Last July (a year ago next week precisely), we were starting our kitchen renovation and I decided I really wanted to start using my Instagram as an extension of our blog and business, instead of mostly for personal use. As scary as that was to say out loud–I wanted to grow my Instagram following. At the time @chrislovesjulia had around 4k Instagram followers, although I guess they don’t give you the coveted “k” until you hit 10k, so rewind–I had around 4000 followers over there and got, on average, 100 or so likes per photo. I told Chris I wanted to to grow my Instagram following, but I wanted to do it in an organic way. No buying followers, no being a part of those round-robin giveaways where you have to follow 20 bloggers who all pooled money to giveaway a Target gift card (and hopefully gain a lot of followers). I just wanted to see what I could do by putting forth a conscious effort and making a few changes through trial and error. It’s been an intense year-long experiment of seeing what works and what doesn’t, but now, a year later, I’ve gained 50K+ real, loyal followers, average 1500 new followers a week, receive thousands of likes per post and countless real-life opportunities from Instagram.
It took from the end of July to December to go from 4000 to 10K followers and from then on, it’s been consistent and rapid growth and now I gain hundreds of new followers a day. Today, I wanted to share exactly how I grew my Instagram following in an organic way and what I’ve learned about the process over the past year, summarized into 10 points:
1. Use an actual camera.
I switched from using my phone to using a Canon EOS 70D
camera (and this lens
) for EVERY photo. I’m not going to lie, it’s a hassle to pull out my camera, my tripod (I have this one
), take a photo or 10,
upload them to my computer, edit one and then send it to myself to post on Instagram, but I’ve also learned it’s worth it. Instagram is a visual platform, designed for people to react to what they see, so it makes sense that a nicer photo would elicit more likes and engagement.
2. Filters are your friend, but tread lightly. Instagram is a runway of photos and there was a time when people would probably scroll right past mine. So while a photo on the blog can stand on its own, without slightly more shadows or brightness, on Instagram–you need to stand out! However, there’s a fine line between adding a filter to a photo to brand it as yours and filtering a photo until it looks nothing like reality. By using the same filter(s) every time, it will gradually start feeling familiar to people. They’ll recognize it as yours, and your feed will start looking cohesive. I use 2 different, but very similar VSCO filters: A6 and J6 (which is slightly warmer) on my photos and I generally turn the opacity down by about half so it’s not so stark.
3. Stick to your niche. If you really want to grow your following, you gotta give the people what they are following you for. This can be a difficult adjustment, and I learned the hard lesson that the majority of my followers don’t care about my children, what I wear, or selfies. They care about our house and how we live in it. Last summer, after I started consciously growing my Instagram, I posted a picture of me and my sister on her wedding day. It’s what I did that day, I was happy and I wanted to share it. I lost 40 followers. Most people would say, “Well if they don’t like, then they don’t have to follow me.” And that’s true! But if you market yourself as a fashion/fitness/home/mommy instagrammer, and you veer off course, don’t take it personally if people do unfollow you.
4. Posting something is not always better than posting nothing. I generally like to post on Instagram 2 times a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. I don’t follow any hard and fast rules of when to post. I’ve heard people talk about “Oh, it’s a horrible time to post” but I have found quality content is never unreceived I know brands and people that post 10 times a day on Instagram and I eat every one of their posts up because they are on brand! However, if I don’t have any quality content to post, if I don’t have a great room shot or a tip to share–it’s truly better NOT to post. One average picture can cause you to lose followers, while posting nothing, only doesn’t gain you any followers typically.
5. Let Them See You. This one is the hardest for me, but has made the world of difference in my following count. Do you know what the difference is between your Instagram account and the next one? You. People shouldn’t have to scroll several times to find out who is running the page. I was once told you should appear in every 9th photo to assign a face to the account and keep it more connected to YOU. Before I start sounding like I’m contradicting number 3 too much, I should add–it doesn’t mean a selfie. It doesn’t have to mean you looking at the camera and posing for the photo. If you’re a home blogger like me, show how you live in your home. If you’re a photographer instagrammer–set up a camera taking a picture of you taking a picture. I love posting photos of us around our home. It provides scale, context and personality to our house. Sometimes that involves setting up a tripod on a timer to take the picture. Does that lessen the moment? Not at all. Is it embarrassing to admit? Yes.
