I was pretty shocked about YouTube videos titled “How to gain 100k followers in 48 hours” or “Top Instagram Growth Hacks” and so on. And even more significant is the number of clicks these videos get. This seems to be a highly relevant topic!
My notion was confirmed when I recently showed a snippet of an Instagram workshop I held offline and hundreds of you guys commented that you were interested in a blog post about this topic. So here we are! Today I want to help YOU by sharing as much information and experience with you as possible.
What is the magic key?
What is the number 1 hack all successful Instagrammers know about but I don’t?
Why are other accounts growing so fast but I’m hardly growing at all?
How come person X is gaining 100 followers per day but I’m stagnating at X followers?
I bet they are all using bots. Perhaps that’s the key to success?
These are all questions I asked myself just 13 months ago. Let me tell you one thing before we start with my personal story and a few key success factors: There is no magical shortcut and bots are NOT the solution. Period.
My Instagram story
End of 2016 I stagnated between 7000 and 8000 followers. I had built a small community in the previous months through interaction with like-minded people and regular postings on my feed. Nevertheless, for some reason, nobody new wanted to follow me. Were my pictures really that bad?
In September 2016 I bought a new camera because I wanted to produce YouTube videos more professionally (that’s why most of my YouTube videos are 1 year old…) but I knew nothing about photography. Terms like “aperture”, “ISO” and “exposure” were unfamiliar to me. So I used the Auto mode on my camera which totally messed up my pictures – either they were terribly over-exposed, grainy due to a high ISO or blurry in parts they shouldn’t be. Back then, I still thought my pictures were pretty good. I guess the more “professional” you become, the better your eyesight for these qualitative details gets.
Besides, I didn’t have any coherent theme. I simply posted 3-4x a day (back then I thought the more the better haha, now I think more than 2x a day is annoying), mostly food I ate the same day. My Instagram feed wasn’t bad but it wasn’t special either. It was as mediocre as every other hobby foodie account. And come on, let’s face it – almost everyone owns a camera now so just because you take pictures with a camera instead of an iPhone you won’t enter the “next level” on the Instagram ladder.
I had to become better if I wanted to reach more people with my work. So I researched… I watched videos, read blog articles and purchased a book about food photography. One of the first tips I immediately took to heart was the following:
Create a coherent theme
It was a random fashion influencer on YouTube with over 100k followers that inspired me to finally “invent” a theme for my Instagram. Until then, I arbitrarily posted everything I shot and liked. Coherence can be achieved by repeatedly retaining a certain characteristic throughout your Instagram feed. This could be a filter in VSCO or a preset in Lightroom, a posting schedule (such as alternating photo styles) or a colour scheme.
The theme I chose for my Instagram was bright rainbow colours and bowls in every other picture. I posted a bowl, and then something else. A bowl again, and something else again. I chose this layout for my feed because I was in love with bowls. I had a smoothie bowl for breakfast every day and I received lots of positive feedback for those. For dinner, I had buddha bowls most of the days.
I still kinda stick to the same theme 1 year later, though I’ve become a little more flexible – I alternate “round things” with “straight things” like pancakes or pics of myself. I truly believe that theme contributed a great deal to my success so I don’t want to quite give it up yet.
If you can’t come up with an individual theme right away, don’t worry. Your unique style will crystalize through experience and error and trial. You can always change the direction at any time!
Let’s move on to another crucial point.
2. Editing and picture quality
You can take great pictures with an iPhone or any other modern phone and build a large following without a camera but I would recommend a camera anyways. For two reasons:
- Lenses with a fixed focal length can create that desirable blurry background that makes your front shots look really professional.
- You can shoot in RAW, which means you can edit pictures in Photoshop or Lightroom without quality deterioration.
My favourite editing app for mobile devices is Snapseed.
For PC I recommend Photoshop Lightroom.
You can read everything about my camera and equipment here.
A basic rule of thumb for editing is: You want to enhance the natural features of the image without making it look too artificial. Whatever “too artificial” means to you. Just don’t go too crazy on filters.
