This is part 2 of a 3-part series. If you haven’t read part 1, I suggest you start right here: How I got to 2.000 followers on Instagram (part 1)
Disclaimer: In the mean time I’ve grown my personal account to almost 8.000 followers in about 8 months time using these 9 growth hacks, every time over and over again! So I can assure you they work 😉
4. Maximize your hashtags to be found – use more and smaller!
Did you know you can use up to 30 hashtags in every single post? I sure didn’t read this on the Instagram intro-tour ? But now you know, that’s a bit scary right, 30 hashtags … who can come up with 30 good hashtags every time they post.
I’ll tell you: the winners ? And you want to be a winner! Right?
And it’s not even that difficult. You just need to invest some time in the beginning and experiment a bit with the hashtags. Some will be good for you, others will not work for you. So, you eliminate those and add in new ones, until you have a set of 30 hashtags that performs well for your type of pictures (remember your consistent style).
Example: in my case, I started out with a bunch of drone-specific hashtags. I figured they were very close to my niche, so they must be good for me. Turns out I get a lot more engagement from generic hashtags (unrelated to drones). So I changed them and nowadays I never use drone-hashtags in my posts anymore!
Here’s an example of my hashtag set. The first half is location specific and the second half is my generic set with lots of landscape-like shots in it:
Now go to the explore page on Instagram (the page where you can search) and type in some hashtags you think might fit your style. Look at the top pictures being displayed. Are they similar to yours? Yes = good, use it. No = your post won’t fit and won’t get any likes from that hashtag.
PS: another way to research hashtags is to see what the popular posts are using … chances are some of those hashtags are going to be good. But never just copy/paste them all, always check them out for yourself and judge if they are interesting for your style!
PS2: you can also use a tool like Flick, which visually helps you to select the best hashtags for you and deep-dive in related hashtags. I do recommend checking out this tool, they have a 7-days free trial 🙂 (You can thank me later 😛 )
Watch out though: The bigger hashtags are too competitive for you in the beginning! So, don’t be too ambitious when you start. Exactly 3 seconds after you post, your post won’t be visible anymore. DAMN, that does not leave a lot of window to be discovered right 😀 That’s why you need to look for some small hashtags in the beginning, like those who have around 10-50k posts in them. And once you grow and start ranking those hashtags, you can grow your hashtags as well.
Eventually the idea is to get trending in some hashtags, so Instagram will show your post to a lot of people. Who can then follow you as well. I’ll immediately crush some noob dreams … you won’t be trending on the hashtags! Not for a long time. Not until you hit like 4.000 followers or so. OK, maybe you’ll get lucky once. But in general, your post will die in the hashtag game pretty quickly. That’s why I told you to start off small. In those ~20k hashtags, you might actually be on top for a couple of hours. And that’s exactly what you want.
The trick to trend on the hashtags, is to use the following method – again, only when you start getting some real followers who can support you. You use around 8 small hashtags (10-50k posts), you add about 10 medium hashtags (between 50-300k) and 8 more big hashtags (300k-1,5M posts) and 4 huge hashtags (1,5M+ posts). Obviously, these numbers are no exact science. But the idea is this: you post and start trending in those smaller hashtags, who can then carry enough weight and likes to get you to trend in the medium hashtags. And so on, like in a game, you level up and if your post keeps it up, you’ll eventually trend in those huge hashtags as well. And THAT is where the money is. Once you hit that sweet spot, those likes will start rolling in and with that, some new followers as well.
Unfortunately, I need to crush another one of your noob dreams. Even when you trend in bigger hashtags, you will only get a 10-20 something new followers ☹ But it’s still better than 0-2 new followers on your average post.
As you can see, this method might take you a while to get to 2.000 followers. If we take the average of 1 follower per post, you’ll get to 2.000 in … well 2.000 days (if you post 1x per day). That’s in 5 years !! You promised me 2 months !! You’re full of crap … I’m out of here!
Haha, you’re right. You just discovered THE BIG SECRET. You will need to get followers in a different way, because the above method is just way too slow. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow my steps above though. They are still very important. A good-looking feed is what will convince the potential follows to hit that follow button! And you’ll need a decent amount of likes on your posts to make them look credible. Imagine someone with 2.000 followers and only 10 likes on average on his posts. You will smell something is wrong and not follow him, right? ?
Luckily this is not the end of my blog post, but the start of the really juicy stuff. Hang in there:
5. Engage until your thumbs hurt – Give before you ask
THE NUMBER ONE KEY into Instagram growth is called engagement.
Now I explained above that engagement is the combination of likes and comments people are giving you and is often expressed through an Engagement Rate (ER), a percentage. You can look up yours on any specialized website (for free), Google around a bit if you’re interested. Mine is around 17% for example.
But that’s not the point. I’m talking about your engagement towards the community. If you go out and like/comment on someone else’s post. They are likely to notice and check out your profile. If they like your profile, they might even follow you. And BAM, that’s how it works.
That’s also why the basic steps are so important. Any person you engage with, will come check you out and see your account page, your feed. If your feed is not good, not consistent, they will never follow you. If it’s looking very appealing, huppakee, new follower check!
