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Jessica Chan
Jessica Chan

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How to grow your Instagram following organically

Hey there! My name is Jessica, and I run a blog on beginner web development tips and tutorials, as well as a related Instagram account.

When I first started my blog, I was pleasantly surprised to find a vibrant and growing developer community on Instagram. So I decided to join in, and it's been a lot of fun meeting other devs and seeing what cool things they are working on. Also, it's quite inspiring to see so many self-taught devs recording their learning process.

If you're not on Instagram yet, I highly recommend that you check it out.

In the two-ish years that I've been active on Instagram, I've been able to grow to almost 30,000 followers. And within that time I grew from less than 2,000 followers to the elusive 10,000 mark in the span of about 3-4 months. And the crazy thing is, I've seen some accounts with even greater growth than myself!

I've gotten questions over time from people who are interested in growing on Instagram, and curious how I have been able to grow myself. So this guide is meant to help those of you who are trying to develop a following on Instagram.

Figure out your why's

We're going to start out with some big picture questions that you need to figure out in order to be successful.

The very first question you need to ask yourself is, why do you want followers? And why do you even want to be on Instagram? I think a lot of people just jump into it and copy what everyone else is doing, then they get confused and frustrated that they aren't gaining followers.

So, what are your whys? Do you want to get Instagram followers to:

  • Record daily life or talk about some topic?
  • Get traffic and reach potential customers for your company?
  • Become an "influencer" and make millions?
  • Be a part of a community that's on Instagram?
  • Just for fun?

There are many different reasons for trying to grow. Figure out what your main reason is and that will help you make other decisions down the line.

Who is your target audience?

Once you've figured out your main reason for existing on Instagram, next, you need to determine who is your target audience. And don't just say everyone is your target. There's no way that you can make content that every single person in the world will be interested in. It's just not possible.

The best way to get people interested in reading your posts, liking and commenting, and following you is to narrow your focus, or to "niche down." Either way, what this means is that instead of wanting to appeal to every single person, you choose a relatively specific focus.

This should be defined by your "why." For example, Coder Coder is a website that helps people learn how to code. So my target audience is beginners who are curious about or are trying to learn web development.

Think about the types of people who would be interested in your area. For example, if you were thinking to write about cooking, try to niche down to a smaller target, one that is more "you." If you're a working professional trying to make meal plans for the week that you can bring to work, write about those types of recipes! Or if you have specific dietary needs, write about the kinds of food you make that fit those needs and delicious to boot.

Figure out what your audience wants, and make it

Once you've picked your audience, it may be very tempting to just starting taking selfies and shotgunning hashtags everywhere. But wait! You'll be way more successful if you can identify what it is your target audience is interested in. (And also if your audience hangs out on Instagram even!)

One common pitfall is that people just start posting on Instagram without thinking things through all the way. Be careful not to simply copy what others are doing, or just making random content.

Now, I'm not saying that you should completely ignore what you like and just pander to your audience. But think about it this way-- if you can get into your audience's head, and discover what they are looking for, what common struggles they have, and (if you're a company) what they're willing to spend their hard earned money on, you will be one giant step closer to creating actual value. And thus, you'll be more likely to get followers, likes, comments, shares, the whole shebang.

The issue, of course, is just how the heck to figure that out what people are looking for. You're going to have to do some audience research. It doesn't necessarily need to involve expensive tools or doing a lot of surveys. All you have to do is follow where your potential followers are (get the irony here?) and spend time with them.

On Instagram, you can use hashtags to find posts and accounts, to see what other people are posting about. Do research and check out other accounts in the same space as you and see what topics they post about, and what types of comments they are getting.

You can even do research outside of Instagram, on other social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Quora, and Reddit to see what people are talking about and what pain points and struggles they have.

I know this sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But it's all in the name of ultimately creating good content that people like and are looking for.

What's the purpose of your content?

Once you've invested some time to see what people are interested in, you can move on to figure out what type of content to make.

Generally all content can fall into one of two buckets. Either you entertain or you educate (or sometimes both). Almost any kind of content can be categorized into these buckets. Documentaries or recipe blogs? Education. Memes and vlogs? Entertainment.

While you can do both, like being entertainingly educational, I think that usually you'll want to have one primary category. And try not to switch too much between the two. Like I'd advise against posting memes one day, being super serious the next, and then writing something educational the day after that. People will stop following you if you start giving them content that they aren't expecting or even interested in seeing.

It is ok, especially at first, to experiment a bit. Like anything, creating content on Instagram will take some time to figure out your style and voice. But spending a bit of time beforehand can help reduce the amount of time switching gears later on.

How do you make good content?

All right. So you have your purpose, you know your target audience and what they're interested in, and you have an idea of what type of content you're going to make.

How do you make awesome content that people will like, comment on, and even share? This is the big million dollar question.

From my experience, here are some guidelines of what makes great, shareable content:

1. Have an awesome image!

Instagram is extremely visual, so a boring looking photo or design will not get much attention. Even if your caption is out of this world, most people will simply scroll past.

