I started “Instablogging”, as I like to call it, in mid-January 2016. Back then I had something like 40 followers, all friends and family. At that point I had decided I wanted to try and grow my Instagram account into a platform for launching a blog and so I started working on creating a more consistent feed, posting way more often than I had been doing, and looking for other moms who seemed to be doing the same. By mid-June I hit the 10K mark and now, about 15 months after I started, I’m just shy of 50K. That’s an average growth of around 100 new followers per day (or about 65 per day until I hit the 10K mark and 130 per day since then). Whilst I know plenty of bloggers who have managed to grow much quicker than I have, I know that this growth is nothing to balk at.
( Note: This is part two of a 3-part blogging series. If you haven’t already, make sure to check out my first post on how to start and grow a successful lifestyle blog. Part 3 – coming soon – will cover monetizing your blog and Instagram. )
As with all of my blogging and Instagram posts, I want to preface this by saying that I am by no means an expert in this department. (And by this department I mean Instagramming, blogging, photography – heck add mommy-ing to the list.) Don’t get me wrong, 50K followers is amazing and I’m truly humbled that so many people are interested in my family, my home, and my photography, but I’m nowhere near the “you’ve made it” 6-7 figure league where my experience would be truly robust and where I could say, okay, I know enough of what works and what doesn’t to give “great” advice. My experience comes from a lot of trial-and-error and I know, even now, I’m not doing everything “right”. I’m sure there are plenty of strategies that I have yet to discover and maybe I’ll even throw some of my current strategies out the window because Instagram is always evolving, I’m always evolving, and I might just find something that works better. But I’m a firm believer in paying it forward and, in general, making the world of blogging (and Insta-blogging) more transparent, so that others have the opportunity to go down the same path. A blog post like this 15 months ago would have been super helpful and if I can help just one person, I’ll go to bed happy.
The second “disclaimer” I’d like to add before I dive into my post is that I’m by no means great at doing all of these things all of the time. If I did I’d be spending my whole day on Instagram (which, I’ll admit, I have done plenty of times). But all of these strategies have worked well for me over time and continue to work well for me when I use them now, so I wanted to write a truly complete list. It’s a very lengthy post, be warned.
Okay, I’m done with the disclaimers. Let’s get to the good stuff! Here are the 25 best tips I have for growing your Instagram account quickly and organically.
[ 1 ] Realize that it takes time and effort to grow your Instagram organically
I know this is not the sort of “tip” you’re looking for and that I quite literally just contradicted myself by first saying “quickly” and then “it takes time”. I promise, the rest will be more in line with what you were expecting from this post. But I wanted to start off by stating the obvious (or maybe not so obvious) thing first. Yes, there are accounts that can explode seemingly overnight or that grow way faster than others. There is always going to be someone doing it faster, better, etc. than you. That’s just a fact of life and, without competition to keep us on our toes, where would we get our drive? But, no matter where in your Instagram journey you are, there are ways in which you can speed up organic growth and hopefully this post will help you with that. Just remember, it is hard work, and you’ll be spending a ton of time on Instagram if you want your account to grow the right way (aka organically, not the buying followers route).
[ 2 ] Pick a niche and stick with it
When someone comes to your Instagram, they should get a good feel for what you’re about without having to scroll very far through your feed. If they then click the “follow” button, it’s because they like what they see and want to see more. Your followers need to be able to easily recognize your images as they scroll through their feed. That’s not to say you can’t cover topics outside of your chosen niche – you absolutely can. But always try and tie it back to your overall feed’s theme. Your followers followed you for a reason, so give them a reason to stick around. For me, for example, when I post something about fitness or women’s fashion (two topics I don’t cover as often and that don’t fit quite as nicely into my “motherhood in our modern, Scandinavian home” niche), I try and take my photo in a popular room in my house or make sure to include one or both of my kids (e.g. a yoga pose with my kitchen in the background, or a mirror selfie of my outfit with Isabelle in the shot with me).
[ 3 ] Create a beautiful, consistent feed
While it’s not necessary to post beautiful photos to be successful on Instagram, it’s a heck of a lot easier to grow your account if you’ve got a visually appealing feed. There are so many different definitions of a pretty feed, it can be light, dark, colourful, muted. It can be filled with beautiful interiors, pretty food, sweet motherhood moments, artsy fashion shots. It’s about finding a look and feel and sticking with it. Use similar colours in your photos (I use a lot of white, grey + beige), edit your photos consistently each time (here’s a post on how I edit my Instagram photos), and use the same filter on every photo (I use VSCO A6). All of this can help you achieve that consistent look and feel that will make your feed pop when someone checks out your profile.