6. Tagging Sources > Hashtags. The number of times my photos have been re-grammed by companies I’ve tagged in the photo as sources is infinitely more than any hashtag exposure I’ve received. It doesn’t mean I don’t use hashtags, because I’m sure I’ve gained some followers from people browsing through #interiorinspo or the explore page, I’m just saying it’s not close to the followers I’ve gained from other people or brands re-gramming my photo because I tagged their product as a source. It’s not essential to the growth of your Instagram to go crazy with hashtags. I mostly just use the brand hashtags associated with the sources tagged in the photos (i.e. our bed from West Elm, I’ll tag West Elm in the photo and #mywestelm in the caption) and I have gotten regrams from pretty much EVERY home brand out there doing that. This also makes my photo appear on their profile. I’ve only received one regram (in all of my years on Instagram!) using a hashtag–#soDomino, which was a nice regram.
7. Interact with followers and provide information in every post.
I answer what the paint color is on the walls of our great room 12 times a day and that’s not an exaggeration. In fact, it’s so often, I only have to type in a B and my phone will predict Benjamin Moore Hazy Skies. So I know it can be taxing to answer the same questions over and over, but just think of it as more new people are following you, love what they see and want to know more! I always tag sources, direct people to our Shop Our House page
for all the sources in our home and I still get questions about where things are from, but I answer every. single. time. They always
appreciate it and it allows followers to feel like more than just a number. I also try to give valuable tips and information in every post, even if it’s just sources.
8. Pay Attention to what works and what doesn’t work. I’ve tracked how vignettes, whole room shots, room shots with people, videos, daytime photos, and night time photos do through likes received, followers gained, followers lost and comments for a year. I really love using Iconosquare for this, even if it you do have to pay for it as of last month. It’s full of analytics and will run about $49/year or $5/month. They also have a free 7-day trial if you want to try it. A free option is the Instatracker app. It merely counts how many followers you’ve gained or lost. You can pay to see exactly who unfollowed you (don’t get caught up in that, it does no good) and a few more things, but if you want to consciously grow your following, it’s essential to know the nitty gritty of what’s working and what’s not. In my study, I’ve found, tight-cropped vignettes do the worst. One photo of a wooden spoon on our counter lost me 35 followers so fast I deleted it within minutes. And then I resolved to not delete photos due to loss of followers, but just to learn from it. A whole room shot (or a whole outfit shot or a whole, big, fat juicy burger) vs a tightly cropped sneak peek will always perform better because it gives more information and thus has more value.
9. Giveaways aren’t the answer; Followers tagging friends are. A lot of people think, if you host a giveaway on Instagram, and have all of the people entering tag someone they know, then your following will blow up. It doesn’t work, at least for the long term. You might see a small or even decent boost in your count, but once the contest is over, and they find out they haven’t won, many people will unfollow. Giveaways don’t grow or foster loyal followings. If you’d like to have a giveaway, think of it as a way to reward your current following. So how do you get people to tag their friends and spread the word about your awesome Instagram account? It always comes back to this: Quality content, relevant to your niche will have your followers tagging their friends more often than any giveaway–and then they’ll follow you, too. Our Transformation Tuesdays, where we show before and afters of a space in our home (made through the Flipagram app–pay the $1.99 to remove the logo) always encourage lots of tagging and bring new followers.
10. Pay it forward. If a photo makes me smile, I like it. If it makes me stop scrolling for more than a second, I’ll leave a comment. It doesn’t matter how many or few followers the account has. I think it’s just a nice way to be genuine, spread kindness and make someone feel good. If someone gets curious, and clicks on my account through a comment–purely bonus. And always, always credit other Instagrammers if you choose to share their photo. It’s just the right thing to do.
If you are anxious to grow your following, whether you are starting from scratch or your following has been stagnant for some time, I hope this helps jump start your growth. If you have been posting and hovering around the same number, even if that number is in the tens of thousands, it’s time to change something, whether that be the make-up of your photo, the niche you thought you were in, or finding an it factor that will make you stand out.