If you have a photo, do a bit of work to learn how to take good photos with your phone. Whether it's getting proficient at the pro settings on your camera app, learning the elements of good composition and lighting, or shoving all the mess on your desk or in your house out of the frame, practice taking good pictures. The exact how-to's of this is outside the scope of this guide, but if you need help, I know there are tons of photography tutorial videos on YouTube.

2. Post regularly.

The fact is, Instagram will reward you the more you post. They're always changing up their algorithm for where your posts will show up in your followers' feeds. But aside from that, the more you post, the more chances you have at getting seen.

From my own experience, I was able to grow from 2,000 to 10,000 followers in a few months largely because I committed to posting on Instagram nearly every day during that time. And the results speak for themselves.

Personally, I think posting once per day is the max I would go. You don't want to start looking like spam by posting 5 times a day (unless that's what your audience expects). But also, don't put so much pressure on yourself that you end up getting frustrated and giving up completely.

It's better to post 2-3 times per week, or even once a week, and sticking with it long term, than forcing yourself to post every day for a couple weeks and then burning out. Figure out what pace of posting works best for you. Even better, start slow, and gradually increase frequency after you get faster at creating posts.

3. Use relevant hashtags to get discovered

The best way for people to find you is to use hashtags in your posts. To find the right hashtags, what I've found helpful is to do research on Instagram. Look at posts made by other accounts in your space and see what hashtags they use. Then look up those hashtags on Instagram's search function and see how many posts exist that are using that tag. The more posts are using it, the more popular, and the more competitive that hashtag will be.

I'm not too scientific or analytical about it, but I would use a range of popularity in your hashtags. Since you can use up to 30 hashtags in a post, you can put in a couple that are super popular, and that have millions of posts using it. Then put in some mid-range ones that have a few hundred thousand. And include some lower competition tags that are at 10,000 or so.

Also, if you don't have a huge following, I would definitely skew toward using more of the less popular hashtags, because it will be very difficult for you to rank with the bigger ones.

One quick tip I have on saving time with hashtags is that I store them on a text file on my phone. I'll put them in groups, formatted just like they would be in the post. And I have multiple groups of hashtags for different types of posts or images. Then it's just a matter of copying and pasting when you post!

In addition, a question that I see mentioned a lot is where to put your tags? Should you put it in the description or in a caption? I don't think it matters a ton, but I put my hastags at the end of my caption, with a few lines with dots to add some separation between the text and the tags.

4. Invite discussion from your followers in the caption.

One way that you can get more comments is to ask your followers to share about a topic or answer a question that you pose in your caption. It could be as simple as asking them what they're up to for the weekend, or something that they struggle with in a certain area.

The key here is to talk about a topic relevant to your audience, and to remember that at the bottom of this, you're interacting with other people, not just pumping up your numbers.

Don'ts and Dos to grow your community organically

This is what everyone wants to know how to do-- grow!

In this section I'm going to talk about some of the things to avoid doing, and then some practices that I recommend doing to grow your following.

Let's start with the "don't" list.

There's been a lot of talk about Instagram cracking down on bot activity to keep things more authentic and organic. What types of practices are they talking about, that you should avoid doing?

Avoid doing these practices ❌

1. Using bots to automatically like, follow, and leave comments.

This is probably one of the most widespread practices for people trying to grow quickly. And it's still in heavy use today. Please don't use this. While it may have worked out in the past, Instagram is, as I mentioned, cracking down on these practices. Why? Because it's all fake.

Sure, you might get some followers by automatically leaving comments like "This photo feels wonderful" or the thumbs up emoji on hundreds of people's posts. But you're just going to get bot followers.

And worse, there are tools these days that will reveal just how authentic your following is. One tool is Hype Auditor, which takes and analyzes the data for accounts greater than 1,000 followers.

So if you're hoping to get a ton of followers quickly to broker some lucrative influencer deal with a company, think again-- it's super easy these days to see who has an actual, organic following, and who has built themselves on bots.

2. Buying followers

Aside from automating Instagram activity, there are many services that promise to give you thousands or tens of thousands of followers for a small fee. But again, while they may follow through, those followers are most likely going to be more bots. And even if they are real people, they're most likely not in your target audience, so you won't get any real benefit. They're not going to buy from your company, and they aren't going to leave meaningful comments and add to the discussion on your page.

3. Leaving low effort comments

Even if you aren't using automated commenting, leaving low effort comments in the hopes of getting followers and comments on your own account is just not the best strategy.

Maybe it used to work years ago, and it might work on people who haven't been on Instagram that long. But for most people we will just scroll past your comment like it's not even there. It's like how many people nowadays are trained to ignore banner ads when they appear on websites. It's just not going to help you that much, so I'd recommend not wasting your time with this practice.

4. Follow / unfollow

This was a huge practice earlier in Instagram's life, and I still see people offering it up as good strategy. I would definitely stay away from this tactic. Not only does it annoy people who will see all the notifications, but it can potentially get you suspended or banned on Instagram.