[ 4 ] Take good quality photos where everything is in focus
I don’t think it doesn’t really matter what camera you use (phone vs. SLR), as long as your photos are good quality (aka taken in bright, natural light if you’re photographing with an iPhone). I personally prefer a good camera because I want each of my photos to be crisp and, in my dark house, that’s just not possible with an iPhone. On the other hand, there are plenty of fashion bloggers I know who have switched to posting only iPhone photos on their Instagram (vs. SLR photos on their blog) because those seem to perform better. Brittany from @thriftsandthreads, for example, takes the same photo with both an iPhone and SLR camera and will post the iPhone pic to Instagram and the SLR photo to her blog. I don’t really see a big difference in iPhone vs SLR camera on my own feed (but, to be fair, I mainly photograph with my SLR / mirrorless), but what I have noticed is that photos with a large depth of field – ones where every part of the photo is in focus – do better than those with a blurred background (narrow depth of field or bokeh). I personally love the soft bokeh effect, but Instagram does not (compare this photo with this one), so I now photograph as “flat” as possible, no matter the camera I use. (Not sure if “flat” is the right word, but a photo where everything is in focus looks flatter to me than a photo where only a small portion is on focus, so I’m going with “flat”.) I’m honestly not sure why flat photography does better, but my own interpretation is that this style of photo is easier to achieve with a phone, so it’s a more “accessible” approach (aka someone can easily recreate it with their phone vs. a beautiful blurred photo which would require them to buy and master an expensive camera).
[ 5 ] Use the right hashtags
Hashtags are a great way to get your photo seen by people who aren’t following you. And it’s all about using niche hashtags, not the generic, over-used ones like “love”, “cute”, etc. How do you find those hashtags? Check out what similar accounts in your niche are using, both the big accounts and the smaller ones. Click on the hashtag to see what the top 9 grid looks like and also check out the related hashtags at the top. Some of the best hashtags are ones that are from accounts that created their own unique hashtag and mainly (or solely) share other peoples photos – it’s a great way to get exposure if they end up reposting your photo. For example @childhoodunplugged and their #childhoodunplugged hashtag or @nothingisordinary_ with #nothingisordinary. To find these accounts, search all of your potential hashtags within Instagram to find out if they have both a hashtag and an account associated with them.
Instagram allows 30 hashtags. Don’t be afraid to use them all. I like to put my hashtags in a second comment, preceeded by “. . . . .” (one dot per line) so that the comment gets truncated and, after several people have commented, it ends up hidden from people just scrolling through their feed. Create a note on your phone with your 30 hashtags (I have several different categories of hashtags (e.g. with kids, home decor, etc.) so that you can easily copy and paste the appropriate group of hashtags as a second comment in your Instagram post.
Another thing that’s really important with hashtags is to use hashtags of varying popularity. You want to have at least a handful of hashtags where you’re almost guaranteed to be in the top 9 grid. So, in the beginning, use some hashtags that have a couple of million uses, but also use ones that have only a thousand uses. It’s obviously going to be much easier to get into the top 9 when there are only 1,000 other photos using that hashtag than when there are 1 million. Experiment with your hashtags to see which work best for you and then constantly update as you grow.
Some popular ones for mom bloggers: #childhoodunplugged, #candidchildhood, #letthekids, #littleandbrave, #momswithcameras, #uniteinmotherhood, #our_everyday_moments, #simplychildren, #kidsforreal.
Some popular lifestyle hashtags: #nothingisordinary, #livefolk, #thatsdarling, #flashesofdelight, #livecolorfully, #abmlifeiscolorful, #liveauthentic, #pursuepretty.
