As a social media manager, it’s literally my job to know how to grow a following on Instagram (along with other social platforms). However, growing a following around a brand is completely different than growing a following around yourself/your art, right? Turns out, they’re actually not so different.
About 4 or 5 months into 2016 I found out that I’d be teaching handlettering workshops at the Pinners Conferences in the fall, and realized that in order to get people excited about my classes they’d need to know who I was. Immediately I began revamping my Instagram feed and implementing many of the tactics I’ve used to grow Tombow’s Instagram account. By focusing on these 10 things below, I’ve been able to grow my following from less than 1,000 to more than 35k in less than a year. I hope these tips will help you accomplish your Instagram goals in 2017.
1. Find Your Niche
Finding your niche is so important for growing your Instagram following. What I mean by this is to take a step back and think about what you want to be known for and why people should follow you. For me, it was handlettering, so that meant the photos of my son or a pretty sunset or a particularly delicious looking sandwich all had to halt. By finding and focusing on your niche you’re showing your followers what they can expect from you when they choose to press that follow button. I don’t know about you, but I find it incredibly frustrating when I follow someone based on a few images I like then realize they’re mostly posting photos of their dog (unless that’s why I follow them – I do follow a couple of cute dog accounts). Since Instagram allows you to easy switch between multiple accounts now, it’s totally doable to have an account where you share those tidbits of life that don’t fit in your niche – or you can do what I do and share them in your Instagram Story!
2. Use Relevant Hashtags
I’m always confused when I see an amazing photo on Instagram accompanied by just 1 or 2 hashtags – or even worse, a caption with hashtags littered throughout. Think of hashtags as little devices that can send people directly to your image based on what they want to see. What words do you want them to associate with your image? Use those! Also, do some research on hashtags in your niche and build up a bank of them that you can use with your posts. How I did this was pretty basic: I grabbed a notebook and pen, and pulled up Instagram on my phone and started searching hashtags. For lettering, I started with lettering and handlettering – these both are very highly trafficked hashtags in my niche so they’re perfect to use. If you click into the hashtag, Instagram gives you suggestions along the top of similar hashtags. You can go down a rabbit hole here, so my advice is to keep things fairly broad. For lettering, you’ll want to use a variety of lettering related hashtags, and I’d also suggest using a hashtag or two relating to the pens you’re using. Instagram limits you to 30 hashtags, so choose wisely. I suggest putting the bulk of your hashtags in a comment instead of your caption because it can really clutter the look of your caption. I typically will use 3-4 in my caption and put the rest in my first comment.
3. Interact With Your Community
Growing a following on Instagram doesn’t come from just posting photos and waiting for people to flock to you. You’ll need to interact with your community and start to get to “know” the people you want to follow you and the people you already follow. Like and comment on photos regularly, and be sure to respond to people’s comments on your photos! I usually take the time to look up the person’s name so I can respond to them by name when I thank them for their comment or respond to a question. Everyone likes to feel like they’re being heard, and this is one small way to do that.
4. Own Your Voice Through Captions
And we’re finally to the part where we’re actually talking about the content of your posts! I’ve found that owning your voice is hugely important to growing your Instagram following. Why? Because, it allows people to get to know you. In my Instagram posts, I use my captions as a way to talk to the people who are seeing my image. We are all busy people, so it’s kind of redundant to post a photo of lettering and say something like “Here’s some lettering I created today.” Well, duh. Go deeper with your captions and use a consistent voice that feels natural for you. If marketing and social media isn’t your thing, you may not know exactly what I mean about finding a voice. What that means is you want people to feel like they’re interacting with a person and not an account (this is true for brands as well!), and you accomplish this through the tone of your captions and the types of things you say. I use lots of exclamation points and emojis in my captions because my voice is largely happy-go-lucky and motivational. Don’t be afraid to embrace your own personal quirks when finding your voice too! I’m from the South and say “y’all” every day, so I say “y’all” in a lot of my captions. Find your voice, then own it. People want to know you, so let them get to know you through your captions.
