In this issue
  1. How does the Instagram algorithm work in 2020? 21 min read
  2. 16 best practices to grow your Instagram in 2020 20 min read
  3. How to organically grow your Instagram: 5 proven ways to attract followers 17 min read
  4. How to increase your Instagram engagement (in under 1 hour per week) 16 min read
  5. How to craft a five-star Instagram strategy (in 8 easy steps) 25 min read
  6. How to get the most out of your Instagram bio 20 min read
  7. How to write engagement-driving Instagram captions 17 min read
  8. The creator’s guide to Instagram image sizes 23 min read
  9. Instagram hashtags: How, when, where, & why to use them 14 min read
  10. How to find the best time to post on Instagram 11 min read
  11. The complete guide to Instagram Stories for creators 26 min read
  12. Instagram metrics: How to use Instagram Insights to grow your audience fast 19 min read

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Issue #27

How to organically grow your Instagram: 5 proven ways to attract followers

Social Media
Jump ahead

“If only I could get more followers on Instagram, this whole online business thing might get easier.”

It's a problem I hear all the time from new creators.

It's easy to feel envious of influencers when their Instagram accounts are overflowing with followers. Presumably, along with their bank accounts.

But here's the problem. It's not easy getting new followers on Instagram, especially if you're just starting out.

And to make things worse, a lot of Instagram growth advice is a little misguided.

That's because pushing for more—more followers, more likes, more shares—isn't always better.

The quest for more can lead you to attract the wrong audience for your business. You might attract more followers, but those people likely won't stick around for long—and they certainly won't buy your products or services.

As an independent creator, though, there's a better way to grow your audience on Instagram—without resorting to questionable tactics or breaking your budget.

Organic growth—building a community of followers on Instagram without paying for adverts or sponsorships—is far more sustainable in the long run. More importantly, your business results are unquestionably better—an organically-grown audience will help you generate more leads, more sales, and a thriving online business.

So how do you get started? Let's find out—but first, it's helpful to know why organic growth is so hard in the first place.

 How to organically grow your Instagram: 5 proven ways to attract followers

Why is organic Instagram growth so difficult?

When Instagram first launched, fewer users meant it was easy to stand out from the crowd and quickly attract an audience.

You post a photo, video, or story. Your existing followers share their adoration by liking and commenting. Their followers notice and join in the party—and suddenly, you're awash with new followers.

But these days, growing an organic following isn't so easy. With over 200 million Instagram users visiting at least one business profile daily, you'll face a lot of competition.

A few common reasons why creators struggle to grow an organic audience on Instagram:

Sharing content your audience doesn't enjoy

Sharing family photos, personal updates, and fun Story polls might give you a thrill—and maybe even juice your engagement numbers for a short period—these types of content don't really help with business growth. Growing an organic audience that drives new leads and sales means being strategic with your Instagram content. Every post needs to provide value to your audience.

Focusing on the wrong goals

It's easy to look at influencers with huge followings and think, “I want to be like that!” It's easy to beat yourself up for not reaching enough people, particularly if you're still new to Instagram. This pressure leads people to try unethical growth hacks like buying likes and follows, automating comments with bots, or asking for follow backs. The problem? Shortsighted growth hacks don't lead to sustainable organic growth. Reaching the wrong audience can often be worse than reaching no audience at all.

Posting content sporadically

There's a lot that goes into maintaining a steady social media presence. Especially if you're working alone, finding enough time to edit photos and videos, share Stories, write captions, and comment on posts feels like a constant uphill battle. For online creators, growing an organic following means testing ideas, seeing what works, and doubling down.

It's not all your fault

Unfortunately, some of the difficulties with organic growth are outside your control. As Instagram and other social networks push their revenue-earning advertising features more and more, organic reach will naturally become more difficult—but not impossible.

Instead of resorting to sketchy tactics to grow your following—or investing money in Instagram ads before you're ready—you should work toward planting seeds that will lead to organic growth.

5 simple tips to organically grow your Instagram following

Just like gardening, attracting new followers organically on Instagram comes down to a few key factors.

First, you have to prepare the soil by really getting to know your audience—their motivations, struggles, and the types of content they crave. Next, you need to get out there and plant some seeds—ask questions, start conversations, and engage with other peoples' content. Finally, you can grow some authentic and engaging (and delicious) content of your own.

Ready to plant some seeds? Let's go!

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Tip #1: Really get to know your audience

The key to growing an organic audience on Instagram is thoroughly understanding who you're trying to reach.

Understanding your audience takes time, but it's worth the effort. You want to dive deeper than surface-level demographics (like your audience member's age or gender) and uncover their fears, struggles, and motivations.

Once you really get to know your audience, you'll find yourself creating content your audience can relate to, pushing your profile higher in Instagram rankings and organically attracting more followers who are interested in what you do. Knowing who you're targeting will also guide your efforts on which accounts you should engage with, which I'll get to in a moment.