[ 6 ] Find others in your community
It’s not called social media for nothing. You need to be social to master social media. Connect with others in your niche. If you’re a mom, find other mom Instagrammers. If you post about fashion, find other fashion bloggers. Start with accounts in your community that are similar to yours – similar style of photos, similar number of followers, similar aged kids if you’re a mom blogger, similar style if you’re a fashion blogger. When you find someone who’s account you love, check out the similar accounts recommended by Instagram. Look up popular hashtags and scroll through recent photos that have used the photo. Then engage, engage, engage. Like and comment whenever a photo piques your interest. Follow accounts you find inspiring. If you truly engage with someone (beyond the generic “cute!” type of comments), there’s a good chance they’ll pop over to your feed and see what you’re all about. If they like what they see they might follow (back). This is where smaller accounts have the advantage. They don’t yet have as much engagement as bigger accounts so they’re more likely to return the favour.
[ 7 ] Engage with those you follow
Don’t spend all your time engaging with new accounts and leave those accounts you’re already following in the dust. With the new algorithm, Instagram decides who they will show your photo to. Most people agree that the first 15 or so minutes are what Instagram uses to decide if your photo is interesting enough to keep showing or if they’ll bury it way down in your followers’ feeds. You need your own followers to engage with your photo right off the bat. When you engage with those you follow on a regular basis, they’ll be more likely to double tap and leave a comment when they see your photo pop up in their feed. This creates greater initial engagement on your photos which, in turn, makes Instagram show it to more people. Engagement creates engagement, simple as that.
My rule of thumb is that, when I’m scrolling through my news feed, I’ll like every photo (unless it truly offends me) – why should I be stingy with my likes? And if a photo catches my eye and makes me stop for a second, I’ll leave a comment.
[ 8 ] Respond to comments
Engagement doesn’t just mean engaging with others on their feeds. Engage with people on your own photos by responding to comments. If someone takes the time to leave you a meaningful comment, let them know you appreciate it by responding back. If you get questions about where something is from, take the time answer. I know it’s not always possible to respond to every comment, especially as you grow. This is where I absolutely love that Instagram now allows you to “like” a comment. I always try to like every comment I get on recent photos (that isn’t an obvious bot comment or someone trolling me) and I’ll respond to as many comments that I can, especially the ones that are more than just a couple of words.
[ 9 ] Analyze the heck out of your photos
Figure out what types of photos are working well and which ones aren’t. Post more of the former, less of the latter. Figure out your best posting time and your best posting frequently. Iconosquare is a great service for that. I’m such a broken record about Iconosquare, I know. But honestly, it’s helped so much. I use it to see my best posting times based on the photos I’ve already posted, my follower growth and which photos instigated spikes in that growth, and which of my photos have the highest number of likes and best engagement rates. I also use it to look at similar accounts to see what works best for them.
[ 10 ] Don’t become a business account
Or switch back from a business account to a personal account if you made the switch already. With my previous point of analyzing your photos, you would think the business account would be great for Instagram growth. After all, it offers in-house analytics that are honestly really good. Things like impressions (the number of times your photo was viewed, rather than liked) is really interesting to figure out which photos Instagram has decided to share with more of your followers and which ones they even sent to the explore page. But (and this is big “but”), there’s a lot of chatter within the Insta-blogging community that Instagram is going the route of Facebook pages. Aka if you want to get your photo seen at all, you’ll need to start paying at some point. I switched to a business account in early fall last year and switched back to personal in January after my engagement rate was continuously on the decline (coincidentally I took a hit every time Instagram made an update to their algorithm). At first, when I switched back to a personal account, I saw an even greater decline in engagement (and almost panic-switched back), but about a month or so later, my engagement picked up again and now it’s better than ever.
[ 11 ] Be in the photos
It’s taken me a long time to accept this, but being in the photos has absolutely been crucial for my growth. Think about it: what’s the different between your photos and someone else’s? You. I never really got it because, I mean, my kids are cute and I’m just awkward in front of the camera (aka the opposite of cute). And when it comes to home decor shots or travel photos of beautiful locations, I personally prefer to see just the pretty home or the pretty backdrop. But, when it comes to Instagram, it seems that people want to see the person behind the account. Your living room might be gorgeous, but people want to see you living in your living room. You might have gotten an absolutely stunning shot of the Eiffel tower at sunset, but people want to see that you were there. That doesn’t mean you need to just post selfies all day long. Photos that show more, aka where the camera is further away, tend to perform better. A great example of a travel and fashion blogger who I think does a fantastic job of showcasing beautiful locations but still is in the photos is @ohhcouture. She often doesn’t even show her face but her photos draw you in and let you imagine you’re there as well.
