How to Grow your Instagram in 2019 + What I Did in January that Exploded my Growth
One of the most requested topics I get asked to talk about here on the blog is how to grow your Instagram and/or how to grow a social media following. I’ve wrote about steps I took to grow my Instagram in the past but that was written in 2017 so with all the algorithm changes and the fact that I’ve recently been practicing what I’m preaching, I figured now was the perfect time to step up to the plate and share some of my Instagram secrets with you guys. Now, I can’t give you ALL of my secrets, obviously, but I intend for this Instagram themed post to be super helpful whether you have 1 follower or 1,000 followers.
Not only do I want to share actionable tips on how to grow your Instagram with you guys but I also want to show you exactly what I did in January to have one of my biggest months ever on Instagram. There are a lot of ways you can grow your Instagram and a lot of people will actually have you PAY THEM to learn their methods (most of which are creepy and require and insane amount of time) but I’m going to share with you guys what I’ve been doing on a daily basis since the beginning of 2019 to grow my Instagram, no strings attached. My method isn’t going to get you 1,000 followers a day, that’s for sure, but if you’re looking for steady growth and real people who actually engage with your content, then grab a cup of coffee and let’s dive in.
The Non-Negotiable Things You Should Do to Start Growing your Instagram
1. Optimize your Instagram profile
Optimizing your profile is a loaded topic. What exactly do I mean by that? First things first, have a clear and engaging profile picture. If you’re trying to establish a brand, you should be using the same (or a similar) profile picture across all of your social media. I use two different profile pictures depending on what platform I’m on but that’s just my style. Next, you’re going to want to take a real long and hard look at your Instagram bio. One of my biggest pet peeves is going to someone’s Instagram profile and not learning a single thing about who they are (really) or what they do from their bio. Here’s a side by side of my Instagram profile before and after updating my bio at the beginning of the year:
See the difference? The first one is not really that helpful, like at all. It doesn’t tell you hardly anything about WHY you should follow me or WHY I’m even blogging in the first place. It just tells you a bunch of random facts about me and then asks you to click a link. Not good. I think changing my bio was one of the greatest things I did in January when I started taking my Instagram seriously again, but more on that later.
The second step you want to take when optimizing your Instagram profile is signing up for a business account. I know, I know, there are still people debating over whether or not they think having a business account actually hurts you when it comes to the pesky Instagram algorithm but I’m gonna shut that down right here and now. The benefits to having a business profile on Instagram, like all the good analytical data you can send to brands, far outweigh the idea that there might be a slight algorithm bias towards those who do have one. I’m not buying it. All you need to do in order to set your Instagram business profile up is connect it to your Facebook page (which you should also have if you’re trying to grow your brand, even if you don’t use it regularly). Did I mention that having a business profile lets people also email you directly from the app? Another bonus to having a business profile that frees up more space in your actual bio so that would-be followers can actually find out who you are and what you do and, most importantly, why they should follow you.
2. Write longer captions that actually benefit your audience
The one thing I have been doing consistently since 2017 on my Instagram is writing longer, more thoughtful captions. To quote myself from my previous blog post about Instagram, “If someone is scrolling through their feed and stops on your picture, it’s because they want to know more about the picture. Writing longer, thoughtful captions is going to allow readers to connect with your content and ultimately, you. Long captions tend to be thought provoking to readers and will give them a little better glimpse into who you are and what you’re about, far more than just an image can.” Storytelling is going to be huge as social media continues to evolve. If you’re thinking about working with brands, showing them your ability to tell a story in the captions that relate back to their product or the photo you’re posting can be a great selling point to them! So step outside of the one to three sentence caption box (looking at you fashion bloggers) and get to writing more insightful and meaningful captions.
3. Always tag a relevant location in your images
One of the most helpful ways you can expand the reach of your photos on Instagram (IE how many people are actually seeing your posts) is by using location tags. USE. THEM. ON. EVERY. PHOTO. Whether you’re tagging a specific location, like the coffee house you visited for lunch, or just tagging a general area where you live, you need to be using location tags. Now, location tagging isn’t the only way to expand your Reach but it’s definitely helpful because people search those locations, especially if your photo is relevant to a touristy city, like NYC. Just to show you how important Reach is, I looked at my analytics for all of the photos in my feed for the last year sorted by reach. The top 12 posts shown were all photos that I posted in January. Tagging locations also might allow your image to be shared more, especially if people are searching for photo spots, restaurants, and things to do in a specific area.