A few quick suggestions on getting to know your followers:

Instagram Insights includes useful information on your target audience demographics.
Instagram Insights includes useful information on your target audience demographics.
  • Ask your audience what they want to see! Use Instagram Story polls to survey your followers on what they want to see more in your feed. This data can give you a solid starting point for coming up with content ideas your audience adores.
Asking your audience what they'd like to see you post can help you grow your organic following. Image via letstalkaboutmentalhealth on Instagram
Asking your audience what they'd like to see you post can help you grow your organic following. Image via letstalkaboutmentalhealth on Instagram

Tip #2: Maximize your exposure by engaging with other users

Your Instagram feed shouldn't be a one-way conversation.

Remember, Instagram is a social network—emphasis on social.

Sharing great content isn't enough to grow an organic following. You also need to engage with your audience through likes and comments—both on your own content and those shared by others.

Actively taking the time to answer DMs and to share and comment on posts from peers and audience members helps you connect with more users and build a loyal following.

Plus, these signals help the Instagram algorithm know which content is most engaging, boosting the chances your posts will be seen by others outside your network.

A few tips for maximizing your exposure on Instagram:

  • Start conversations in your own posts. Use your captions to ask your followers questions, and prompt them to respond in the comments, like the below example from life coach Sam Laura Brown. Always respond to everyone who engages with your posts—taking the time to join the conversation shows them you're listening.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

If life feels chaotic, do what you can to make sure your immediate environment doesn’t feel chaotic too 😘 Set a timer for 10 minutes and do as much as you can to tidy the corner of your house that’ll make you feel the most organised. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ For me, that corner is my office! I take any mugs with cold tea back to the kitchen, bin or file any paper that’s come in, wipe down my screens and desk etc. It doesn’t take long and it feels SO GOOD once it’s done! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Which corner of your house makes you feel the most organised when it’s tidy? Let me know in the comments! 👇🏼 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ And if this is something you need help with, add our Getting Organised Masterclass and the behind the scenes video on how I keep my office organised to your personal development plan inside PGSD 😘 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #PGSDcommunity perfectionistsgettingshitdone.com/join

A post shared by Sam Laura Brown (@samlaurabrown) on

Try using your post caption to prompt your audience to respond in the comments. Image via samlaurabrown on Instagram

  • Like, share, and comment on posts from peers, audience members, and relevant influencers. You can find people by searching commonly used hashtags, seeing who has posted recently, or checking out who follows your peers. It only takes a few minutes to leave a thoughtful comment, answer a question, or simply like a post—just like how Instagram user chromanetwork responds to Hollie Arnett from Black & White Studios below. Over time, these small gestures will have a significant impact on your organic Instagram growth. Just make sure you're genuine with your comments—don't automate your replies, and definitely don't spam.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Want more loyal fans? You need PURPOSE.⠀ ⠀ “By standing for something bigger than what they sell, tuning into customers' beliefs and taking decisive action, companies have the chance to recast their customer relationships and connect with consumers on a deeper level.” – Accenture⠀ ⠀ If you want customers on your side, you've got it with a purpose-driven brand. 79% of Americans say they would be more loyal to a purpose-driven company, 73% would be likely to defend a purpose-driven company if people spoke badly of it, and 70% would be proud to be associated with a purpose-driven company.⠀ ⠀ If you have a clear purpose that your audience can get behind, they will become your biggest advocates and shout about your brand from the rooftops!

A post shared by Hollie Arnett | Branding Coach (@blckwhtstudios) on

A quick response to audience comments can help boost your organic Instagram growth. Image via blkwhtstudios on Instagram

  • Don't forget about tagging other users! If you're collaborating with one of your peers or reposting content from another account, tag a friend in your captions to give them credit, like productivity blogger and educator Sarah Steckler of Mindful Productivity does in the example below. Chances are they'll repay the favor with a like, comment, or share, helping to push your post further up the feed.

Tag other Instagram users in your posts to maximize your organic growth. 

  • Use hashtags for extra traction. Sharing the right hashtags with your posts can help spread your content to new people and grow your audience. Be strategic with the hashtags you choose—try to include 5-7 popular hashtags with each post, either in the post caption itself (like business coach Rachel Rodgers does in the example below) or in the first comment. Make sure your chosen hashtags aren't so common you get lost in the noise, and be sure to avoid obscure hashtags that people aren't searching for.

Include hashtags with post captions or in the comments to help Instagram users find your content. Image via rachelrodgersesq on Instagram

Tip #3: Invest in content quality over quantity

Pick any random blog post about Instagram growth, and you'll probably come across some hand-wavy advice to post “quality” content.

But what does “quality” even mean?

Well, there are two parts to posting quality content:

  • Your content needs to be compelling and exciting for your audience
  • Your content needs to provide value to your audience

Let's dig into the first—compelling content.

The most important thing is to find what makes your content stand out. Instagram is a noisy place—over 100 million posts are uploaded every day. Unlike other social platforms, Instagram is visual—your feed needs to be attractive to your audience. Posting stock photos or quotes doesn't cut it anymore—your content needs to be unique and engaging for your audience to follow you.