This isn’t necessary for every type of account, of course. There are lots of absolutely stunning accounts that don’t show the photographer or even anyone at all. But, from my experience in analyzing a lot of different feeds, especially in the mom and lifestyle niche, the vast majority have better engagement (and ergo can grow faster), when they’re in the photos themselves.
Things I’ve learned that people like when it comes to my own feed: me in the photos with my kids, home shots (especially kitchen!) with people in the photos (even if it’s just the kids playing in the distance), flowers, babies, snuggle photos, pics with my kiddos on their learning towers cooking in the kitchen, twinning with Isabelle. Things I’ve learned that people don’t like: me without my kids (unless it’s a very interesting shot like a top-down shot on the bed or sofa), selfies (totally cool with that one because I can’t take a selfie to save my life), flat lays (unless they’re super cool and shot further away, like from the ceiling), shots where I’m holding something in my hand in front of a white wall, minimalist detail shots. Funny thing is that the last three in this list are some of my favourite types of shots and are what my feed used to consist of in the beginning. I love these artsy shots. But, what I’ve learned over the past 15 months, is that growth comes through great engagement, and my followers engage way more with photos where my kids and I are in them, especially ones that are shot further away and include more detail. Compare my feed from this time last year (on the left) with my recent feed (on the right). Notice I used to post more minimalist shots, much closer up, and not a single photo features me (other than my feet haha). And then on the right, all photos but one feature my family. (And, incidentally, the single photo that just shows my living room performed the worst of all 12 photos shown.) I’m also in the photos way more (7 of 12 with 6 of them being full body shots), and I feature much more of my house then I did last year.
[ 12 ] Work on your captions
Instagram is predominantly a visual platform but a good caption can absolutely take your photo to another level. Some of my all-time best performing photos have had good captions to go with them. Think witty, honest, or heartfelt. They can be short or long, what matters is that your caption captures someone’s attention within the first few words.
[ 13 ] Post once a day, every day (okay, maybe twice)
With the old algorithm, you used to be able take an Instagram hiatus and come back and your engagement wouldn’t have taken a hit. That’s because your followers were shown photos in reverse chronological order and everyone who happened to be on Instagram as you posted your back-from-the-dead (ahem, I mean break) photo would see it. Now with the new algorithm, Instagram decides who gets to see your photo. For each of your followers, they decide how important you are to them. If that person hasn’t engaged with you in a while (which is obviously not possible when you’re not posting anything), they’ll assume you’re no longer important to them. Taking a day or two off every now and then is totally fine, but I’ve noticed accounts that have become more sporadic in their posting (only once or twice a week for weeks on end) have taken a pretty big hit on their engagement.
In terms of posting frequency, I find one photo a day works best for most people. Personally I try and stick with one a day but will sometimes post two because the first photo didn’t perform as well and I want to get another photo in or I have too many photos to post – sometimes collaborations come in clusters or I go on a blogging rampage (ha!) and want to let my followers know about the new post(s).
As to the time of day, post when most of your followers are online. This will vary for everyone, but taking a look at your demographics and where the majority of your followers are located will help you know which timezone to pay attention to. Before work, during lunch break, and after work are all times people tend to check their Instagram. Iconosquare is also great for analyzing your posting times to see when your photos have been performing the best for any given day.
[ 14 ] Post only your best content
I know I just said that posting every single day is important and I know that can create an enormous amount of pressure to constantly produce new content. But no photo is still better than a mediocre photo. If you’re not feeling a photo, there’s a good chance your followers won’t either. This is what happens when you don’t post a photo: nothing. Aka you don’t gain any new followers but you also won’t lose any. When you post a not-so-great photo, there’s a good chance you’ll get a bunch of unfollows. It’s such a strange part of Instagram to me that people will judge an account by a single photo and unfollow if that photo doesn’t meet their expectation. But it is what it is, so don’t panic post because you don’t have anything good to share.
Sometimes skipping a day can be a good strategy as well. If you know Instagram put your photo in the explore feed (a spike in your follower growth will indicate that), letting that photo run for 48 hours can be a better option than posting a photo a day later that isn’t as well received. Instagram might have changed their algorithm recently (I’ve had some conflicting experiences with this particular scenario lately), but it definitely used to be that once you post a new photo, Instagram stops promoting your old photo.