4. Show up on Instagram stories
I’m including Insta stories as a non-negotiable here for two reasons. One, I have noticed a directly correlation between the amount of activity on my Instagram stories and the amount of activity on my actual photos. Part of this may be due to teasing new feed posts in stories but, in general, the days I’m more active on Insta stories, the better day I have on Instagram overall. Two, I’ve noticed that when I’m visiting someone’s profile as a potential follower and trying to determine whether or not to follow them, I actively seek out their stories and highlights to see what they’re like after looking through their photo feeds. I want to know how they talk, what kind of content they offer aside from their pictures, etc. When people look at my profile and then my stories, I want them to be able to see that I’m exactly the same person on my feed AND in my stories (aka IRL). This might just be my own personal preference but I’m sticking by it for this post as well.
5. Tagging brands in your photos, captions, and hashtags
Remember that Reach we talked about wanting to improve? Getting featured on a brand’s website, Instagram, or other social media platform is a great way to reach a new group of followers all at one time. In 2017, I got featured on the Target website and it was seriously such a huge moment for me. I’m not exactly sure how much traffic came from that specific share but it definitely helped me grow my Instagram a considerable amount in a short time (doing virtually zero work!). Tagging brands in your photo only might not always get their attention (because we all know Instagram notifications can be a little weird) so make sure you’re researching whether or not they have any specific hashtags they follow (usually listed on their profile) as well as including their handle in the caption of your photo (another great way to share your story telling ability). ALSO, if a brand is interested in featuring your photo some where, make sure you’re keeping an eye on your comment notifications. I know Target always leaves a little comment when they want to feature your image and missing that comment could mean the difference between having your photo featured by a large brand or not.
What I’ve Done Differently on Instagram in 2019
Whew, okay. Now that we have the non-negotiables out of the way, AKA the things everyone who is trying to grow their Instagram should do no matter what, it’s time to dive in to the things I actually did in January that exploded my Instagram growth. Before I talk about my specific numbers for the month of January, I want to point out that I didn’t even start actively working on my Instagram again until the 10th of January so I’m very interested to see what doing these things for an entire month actual does. But first, I want to give you all a little insight to my struggle with Instagram at the end of 2018.
I think it’s safe to say that after rebranding to Made in Mom Jeans in October, I hit a wall at full speed. I put up a couple of blog posts but with all the pregnancy changes and not really understanding my own brand at the time, I found creating content for Instagram a total chore. Not to mention it seemed like no matter what I was doing I wasn’t getting any closer to reaching my goal. When I decided I was going to tackle blogging and social media full on this year, with a goal to make a full time regular income by the end of the 2019, I knew I desperately needed to step up my Instagram game. But two of the biggest mindset changes I had to make first were to stop blaming the algorithm (can’t control it anyways) and to start posting the things I wanted to post (and worry less about having the perfect photos all the time). I sold my DSLR camera so none of my photos even come from a “professional” camera anymore unless on of my friends takes them and most of the photos I take are taken the same day they’re posted. I decided to stop caring about whether or not my flatlays and book pictures got the most likes and started to make my feed look the way I wanted it to look. Because if I love it then I’m going to want to keep creating content for it. See where I’m going with this?
I also solidified my branding for the blog and made sure that my Instagram matched that branding. Because the last thing I want is for someone to look at my Instagram vs. my blog and think they’re two completely different things. I think this is the first time I’ve ever truly focused on branding my Instagram as a whole and I think it’s paid off immensely just in the short time since I implemented it. It was like something all of a sudden clicked for me and made Instagram a monster I could not only tackle but also really enjoy again.
So, now let’s talk about the numbers. On January 10th when I started really focusing on my Instagram growth again, I had 1, 896 followers. I had been trying to hit 2,000 followers for probably the last 7 months and was getting nowhere. By the end of January, after implementing the following Instagram strategies, I was sitting pretty at 2,069. I had been growing so slowly that I had set my goal for the ENTIRE QUARTER at hitting 2,000 followers. For those of you who are like me and absolutely hate math, that’s an increase of 173 followers (or an increase of 8.7% thanks to the handy spreadsheet my husband put together for me). The cool things is, because the number of followers isn’t the end all/be all, that every aspect of my Instagram went up. I had more comments on my posts than ever before, my engagement rate was through the roof, my reach and impressions skyrocketed and I just felt dang good about the content I was creating. I could sit here and write paragraph after paragraph on how followers shouldn’t be your only focus on Instagram but since this post is already pretty hefty, I think I’ll save that for a potential part two to this one.
