Instagram is quickly becoming a focal point for brands looking to use social media to connect with current and potential new customers—and for good reason.
Dubbed the “king of social engagement” by Forrester Research, the top brands on Instagram are seeing a per-follower interaction rate of 2.3 percent, which far surpasses the engagement rate these brands are seeing on both Facebook (0.2 percent) and Twitter (0.02 percent).
With high engagement rates and over 500 million active monthly users, it comes as no surprise then that gaining more Instagram followers is a high priority for any business using the platform.
Unfortunately there’s no magic formula on how to get more Instagram followers that will instantly garner thousands of new followers, but there are ways of improving your Instagram strategy so that more of your ideal audience can find—and follow—you.
How to get more Instagram followers in 7 ways
In this guide, we’ll cover some of the tactics we at Hootsuite have seen to be the most effective for gaining more followers on Instagram. Want to jump ahead? Click the buttons below to jump to the sections you want to focus on.
1) Create a clear Instagram strategy
Using any social network aimlessly can lead to wasted resources and a low return on investment—and Instagram is no exception. Having a strategy in place will help you define what you want to achieve, so you can better target and attract new followers relevant to your business.
Whether you’re starting from scratch or adjusting your current Instagram efforts, here are three elements for building a solid Instagram strategy.
Research your competitors
Analyzing what your competitors are doing on Instagram will show you:
What a realistic following looks like for businesses in your niche or industry.
The type of content other businesses in your niche or industry post—and whether or not it’s working.
The frequency at which your audience will expect you to post content.
How other businesses are engaging with your ideal audience.
Now that Instagram is integrated in Hootsuite, you can monitor your competitors (along with customers, industry terms, and any other Instagram content you’d like to keep tabs on) from the same dashboard you use to manage all your other social networks.
Decide what story you’re going to tell
No matter what industry your business is in, you have a story to tell that is perfectly suited for a highly visual social network like Instagram. A compelling narrative in your content will give it a sense of purpose and can inspire word-of-mouth from your current community, making your Instagram account more attractive to new followers.
Satisfy curiosity by showing followers how your product is made, share the perspective of an employee to humanize your brand, or position your brand in an aspirational way by showcasing the lifestyle or achievements of your customers. You don’t have to limit your Instagram strategy to only one of these groups. Most successful brands will tell all of these stories at once in different ways and perhaps across different social channels.
Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps an adventure photographer used to grow from 0 to 110,000 followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear.
Since your Instagram strategy will only be as effective as the goals it was designed to achieve, you need to know what you’re aiming for. We suggest setting goals for Instagram that align with your overall marketing and business strategy—whether that’s brand awareness, driving traffic to your website, or supporting the goals of a larger marketing campaign.
2) Gain more Instagram followers by making your Instagram account more visible
If you’re struggling to attract new followers on Instagram, a simple (yet often overlooked) solution is to make it easier for people to find you. Increase the number of ways that potential new followers can discover your Instagram account. Here are some specific suggestions:
- Announce your Instagram account to your followers on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or any other social network you’ve already built a following on. Consider boosting these posts with paid advertising to ensure that more of your followers make it to your Instagram account.For example, Sony Mobile directed their Facebook audience to their Instagram account in this post by focusing on a specific product. This gave their audience a clear reason to follow them on Instagram. They also used a custom URL, allowing them to track success by comparing the number of clicks on the link with the number of new followers they gained on Instagram.
- Link to your Instagram account on your website, in your email signature, and in newsletters so that more people in contact with your brand online can find you on social media.
- Follow people and like or comment on their photos to increase your visibility within Instagram.
- Use relevant hashtags to help your content appear in searches. (More on this in the next section.)
- Embed your Instagram photos in your blog posts.
3) Create good Instagram content to grow your Instagram following
This may seem like a no-brainer but it can’t be stressed enough: the better your Instagram content is, the more likely you are to get more Instagram followers. Posting photos that are blurry, branded inconsistently, or simply not interesting provides no incentive for people to follow you. Here are some guidelines for improving your Instagram content strategy.
Find the best time to post
Use the insight you have about your customers to help determine the best time for posting on Instagram. For example, if your customers are typically people who work full-time jobs, chances are they won’t be checking Instagram between 9:00 and 11:00 am as often as they would be first thing in the morning, at lunch time, or after work. However, if the new followers you hope to gain are stay-at-home parents, then this time frame of peak Instagram use may change.
The most effective way of determining the best time to post on Instagram is by testing how your photos perform at different times of day. If you notice that photos you post in the mornings are consistently earning you more likes, comments, or followers than those posted in the afternoon or evening, then adjust your content schedule accordingly.
Here at Hootsuite, we found that one of our sweet spots for posting on Instagram is around 8:00 p.m. in our time zone (which is Pacific Standard Time). This is when our North American audience is scrolling through Instagram before bed, while our followers in Australia and Asia are also browsing their feeds on their way to work.
There’s no magic number for how often you should be posting to Instagram, but a recent report from Simply Measured noted that “75 percent of top brands publish at least once a week.” Keep in mind that the goal is to ensure your photos appear in the feeds of your followers so they can interact with them. That activity will then be visible to their followers, which increases your chances of getting new followers. Your followers want to see content from you—after all, that’s why they followed you in the first place. Don’t leave them hanging by posting on an inconsistent basis.
Pressed for time? Schedule Instagram photos (along with their captions) in advance through Hootsuite. For details on how to do this, click here.
Including relevant hashtags in your captions will help your posts appear to people who may not already be following you, but are searching for photos related to your brand on industry. Before using hashtags to get more Instagram followers, make sure to review:
The DOs & DON’Ts of using hashtags on Instagram
DO: Find and use what’s popular.