To show you what I mean, check out Marisa's feed from The Neon Tea Party:

Post a variety of unique and exciting content on Instagram to stand out and grow an organic following. Image via theneonteaparty on Instagram
Post a variety of unique and exciting content on Instagram to stand out and grow an organic following. Image via theneonteaparty on Instagram

Marisa keeps her audience interested with a variety of slideshows, videos, product images, and personal photos—all on her core topic of crafting, and matching her unique tie-dyed branding.

Don't just stick to photos—Marisa experiments with various different types of content in her feed. Video posts in particular tend to see higher engagement, boosting the chances of the Instagram algorithm promoting your content in users' feeds. Try posting photos, videos, and Stories, and see which posts get the highest engagement.

High-quality doesn't always mean polished perfection—incorporating authentic content into your feed is a great way to organically grow your following. More and more creators and brands are posting more authentic and “real” content, sharing untouched photos, messy workspaces, and behind-the-scenes looks. Instagram Stories are a great way to share behind-the-scenes views of your business, personal updates, and more, like how creative educator Justin Harris of EnvisionWithJustin shares his daily workout in his Stories:

Sharing personal updates and stories helps you connect with your audience. Image via envisionwithjustin on Instagram
Sharing personal updates and stories helps you connect with your audience. Image via envisionwithjustin on Instagram

The second aspect of quality content—and arguably the more important aspect—is posting valuable content. You might have the most polished feed, but glamor alone won't help grow your business.

Value doesn't always mean teaching your followers something new. A few suggestions for things you can try:

  • Share behind-the-scenes insights into your work process
  • Tell an insightful story
  • Offer free resources or lead magnets
  • Inspire your audience with motivating content
  • Answer audience questions (again, Stories are great for this!)

No matter what kind of content you're sharing on your Instagram feed, always ask yourself: Is this something your audience will find valuable?

Pro tip: Wondering what kinds of posts are the most helpful in growing your following? You can use Instagram's built-in analytics tools to track which content your audience is most interested in, so you can create more posts that work well (and fewer posts that flop).

Did you prompt users with a question in your caption? Maybe you used a different hashtag? Perhaps your post was more personal, and your audience ate it up?

Find what works, and use what you learn to guide your future posts.

Tip #4: Stay consistent with your posting schedule

Like blogging or other content marketing channels, Instagram is a numbers game. You can't rely on your posts going viral to grow your organic following—instead, you need to be consistent, posting regularly and at the ideal time to maximize your chances of success.

Why is consistency so important? Showing up consistently builds trust and helps you stay top of mind with potential clients or customers. Your audience knows they can count on you for high-quality content, and therefore will be more likely to trust your newsletter, blog posts, products, or services.

You want to time your posts for when your target audience is online and engaged—that way, you'll increase your reach and boost your engagement. Different studies have found wildly varying results for the optimal time to post on Instagram, but you can use Instagram Insights and other free tools to find the best time to post on Instagram for your audience.

Instagram Insights shows you when your audience is most likely to be online.
Instagram Insights shows you when your audience is most likely to be online.

The ideal frequency for posting on Instagram varies widely. Large brands with dedicated social media managers might post multiple times a day—but for independent creators like yourself, that kind of frequency isn't sustainable.

Posting once a day is a good target to aim for, but if that's too frequent, you can cut back to once every few days. The best schedule for growing your organic following is the schedule you can maintain. You can also lean on automation tools like Buffer or Edgar to schedule your Instagram posts in batches and make the most of your time.

Tip #5: Promote your Instagram across different channels

Instagram might be an excellent channel for reaching your audience—but it shouldn't be your only marketing channel.

In fact, promoting your Instagram account across different marketing channels—like your blog, email newsletter, marketing videos, or even other social networks—can be a great way to grow a thriving organic following on Instagram.
Cross-promoting your Instagram helps grow your visibility, attracting people that might have otherwise happened across your profile. After all, it's easier to increase your follower count on Instagram if they're already aware of your business or brand through other channels.

Some ideas for cross-promotion you can try:

Pro tip: for bonus points, you can also remix and reuse your Instagram content across other channels and social media networks to get even more return from your content investment. Neat!

Plant the seeds of organic Instagram growth

Growing a thriving organic following on Instagram might feel challenging or awkward at first—but I know you can do it.

Just remember—Instagram is all about community. If you're spending more time worrying about your numbers than your audience, you'll forever be fighting an uphill battle.

Instead, try putting your audience first. Test out a few of the above ideas on your Instagram account, and soon you'll be well on your way to growing an organic Instagram following —and a sustainable online business.

Own the relationship with your audience

Don't be at the mercy of algorithms when it comes to connecting with your audience. Now that you know how to grow your Instagram following, it's time to turn those followers into email subscribers so you can reach them directly in their inbox.

Connect with your audience

Share what you love to connect with your followers and grow your business with a free ConvertKit account.

Kieran Tie

Kieran Tie is a content strategist and freelance writer helping founders, makers, and creative folk share their stories, connect with their audience, and grow their reach. When he’s not working on creative projects for clients, he enjoys making mischief with his two young daughters in his Denver home. You’ll find Kieran with a flat white in hand on Twitter @kieran_tie.

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