5. Post Quality Photos
Okay, so here’s the harsh reality – if you want to grow your following you’re going to need to learn how to take quality photos. But that doesn’t mean you have to buy fancy equipment! I take 99% of my Instagram photos with my iPhone and edit them on my phone in the A Color Story app. I have bought a few filter packs for that app, but actually my favorites are the free filters. When taking photos, try to use natural lighting when possible and be sure that your subject is in focus. If you’re not already styling your photos (especially if you’re posting your lettering or artwork), my suggestion is to start simple with a couple of photo props but don’t go crazy! A simple, well-lit photo will always work, whereas a cluttered photo may turn people off.
In addition to posting photos that are appealing to look at, you also want to post photos that you think will resonate with your audience (your followers). I like to post motivational quotes or things I think are funny or things that are related to other people who are learning to letter. The content of your photos can play a huge part in building a connection with the people who are following you.
6. Incorporate Videos Into Your Feed
Video is king, you guys. One of the quickest ways to grow your Instagram following is by incorporating videos into your feed. The same goes for video as photo, you want to make it look pretty – well lit, in focus and easy to understand what’s happening from start to finish. If you’re interested in how to take lettering videos of your work, check out my series on that, which includes my favorite tools for filming your lettering.
7. Post Consistently
Most of us can’t devote all of our time to growing our Instagram followings, and that’s okay! Even though I’m a full-time social media manager, I still can’t only focus on my account (that’s not the one I’m getting paid to manage!). However, you do need to post consistently in order to keep people interested. Consistency can mean one post per day, three posts per day, or maybe three posts per week – whatever frequency works for you is fine, but eight posts in one day and then none for two weeks isn’t going to cut it. (PS – please don’t post eight posts in one day.)
8. Use Your Bio Link Strategically
If you have a website, make sure it’s in your bio link. As of right now, this is the only clickable link available to you on Instagram so use it strategically! I regularly will change my bio link to either specific blog posts or to URLs where I want to send people (like my new Bounce Lettering Basics class with Brit+Co!). I really like using bit.ly to shorten links when I want to send people somewhere with a really long URL. You’ll be able to see on bit.ly how many people click on your link, so that’s a great way of measuring how much traffic you’re driving through Instagram. Due to Instagram’s new algorithm, I recommend also putting the URL of the short link in your caption in case you change it out of your profile before someone is able to go to that URL.
9. Give Things Away
Giveaways are gold when it comes to growing your following because people love the chance to win something and are willing to share that with their friends, which means increased reach for you! Another great thing about giveaways is it helps to build a relationship with your followers – you’re giving them something for free and they’re excited about that! One caveat here though is that you should only give away things that fit with your niche. If you’re a lettering artist giving away a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t really do anything to build the relationship with your followers (aka your community). If you’re going to give away something to your followers, give them something you use and love, and tell them why you love this thing they could win – get them excited about it and they’ll in turn get excited about and more invested in you.
Don’t have a budget to buy something to give away, or you haven’t been approached by a brand to give something of theirs away? That’s okay! There are other ways to give things away. You can create something of your own (a piece of artwork, perhaps?) that you can give away. Or you can take “give things away” a little more broadly and give away your knowledge – start a series of tips and tricks on something relating to your niche and post about it!
10. Partner Up
We’ve all heard the phrase “two are better than one,” and when it comes to growing your Instagram following, two accounts working together are way more powerful than just one. Find someone in your niche or a complementary niche and partner up with them from time to time – host a challenge together, create a community together (shameless The Letter Lovelies plug, y’all!), work on a project together, basically do something where you’re both promoting each other and letting your followers know about your partner and how awesome they are and whatever amazing thing it is that you guys are doing together. You can also partner with brands/companies that you love. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them and see if they’re interested in collaborating – I promise the worst that can happen is that they say no, or don’t respond. There are also ways you can get noticed by brands you love so that they approach you. When I’m looking for influencers for Tombow to work with, I pay attention to people who tag us in their work on social media then I look to see how often they’re using our products and the caliber of their work. If you consistently tag the brands you want to work with, use their hashtags, and use/talk about their products, they could come to you for partnership opportunities!
So now that you’re armed with my top 10 ways to grow your Instagram following, it’s time to get to work! The best part about these tips is that they don’t cost you anything – there is no reason you should buy fake followers or pay to get your work in front of people when you can do it organically and gain a community of people who are interested in you and your work!
I’d love to hear if any of these tips helped you, or if you have any questions! Feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me on Instagram by tagging me @brittanyluiz.