Use the Trendspottr app in Hootsuite to search for the most popular hashtags related to your product, service, or industry. Then, set up a stream in Hootsuite to monitor content posted with that hashtag on Instagram.
DO: Create your own hashtag.
Come up with your own hashtag that your audience will want to get on board with.Herschel Supply uses the hashtag #WellTravelled as part of their social marketing strategy, which their audience also uses to document their travels. This creates a strong sense of community while exposing the Herschel brand to new potential followers and customers.
DON’T: Go overboard. Although using hashtags are an effective way to getting new followers on Instagram, using too many of them can be distracting for your audience and dilute your message.
DON’T: Use hashtag gimmicks. Using hashtags such as #likeforlike, #tagsforlikes, or #followme may help you see a temporary increase in new followers, but they may be only be spammers or people only interested in being followed back—neither of which will help you build a meaningful, engaged community on Instagram. Instead, as Instagram recommends, focus on using hashtags specific to your photo, product, or business.
Make use of captions
Although Instagram is a highly visual platform, your photo captions play a big role in helping you get more Instagram followers. Along with using hashtags, here are things to consider when adding captions to your photos:
- Ask questions. This will encourage your audience to leave a comment with their answer, and this type of engagement will help make your account visible to more people. In this example, Winners showcases their products while engaging their community, encouraging them to leave a comment on the photo.
- Tag users. Tag other Instagram users featured in your photos either in your caption or by using Instagram’s tagging functionality. As noted by Simply Measured, posts that mention other users in the caption average 37 percent higher engagement. Likewise, encourage your followers to tag their friends in the comments if applicable. For example: “Tag someone you know who needs a vacation!” This can help expose your Instagram account to a larger network of people.
- Tag your location. If you work in a business that has a physical location, make sure you tag your photos with that location and encourage your customers to do the same. Users can then click on that location and see all the photos posted from your store, restaurant, or location, which can help expose your brand (and Instagram account) to more people. Searching for the Pike Place Starbucks location, for example, displays the most recent posts tagged by customers at that location.
Get creative with video
Instagram is the perfect place to take advantage of video, a trend that is only continuing to grow and dominate social media. The brands that are leading the pack when it comes to Instagram video are attracting new followers through user-generated content, fun and innovative videos that showcase their products, DIY tips, tutorials, and content that piques (and satisfies) curiosity.
4) Get more Instagram followers through contests and campaigns
Running contests on Instagram can help further grow your audience, drive traffic to your website, and even help you sell product. To enter the contest, ask people to either follow you, like, comment on one of your photos, use a specific hashtag, or repost one of your photos. Encouraging user-generated content as part of your contest will help you reach more people. Those who don’t follow you already will be exposed to your Instagram account through a post created by one of their friends, which is an effective way of building trust with new followers.
Benefit Cosmetics has successfully used Instagram contests to tie together the online and offline experience of their customers. For a recent campaign, they partnered with beauty retailer Ulta to run an Instagram contest that encouraged users to share a selfie after a visit with a brow expert at a local Ulta store. By following the @BenefitCosmetics account and posting their selfie using the hashtag #browbestie, the customer would be entered to win a year’s worth of brow service as well as $250 in Benefit products.
This contest achieved three things: it acted as an incentive for new followers, it showcased and promoted the in-store experience, and it rewarded the community for an online behavior that came naturally to them.
Incorporating Instagram into your overall marketing campaigns can help you gain new followers and connect the offline and online experience for your customers. For example:
- Run a teaser campaign that is exclusive to Instagram and slowly reveal an announcement, such as a new product or service.
- Use Instagram to provide coverage of live events including conferences, community gatherings, or in-store promotions.
5) Help others build their community
Like all social media networks, Instagram is about the communities built within it. Find potential new Instagram followers by following them first, and then get involved by liking, commenting, and sharing their content—many people will often return the favor.
Set up Instagram search streams in Hootsuite to find, monitor, and engage with users. If you find someone who is posting relevant content, leave a comment and ask if you can share the photo on your company’s account. (Just make sure you give credit to the individual who posted it originally.) Travel Alberta, for example, regularly re-posts content from their audience. As stated in their bio, users give permission to have their photos shared on the Travel Alberta Instagram account by using the #ExploreAlberta hashtag.
Collaborating with other successful Instagrammers in your industry can help both you and these influencers reach new audiences and gain increased followers and exposure. The Trendspottr for Instagram app in Hootsuite can help you gain insights into who these influencers are, and the most popular content they are sharing on Instagram.
6) Consider Instagram advertising to gain more followers
If you have a budget for social advertising, Instagram ads should definitely be on your radar. A sponsored ad is a powerful way to reach new potential Instagram followers, fast. Instagram now allows almost anyone to purchase sponsored posts within the platform, using online ad-buying tools that are offered by official Instagram partners. This means you can now log onto one of these third-party sites to create, target, and place ads on Instagram, in a self-serve style.
In a study done by Nielsen Brand Effect of more than 400 Instagram advertising campaigns, ad recall from sponsored posts was shown to be 2.8 times higher than other online advertising. A&W Restaurants saw a 39 point lift in ad recall and a 4 point lift in message association after running their Instagram ad campaign.
7) Measure and analyze your Instagram results
If you’re not gaining new Instagram followers at the rate you want, reviewing your metrics and analytics on a regular basis can help you identify areas where you can potentially adjust your strategy.
For example, you may notice a correlation between the time of day you post, certain hashtags, or the type of content, and a spike in new followers. Try focusing on repeating these moments to see if you get the same results.
This is an updated version of a post originally published in October 2015.
This article was originally published at blog.hootsuite.com, by author Sarah Dawley.