In the near decade that Instagram has been around, its feed and app have gone through many iterations. With every tweak to the algorithm and the introduction of new features, businesses need to keep up to maintain a steady account growth.
So how do you adapt? By trying out and incorporating new growth strategies. For this piece, we’ll cover organic Instagram growth strategies but we do recommend support with ads if you have the budget for it.
What defines Instagram growth? For many, it’s the number of followers you have and gain. But to get these new followers, you have to have a combination of increased account engagement, brand exposure and compelling content. Otherwise, why else would anyone follow you?
You likely already have a good idea on what your Instagram growth looks like and what has worked or not worked in the past. If your growth is stagnant or you want to put a little more oomph into your strategies, we recommend testing out any or all of these tips.
A note on Instagram growth, though: Services that tout growth through purchased likes and followers are against Instagram’s service policies. These fake engagements and growth rates will only harm your account in the long run and might even get your account banned. If you use a marketing agency to help you grow your account, check to see what they’re doing before you pay for the service.
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Consistency is key
Let’s make sure you have the basics down first. To grow an Instagram account, you can’t put all your eggs in the proverbial basket and rely on one post to go viral. Most posts won’t go viral, which you means you need to find a better way to get your posts in front of your intended audience.
Take a look at your posting schedule, posting frequency and content quality. What are you doing well and what are your areas of improvement?
In our guide on best times to post, we recommend Wednesdays at 11 a.m. and Fridays between 10 and 11 a.m. as starting points. For most consistent engagement, Tuesday to Friday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. are the best times. If you don’t have data yet on your best times, these time ranges would be a good place to start. We recommend you go into your analytics and find the best times to post for your brand. Sprout Social’s ViralPost publishing feature takes the legwork out of your research and will post when it thinks you’ll have the highest engagement based on previous analytics. This can be a huge time saver when looking to post frequently and consistently to grow Instagram followers.
Posting on a consistent basis sets up an expectation for your followers to look forward to the next post. Larger brands will post multiple times a day while small businesses may only post a few times a week. Whichever you commit to, just make sure it’s a consistent schedule.
And finally, consistency in content quality is very important. There’s a lot more noise on Instagram feeds these days and you need to stand out. Subpar or stock photos won’t help grow Instagram followers as much as those who are creating their own interesting content.
Invest in content production & content diversity
Engagement is no longer relegated to in-feed posts. It now includes metrics such as Story replies, views of IGTV episodes and Story mentions. And more content types means there are more opportunities to increase your engagement rates and, consequently, your organic Instagram growth.
If you’ve only done in-feed posts or tried out Stories sporadically, we recommend committing to a few Stories a week to establish consistency and plan content for it. With a variety of ways to use Stories as a method to grow Instagram followers, it’s an opportunity to see what resonates with your audience.
A good example of content diversity is Magnolia Bakery’s new AR filter that will add cupcakes to the camera or replaces eyes with cupcakes for a selfie. The cupcakes are a classic representation of the brand and people tag Magnolia Bakery when they use it. In return, Magnolia can report these user-tagged Stories into their own Stories.
It can’t be stressed enough that content quality and posting consistently it is important for account growth. Spend time learning how to take better photos and videos or hire a content agency or freelance photographers/videographers to help with this huge but important task.
Run promotions & contests
Let’s face it, people love free or discounted things and that’s not changing anytime soon. But what marketers post is not always what consumers want. This mismatch means that there are missed opportunities for marketers in creating social content.
In the Sprout Social Index, Edition XIV: Realign & Redefine, it was discovered that 72% of consumers want discounts or sales to be posted on brands’ social media. Conversely, only 18% of marketers think that discounts are what are needed on social media. This disconnect in expectations means that there’s room to grow for giving customers what they want.
To grow your following and increase your brand presence on Instagram, run contests and promotions. Make one of the requirements for the giveaway a follow for your band and any other brands you’re partnering with and tagging friends. If you’re consistent in your giveaways, such as monthly or quarterly, your followers will be more likely to stick around and look forward to the next one.
Don’t silo yourself on Instagram alone. While you should target friends of current followers, keep in mind that there are other audiences to tap into. How often do you talk about your Instagram account on your other social media platforms? Many people have multiple social accounts, and different platforms all have unique strengths, so consider offering different type of content on Instagram than on Facebook, and direct followers on other social channels to your Instagram profile for exclusive offers or content. You can also use another visual-heavy platform like Pinterest to extend the reach of Instagram content that might otherwise have a short lifespan on the platform’s highly active feed.
Beyond social media, there are other digital spaces you can incorporate with your account. Adding prominent social media buttons in your email newsletter, website’s footer and large digital ads are all good examples of cross-platform promotion.
Offline, you can add your Instagram account to in-store signage and promotions. Short promotions like “Instagram followers receive 5% off!” and a custom QR code could also prompt current customers to follow you on the spot.
The idea of cross-platform promotions is to bring existing customers and brand advocates to your brand. These are easier followers to gain than pushing ads to people who might not know your brand.
Share the wealth with influencers
While the influencer market has certainly grown over the last few years, there are still ways of utilizing a smaller budget and applying it towards an influencer strategy. Micro-influencers are those that have smaller followers but often a more engaged audience. These influencers have niches and are willing to work with brands who line up with their values.
Working with influencers, especially micro- and nano-influencers, establishes trust in your company. As they talk and post about your brand to their followers, your account will organically grow with them.
Increase engagement time
If you have the time, the most tried-and-proven method of growing your Instagram organically is to actively engage on your account. That means taking the time to leave comments on followers’ posts, answering questions and reposting user-generated content.
Creating conversations and small chat groups to connect followers with each other is a part of building up your Instagram community. If you’re able to provide your followers with more than contests and company announcements, then you’re more likely to gain a loyal following that extends beyond social media.
Why should you prioritize engagement and good content? A recent Sprout study found that when customers feel connected to the brand, they’re 68% more likely to recommend it to a friend and 76% more likely to buy it over a competitor.
To put this into action, there are several behaviors you can test out, including liking or responding to a customer and showcasing the brand’s personality through content.
Increasing your engagement time is a long-term strategy that will help grow your account over time. But the relationships built from this are stronger than one-off interactions. Just like how you don’t feel connected to a stranger saying hi to you on the street, single interactions with brands don’t build relationships.
There are many methods of growing your Instagram following organically. We’ve highlighted a few here, such as running contests and cross-platform promotions. Some are designed for faster growth while others—like investing in more engagement time—are slower to produce results. A combination of the above strategies will put you in a good place to grow your Instagram account organically and steadily.
As you utilize these strategies, check in on your analytics to see how your account is growing. If there are large peaks on certain days, see what type of content was posted and how people are engaging with it. Post–specific strategies like contests should match up with high peaks. After a few months of putting these strategies in action, you should see a higher growth trend than previous months.