10 Hacks for Instagram Growth that Actually Work


Everybody wants to be Instagram famous, brands included, and I can't blame you. It was the same desire years ago that brought to where I stand today, with an account that's surpassed the size of most of the small towns in the US. 

I recently divulged about the harder realities of being Instagram famous and the lie we (might be) perpetuating here, but if you're still convinced that Instagram fame will bring you happiness, read on. 

10 Instagram growth tactics that really work:

1. Structured, precise content pillars

I start with this because this is really the foundation for the creative behind your Instagram account. Before you start posting anything, sit down with a pen and paper and decide upon 3-5 topics, which I like to call "content pillars." For example, when I first started growing my personal Instagram, my content pillars were: sunsets, desserts, architecture/travel, selfies, and fashion-forward photos of myself. 

There are many accounts that are hugely popular that have just one content pillar such as singing (reposting vocalist videos) or organization (like my friend Marissa, the owner of Stil Classics). 

Having structured, precise content pillars that you do not deviate from allows your potential audience to immediately understand your brand and decide whether or not they want to engage with your content.

Tip: Pick content pillars that are practical and fit within the scope of your actual life.

2. Cohesive, high-quality content

Next, once you have your content pillars determined, it's time to start creating the content. Almost every Instagram account is going to require some level of organic content (photos that you actually take yourself), but usually you can work off the 80/20 rule (80% organic, 20% sourced). 

Take to Pinterest to bulk up on high quality imagery produced by others that fit the look and feel of your brand as well as your content pillars. Pay attention to colors and editing styles to ensure your feed remains cohesive.

Tip: Don't post anything that you feel doesn't add value. If it's a grainy iPhone photo with poor focus, post it in stories instead.

3. Reposting for ongoing, sourced content

Make a list of accounts you love who you can repost from. Make sure you choose popular accounts (10K+ followers-ish) and only repost content that fits with your visual aesthetic and falls under one of your content pillars. 

Each time you repost, you create a unique opportunity for engagement from the source account. Ensure you tag them correctly in the photo, and throw in a nice compliment to your caption. Use the "@" tag as well as the in-photo tag to ensure your sourced account notices the repost.

When the source account engages with the content you reposted from them, whether a like, comment, or follow, it tells Instagram's algorithm that yours is a high-quality account, thereby boosting your account's visibility. (Think Google SEO strategy and building link backs). 

Tip: Follow the accounts you repost from and engage regularly with their content. Follow similar accounts to discover other avenues.

4. The follow-unfollow method

On a scale of 1-10 for growth, the follow-unfollow method is a 10, and it's one of the only direct ways to grow the following of an account in a fast-paced manner. When I wanted to become Instagram famous, this was the strategy I largely implemented – which at that time back in 2014 was quite unregulated.

Now, Instagram has put rules into place to halt the follow-unfollow method, but you can still employ it within means. The last I heard, the follow limit per hour was around 50 accounts, though don't expect to find accurate numbers on Instagram's terms and conditions. 

It is gruelling, time-consuming, and people get really pissed off. But it works.

Tip: Don't let your "following" count get too out of control, or you'll be very, very sorry.

5. Engaging like a mother f*cker

Particularly since the introduction of the Instagram algorithm in 2016, engaging like a mother f*cker has become ultra-important for keeping your engagement high (ie. the number of likes and comments your photos receive in correlation with your following count). 

I know Instagram influencers who spend up to 5 hours a day making comments and liking other accounts photos for one reason: the more you engage with an account, the more opportunities that account has to engage back with you. When they engage back with you, they are telling Instagram's algorithm that they want to see your content. The human nature of reciprocity also helps.

Tip: When you leave a comment, you're better off responding to the caption not just the photo. This will indicate that you've actually taken time to read and digest the content you're commenting on.

6. Loop giveaways

Loop giveaways have been popping off like crazy over the last year, and I have to admit, I grew my following literally over night by employing this method. Don't expect them to be cheap, though. The best loop giveaway I did grew my account by nearly 7 thousand followers in a period of 48 hours, and cost roughly $500. 

Caveat: because most of the followers you gain through a loop giveaway only follow your account until the prize is announced, you can expect to lose a minimum of 30% of the followers you gained over the weeks and months after the giveaway closes.

Tip: If you're going to do a loop giveaway, make sure all of the accounts in the loop speak the same language as you.

7. Regular Contests

Unlike loop giveaways, you can also host regular contests on your page solely or in collaboration with one or two other accounts. For example, you can partner with Clearly.ca to giveaway a pair of sunglasses. In order to win, the entrant must follow your account, follow @clearlyca, and tag three friends in the comments.

When the friends tagged in the comments see the giveaway, the implication is that they too may enter the giveaway, thereby spreading the potential follower growth outside of just the contest-partner's audience.

Regular contest are kind of a hit or miss. I find that if the prize isn't "worthwhile enough," people won't be motivated to enter. I've seen as little as 60 to as many as a few hundred followers come from regular contests. 

Tip: If you're going to do regular contests, make it a monthly strategy for the long-term.

8. The ladder-climb

I can't say I've ever intentionally employed this method because it's, well, total bullshit. But I know many influencers who connect with one another and create a symbiotic relationship purely for the benefit of reach each other's followers.

Tip: #WomanCrushWednesday posts are totally useless.

9. Advertising dollars

As Instagram becomes more and more like it's owner, Facebook, so does the organic reach stats. As the ability to reach your audience organically becomes more difficult, spending money on advertising dollars (through Instagram ads, ads in Stories, and promoted posts) becomes more necessary. It's a sad reality, but it's only going to get worse.

Tip: If you're embarrassed by your poor engagement of an important post, promote it to an audience that is outside of your local niche. 

10. Get that PR, baby

Public relations is all about buying advertising in media (or trading a product for it) in order to reach a new audience. Working with influencers or popular accounts is no different. Make a list of popular accounts that are within your niche, and buy advertising space on those accounts. Similarly, you can scour for free advertisement by implementing hashtags of popular, inspiration accounts that are constantly looking for good content to repost. For example, when I was travelling a lot I used to always use #travelstoke and I got a few reposts on @matadornetwork that way.

Tip: Don't expect to grow like crazy by implementing this strategy for a month or two. You have to do it for the long-term to see the ROI.

There you are, dearest. I can promise that I've personally tried all of these strategies on my personal account and each has brought varying degrees of effectiveness into my Instagram world. I also continue to implement many of these strategies on our client accounts. However, I would expect that, by this time next year, the list may look very, very different.

Photo credit Stil Classics.

Alexa Suter1 Comment