How I got to 10K Followers on Instagram

Ohhhhh, Instagram.

It’s my favorite social media platform. It’s gorgeous. It’s fun. It’s the place to be if you like social media at all- but it’s not easy to grow a “following”.

I kind of hate the term “following” because I follow a lot of people that I just like to look at. I’m not necessarily buying the clothes they promote or want to be like them, but I do enjoy the aesthetics of their feed. Does that make sense?

I also hated the term “influencer” until I read this definition: “a person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on social media.” Being an “influencer” doesn’t need to have a stigma behind it. It doesn’t mean you’re “cool” or “special” it just means you’re able to drive traffic to a product or service via social media. Or, you could drive people toward an idea, a belief system, a way of life. Looking at it that way, I want to be an influencer. I want to influence women to be happy. I want to influence them to live their best lives, take care of themselves and invest in themselves. So if I can even influence one person to love themselves a little more, I’ve done my job.

Now to the point of this post. Getting to that 10K. In June of 2018 I took part in an “Instagram Challenge” with my tribe. It was about creating content, getting those engagement numbers up, and truly understanding the platform. Previously, I had been conducting the majority of my business on Facebook, and I was very hesitant to move my focus to a platform I knew not a whole lot about. Instagram can seem really daunting. There are “rules”, these photos that girls are posting of themselves casually drinking coffee are way too gorgeous to comprehend, and then there’s the algorithm. Well never fear, I’m going to break it all down for you in a really simple way. You might not agree with me, and that’s okay! But I’m here to show you how I got to 10K followers in under 6 months, and I didn’t buy a single one of them.

It’s all about the visuals.

Instagram is a visual platform. Our brains are wired to like pictures, and the creators of Instagram took advantage of that. People spend more time on the platform, especially when they’re looking at visually pleasing photos. Remember that in order for someone to follow you, they have to click on your profile! That means that your feed is important. People are going to see the entire thing- not just one picture at a time. I’m going to give you an example. When I first started using instagram, my pictures were not a great quality, the lighting wasn’t great, and I never edited or filtered any of my photos. (As a disclaimer, I’m nowhere near professional when it comes to IG or my content, but I’m learning and I’ve grown a lot over the last 6 months.) Now, I pay attention to the lighting, the exposure, the angles and the way I take my pictures. I said goodbye to the front facing camera, and even if it’s an iPhone pic, I usually have someone else take it. That’s usually my husband or my son.

Let’s look at the photos below, and call out some differences between the two.

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Right off the bat, my mind tells me the crops are different. Since we already know that Instagram is a visual platform, maximizing the space you have is important. Not to say that there aren’t gorgeously cropped grams going around, but you need to be consistent with your use of space if you want people’s brains to stay on the photos. We all know those profiles that we end up 3 years deep on- it’s because they are visually pleasing (or maybe there’s some tea there that you’re trying to get to the bottom of. I don’t judge.)

Second, I notice the angle and the lighting. I’m insecure about my nose. The picture on the left makes my nose FRONT AND FREAKING CENTER which was a poor choice on my part. The picture on the right doesn’t. You can still see my makeup look, but you aren’t staring at my nose.

Third, look at the background. On the left, I’m using a super cute cactus backdrop that matched my branding at the time- and I love it! But the way I cropped it cut all the cacti out, so you can’t tell at all what it is. It looks jumbled, messy and weird. On the right, I’m standing in front of a blue wall. It’s basic, it works with the color scheme I was doing for January on my feed, and it’s clean looking. No weird blobs behind my head.

Last, the picture on the left is a selfie. I’m a fan of selfies, I think they have a time and a place. But I don’t think my instagram feed is the place for all my selfies. Luckily, Instagram has the story feature (with double the daily users of Snapchat, so get on board if you’re not already!) and my IG stories are where I put 99% of my selfies. Having my friend take my picture allows me to keep my arms at a natural angle, relax a little and let her get the best version of me in the picture.

If you’re trying to grow a following on Instagram, your visuals are important. Sticking with a color theme, a filter or preset, and a “vibe” will help your followers recognize you while they scroll, it’ll be eye pleasing when they check out your profile to see if they want to follow you, and it’ll be a lot easier to plan out your content if you already have a vibe in mind.