You’re sitting here reading this and thinking, “That’s great, Darrian, but what did you actually DO?” and boy, do I have a list for you. So, here’s the bread and butter of my current Instagram strategy, aka what I actually started doing that exploded my growth:
1. I started posting consistently
I saw a quote somewhere the other day that said something along the lines of this: what you do everyday matters more than what you do once in a while. While I don’t think the person was specifically talking about Instagram (maybe they were, who can say) I do think it’s applicable for anyone in the influencer/blog/social media world. I have made the effort to post a photo everyday since January 10th regardless of whether it’s perfect, regardless of whether or not I’ve done my hair and makeup, etc. I’ve been showing up on my Instagram and people are starting to take notice. Not only does posting consistently help you gain trust with your followers, but it also means that your followers are constantly interacting with your content and telling Instagram that they want to see more of you. Also, the more you put yourself out there in various ways, the more exposure you’re going to be able to get.
2. I bought a preset kit for Lightroom Mobile
I never ever ever thought I would be one of those people to use a preset on all of their Instagram photos but here we are. In truth, I only bought the thing because it was on sale and I was at such a loss for what to do with my Instagram to make it look even slightly cohesive. If you’re a military spouse then you know it can be a struggle to make military housing look Instagram worthy so my hopes in buying a preset was that it would help. And I would definitely say that it has. My photos all look on brand and cohesive which makes for a nice feed and it makes my life a little easier because I don’t worry as much about getting the perfect shot, as long as the initial lighting is good. This step may not be for everyone and I can’t say that I’ll use the preset forever but I definitely think it’s helped give my Instagram a boost the past month. Also, I paid less than $5 and it came with three different options so like, don’t spend a ton of money on these things if you do buy them. Along with using a preset, I chose a neutral color palette for photos since that’s what the majority of the clothes in my closet look like and our house is filled with white walls because #militaryhousing. The color palette is also totally on brand which makes my Instagram and the blog more cohesive. I think the combination of the presets and choosing a color palette has been on of the best decisions I’ve ever made for my growth on Instagram or any platform, really.
3. I started actually focusing on the hashtags I was using
Hashtag use is a big one for me. While most of my post traffic doesn’t come from hashtags, there have been numerous posts in the past month that have gotten extra exposure because of the hashtags I was using. I used to just pick random hashtags, save them in a note and then copy and paste them into each caption I wrote but since starting to take Instagram more seriously I’ve been actually researching hashtags before posting. Researching hashtags for me looks a little bit like this: I’ll chose a hashtag, for example let’s say, #bulletjournal and then type it into Instagram. When you do that and click on the hashtag, Instagram will actually suggest similar hashtags to explore/follow. I usually do this until I’ve come up with what I think to be a good number of both large and small hashtags. I also follow the ones that I regularly use which leads me into my next point:
4. I’ve been actively engaging on Instagram
If the last month has taught me anything it’s this: if you’re not actually using Instagram, Instagram doesn’t care about you. Period. Before starting to take Instagram seriously in 2019, I was hardly scrolling through it at all. I would watch some stories here and there and maybe look at the first five or so pictures in my feed each time I got on but that was it. This is a serious non starter if you’re trying to grow your Instagram in 2019. I still don’t spend A TON of time engaging with Instagram but if I open the app, I make sure to spend a minute or two scrolling through my feed, looking at the explore page, etc. One of the easiest ways I’ve found to engage with other people on Instagram is by actually following hashtags like I mentioned above. I love that I can follow a hashtag and always see new content on my feed from (typically) new people who are all interested in the same things I am. We talk a lot about curating our own Instagram feed but we never talk much about actually curating what you’re seeing on Instagram. I think this has been a huge part of my growth the past month and I’m also creating relationships with new people whose content I actually WANT to see which is literally the entire point of Instagram.
WHEW. I told you guys that was going to be a long one. Did you fall asleep? Are you still with me? Are you feeling super inspired and ready to take on your own Instagram now?! I sure hope so! Feel free to leave any questions or other helpful tips you have down in the comments so this post can continue to be a great resource for those looking to grow their Instagrams!