Growing an Instagram isn’t about how “social” you are…

Growing an Instagram is about recognizing the most impactful activities on the platform and consistently executing them at a high level. Anyone can do it, it just requires a bit of elbow grease…

Find it hard to believe? So did I, until I started my own pin-related Instagram, @pinlord, back in the Summer of 2015 and grew it by implementing a few common behaviors I noticed some big accounts were practicing at the time. A year and a half later, I found myself at 90K followers, making a full time living from my Instagram. I kept wondering if it was just plain old luck? Then in June of 2016, my beautiful wife was asked to launch the Instagram for Screamers Pizzeria, an all-vegan pizza joint in Brooklyn. We had an opportunity to replicate the results by implementing the same behaviors. Guess what? It worked! In less than 9 months @screamerspizzeria has gained over 12K followers with an engagement rate of 6%+ (which is really good).

How fast your Instagram grows relies on two main variables: the amount of people you Reach and what percentage of them you Retain (that “Follow” you) once they find your page.

Growth = Reach x Retain

Increasing your Reach depends on the following 4 activities:

Reach = Posts + Hashtags + Interactions + Tags

Posts: This means the number posts (photos, videos, stories, live sessions) that maximize your new followers per week. Each piece of content you create is an opportunity for someone to find you, so you want to create as much content as possible and measure its impact on your growth. How to do it? You can start by posting once a day for a week and measure the new followers you gain, then the following week by posting twice a day and measuring, and so on the week after… If you continue this process you’ll eventually find the optimal number of posts that maximize your new followers per week. I’ve used Social Blade for a while and it’s the easiest way to get a quick (and free) overview of your growth stats. To be as efficient as possible, use Onlypult to schedule all your content ahead of time. It’s relatively affordable, and unlike most similar services out there, they’ll actually post for you. I use it every day and it’s a life saver.

Every audience is different. A simple spreadsheet tracking each week’s new follower stats will be enough information to find the number of posts that’s right for you.

Hashtags: In every post, use the 30 hashtags that funnel the highest number of relevant people to your Instagram. Identify the best ones for you by first researching which tags influential accounts in your community are already using. More likely than not, they are the most popular for that topic. Once you have your core group, introduce new hashtag variations to test if they generate measurable improvements on the engagement your posts receive (engagement = likes and or comments per post / total followers). If your engagement rates are high, you’re more likely to be featured in each hashtag’s “Top Posts”, which will significantly increase the amount of people that discover your page. The best tool here is Instagram’s own “Related” hashtag recommendations. You can find them when you search for a tag and they usually provide the most up-to-date information on what’s trending.

To continually improve, pay attention to recommended hashtags and the accounts that are featured in the Top Posts .

Interactions: The more interactions you have with people who don’t know about you (but may find your content valuable), the more you’ll grow, so use a Bot to automate as many interactions as possible. Think quality over quantity here. Do your research to find the hashtags and Instagram accounts that people in your target community already engage with, then program your Bot to interact with them. It’s easy to program a “spammy” bot and it’s not effective. To avoid this, stick to automating your “Likes” only and make sure you’re paying close attention to how you program. If your content is relevant, people who get a “Like” from your Bot will be glad they found your account. Now that Instagress has been shut down by Instagram, your best entry level option is Archie. If you want more intricate automation (and you have Windows), try MassPlanner — it’s not as user-friendly but you can program some very specific automations with it. Update: Instagram has shut down Instagress, Archie and MassPlanner but you can try Gramista if you’re desperate for another option. I’ve never tried it, but you’re likely going to have to stay on your toes and continue to try new options since most companies that provide this service are likely to get shut down in the future.

It’s easy to program a “spammy” bot and it’s not effective. To avoid this, stick to automating your “Likes” only and make sure you’re paying close attention to how you program.

Tags: You want to receive as many tags, from as many people, as possible — preferably, those who have highly engaged followings and already like what you do. The bigger the following, the more people will find you. Nothing beats sincere relationships, so don’t be afraid to reach out to other accounts in your community to find ways to cross promote. Giveaways, content collaborations, great packaging and anything else that will give people value for posting about you, are worthwhile investments. A great example is Glossier’s packaging strategy. They’ve thoughtfully crafted and executed their visuals around what their community wants to talk about on social media. Check out their tagged posts’ frequency and quality — the engagement is insane!

Partnering with other Instagram accounts to create content is the best way to cross pollinate your audiences.

Now that you know how to Reach people, let’s talk about how to Retainthem! To increase the percentage of people you retain, work on the following 3 activities:

Retain = Content Fit + Post Quality + Grid Visuals

Content Fit: The more relevant, useful, and entertaining your content is to the people that discover your page, the higher percentage of them will “Follow” you. Like any other business, your ability to fulfill your audience’s expectations depends on how well you know them. What does your audience care about? What type of content do they want? How and when do they want it? You should know the answers to these questions and be able to execute them at a high level. If not, you risk all of your Reach efforts going to waste when people see your page and realize how much they don’t like it. So, go talk to your audience, get to know them and tailor your content around what they want!

Post Quality: The better your photo/video/story/live session quality is, the higher percentage of people will “Follow” you once they find your Instagram. “Good content” depends on what your audience wants but you should always post high-res (1080px in width by 1350px in height) vertical photos and videos, in 4:5 format. This will ensure that your content is displayed in the largest format possible, which makes it more visually appealing. To continually improve, always test new types of content, measure the engagement, then keep what works and drop what doesn’t. Engagement is the best indicator of success. A simple way to keep track of your numbers is by making use of Instagram’s “Insight Stats” (available to those with a “business profile”) so be sure to check-in on those daily.

Bigger is always better when it comes to photo and video display.

Grid Visuals: This is a measure of how appealing your content is when people first find your Instagram and scroll through your feed. The better you’re able to visually communicate your value, the higher percentage of people will stick around and “Follow” your page. Check out Instagram accounts like @asaprocky@stefansagmeister@tasteofstreep@michel_e_b@pinlord (that’s me), or @miserable_men to get a better idea of what well-executed grid visuals mean. A simple way to achieve an attractive visual style is by paying attention to the main color of the photos you’re posting and staying consistent to that theme. You can also post specific types of photos in a consistent pattern over time. Test your ideas out with rough draft mock-ups and use UNUM or Planoly to see how your grid will look ahead of time.

Something as simple as making sure all of your photos/videos have a similar background color will have a noticeable effect on overall grid visuals.

And that’s it! If you focus on executing all of these activities at a high level, you will 10x your Instagram growth.

The Instagram Growth Formula

Growing a sincere Instagram following and creating good content is a marathon, not a sprint, so don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to see traction and growth. Like any other skill, it requires time and patience to master, but as long as you’re practicing it, you will get there 🙂

Are you an early stage start-up or brand that needs help with Instagram? Get in touch. I want to work with people and products that challenge the status quo by creating a positive change in people’s lives.

Go to the profile of Eduardo Morales

Eduardo Morales

Founder of @pinlord and former US GM @ Depop // I want to meet people and share ideas about the future of social media. Follow me on IG at @edmo_nyc & @pinlord

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