Despite being well-established these days, Instagram is still a rising star in the social media world. It’s relatively young, growing fast, and caters to many different demographics. If you’re interested in building an organic social media following, there’s no question that Instagram is one of the best places to do it.
You can’t just start posting pictures and hope to reap some kind of benefit, though; With social media, you usually need a large following if you want a return on your investment. So how can you build that following if you’re just starting from scratch?
There are three main ways to do this, provided you’re following standard best practices.
Before I dig into the main “channels” of strategies you can follow to build a massive following, you need to be well-versed in the ground rules. Without these prerequisites, it will be nearly impossible for you to build any following—even with the methods I describe below—so adhere to these first!
Find a Niche. If you want to build a dedicated following, you have to offer something that no one else is offering. This will be your niche; think about what type of images people want to see but currently aren’t seeing, or how you can be different in your industry.
Post Actively. Inactive feeds get unfollowed and are rarely noticed to begin with. Make sure you’re committed to posting new material on an at least daily basis.
When someone likes one of your photos, like one of theirs. If someone follows you, consider following them back. Reciprocation cements social relationships online.
When a user reaches out to your brand, respond to them! Reach out to new people, comment on images in your newsfeed, and get involved in conversations. You have to be social if you want to succeed.
Use hashtags. Hashtags exist to help users find the content they want, so make sure you’re using them often and strategically—just stay within reason.
Cross-pollinate. Use your social networks to support each other; try to draw your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other audiences to your Instagram account.
With these prerequisites out of the way, let’s move on to the main avenues you have to build a large, thriving Instagram following.
Method One: Commit to Quality
The first method is the most “laid back” because instead of focusing too much on building a following or taking some specific external action, you’ll just be committing to creating and posting the best possible content you can. Of course, you need good content no matter what approach you use, but this one handles the entire situation as an “if you build it, they will come” setup (which I know is not the exact line).
The advantage to this is that it’s wholly organic; the followers that come to you will be genuinely invested in your brand, and by the end of your efforts, you’ll have a much richer audience for it. There are two downsides, however; first, it demands more time and energy to keep up your efforts, and second, it takes a longer time to build a following. You’re relying on people trickling in and spreading the word about you on their own—which will happen if you post high-quality material, but not quickly or predictably.
Method Two: Engage With Influencers
The second method is a bit more hands-on, and involves networking with people who have already built a large following on Instagram. Here, you’ll engage with these “influencers” by liking or sharing their material, or otherwise building a relationship with them. Eventually, they’ll start to notice you, engage with your work, and their audience will be exposed to your brand as a result. If successful, it serves as a shortcut to connect you to thousands of new users in a potentially small amount of time.
The advantage here is speed; one influencer connection can earn you dozens to hundreds of new followers. It also makes you seem like a bigger participant in the community, which is very important. There are a few downsides, however—many high-profile influencers will be busy or uninterested in helping you build a following unless you can offer something in return of similar value. It also relies more on outside authority than your own power, which may reduce the loyalty or passion of your attracted audience.
Method Three: Incentivize
The third option assumes that more people will follow you if they have an incentive to do so beyond simply getting access to your content, and aims to supply that incentive. Here, you’ll use contests, promotions, and giveaways to encourage people to follow your brand. Hopefully, they’ll share your opportunities to their own circle of friends, and before you know it, you’ll earn increasing exposure—especially if you launch these contests regularly.
The big advantage to this method is reliability; make a good offer, and you can almost guarantee it to spread virally. The downsides? You’ll probably have to spend money on the contest to make it appealing enough to work, and you might end up with a bunch of followers who only care about getting free stuff—they may not even notice that your brand is the one behind the contests.
These methods aren’t the only ways to build a following, nor are they mutually exclusive—you can use them in combination with each other or use them partially in combination with your own tangential strategy. Whatever you do, keep your posts and your methods consistent with your brand, keep your content quality high, and respect your community’s standards. The “social” element of “social media” is what’s most important, so as long as you keep your users’ best interests in mind, you’re going to see a positive result.