Creating Loyal Instagram Followers: My Journey to 5K

How to Get Followers on Instagram that Will Vouch for You

January, 2016: My personal account, @ctwtn hit 2,000 Instagram followers. I aim to reach 5,000 this summer and 10,000 by the end of 2016.

Chris Tweten @ctwtn Instagram Follower Growth

For each of these milestones, I’ll be writing extensive guides charting my progress as well as the tools and methods I take advantage of. This one is a much more general guide that will show you how to get Instagram followers, while others will likely go very in-depth on specific tactics and aspects of automation.

It’s also worth noting that a couple years ago someone bought me Instagram followers thinking it was a good way to help me with my marketing (good intentions, but they didn’t know any better) and thankfully Instagram buckled down to delete bot followers last year! 🙂

1. How to Research Instagram Hashtags

Iconosquare is easily your best bet for getting the job done but it’s still going to take some manual work. Many marketers will simply use the most popular hashtags when applicable, but this will earn you a decent amount of bots in your Instagram following and you don’t want that. The whole point of this guide is to help you build a worthwhile following of people you can connect to on a personal level.

Don’t fall prey to common hashtag mistakes. Using the search function of Iconosquare, what I look for are hashtags (somewhat) related to my niche with a volume between 100k and 1.3 million uses. If you go anything higher than the 1.3M mark, you instantly become the target of the most popular Instagram bots. You can go lower than 100k if you want, since sometimes your niche has lower traffic hashtags that are still useful, but I personally avoid them for the sake of keeping a steady rate of growth.

Using Iconosquare to research Instagram hashtags

Before you put time into searching keywords related to your brand, keep in mind that we are trying to build 2 separate lists of hashtags:
1. Hashtags to Put On Your Posts
2. Hashtags to Automatically Like (Instagress)

Take a look at what types of content you’re putting out on Instagram and split them up into general categories. You should be building lists of hashtags for each category to put on your posts. For example, if you were marketing a record store, you’d want to have a list for general music-related hashtags, locally used hashtags (city, province/state, etc) and another list for vinyl records specifically.

Popular hashtags within your niche aren’t always obvious, so simply searching keywords and calling it a day won’t suffice. Go as general as you can at first, aiming for the most popular hashtag and then scroll down the list of posts to see what other hashtags are used on that type of content. In this example, I searched for #VinylRecords and uncovered niche gems like #DustyFingers and #Cratediggers. As creative as I can be, I wouldn’t have thought of these on my own. Again, make sure to note the volume of each individual tag used.

Researching LSI keywords on Instagram

Generally, I evaluate the usage of these hashtags on a monthly basis, mostly because my accounts aren’t at a level of popularity to iterate quicker. Keep them handy in a spreadsheet for quick reference, I’ll get into the strategy behind how to iterate the hashtags you automatically like using Instagress in step 4 of this guide.

2. Tap into Your Existing Network (Facebook)

After first connecting your Facebook and Instagram accounts together, your Facebook friends will get a notification letting them know you’re on Instagram. Neil Patel cites in his science of Instagram article that once this happens, 3% of your Facebook friends will immediately follow you and this can be upped to 5% if you make a Facebook status asking for follows.

20% of all Instagram users are also on Facebook (Click to Tweet)

Your Facebook friends are a great starting point for building Instagram followers.

In my case, a massive 63% of my Facebook friends were on Instagram as well!

Instagram has changed the way this notification works in recent times, but it’s still possible to abuse this to send out multiple notifications to your friends by disconnecting your 2 accounts and reconnecting them at a later time. How long do you have to wait? Kind of unknown, I haven’t done enough testing to say for sure but I do it on a monthly basis.

If you’re running an Instagram account for your brand, you can also abuse this notification by using multiple accounts. Say your company has 3 founders – you can notify friends on each founders’ Facebook account individually, one by one. After the first set of notifications has been sent out, disconnect the accounts then connect the second Facebook account on a separate device. I would do this a week apart at least since the notifications are staggered over 3-7 days depending on how many Facebook friends you have that use Instagram.

Your Instagram following can also be boosted on a regular basis by expanding your list of Facebook friends. Personally, I take the time once a week or so to browse through the “Friends You May Know” section of Facebook to add people. A couple days later (usually Wednesday), I’ll browse through my Facebook contacts in the Instagram app to hunt down my new (potential) followers. The easiest way to get them to follow you is to like some of their content, leave a comment and follow them. We’ll get to the data behind liking and commenting in step 4.

3. Planning Your Posts as a 9 Square Grid

The most likely scenario when someone views your profile is they’ll take a quick glance at your last 9 posts and then decide to keep looking or leave. You’ve likely been in this exact scenario checking out someone after they follow you. Your most recent photos should be a testament to what you represent since it’s the main selling point of your Instagram account.