[ 15 ] Repost your best content
Another strategy I employ is reposting my best photos a month or two later. This might seem wrong or wierd to do, but, really, why not? People loved the photo the first time, good chance is they’ll love it a second time. Think about it, as you scroll through your feed do you make a mental note of every single photo that you’re liking? Do you think you’ll instantly recognize it weeks or months later? Most likely no. And even if you do, if it’s that great of a photo that you instantly recognize it, you’ll probably show love a second time. I know for some of my favourite accounts that have a photo series (like chunky babies having sink baths, oh man I seriously die at that cuteness), I love to see them in my feed again even if I know it’s an old photo.
To look at it another way, I also gain a lot of new followers within that 1-2 month time frame who most likely haven’t seen the photo yet so it’s new to them. And from my own experience with how the Instagram algorithm works, it seems that Instagram is more likely to push photos of accounts you recently followed to the top of your news feed. Since you recently starting following the account, they assume you’re definitely interested in that account’s photos (which makes sense). So it’s reasonable to assume that a good chunk of the engagement from your repost will come from your new followers.
[ 16 ] Start a photo series
A different approach to just plain old reposting your best photos is to create a photo series around your best photos. If a photo you post does extremely well, chances are a similar photo will do equally well.
The amazingly talented Dominique of @allthatisshe (an account that has shown incredible engagement and growth) started a a photo series called #allthatisthree and each photo seems to do better than the last. You don’t need to create your own hashtag, just retaking photos in the same position, same location, same style is a good strategy for increasing engagement. One of my favourite mom accounts @the.owen.life did a wildly successful photo series of her adorable baby boy in the sink and another favourite @quinn.and.theo posts mainly photos of her adorable kiddos tandem napping in adorable outfits. For me personally, mommy and me yoga poses do really well, as do photos of my two kids cooking / baking in their IKEA-hacked learned towers (tutorial here).
[ 17 ] Post boomerangs and video
Video is the future of social media. Instagram has taken several steps towards more and more prominent video on their social platform. Videos can now be a minute long, they came out with Boomerangs and, most recently, with Instagram Stories and Live Video. The explore tab also features videos prominently so they really are pushing videos. Don’t fight it, embrace it (unlike me, who hasn’t quite gotten on that bandwagon yet).
[ 18 ] Use Instagram Stories regularly
It’s a great way to show some less curated, behind the scenes moments. Stories are also at the very top of both your news feed and the explore page, which is prime real estate. As to the order in which Instagram shows Stories in the explore tab especially, they seem to promote those accounts that use Stories often and well, so make sure you’re giving Instagram the opportunity to promote yours. And don’t just post Instagram Stories, watch them too!
[ 19 ] Participate in #followfriday
There are several variations (#followfriday, #momcrushmonday, #womencrushwednesday, etc.), but the premise behind them is the same – you team up with a group of other Instagrammers and share a collage of their pictures, urging your followers to check them out and give them a follow if they like what they see. The number of other accounts doesn’t matter, persay, but personally I think a grid if four is best because it looks good within Instagram (a grid within a grid, if you will). Sometimes these follow fridays bring me some growth, sometimes they don’t (probably because a lot of people who follow these other mom accounts already follow lots of other mom accounts including mine), but it doesn’t hurt and it’s a great way to meet new people in your niche and share accounts you genuinely love.
[ 20 ] Do a take over of someone else’s account
I recently took over @thebump for a day and it’s been my best day growth-wise ever (700 new followers vs. my average growth of around 250 per day over the past month). Taking over a larger account like The Bump or a brand’s account can bring lots of new eyes to your feed who will hopefully stick around for more.
[ 21 ] Tag brands in your photos
Just like using hashtags that have been set up by accounts that feature other people’s photos, sourcing where everything is from in your pic can lead to the brand reposting your photo which can, in turn, bring you some new followers. Even if they don’t repost your photo, you might still get noticed by the brand and they may even reach out to you to collaborate.
[ 22 ] Join or start a comment pod
When Instagram changed up their algorithm to no longer show photos in reverse chronological order, a lot of bigger accounts took a hit in engagement rate. The new algorithm seems to assume you prefer to see photos of smaller accounts (presumably your real life friends and family), and so bigger accounts were being pushed further and further back. One response from Insta-bloggers has been to form comment pods – essentially a group of similar accounts who commit to liking and commenting on each others photos as soon as they can.
