But when you finally reach that first big milestone—whatever it might be for your business—it’s worth celebrating.
But how do you get there?
Between slow and steady tactics to quick, "get a million followers overnight!" gimmicks, it's not uncommon to feel overwhelmed and lose sight of why growing an Instagram following from the ground up is important in the first place.
Dive right in, or skip ahead:
- Quality visual or nothing
- Captions and hashtags are mission-critical
- Focus on the right audience
- Extend your brand’s reach with paid ads
- Connect with influencers can boost your growth
- Feature customers and your business
- Work smarter with the right tools
- Leverage Instagram Stories and highlights
- Keep tabs on your Instagram analytics
- Show up when it matters most
What are the benefits of growing your Instagram following?
The global adoption of Instagram wasn't by happenstance.
Instagram is one of the most popular social networks to date. In fact, Instagram reached over 1B active monthly users back in 2018.
Let’s look at some of the leading benefits of growing your Instagram following.
Increase your website traffic
While you can't hyperlink a URL in a caption, Instagram offers other opportunities for linking—like Instagram Stories and “Link in Profile” callouts—making it a great way to drive people to your website.
50% of people have jumped to a website to make a purchase after seeing a product or service through Instagram Stories. And once you reach over 10,000 followers, you unlock the coveted "swipe up" feature. This makes it easy for businesses to link directly to a landing page right within their Story.
You can also direct followers to the link in your Instagram bio using a good old call to action within a regular in-feed post caption, like business coach and marketing mentor, Kate Wilkinson, does.
Because you can only include one coveted link in your Instagram bio, using a link platform like Linktree which allows you to create a collection of links or Later’s Linkin.bio feature which turns your profile into a microsite can help drive traffic to other landing pages.
Build a community of fans around your brand
Instagram is an excellent way to share visual content with your audience but it’s also a great place to build a strong community.
Take outdoor recreation brand, REI, for example. REI's Instagram community is full of diverse faces and voices, making it a place for all outdoor enthusiasts.
Gather audience insights to aid product growth
With Instagram being a leading channel for customers to discover products and keep up with their favorite brands—in fact, 37% of US social media users use Instagram to follow brands — there are ample opportunities to collect insights on your followers.
Here are a few ways to do so:
- Swipe up in Stories can link to a survey form
- Polls in Stories
- Leave feedback in post comments
- Direct messages
- Q&A box in Stories
You might also stumble upon coveted customer feedback in different ways. This exchange with Chaco footwear and a follower is a great example of unsolicited customer feedback that could positively impact the brand.
In this post, Chaco wasn't specifically asking for feedback on this product. However, this particular product struck a chord with a follower who suggested making the product available in men's sizes, too.
10 Lessons from 10k Instagram Followers
While there are many ways to grow your following on social media, there are a few non-negotiable tactics that should be baked into your Instagram marketing strategy from the start. Instagram has been around long enough where it's crucial to know what customers expect from brands to find success.
Think of these lessons as a checklist for your Instagram strategy. Here are ten lessons we've learned from growing our Instagram following from 7k to 10k—and now, 16k.
1. Quality visuals or nothing
Instagram is an inherently visual platform. From single-post static images to multi-clip videos, Instagram is the platform to let your creativity run wild.
Because without quality, it's safe to say users won't be sticking around for too long.
Whether it's a photo on Instagram or chatting directly with a customer, putting your best foot forward is always good for business. Creating and posting quality content boosts the credibility of your brand and helps tell your story.
Along with building a credible brand from a visual perspective, using quality images:
- Makes for a more cohesive Instagram account.
- Ensures followers understand the context of the content you're posting.
- Shows followers you are organized and care about their experience with your brand.
So, where to start?
When planning your Instagram content, it's important to think about how it will look both on its own and together with your other content. Make sure you're posting content that not only resonates with your target audience (i.e., it's relevant to their interests and values) but that also reflects your brand.
Also, it's important to create truly unique content. Sure, there are trends to insert your brand into where and when applicable. But creating content that is truly unique to your brand will always be the better strategy.
Here's a look at our Instagram feed:
Our content has a specific look and feel that is unique to the brand, which establishes consistency and boosts brand recognition.
2. Captions and hashtags are mission-critical
There's an art to writing Instagram captions. Emojis. Hashtags. Location tags. Compelling caption copy. It's all part of creating an engaging caption that does what you intend it to do—encourage followers to click the link in your bio, check out your upcoming Instagram Live, or tag a friend who might find the most interesting.