3. Passion and patience
Growing an Instagram account takes time. Unless you find gratification in buying tons of followers just to look more popular, there is no magic hack that will make you gain 10k followers overnight.
ONLY DO THIS if you are 100% sure you want to become a public figure and turn your passion into your profession. You will have to put in several hours a day to see the outcome you desire. If you are not willing to INVEST time and money or if you don’t plan to expand into digital business, you might want to reconsider what you truly want.
What drives you? What is your passion?
When I decided to turn my Instagram into a business, I followed all the necessary steps I listed here. Before that, I only saw it as a hobby and a great platform to connect with like-minded people. I made the choice to earn money from my Instagram so I worked hard to be able to generate an income. I spent thousands of euros on equipment, props and education and thousands of hours on practice. Make sure you are absolutely passionate about what you put out on social media and social media in general. The best way to find out is to try. But as I said, before you go ALL IN make sure you’ve found your passion and your niche.
This is especially important if you are new to a niche community (such as vegan food).
COMMENT, COMMENT, COMMENT.
And later: REPLY, REPLY, REPLY.
When you post a picture, be active afterward. Comment on other people’s pictures to be seen. The more often you’re seen, the more people will notice you and interact with you. Soon you will have made your first Instagram “friends”. You will enter a network of people who support each other on a daily basis. And a little later you might meet some of those people in real life… and become very good friends. Connections are key! Social media is all about networking… and mutual support. The more you give, the more you get.
5. Hashtags and Geotagging
Although this is probably an obvious point for most of you, it also is a very important one. Always use all 30 hashtags and tag your locations to enable an additional chance to be seen by new people. I always copy and paste my hashtags from the notes app on my iPhone and add 2-3 individual ones that fit the image.
Pro tip: Paste 30 hashtags in the comments first and then add 30 different hashtags to the caption. This way, you will get double exposure through 60 hashtags instead of 30. 😉
6. Share accounts & Shoutouts
Some accounts solely exist for the purpose of reposting YOUR content. Make out those accounts for your niche and tag them in your pictures for them to notice you.
Food examples: Letscookvegan, Thrivemags, Veganfoodspot
Sometimes Instagrammers create “parties”, which are challenges you can enter by following certain rules. Being reposted by a personal account generates more new followers than a share account because private recommendations are considered more “valuable”. Check out our current party!
7. Inspiring content
In my opinion, this is the key factor to BIG success. If you truly want to stand out, you have to offer a lot of amazing content for free. I, for instance, love to talk about manifestation so I regularly give tips on how to create the life of your dreams. Tips like these can be extremely helpful for others so don’t underestimate your knowledge and interests. Whatever you experience, read or find out, share it with your community! People are hungry for personal stories. And nobody’s story is “more” inspiring than anybody else’s. We all have our individual stories to share so please do so! The more you open up, the more positive feedback you will get.
Use them. Stories can be seen by strangers if you get featured in the explore section which opens up an additional vessel to generate more followers. Don’t be scared of strangers! If you are, please read number 3 again. Are you sure social media is the perfect platform for you? You should never ever care about what others might think of you! Build confidence through action and experience. What matters is what YOU think of yourself. If you stay authentic, you will only benefit from the additional exposure!
Show snippets of your personal life and give tips & motivate people. The more positivity, the more frequently people will come back! Please don’t use stories to complain about things or vent your anger. You can ask the community for advice if you want to but constant negativity frightens people away. Use stories to give as many free tips & tricks as possible. Stories are the best way to stay connected with your community and get even closer to them. Or the other way round, I guess. I love stories!
I hope you found some of these tips useful. There are about 50 more tips I could list but I think I would have to write a book instead of a blog post then. Would you guys read that book? 😀
For this blog post, there will be a part 2 soon where I will share at least 7 more Instagram tips! Stay tuned!
Since Instagram has become so important for personal as well as professional businesses (and thanks to the digital revolution everyone can benefit enormously from a strong digital presence), I decided to offer personal counseling. If you are interested, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. There will be a whole workshop soon so you might want to wait for that. Until then, I offer the opportunity to Skype with me to get all your urgent individual questions answered.