5. Doing reposts instead of original content

Reposting accouts are super popular in all areas on Instagram that I've seen. And it's easy to understand why-- you don't have to spend all that time making your own content and writing caption. All you do is repost other people's photos, and collect those likes!

However, I personally wouldn't recommend going down that route. First of all, if it's so easy for you to repost, it's just as easy for everyone else to do the same thing. Reposting accounts are not unique, and are easily emulated. To be fair, there are some really huge reposting accounts, but they grew before everyone jumped on the bandwagon.

Nowadays reposters are a dime a dozen, and I think it is quite difficult to build up any kind of significant following if you haven't already been in the game for years.

Do these things! ✔️

1. Create high quality, unique content

This is number one for growing a good Instagram account. Create content that is meaningful to yourself and to your audience. There's a reason that the saying "Content is king" is almost a law by this point. Content is everything.

Exactly what your content should be will vary widely depending on who your audience and what your niche is in. But no matter your topic, try to be as high quality as possible. If you're in the entertainment category, spend that time crafting the funniest meme or writing a caption that will make your readers laugh out loud. If you're educational, write a topic that you know will hit home with your followers, like how to fix a common pain point.

In addition, the fact is that you are competing for your audience's attention with the other accounts in your space.

I'm not advocating being cutthroat or jealous about it, but go the extra mile and try to make amazing content that is better quality and stands out from people's feeds. Strive to be way above average, and you will find it much easier to capture people's attention, and get your post shared around.

2. Interact with your audience authentically

You know that warm fuzzy feeling whenever someone leaves a (real) positive comment on your photo? Whenever I get a nicely written comment, especially if I can tell that the commenter took a decent amount of time to think and write it, I automatically feel a connection to that person! And it makes me want to check out what kind of account they have and what they post and write about. Many times I'll end up following them.

Also, knowing that so many people these days just leave bot or emoji comments makes those real, authentic comments stand out that much more. I promise you, if you spend even just 30 seconds or 1 minute to write some encouraging, well-written comments on other people's posts that respond to something they wrote in their caption, you will get more followers over the long term.

But more importantly, you'll grow respect and appreciation for yourself from others who read your comments.

3. Give more than you take

Whether it's answering people's questions over DMs, or responding to their comments, I spend a lot of time doing things that won't immediately benefit me. But I do it because I love helping other people! It builds up the community, and (if you need the motivation) it will earn you a good reputation with others on Instagram over the long term. Some might call it making good karma for yourself down the road.

4. Value humans, not numbers

It's counter-intuitive, but I believe that the less emphasis you place on your numbers and analytics, the more successful you will be. Granted, this is something that I need to remind myself of all the time! It's super tempting to fall into the trap of chasing after likes, comments, and other internet points. But you will quickly become uncentered and I think your quality of content will actually suffer in the end. (And you will be more unhappy, because who can control the # of likes a post gets??)

Instead, I try to focus on my audience, and how I can help them. If you spend more of your time and attention on creating high quality content that will help your followers, you will do well.

5. Win the long game with consistency

In Instagram, social media, or even business in general, try to understand that it's a long game. Try to be slow and steady like the tortoise, not rushing and burning out like the hare.

It may take months before you see any real return on all the time and energy that you're putting into your Instagram posts. And I've seen a lot of people get frustrated at not getting enough eyes on their content.

But if you follow the practices that I've mentioned in this guide, and create true value in your community, you are much more likely to grow successfully.

There's no quick way to get a million bucks or to get 10,000 Instagram followers for the vast majority of us. To build a real, organic following requires a lot of elbow grease and plain hard work. It sounds boring, but if you can enjoy the process it won't be as difficult as you think!

In Closing

Thanks so much for reading! I hope that you enjoyed this guide-- if you have any questions or comments feel free to send me a DM on Instagram! You can find me on @thecodercoder.

Happy Instagramming! :)

Discussion (6)

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elizabethmorrison56 profile image
elizabethmorrison56

Amazing article! Paragraph 4 is so true! Thank you for sharing this info.
I'm growing my Instagram account also, so I know how tough it is sometimes. Of course, from time to time, I use additional services like Insta Growing to ease this process, but mostly, it takes a lot of time and effort.
And you're right in emphasizing that this is a long-term game without fast results, and all we need to do is focus on the primary goal. I'll try your strategies out. They worth it!

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elisabethdiang profile image
Elisabéth

This post was fantastic! Thank you for sharing these strategies.

Have you noticed differences between the tech communities on Twitter and Instagram? Because of Twitter's intrinsic features, I feel like there would be more kinship on Twitter than Instagram. I've neglected my Instagram because of this, but I've decided that I'm going to put in the work to grow it and meet new people on the platform.

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kayis profile image
K • Edited

Awesome post. Thanks!

Didn't know that devs would use IG, I only read about Twitter, GitHub, and Dev.to

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bartosz profile image
Bartosz Wójcik

Check out my own solution for Instagram, Twitter, SoundCloud & LinkedIn likes/follows automation at pelock.com/products/social-media-bot :)