In our book, there are six critical elements of Instagram captions:
- Caption length
- Call to action (CTA)
Your captions give followers a reason to engage with your post. They add context to what's happening in an image or video and help followers understand what you want them to do.
Spend time crafting your captions just like you would with the rest of your content.
3. Focus on the right audience
Creating high-quality social media content takes a lot of planning and strategizing. That's why it's important to make sure you're focusing on getting that content in front of the right people.
Using social media listening tools like Sprout Social is a great way to hone in on your ideal audience, learn when they're most active on Instagram, and what they're talking about to create a better strategy.
Source: Sprout Social
Another way to ensure you're creating content that speaks to your audience is using a content calendar. If your content is planned out, you can look back and pick up on trends—whether it be contextual or the best time of day to post—based on how your posts perform. That way, you can create the best possible content for your audience.
4. Extend your brand’s reach with paid ads
While creating targeted, strategy-driven organic Instagram content, it's worth considering adding some budget to your content, too.
As we mentioned earlier, Instagram changed its algorithm in 2016 to a non-chronological feed, meaning the more your followers engaged with your content, the more likely they were to see it in their feeds—rather than seeing every post by every account they follow as it was posted.
Organic content strategy aside, many brands turned to Instagram ads to give their content a boost due to dwindling engagement numbers after the Instagram algorithm went live.
Advertising on Instagram allows you to reach new audiences you otherwise may not have been able to reach and at an exponential rate, whether you're trying to boost video views, encourage participation in a giveaway, or whatever your objective.
In fact, according to Facebook, a whopping 80% of users use Instagram to make buying decisions based on something they saw on the platform.
5. Connect with influencers to boost your growth
Within the last few years, partnering with influencers has quickly become a top method for brands to connect to niche audiences. In fact, a survey from Civic Science found that 35% of daily US Instagram users have bought something because a blogger or influencer recommended it.
Partnering with the right influencers is crucial to the success of your campaign. If you want to work with a popular influencer, but their brand, views, and audience don't align with yours, you'll be hard-pressed to see success.
When considering influencers, think about relevance and size:
Ask yourself: Does this influencer have the audience you're trying to reach? Are their people your people, too?
Doing your due diligence on selecting the right influencer partner could mean the difference between a successful campaign and one that goes off the rails.
For example, who could forget the viral-for-the-wrong-reasons campaign from Pepsi featuring Kendall Jenner? The campaign went live in response to increasing activism against police brutality, the Flint water crisis, and other racially-charged issues.
There’s a lot to unpack with this campaign, but the bottom line is that Pepsi not only missed the mark on the messaging, but who they chose to feature in the campaign came across as tone-deaf.
Influencers come in many shapes and sizes. It all depends on the kind of audience you want to reach. If you're interested in reaching a smaller, more niche audience, it might make more sense to opt for a micro-influencer (or someone with anywhere from 10,000 - 100,000 followers).
On the other hand, if you want to reach a larger audience, you may want to consider an influencer with a bigger following.
6. Feature customers and your business
It's important to share why your brand is great on social media, but sometimes it's better to let your customers do the talking for you.
Of course, you know how awesome your business is, so incorporating other perspectives and stories into your content can be super beneficial.
But what's the sweet spot of useful content to promotional content?
That's where the 80/20 rule comes into play. The 80/20 rule states that 80% of your content should be useful to your customers while the other 20% should be promotional.
A great way to use this rule is to incorporate customer stories and testimonials into your content.
Take this example from our Instagram feed:
We wanted to highlight Jody's story and success in a relatable and informative way to our followers. We also included a link to the customer story for followers interested in learning more about Jody and her yoga business in the caption for further reading.
7. Work smarter with the right tools
To build a solid Instagram presence, you need to assemble the right tools for the job. Here are a few tools that will help you grow on Instagram:
You spend lots of time thinking of the perfect Instagram caption, but what about the formatting? Sometimes, try as we might, the formatting for captions doesn't translate well, and the end result is usually a block of text that is easy to scroll past.
A tool like the Instagram Line Break Generator lets you format your caption and copy/paste it into your social media scheduler or Instagram account. It's a must-have for creating captions that get read!
It's an extra step for followers after they read your caption or watch your Reel to navigate to the link in your bio to take action. That's why it's important to link to landing pages built to generate the most conversions.