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Looking at the photos above- they all have a similar vibe. As people scroll through your feed, it’s important to stay consistent in the “vibe”. The actual content can be crazy different, but if our eyes register it all as “matching”, you’ll have people scrolling a lot longer. I’m super new at this. I am learning every single day- but this is one of the major things I’ve been focusing on to help strengthen my insta game. I’m sure I’ll look back on my 2019 feed and laugh some day, but for now I’m making progress and that’s all I can ask for!

Consistency is key.

Instagram’s algorithm favors active accounts. That means that if you’re trying to build a brand, launch a business or become an influencer, you need to post. A lot. I’ve seen some accounts post up to 3 times a day that have over 400K followers. Clearly, consistency is working for them. Most of those bloggers/brands/influencers are doing it as a full time gig, but if you’re not able to dedicate that kind of time to your content, posting daily, or at the very least every other day, is essential. You want to have content for people to interact with, and you want to have good content. Layering visually pleasing content with the frequency of the content will bump you up in the algorithm. Bumping up your engagement doesn’t just have to do with consistently posting, though. You also need to interact with your followers on those posts. If you receive a comment, comment back! I’ve read varying reports on the lengths of comments and the way they affect your post- and the general consensus is that comments with 4 words or more will add to the engagement rate. That means, if someone leaves you a nice comment, go comment back with 4 words or more to add to the engagement rate. I’m not saying be fake. It’s pretty easy to spot faux kindness. Be real, but be a little more wordy than “thanks!”

If you’re like “hey girl, who has time for all of this?” you’re right. I have utilized the help of AI systems that auto-respond, like pictures and engage with potential followers. Some people are haters when it comes to help like this- but this is a business for me! I’m going to use all the marketing assistance I can get! I use THIS company, and it’s been worth every penny. Their software is so customizable, they operate within the algorithm, and the response time for questions is super quick. I’ve tried a few different companies, but they’re my favorite by far.

Do Research.

I read THIS book, and it was a game changer. Tezza is one of my all time favorite Instagram accounts, and for good reason. She’s an incredible content creator, stays on top of all the trends, and takes risks. Reading her book helped me so much when it came to changing the way I wanted to run my instagram and finding my flow. I also read a lot of blogs, news articles and industry research on social media and specifically Instagram so that I can stay on top of any new features or things that Instagram wants us to utilize. You can’t complain about not knowing ANYTHING in this day and age. The information is out there, you just have to search for it.

Find your Tribe.

The biggest benefit to growing my account was finding other accounts I wanted to be like. I followed them, and I followed their followers. If you find someone you aspire to be like, or have things in common with, odds are you will have those things in common with their followers, too. Instagram is a community, and you will definitely find your tribe. Following those people will mean some of them follow you back. You can track who follows and unfollows you- and don’t think that not everyone is doing it. They are. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, because it’s a “thing” to have more followers than accounts that you’re following. I use the paid ios app “followers” and I have no complaints.

Utilize Hashtags.

Hashtags are a thing for a reason. Found a cool new restaurant? Search the hashtags to see meal pics. Want to go on vacation? Search the hashtag to find the things people love to do at each location. Looking for ways to style a new trend? There are hashtags for that too. So what hashtags are you using? Are you using them in a smart, calculated way? Or are you just throwing words out there, hoping that they’ll stick? The smaller your account is, and the less engagement you have, the harder it is for you to “rank” in the top 9 of the hashtag search page. That means that you want to pick hashtags that fit the size and strength of account you have. I do that by doing a hashtag audit. About 24 hours after I use a hashtag on a post, I’ll check each hashtag search page. If I’m on the first page of hashtags, it’s a good one for me to use. If I’m not even on the map- probably shouldn’t be utilizing that one. You’ll see a genre of hashtags you perform well in, as well as the number of uses the hashtags have. Strong account? Go for that million plus hashtag. Not so much? Stick under 100k and you’ll have a much easier time of being seen. You won’t know the strength of your profile until you try it out, so post today and see where you’re at tomorrow.

As far as the number of hashtags to use, that’s up in the air. Tezza and other people have said use 4-8 targeted hashtags. Other sites have said to utilize up to 29. I’ve tried all sorts of combos, and the jury is still out. I’ll update if I ever get anything definitive there.

That’s pretty much it.

Create visually appealing content. Be consistent. Target your tribe, do research and use smart hashtags. If you’re consistent with it, you’ll grow. It took me 6 months to hit 10k, and a lot of time and effort- but it was totally worth it for that swipe up story feature.