The world has bigger problems than trying to amass followers on Instagram, you might say. Yes. It does.
But there are also more than a billion users on Instagram.
That means everyone’s competing with a billion other people for attention.
As a result, a lot of people create great content that languishes unseen and unappreciated.
If that’s how you feel about your own profile and content, then read on.
Here are the main points I learned as I broke the 1000 followers barrier…
1. MOST PEOPLE DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU AND WHAT YOU POST. FIND THE PEOPLE THAT DO.
2. MAKE SURE YOUR PROFILE HAS A CLEAR FOCUS.
3. USE HASHTAGS.
4. POST CONSISTENTLY.
5. POST STUFF YOU ARE PROUD OF. NOT STUFF YOU HATE.
6. LIKE, COMMENT, FOLLOW. REPEAT.
7. WHAT TO DO WHEN COOL PEOPLE DON’T FOLLOW YOU BACK.
8. BALANCE OUT YOUR FOLLOW / FOLLOWERS ON A REGULAR BASIS.
9. SPONSORED POSTS WORK BUT THEY DON’T COME CHEAP.
10. BE GENEROUS AND NICE.
For more details, keep reading.
This blog post is written mainly with content creators in mind, which is precisely what Instagram is designed for. People who like to shoot videos, draw cartoons, photograph sunsets, or make jam.
Maybe you hope to go viral? Suddenly your post is trending and recommended to everyone. It happens for some. But it certainly hasn’t happened to me, so I can’t help you there. Sorry.
If you are inside The GTA – the Golden Triangle of Awesome – a) already famous, b) world-class at something, or c) ridiculously good looking (or all of the above), read no further. My advice isn’t for you; you’ll get there just fine on your own.
Also, if you see nothing wrong in buying a few thousand followers with bitcoin, you can stop reading and go and do that right away.
I’m not stopping you.
Finally – if you’re quite happy with just your mother and your good friends seeing your content? Well, you probably stopped reading a long time ago, because you have a life.
Still here? Let’s get started with a hard truth that I finally embraced:
MOST PEOPLE DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU (AND WHAT YOU POST).
For years I’ve had an Instagram profile where I posted my own content; fairly competent macro and landscape photographs from semi-exotic locations, drone shots, and the odd drawing. My mother, wife, and friends have been kind and loyal and liked my stuff, but my list of followers was stuck at around the 150 mark and the needle refused to move.
This frustrated me. Surely my stuff was fantastic, witty, and worthy of other people’s admiration?
But I finally realised that assumption was so very wrong. People didn’t care.
Let’s repeat it: MOST PEOPLE DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU (AND WHAT YOU POST).
Unless you’re inside the GTA that I mentioned earlier, there are only two types of people really interested in your shenanigans: your friends or those who share your passion for whatever it is you like posting about. Everyone else doesn’t care. It doesn’t mean they hate you. They are just indifferent.
So, spend your energy on the people who DO care.
MAKE SURE YOUR PROFILE HAS A CLEAR FOCUS.
Think about it. If you visit a random profile, are you more or less likely to follow or go through the pictures if it’s full of random content?
Mine was a jumble of photos, texts and random situations. It still is if you scroll down far enough.
I wanted a break from taking photos, so I posted some drawings. And I realised that I got a lot more positive feedback from my art than from my photographs, mostly from other artists. Because, for those of us outside the GTA, the people who like to look at drawings are mostly other artists. Clearly my art was more unique than my photos, so I decided to make drawings my Instagram focus for a while. It worked.
So, make your profile mostly about one thing. And mention it in your bio. This way, your potential followers know what to expect from your posts and can quickly see if it matches their interests. Otherwise you risk wasting their time and especially your own.
Some people make a separate account for the family to share the personal stuff. That’s not necessary in my opinion unless you suddenly become a bona fide influencer. Just make sure you balance things.
Hashtags are no guarantee that people will see your posts and recognize your genius, but without hashtags, they absolutely will never find you.
Post at least a couple of times a week, but don’t overdo it. I recently unfollowed a very famous and otherwise brilliant illustrator as his prolific posts blocked the arteries of my feed.
Once-a-day should be the maximum, in my world.
POST STUFF YOU ARE PROUD OF. NOT STUFF YOU HATE.
Only post stuff you’re proud of.
