many great bookstagramers and book lovers. I started practising flat lay photography then too!
Now, I know that many of you probably think: “but it takes ages”, “I don’t have time for that” etc. I warned you, work work work 😉 But seriously, it’s not like I comment every single post of every person I follow either, it would be hard to do. There are some people whom I connect with regularly though, and I try to comment others’ posts just once in a while. If you’d like, you can plan an hour for commenting every day or every other day, it should be helpful. You don’t need to comment at all, if you don’t have time. But building a community of active (and more important, authentic!) followers will be hard then. That’s just how it works, you need to put some effort first to receive it back.
Be consistent, but also creative
Back to the pictures now. What I want to say here, is: don’t be afraid of new things, but try to create a cohesive look at the same time. You don’t need to post almost the same photo every day. I know there are some popular accounts like that and it looks very nice when you see the whole grid… But honestly, isn’t seeing the same pic all the time a bit boring? Some of you who were with me from the beginning, know that my account was focused on vintage style and Edinburgh first. And that’s it. I didn’t have any colour scheme or a particular editing style then.
My account actually started to grow, when I decided I want to share more of myself and my interests (nature, books, fairytales, folk etc.), BUT – and that’s important – I also picked a colour scheme, different for every season.
That’s how my feed looked in winter 2018…
… then spring…
… and autumn. Autumnal aesthetic is very popular on Instagram for some reason, by the way.
I use pretty the same filters on all my photos during a particular season. I also have some scheme of posting: picture of myself in turns with other themes. Some photos may not fit the whole aesthetic of the feed then and I know that’s the thing some of you struggle with. I myself follow some profiles which don’t have a cohesive look and it doesn’t bother me at all, as I love the pictures themselves. But truth is, most people would follow aesthetically pleasing and consistent accounts… because that’s how it works, unfortunately. Instagram is a visual platform after all. It doesn’t mean that your gallery has to be absolutely perfect, of course! The most important is to do what makes you inspired and happy. You do you, always! 🙂
Creating your own kind of posts, which make you recognisable is a good idea too. I started posting ‘skirt pictures’ in April 2018 and they’re some of my most popular ones till today. No idea why, probably because they’re simple and quite unique at the same time? They’re my own idea and I’ve already seen a lot of photos inspired by them, which is always very nice (a hint for you though: if your picture is inspired by someone’s creation, please mention it in your caption, it’s a polite thing to do).
Few extra tips
Choose your hashtags wisely
I don’t recommend huge, general hashtahs like #nature”, #instagood”, #photooftheday, #vintagestyle, #autumn and such. Thing is, they have millions of uses, which means your picture will be visible there for, like… a split second. Instead, look for some unique hashtags that tell more about you, your interests and niche. Don’t use the same hashtags all the time (Instagram can treat it spammy) and don’t use too many of them. I’ve actually heard a while ago (from someone who is the real Instagram expert), that around 15 work the best. What I recommend is to prepare around 3 different sets of hashtags, matched with particular kinds of pictures. You can use them in turns.
This kind of close-ups is popular on Instagram too. Seems that people like simple photos…
Shout outs help, but only genuine ones
What helped me a lot last autumn, was the fact that few huge accounts shared mine in their stories (plus some also shared my pictures on their feed). It wasn’t S4S though. Sorry, but I’ll be honest here: typical S4S help to get more followers mainly a person who does them, not all the people who take part and share his/her profile. That’s why I don’t do them anymore, they’re just not fair from my point of view. It’s pretty logical: you gather dozens of shout outs from different accounts, who post only your account in their stories. And then you share all of them in yours… How many people will actually check 50 or even 30 accounts posted at once? That’s the thing.
… although it doesn’t stop me from creating more artistic ones, because I like them a lot more. I always try to find an interesing background and tell a story through my pictures.
It’s different with ‘1 to 1’ shout outs though. You can set up a shout out with someone whose profile you really love and share their account in return. It’s also nice to introduce such profile, tell a bit more about it to encourage people to check it out. But all in an honest, genuine way. Oh, and also: if you do a shout out, share a screenshot of the entire feed, not one picture. For some reason most people don’t check out the second ones that much. Maybe because they don’t tell a lot about the whole feed. Another method is to tag some feature accounts on your picture to get a chance to be shared in their gallery. But I’d recommend only those with good engagement (authentic community), the other ones won’t give you much.
Creating thematic posts is also a good idea. There are some themes I constantly return to, like Harry Potter or vintage things. I take inspirations from my favourite films and books. I used to prepare cyclical Monday posts, dedicated to things I love mentioned according to alphabet letters. I also came up with an idea of sharing my favourite quotes along with some thoughts on them. There are so many things you can do on Instagram, just follow your creativity and see, where it takes you! 🙂
Don’t promote your posts
Instagram business tools can be helpful, but I don’t recommend using them for promoting your pictures. Your reach will be smaller after that and I’ve actually seen and heard about it many times. It works the same way as on Facebook, they basically want you to pay more and more. So… yeah. Promoting posts is not worth it, especially when you care about an authentic Instagram community.
That thing with numbers
It’s one of Instagram’s aspects I can’t really understand and find very unfair. But we can’t do much about it, I’m afraid. Most people pay too much attention to numbers. What I mean here, is: they’d follow rather an account with few thousands than few hundreds followers; an account that has more followers than followed profiles; also an account which has less posts in comparison to the amount of followers (for example: if you have over 1K posts but less than a few thousands followers). I don’t know why is that, it really shouldn’t work this way. Personally I don’t pay attention to numbers, but to pictures, the theme and the mood of a feed. But there is really such a tendency on Instagram, so I’m letting you know just in case.
Nature pictures are the toughest, when it comes to popularity or reaching Instagram explore page. What I always try to do, is to focus on nice colour palette, dreamy mood and a little element of whimsy.
Use different Instagram tools
Stories, DMs, polls, questions… There’s a lot of things you can use and I’m pretty sure they all matter for the algorithm somehow. Besides, it’s always nice to connect with people more, isn’t it? That’s all what this is about and we can use those tools in many creative ways 🙂
Phew! That’s all, folks. Hope it was helpful. If you have other tips you’d like to share, any questions or doubts, please write them down in the comments below or feel free to contact me. I’ll be happy to help as much as I can!