There isn’t really anything scientific I can say about this aspect since it’s quite subjective. Your posts should look and feel the same; consistent aesthetics are what we’re after here. What I can say is that it really helps to plan out your posts 9 at a time so you have an idea of how they’ll look when placed together on your profile. As an example, take a look at my profile – my photos are somewhat minimal: neutral colours with hints of blue that mesh well together. I PhotoShop my photos a bit (I’m not that good at photo editing), get them into a square resolution then transfer to my phone for later posting.

Your profile is your best selling tool for gaining new Instagram followers.

If you’re editing photos within the Instagram app itself, you should establish clear standards about which filters you use for a consistent brand image. Refinery29 did a great article covering what Instagram filters are best for what, but I won’t get into it since I’m #TeamNoFilter (technically).

When I’m ready to post a photo, I’ll only use 2-3 hashtags in the initial caption then copy and paste my list of hashtags as a second comment. This way, once the activity on the post dies out, I can delete the list of hashtags so that my profile looks a hell of a lot cleaner. I just keep my lists handy in my Evernote so it’s easier to edit, but any notepad app will do the trick. The general lifespan of an Instagram post is only 24 hours at most, so there’s no harm done in deleting your hashtags. They’ve served their purpose, so make your profile look nice and clean!

4. Commenting on and Liking Others’ Photos

For everyone hundred photos you like on Instagram, you gain 6.1 followers. (Click to Tweet)

Simple as that: Liking content by users that you don’t follow increases your following and also generates likes for your own content as well.

Be careful not to come anywhere close to Instagram’s API limit since once you start approaching that range (350 activities per hour), it raises flags and you might come across an account suspension. Spread out your activity and make it natural. I briefly tested the API limit a while back and found that much like other networks, you can get away with a lot more once you have a bigger following. If you don’t have a lot of Instagram followers, I suggest liking at most 500 photos in a day to play it safe.

Right now, I’m fairly certain that Instagress is the best option as far as Instagram bots go – it’s cheap, very user-friendly, has a lot of filters for more advanced marketers to play around with and spreads out activity the most human-like. For years, I had wanted to build out my own product to do this, stumbled upon Instagress and found it had most of the functionality I had envisioned.

Instagress is a godsend in gaining Instagram followers.

As I outlined earlier, you should be aiming at auto-liking hashtags that have 100k to 1.3M volume and iterate on a monthly basis. What this means is taking a look at the types of Instagram followers you’re attracting then evaluating if they’re a good fit (it can always be better!). When I first started using Instagress, I was all over the place in building my personal brand – a mix of marketing, hobbies and interests (Street Fighter, X-Files, vaporwave, record collecting, etc.) but found my followers weren’t as engaged as I’d like. There was also a bit of churn that I tried to reduce.

I really wish I had a more scientific approach to it, but I don’t think that’s viable until I have a bigger following. Now that I’m writing this out to explain it makes me feel my hashtag choices are mostly instinctual, but maybe I’m just being self-conscious. Hopefully by the time I write the next in this series, I’ll refine the process more so it can be more easily repeated (and scaled).

According to LocoWise, 97.2% of all engagements on Instagram are hearts. In their analysis, they saw that for every 1000 hearts, there were only 2.8 comments.

What this means for you is that the scarcity of comments can be used to gain Instagram followers. If you take the time to leave a meaningful comment and start a conversation, that person becomes 400% more likely to follow you. Many people will use services like Instagress to automatically comment on posts based on hashtags they use, but I don’t recommend it. It puts your account at risk of being suspended (temporarily on first offense, potential permanent ban). If you aren’t completely new to Instagram, you’ll have seen these spam comments by now and probably reported quite a few of them. Just take a few minutes a day to search up a hashtag you’re targeting, leave a few comments and you’ll be gaining valuable Instagram followers soon enough.

5. Sending Personalized DMs to New Instagram Followers

This is easily the most important part in creating loyalty in new Instagram followers. Even if someone loves what your brand stands for and engages with all your new posts, it might not stand the test of time. For each new follower I gain that (almost) perfectly fits my target demographic, I hit up their profile, like a few photos then send a DM asking a question about a recent post rather than leaving a comment.

I couldn’t find any stats on how many DMs are sent out in comparison to likes and comments but it’s safe to assume that it’s comparable to comments or even much lower. Again, we’re using its scarcity to our advantage. Creating a real relationship with a follower makes them much more likely to leave comments on your photos and much more unlikely to unfollow you. Two birds with one stone!

Getting Instagram Followers Doesn’t Have to be Time Consuming

And that’s one of the main reasons I’m using it to build up my personal brand. Tapping into the #DigitalNomad trend is sure to open doors for me – people who value their time, take risks and can appreciate a strong digital presence are a perfect fit for my network. Whatever your niche is, I’m hoping this guide will bring value to building your brand.

In summary:
1. Research Your Hashtags
2. Tap into Your Facebook Friends
3. Use Your Profile as a Selling Tool
4. Comment on and Like New Users’ Content
5. Send Personal DMs to New Instagram Followers

Chris Tweten Instagram

If you liked this guide, I ask you to become my next Instagram follower! 🙂