Some people will post a picture and then go to great lengths to tear their own work apart.
I know it’s very tempting to get in there yourself before some random stranger does, but in my opinion if people don’t like your art they’ll mostly just ignore it. If you hate it yourself, why subject other people to it? Also, your best work is much more likely to generate a positive response. Quality does matter.
LIKE, COMMENT, FOLLOW. REPEAT.
This is where Instagram really starts becoming a major time suck. Perfect for lockdown, I guess.
You need to follow, like and comment on other people’s posts.
Not just the people you’ve connected with but also complete strangers.
A like is similar to a tiny business card that you send out. It’s a ping from a satellite, reminding the world that you are there. And it’s good karma.
You might make someone’s day.
Every day, I check the latest posts for a few specific hashtags. In my case, especially the ones associated with art and Procreate, which is the drawing software I use. There are millions of posts so when you scroll through the latest ones there is a good chance the person who posted is still online. This gives them and you instant feedback.
If I see some art that I think is OK, I give it a like.
A like is super quick and easy. Just a double-tap. Roughly one in ten of the people whose pictures you like will return the favour and check out your profile. If they like what they see, they might even decide to follow you.
If I see something really quite good, I might write a comment. People, myself included, like friendly comments. Again, they may check out your stuff.
If I see something I really connect with, I’ll follow the person. You get the idea.
The probability of response is proportional to your effort. So a comment or a follow is more likely to generate traffic than just a like on its own.
You can increase your followers by 15-20 a day, maybe more. That’s 500 over a month or the magic number 1000 in roughly 2-3 months.
You can, of course, choose to just follow anyone and everyone. This might work for you and it’s a lot quicker. I prefer there to be meaningful connections though, even if takes longer.
Note that there is a limit to how many likes and follows you can gift humanity with every day, but the number equates to a lot of tapping (+700 likes), so don’t sweat it too much.
WHAT TO DO WHEN THE COOL KIDS DON’T FOLLOW YOU BACK.
There can be many reasons for people ignoring you.
Maybe the stuff you post is not interesting to them. Maybe they can’t handle more content in their feed. You might get lost in their avalanche of followers. Maybe they only want to use Instagram to post, not to follow. Who knows?
I know several artists that are a big deal on Instagram. I’ve worked with them. We’re connected on LinkedIn and Facebook friends. But they don’t all follow me back on Instagram. To them, Instagram is a work tool. Not a place where you wish each other happy birthday. Don’t be offended by this. I try not to be.
BALANCE OUT YOUR FOLLOWING/FOLLOWERS ON A REGULAR BASIS.
Some people think it’s desirable to follow as few people as possible versus how many follow you. Unless you’re The Rock or a Kardashian, this is a bit limiting and maybe also arrogant.
However, once you follow more than 800 people, they will generate so much content there’s no chance you can see it all.
Someone following 3000 people will probably have most of them on mute.
Once in a while, I go through my list of people I follow. Not the entire list, but the ones I have connected with most recently. Instagram makes it tricky to access this info and there are apps that can help you with this. The one I tried was crazy buggy, so I do it the hard way:
- In your profile, click the “Following” number and sort people with “Latest” first.
- Click on the first person’s profile and then on their “Following” button.
- If they follow you, you should be at the top of their list.
- If they don’t, you can decide to unfollow them. Or if it’s a person that inspires you, just keep following them. As I said, it’s rarely personal.
- Go to the next one on the list. And the next.
This procedure also weeds out the people who follow you at first and then unfollow you a few days later.
SPONSORED POSTS WORK BUT THEY DON’T COME CHEAP.
Once you hit a certain number of followers, you can turn your account into a business account. This gives you a few more tools, including sponsored posts. I tried it a couple of times. You get some likes and you gain some followers. But the followers ended up costing me something like 2 dollars each. That money should rather go to curing world hunger or saving the rainforest. So, if you do a sponsored post be sure you know what you’re trying to achieve, more traffic to your e-commerce website, for example.
AND FINALLY; BE GENEROUS AND BE NICE.
If someone writes to you asking about the tools you use, what other people they should follow, or just that they enjoy your work, write back! It doesn’t have to be an essay. Make a lottery and give away some art. Promote other artists. Say please and thank you.
It’s all good Karma and suddenly someone might just turn into a paying customer.
Have fun out there.