There’s a bit of controversy around pods as to whether or not it’s cheating the system. As long as you’re not overdoing it (aka most of your engagement is from non-pod members), I don’t see an issue with them. Oftentimes people don’t want to be the first to leave a comment so having a pod member comment on your photo right off the bat can open the gates, so to speak, for others to leave comments as well. It’s also a nice way of finding a group of like minded people who can support each other in what they’re doing. That’s actually my favourite part of pods – the camaraderie of (in my case) like-minded moms who are willing to share their tips and tricks and help each other out.
Just remember that the majority of your engagement needs to come from people outside of your pod(s) or else you’re not painting a fair picture for brands who want to collaborate with you. Use a pod or two to fight the disadvantage that Instagram has unfairly placed on larger accounts (i.e. assuming that you’re not as important and putting you further down in your followers’ feeds) by having a few extra likes and comments early on when you post a photo (which will compel Instagram to show your photo to more of your own followers), but don’t spend your entire time on Instagram engaging only with your pods and not with the other accounts you follow.
[ 23 ] Host a giveaway
I have a love hate relationship with giveaways. On one hand, they can give you a quick spike in followers (if the prize package is a good one), but on the other hand, lots of people unfollow again once they’ve learned they didn’t win. There will usually be people who stick around because they genuinely like your content, but the drop in followers post giveaway can be a bit disheartening.
That said, this is a strategy I’ve been seeing more and more with bigger accounts this year. The key to giveaways is to ( a ) post good ones (the cash value has to be high enough or the item or brand has to be wildly popular in your niche), and ( b ) host regular giveaways so your followers will come to expect them. That way they won’t unfollow since they’ll be waiting for the next giveaway. Both of these points I’ve learned through studying bigger accounts rather than analyzing my own since I only just recently hosted my first big giveaway (a travel gear prize package – you can still enter on my blog and Instagram until Sunday!).
For me personally, I’ve now come to see giveaways more as a way to give back to my readers and followers. I’ve steered away from smaller giveaways (because I feel like they can have a bit of an overly sponsored feel to them) and want to only do these type of bigger group giveaways every now and then where I bring several of my favourite brands together to make an amazing prize package of goodies that I know my followers will love as well.
[ 24 ] Don’t get upset by slower phases
There are going to be times that your photos do well and you’re gaining lots of new followers and there will be times when every photo seemingly bombs and your follower count drops a bit. It happens to everybody. Try not to take it personally. Instead use it as an opportunity to analyze your feed and your strategies. Perhaps you’ve been feeling uninspired lately and that’s showing through in your photos. Take a couple days completely away from Instagram and come back ready to be inspired and be inspiring. Or sometimes it’s as simple as everyone’s on vacation and spending less time on Instagram. Things will pick up again, just keep doing what you’re doing, maybe with a few little tweaks.
[ 25 ] Don’t buy followers
This is a very controversial topic and something that is way more common in the world of Instagram (and social media in general) than anyone cares to admit. I can see why people are tempted to do it. Organic growth takes a lot of time and effort, so why not help the process along? Putting ethics aside, buying likes and followers is not real engagement and is just not going to help you grow in the long run. Fake followers won’t engage with you and so it does nothing for your growth in that regard (since you need engagement to grow). Instagram will also delete these fake accounts sooner or later, so you’ll be right back where you started. Fake likes and followers are also just so easy to spot. Ever see an account with thousands of likes but only a handful of comments? Yeah, those are fake likes. Or conversely, they post a video and the number of views is way lower than the their usual photo’s like rates? Also, fake likes. Or they post a photo and 10 minutes later they have thousands of likes and then, over the course of the next day that photo will get maybe 100 more likes? Again, fake. Don’t jeopardize all the hard work you’ve put into growing your account by buying likes or followers. If you’re not growing, try some new strategies instead (like the other 24 in this post! wink wink) to get your account back on track.
Phew, that’s it! If you’re still reading after that novel, bravo! Hopefully my post has helped shed some light on how to grow your Instagram account slash given you a few new strategies to try out if you’ve been at it for a while. As always, if there’s anything I missed or if you have any questions on anything I wrote here, please leave me a comment below.