How I Grew my Instagram by 15k Followers in One Year

Sunday 8 September 2019

Flatlay of an iPhone on a pile of books with an Inspirational Quote

Instagram is a funny old thing and mastering it can seem impossible at times, especially with the constant algorithm changes. Despite this I have managed to maintain relatively steady growth on my Fridayfaye account this year - increasing by 1000-2000 followers per month and I have achieved this without using a single dodgy method - no bots, no fake followers, no pods. Unfortunately, I don’t have any magic tricks or instant growth methods to show you, but I do want to let you know the changes I have made to improve my Instagram growth with the hope that it will help you if your follower count has come to a halt.

Content is key

You might be tempted to scroll past this paragraph but I would encourage you not to, because the truth is that you won’t be able to organically grow your following on Instagram if you aren’t producing high quality content that people want to see and engage with. In the past I believed that if I just posted photos I loved consistently for a long time then other people would eventually love them too, but unfortunately it didn’t work that way for me. A couple of years ago I started losing followers faster than I could gain them despite doing ‘everything right’, so I decided that I needed to examine my content through a critical eye. I had to ask myself questions such as ‘is my content really unique?’ ‘Do my images make people feel something?’ ‘Would someone look forward to seeing my posts on their feed? Would I?’ It was a bit of an uncomfortable process but it was also extremely helpful because it made me realise that though my photos were quite pretty, my content wasn’t at all relatable and as a result people might not be invested enough to actually hit the follow button - it was from this point that I decided to add more of a personal touch to my photos, and this is still my main focus area going forward.

Through this process I did also manage to identify one strength of my content, which is that it is unique to me. I’ve never tried to mimic anyone’s style, I’ve never cared about the trends or looked at what is working for others and just done that, I’ve never created work that I couldn’t say with complete conviction came from my own creativity and heart, even if small elements were inspired by others. If you plan to mimic someone else’s content then you had better be certain that you are able to do it far better than they are, which is a tough expectation because the original creator is usually going to be the master of it - after all it came naturally to them. If your content isn’t better and more interesting than the original poster then people will just continue to follow them, they don’t need to see the same images twice on their feed. If you want to grow quickly it helps to stand out from the crowd, create imagery that pops out of the explore page and aim to create something that people won’t find anywhere else, so they will have to follow you.

Around this time I also started to pay attention to the performance of my posts, taking note of the images that received the best engagement. I noticed that posts featuring Disney products were my most well liked, so I decided to take more photos within that theme. When one of my Disney related posts performs well I will generally see a boost in followers, which I assume is because popular Disney posts are more likely to make it to the Explore page (just a theory!) Pay attention to which of your posts perform better than others, see if you can identify a pattern. This will be something that is unique to you, if you start posting Disney content based on the fact that it performs well for me it probably won’t have the same effect, because your own followers might not want to engage with it, meaning you’ll miss the all important initial engagement (which determines how many accounts Instagram will show your post to).

Be Incredibly Consistent

Flatlay of an Ipad displaying Fridayfaye Instagram Feed

Instagram favours consistency - I know you’re probably bored of hearing it by now but it’s such an important point to keep in mind if you are really committed to growing your following. If you are able to upload at the same time every single day, never miss a post (even when you’re on holiday or sick) and you manage to maintain a consistent theme then you are more likely to grow at a steady pace. Growing on Instagram is hard work, the majority of us will have to be dedicated to the point of obsessed in order to see fast natural growth. There are, of course, exceptions - Mrs Hinch being a good example of one - her content was so engaging, honest and unique that she was able to sky rocket to fame in a short amount of time whilst barely posting to her feed at all. If you have nailed the first step (content is key) then you might be able to pull off this approach, but being consistent will definitely increase your chances of success.

When it comes to creating a consistent looking feed editing is super important. I shoot the majority of my photos in the same place with the same lighting and I edit them all to fit within the same colour scheme (you can find out more about my editing process in this post). You’ll want to upload a variety of images to stop your feed from looking too similar, but as long as there is a consistent theme (via the colouring or props/location used) then your future followers will know what to expect from you. When I’m browsing Instagram, I’ll often come across an image that I love, so I’ll check out the persons feed and realise that I only really like half of their content, the other half is uninteresting to me. In this case I usually won’t follow them because I know I won’t enjoy seeing their content on my feed half of the time and I’m only looking to follow accounts that inspire me. If this is something that I consider then I assume other people feel the same way.

Another important step when creating a consistent looking feed is to plan in advance. I shoot all of my content at the weekend which definitely helps me to achieve this, I also drop my images into a fake version of my Instagram feed so that I can see which images work best next to each other, this means that I can also spot if my feed is becoming too samey at the time of shooting. I personally use Photoshop for this but there are some really good apps which achieve the same result, UNUM is my favourite because it’s so straightforward to use, and it’s free.

Engage, Engage, Engage

Photo of a desk with an iMac showing a wallpaper of peonies

... but don’t be spammy! It seems like a lot of people have heard this advice and taken it to mean ‘just leave a comment on every photo you see’. However, if you leave the same generic sounding comment on someone’s posts every single day they probably won’t be inclined to check out your page, they might even be tempted to block you. ‘Beautiful!’ ‘I love it’ and ‘gorgeous xx’ are perfectly lovely comments when left sparingly, but if you leave that same comment on 35 different accounts every day then people will start to notice and they will be less likely to engage with you, because it is obvious that you are just looking for a comment back. The basic rule that I like to follow is ‘If you can’t immediately think of something to say about the post, don’t leave a comment.’ There will be plenty more posts on your feed that you will feel inspired to comment on, it’s okay to miss out the occasional one. It’s also super important that you read the caption before engaging, even if it’s just a skim read - there have been plenty of times before where I’ve written about a particularly difficult day only to receive the comment ‘I hope you’re having an amazing week!’ You’re looking to form genuine connections rather than seeming like a soulless bot.

Another growth tactic that has really worked for me is engaging with posts on the Explore and Hashtag search pages, this is a great place to find smaller accounts with the same interests as you and I find that more often than not they will return the love. One thing to be mindful of when engaging in this way is Instagram's rules, break them and you’ll find yourself with a temporary ban which can last up to a week (though 24 hour bans are the most common). Don’t like too many posts too quickly or in a pattern, leave too many comments in a row or too many short/similar comments and try to break up your routine as much as possible. Like a few photos, leave a couple of comments then click off of the app, maybe check your messages then back to liking again. If you do receive a ban then don’t panic! Just stay off of the app for the length of time required and be careful once it lifts, it takes a while to gain Instagram's trust again so you can’t immediately go back to liking as normal.

Those are my tips for achieving steady growth on Instagram. As I said in the first paragraph, there are no quick solutions or amazing shortcuts, you should be prepared to work very hard, consistently for a long period of time. It’s taken me almost three years to grow my following to 32k, it’s something I’m proud of and I hope that I will continue to grow so that I can hit my goal of 50k soon! Let me know if you found this post useful or if you have any more advice on this topic, I’d love to hear it.

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