Now I would advise to engage with people in your niche or who are proven to like your niche. For example, go to one of your favorite hashtags and engage with the people posting there. Or another one of my favorite methods is to engage with the followers of similar bigger accounts.
In my example, I’ll go find the followers of other successful drone accounts and hit them up with some likes and a comment. They are proven success = they already follow an account similar to mine, within my niche. So they are likely to be interested in my posts. All I have to do, is draw their attention to my feed, so they can click the follow button. And that’s where engagement comes in.
Now Instagram has a daily like and comment limit, but your thumbs will hurt before you hit that limit. So, go all out and engage as much as you can. Basically the more you engage, the more people will come check out your page and the faster you will grow !! ?
In my experience liking 3 posts and leaving 1 comment is the golden combination. You can do more, but be careful not to come over too spammy (they might think you’re a bot and report you). You can also do less, but then you won’t be so obvious in their notifications tab. Also be careful to leave a genuine comment, not just “amazing post ?”. This looks like a bot.
One last advice here: try to engage with accounts between 50-1.500 followers. These are most likely to follow you back. They don’t usually get that many likes/comments, so you’ll stand out. Accounts with more followers obviously take the Instagram game more seriously and probably won’t follow you that easily.
The last 3 topics I’ll cover go beyond your standard Instagram growth and are basically 3 ways to help you out a little bit. Because unfortunately even with all of the above, you will not get to 2.000 followers in 2 months’ time. You’re going to need some help! (all for FREE, as I promised)
6. Here comes the cavalry – Get some help ?
Instagram doesn’t officially approve of this method, but engagement pods or engagement groups have been around for ages and are very effective at what they do. They help you to get trending in the hashtags.
Now as you’ve read above, the hashtags-game is not the fastest way of getting new followers, but it’s part of the basics of Instagram. So as long as you are posting anyway, you might as well try to rank in the hashtags, right ?
And don’t worry, even the biggest accounts use engagement groups to boost their posts. Don’t believe me? Check out some of your favorite accounts, look for the comments in the first 30mins. They will be from the same big ‘friends’ all the time. Now why is this important?
Disclaimer: I do not think Engagement groups still work in 2021. Some people still do it. I however have stopped using them a long time ago. Up to you …
I’ve already told you part of the answer. The engagement you get in the first 30 minutes will determine whether or not Instagram thinks your post is interesting or not. If it’s interesting, Instagram will show it to 1) more and more of your followers and also 2) put it higher up in the hashtags you are using on your post.
2 different things, important in their own ways. We’ve covered the hashtag game higher up, so #2 should be obvious to you now. However, #1 is new here. Instagram only shows your posts to a portion of your followers. If they like the post, Instagram will then show it to some more of your followers. If they like it again, more and more until all your followers have seen the post. On the other side, if your followers see your post and do not like it, the opposite happens. Instagram deems your post not very interesting and will show it to less and less of your followers, until it dies a silent death.
That’s another reason why you shouldn’t get ‘zombie’ followers, as I’ve called them higher up. Followers who follow you, but never like your posts. You might actually have more followers (that was the goal, right?), but they are actually working against your growth. They are slowing your post down. So, in the long run, not very handy.
PS: If you have a business account, via the post insights, you can see how many of your followers you have reached and how many have come through the hashtags.
So, in order to boost your post right after you publish, you’ll want to find an engagement group. They will typically help you with a like and a comment in the first 30 minutes and therefor help you reach more of your own followers and rank higher in the hashtags. A very effective way. You can also be in 2 groups btw. Just make sure they are in the same niche as you. In my example they should also be photographers, ideally drone photographers or post travel pictures, like I do. The closer they are, the more relevant their engagement will be. Make sure they also follow you, as I explained with #1 just above, this will even help you reach more of your own followers.
As with any like/comment, same goes for those coming from your engagement group: the bigger the account, the more weight this like/comment will have on your post. For example: if you have a like from someone with 300 followers or a like from someone with 30.000 followers, Instagram will think that second like to be much more important. So ideally, you’ll have a lot of ‘small’ likes and also a few ‘big likes’ to boost your post.
Finding an engagement group might seem scary at first, but once you start engaging with a similar audience, an invitation should follow quickly. If not, look for accounts with a lot of comments on their posts in the first 30mins and just DM them to see if you can join ? Depending on the group, they’ll post at fixed timeslots or use a group-chat to communicate their posts, and you will be expected to like and comment back on their pictures.
So yes, it does take some commitment!
On the other hand, you should also see it as a community of like-minded people in the same niche as you. So, besides the free engagement, it’s a great opportunity to interact and learn from each other!
Bonus tip 01: Be sure to post your new post in your stories as well. Click on the little arrow next to your post’s like and comment icon and click ‘add to story’. Your post will now appear directly in your story and will be clickable for anybody who sees it! Very handy. Add some text like ‘new post is up, click here’ and publish. This bonus method will allow your followers to discover your new post faster and if they like it, it means you’ll again get more of your own followers to engage, thus making Instagram think it’s an important post and your momentum will grow! ?
Read step 7 to 9 in my follow-up blog post on How I got to 2.000 followers on Instagram (part 3)