Use Leadpages to create engaging landing pages for your business, whether using a link collection tool like Linktree or using a stand-alone URL.
Social media scheduler and automation tools are a total game-changer for businesses. Who wouldn't love the ability to batch create content, schedule it, and monitor engagement all from one dashboard?
A tool like Later takes the headache out of building a consistent, high-performing Instagram presence. Plus, you'll never have to wonder, "What are we posting today?" again.
Just as there's an art to writing a stellar Instagram caption, so too is there an art to selecting the right hashtags to include in your caption. Instagram hashtags are a great way to drum up more engagement on your posts and help people who aren't (yet!) following you discover your brand.
In fact, a study from Fohr found that Instagram posts with at least one hashtag can lead to a 12.6% increase in engagement than posts without any hashtags.
Keyword Tool takes the guesswork out of determining which relevant hashtags to include based on your content. For example, if you're posting about landing pages and type in #landingpages into Keyword Tool, you'd see something like this:
Source: Keyword Tool
You'll see the popular hashtags for that topic and how many posts currently use that hashtag. It's good to include popular hashtags but be sure to mix in a few others (including branded hashtags where applicable) to maximize your reach.
Before you can start scheduling and posting content on Instagram, it's important to have a content calendar in place. Think of a content calendar as a centralized place that houses your social media plans, post ideas, themes, and more to keep you organized.
While content calendars save time, they also offer a bird's eye view of your social media strategy and your post cadence, so your team is always on the same page.
Creating a content calendar from scratch can be intimidating. Download our free, interactive 2021 Content Marketing Calendar packed with examples and templates to get you started.
Whether you're managing one or six Instagram accounts, using a tool that keeps your content assets in one place is essential for any business owner or marketer.
Creator Studio by Facebook lets you manage and monitor your Instagram and Facebook content from one dashboard. You can also organize your content in your content library, upload multiple videos at once, and gauge how your content is performing.
8. Leverage Instagram Stories and highlights
Instagram Stories has quickly become a leading engagement-driver for brands on Instagram.
But what happens to those Stories once the 24-hour window expires?
Unfortunately, unless you save them as highlights, they disappear. Luckily, saving your Stories as highlights is easy:
Because you can customize the cover photo for each highlight, we recommend adding cover photos that align with your brand's look and feel. For our highlights, we chose cover photos that matched our brand while also speaking to the content in each highlight:
Remember, when designing your highlight cover photos, make sure to size them to 1080 px by 1920 px.
9. Keep tabs on your Instagram analytics
The best way to see how your Instagram content is performing is with analytics. Without hard numbers to watch, it'll be tough to see how your content is resonating with your audience.
Because there's no single key performance indicator (KPI) that reveals how your content is performing, it's important to look at your KPIs as a whole.
Some of the most relevant metrics include:
- Engagement rate
- Click-through rate
- Follower growth
- Story engagement
- Top posts
Each of these metrics on its own is critical to monitor, but as a whole, they tell a story of how each type of content is doing overall.
Instagram allows brands with business accounts to view their analytics all within the app.
You can also use a third-party analytics tool like Later or Sprout Social to access your analytics, create reports, and more.
10. Show up when it matters most
You could build up a grand Instagram strategy that includes the works—high-quality images, videos, Reels, and Stories. But unless you engage with your audience, not only will it be hard to keep your performance metrics up, but it will be challenging to build a community people love to rally around.
Create a process for answering questions, direct messages (DMs), post comments, and more in a timely manner. If you plan to use Instagram as a customer support channel, make sure you have the tools and people power to maintain a positive customer experience.
Pro Tip: Sprout Social’s engagement tools are great for this!
Aside from answering questions about your products or services, make it a priority to show up for your followers in other ways, too. For example, if you receive DMs about current events or movements, have a plan in place to show followers you support them and are listening to them.
Being there for your followers is a significant part of cultivating a strong, inclusive community. Engaging with your followers should be just as important as deciding what to post each day.
Final thoughts on building a big Instagram following
The possibilities are endless on Instagram. Armed with a strategy, analytics, and high-quality content, you can take your business to new heights on this platform.
However, a strong Instagram following isn't built overnight. Stay the course, be consistent, and show up for your community.
How are you building your Instagram following? Leave a comment below—we love to hear how you're approaching it.