With 1.9 billion and 2.4 billion users respectively, Facebook and YouTube are the largest social media sites globally—but Instagram is not far behind with 1 billion monthly active users. Approximately 500 million users visit and post on Instagram Stories every day, and more than 100 million photos and videos are shared daily on Instagram. It is the second most engaged network behind Facebook, with an average of 53 minutes per day spent on the platform. Most importantly, it has become a premiere place for users to find new products and services.
So it naturally behooves businesses to grow their following on Instagram. In previous years, followers could be bought; but the latest algorithms and savvy bot-recognizing technology has made it so accounts have to organically grow their audiences. Keep reading to find out how you and your brand can gain and maintain a following on the platform that is on the precipice of being the biggest social media platform in the world.
First step to being followed is to be found. Instagram made several changes that help brands find an audience the same way people search for something on Google. The Explore page hosts the search bar, which can be used to actively look for, or stumble upon, accounts, hashtags, and locations, by typing in keywords. These would be the words associated with the niche aspects of your brand, such as “nutrition” or “vegan” to find a nutritionist specializing in vegan recipes.
If someone is looking for a nutritionist and you have that word in your bio (even without a hashtag), you may pop up as an account to check out. (Previously, it was only possible to come up in a search if you were using hashtags in your bio). You can even include a keyword without a hashtag in your actual username, name, or bio.
Make your account as accessible and inclusive as possible. It will not only attract people who would otherwise perhaps miss your account, but it is simply negligent to not take into consideration the spectrum of your potential audience.
Make sure your account features and speaks to a diverse array of people or you may miss out on niche followers who may love what you have to offer and therefore support and spread your brand.
For example, the hashtag #hearingimpairedcommunity won't be able to enjoy your account if they don't know what is being said in your videos, so creating subtitles is imperative.
Creating subtitles is actually a good practice in general because statistics show that many people scroll through social media with the sound off, due to work constraints or the inappropriateness of certain content around young children.
Make sure your bio stands out and is a well written representation of you. It is the first impression someone visiting your profile has of you and your brand, so writing a compelling Instagram bio encourages people to follow you. Include the basics such as your contact details and website link, but make sure you tell your brand’s story in an engaging way. Give people a reason to connect with your brand and follow you.
Your Instagram feed is the next crucial factor in determining whether someone enjoys your brand and wants to follow you. Maintain consistency in colors, fonts, graphics, types of posts, and tone of voice, so your brand is recognizable and indicative of your personality. The storyboard feature in UNUM is a perfect tool just for that.
The addition of Reels has created a whole new opportunity to gain traction on your account. Reels have the power to harness the same type of viral sensation that TikTok has managed, because of brevity and Instagram's prioritization of it in the algorithm. They are 30-second videos set to music that can be effective in any tone or used for any purpose. You can create ads in this amount of time and share to an open platform, as Reels are not exclusive to only who you follow. Reels appear in the Explore section so anyone can see your creation and get a taste of what your account is about.
Using hashtags allows you to reach more people and gain more Instagram followers; but they can't be haphazard (throwing everything at the wall) or abused (using hashtags that are irrelevant just to lure people to your page). Doing either of those things actually lowers your chance to be seen on Instagram. Research which hashtags are trending in your niche and which are relevant for your brand and content, then combine the two types in your content to reach people who follow those hashtags. Use a healthy amount of popular industry hashtags, niche ones that will make you stand out, and specific ones that may be a little out of the box.
Whereas other social media platforms are governed by a word count (like Twitter), Instagram has become a place where people can engage on deeper levels than just curating a stream of well filtered photos. Captions have gotten considerably longer since the inception of Instagram and captioning posts is an art that gives you a chance to engage your current audience and attract similar mindsets to your account. People love a good anecdote so tell the story behind the picture or video that you’ve shared. Be vulnerable and make a personal connection.
Tagging people and other accounts is a generous way to introduce something, while also encouraging sharing. You can ask questions and spark conversations, prompting your audience to be interactive by commenting and reposting. Friends and followers of those you tagged will also be likely to see your post and jump in on the discussion, all of which increase your visibility and raise your profile in the overall algorithm.
One way to generate an audience is by adding geotags to your content. Many people search for local content using Instagram’s search feature, and adding geotags can help you in the algorithm for those searches. It is similar to local SEO for websites, but this is for Instagram. Attract local people to your profile and get more Instagram followers. Local hashtags also help you reach local people who are interested in a particular niche. Lot of people follow local hashtags so you gain access to that audience, which can translate into followers.
It is not enough to be posting, sharing Stories, making Reels, and posting content on IGTV. You should also participate in discussions started by those you follow, accounts that come up in your niche, and accounts that show up in your location. You have to engage with others, as that is what social media is built on. You can attract followers through people who are amused, inspired, or generally impressed by your comments or support of another's account.
Following and engaging on influencers' accounts is another way to poach followers. Influencers have considerable reach in their particular niche, and their fan bases tend to be devoted, so they won't be leaving the other to join you, but they may check out your account, like what they see, and follow you too. As long as the influencer is from your niche and relevant to your brand, this can be a method of increasing and hopefully retaining followers.
This is exactly what it sounds like, and is the most traditional strategy of all with regards to building an audience. With many consumers first getting exposure to brands via Instagram, the platform has become indispensable as a marketing tool. With a wider reach than any of the other account functions (except maybe Reels), Instagram ads are shown to a relevant audience of a certain demographic or established target. Your brand’s purpose and content can reach a large number of people in the niche markets you are aiming for.
The importance of growing and maintaining a community of followers on Instagram has become imperative for businesses and personal brands. By using keywords and creating polished and authentic bios, being cognizant and attentive to inclusion and diversity, and presenting a unified, streamlined account, the right audience will find you. To keep your community growing strong, utilize all the platforms within the app (especially the newest one, Reels), devote time and energy into curating the perfect hashtags, constructing meaningful captions, and tagging places, people, and accounts when possible.
Engage on other accounts as well as posting your own content. Social media is social by design, and the more absorbed you become in all things Instagram, the more successful you will be at bolstering a following. Don’t forget, though, who you follow and who tags your account matters too. You have to make sure that the people you associate with are beneficial and in line with your brand as well. You never know what collaborator or consumer may be on the other side of an ad, an account you follow, or waiting for the exact video content you put out.
Sapna is an actor, writer, singer-songwriter, and content creator. TV credits include BOSCH, SHAMELESS, and SCANDAL, and she has appeared in numerous shorts, features, and series. She is the content marketing manager of film collective We Make Movies.