How I Grew 40k Instagram Followers In 7 Months

With the increased monetisation of Facebook (and the next to zero engagement that comes with that…) Instagram has exploded into being the next big thing when it comes to brand engagement on Social Media. We’re starting to see ads popping up much more frequently with the emergence of self serve, and brands seem to be entering the fray on a daily basis now. It’s easy to see the difference between someone who knows what they’re doing on Instagram, and someone who is just “winging it” with the old strategies they used on Facebook – and the results show.

I’ve played around in the Instagram sandbox since its launch in 2010, and have led brands from scratch to huge followings – my most recent experience at Zomato (formerly Urbanspoon) has seen a 4000% quality (not bots, or uninterested people just following for the competitions) follower increase in only 7 months. In other words, in June last year we were sitting at 900, and today we’re just about to hit 40,000. Here’s a few tips and tricks that I’ve picked up on the way.

1. Choose your style, and stick to it.

Work out what kind of account you want to be. Do you want to have funny narrative like @hamishblakeshotz, or do you want to let the pictures do the talking? Do you want your posts to have a lot of colour, or are you into really minimalist photos? (I’m all about the #foodporn, tbh) In some cases you’ll have brand guidelines you have to follow, and in some cases you’ll be letting your personal taste or knowledge of your audience come into play. Consistency is key – the best kind of Instagram channels have a consistent posting style down to really minor details like the punctuation they use. Your audience will be following you because they like what you’re putting out there, so you run the risk of losing them if you start radically changing the style of your posts.

Accounts that do this really well:


2. Quality over quantity.

This is a mistake I am starting to see more and more frequently – brands who post about 500 times a day with memes they’ve picked up on Reddit or Tumblr. While posting funny cartoons might work for some accounts in very exceptional cases (see @thesimpsonsig), for the vast majority of brands it is simply the wrong channel to be using this strategy. Best case scenario it looks tacky and cheapens your brand, and worst case it just looks outright spammy and turns your audience off completely. Instagram users are much more discerning when it comes to image quality, and are there to see beautiful, unique and artistic photos. You’ll have far better long term results from posting once a day with a great image than you will from posting 8 times a day with mediocre ones.

I love the quality of these accounts:


3. Hashtags are really, really important.

As a somewhat veteran user of social media, it’s easy to understand the desire to use hashtags ironically or eschew them altogether, and to suppress an eye roll at the user that uses #more #hashtags #than #actual #words on Twitter – but on Instagram they’re actually the glue that hold the bricks of your account growth together. I’d attribute the majority Zomato’s super quick growth to consistent and savvy use of relevant hashtags alone. Observe what is working around you, and use them to your advantage.

4. Spread the love!

When you are first starting out and you’re yet to have a great backlog of your own content it can be hard to know where to begin. I’ve found it super helpful to “repost” content from people that you admire, or have great content similar to what you’re after. Instagrammers are kind of like a big community, so sharing the love will always have positive effects, and there a whole bunch of users that have amazing content that deserves a signal boost. A *massive* caveat though – it’s absolutely imperative that you give full and proper credit to whoever originally shared the content. Stealing images is just that – stealing, and it won’t win you any favours at all. Best practise is to politely ask permission before reposting, then post and provide specific credit by mentioning them in your caption, and tagging them in the image.

Setting up a policy of calling out other great ‘grammers in your circles is a really positive way to help grow the community around you, and you’re likely to have the favour returned at some stage! Getting shoutouts in return for calling other accounts out is great when done properly and authentically, but don’t be one of those brands who just asks everyone for shoutouts. It screams spam and makes you come across a little desperate. Pick your moments wisely.

My pick for accounts that do this really well:

The Fifth Watches
The Feed Feed
Zomato Australia (Had to get a plug in there!)

Image @artacoeats, regrammed by @zomatoaus

5. Timing is crucial, and pick the right tools for the job.

Work out your posting frequency and times based on when people are most engaged with your posts. This takes a little bit of experimentation, as every channel differs. A safe bet is always around dinner time (especially for foodies like our followers on Zomato!).

There are plenty of tools out there to work out when your audience are more frequently online, and they’re a mixed bag of both paid and free. Iconosquare is my personal favourite as it combines a whole bunch of neat little features into a free tool (and really, who doesn’t love free!).

When it comes to “post scheduling” (something that all Community/Social Media Managers know a bit about), I’m of two minds. Instagram is very much about authenticity, and has made this clear with their stance (or lack thereof) on brands being able to schedule posts. The supposed concept of Instagram is to “snap and share” photos instantly, and although this is realistically becoming less and less of the case with grammers and brands alike, there’s still little recourse available to you when it comes to scheduling images. Currently you can use software like Latergramme which stores your images and captions all ready for you to then hit a few buttons to Instagram once your predetermined alert goes off, but there isn’t anything white label that actually allows you to “set and forget.”

I want to make it extremely clear that I do not encourage nor endorse the use of bots or black/grey hat tools to try and grow your channel. The whole concept of being a brand on -any- social media channel is to interact with the users as if you were one of them, and earn the right to have a voice within the space you’re in. Paying bots to grow your followers inauthentically, or using grey area tools that aren’t endorsed (or are actively banned) by the channel, is just wasting your time and money, and you run the risk of losing all your hard work by being permanently banned.

6. Don’t be afraid to engage (authentically!)

Brands that do Social well are brands that seem “real” – they have their own personality, and they interact with people. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with double tapping another user’s post, or commenting on it that you’re a fan – in fact I encourage it. It’s a win-win situation: people get excited that they are being complimented on their post by a brand, they feel good – they associate those feel-good emotions with the brand itself. I would recommend sticking to user posts that align with your brand though – don’t just go liking a whole bunch of random posts.

If you’re looking for tips on taking awesome photos on your iPhone for Instagram posts, look no further.


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