Founder, The Ambition Plan

September 14, 2018 (Updated )

Everyone – from big corporate businesses to the average Joe – is on Instagram. And while it started as a place for showcasing your life through pictures, it’s fast become a playground for anyone eager to create a brand following and monetise that brand.

But with ever-changing algorithms and the platform’s increasing focus on getting its users to pay to play, growing an Instagram audience that sees and engages with your content on a regular basis has become harder than ever before.

I started the @theambitionplan Instagram account for my newly-launched millennial career change platform The Ambition Plan in March 2018. Just six months later and it’s grown to more than 5,000 followers, with an average engagement rate of 12% – absolutely no dodgy tactics involved. If you’re keen to, not just increase your number of followers, but to attract an audience that engages with your content, here are the seven steps that worked for me.

Get Clear On Your Goal

instagram can be tricky for people looking to build their brand
Knowing your vibe is important on a visual platform. Image Credit: Brigitta Schneiter

There’s no quicker way to stall your efforts before they’ve even started than by posting with no clear vision. Whether you’re brand new to the platform or have been using it for a while, take the time to get clear on what the goal of your account and who it is trying to speak to.

Be as precise as possible – you want to post content that appeals to a specific type of person. Is your account for your personal brand? If so, use your image in the profile picture, along with your name and a bio that states exactly what you’re about.

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Avoid being vague and witty in your bio – when you’re brand new to the platform and no one has heard of you, people will follow you more readily if they know exactly what to expect from you (you can use a clever bio further down the line). The same rules apply if you’re a business or publication; however, use your logo as your profile image.

Switch To A Business Account

If you’re serious about growing your account, you need to track what is working and what isn’t. The best way to do this is by switching to a business account as this comes with insights and analytics on your audience’s demographics (from their location to their gender and the times they are on Instagram) and on how your posts are performing. Ignore any rumours that Instagram hides posts made by business accounts to force them to run adverts, that isn’t true.

Pick A Tactic And Stick To It

Being new to Instagram is like arriving at a big party on your own: there are three ways to get noticed (i.e. grow your account). Firstly, you can be a social butterfly: talk to as many people as possible by finding big accounts that are in the same niche as you, follow their followers, like and comment on their followers content as much as possible. This strategy works, but you’ll need to dedicate a LOT of hours to doing this every day and it can take many months to get traction from it.

The second strategy is to hang out with the cool kids and become popular by association. This involves finding 30 to 40 really popular accounts in your niche and interacting with these accounts only… every single time they post. The idea here is that when you leave a comment on a big account, its followers will see your comment and your username.

If your comment resonates with them and your handle sounds of interest, they will most likely check you out. If they like what they see on your account, they’ll follow you. It achieves the same result as being a social butterfly, it’s just less time intensive.

The final strategy is to do something outrageous that’s likely to go viral. The problem with this approach is that it’s hard to predict what will go viral and the ‘Instafame’ you’ll get from it is likely to be short-lived.

Show Up Regularly

instagram is like showing up at a party on your own
Instagram is like showing up a big party on your own… Image Credit: Jakob Owens / Unsplash

This is a key step that will determine if your account stalls at a few hundred followers or not. You have to post regularly to keep Instagram’s algorithm happy, and that means posting at least one to two posts each day.

I personally recommend never posting more than three times a day as you’re likely to become an irritant to your followers. Unless your content is ground-breaking, flooding someone’s feed is the quickest way to get unfollowed or muted.

Use Trial And Error To Find Your Groove

Instagram can be a thankless task. A beautiful picture may get next to no likes or comments, while a screenshot of a newspaper clipping gets thousands of likes. It’s annoying, but use such events as feedback.

Post different types of images, graphics, quotes, regrams etc. and watch what does well. Repeat what works and ditch what doesn’t.

Respect Instagram Etiquette

instagram etiquette is important
No elbows on the table… Image Credit: Ting Tian / Unsplash

Avoid letting your desire to grow your following drive you to do things you wouldn’t want to be done to you. You’ll turn off new followers and may even get publically called out if you do the following:

  • Reposting content without crediting the person you took it from.
  • Tagging people you don’t know in posts that have nothing to do with them, simply to get their attention.
  • Sending DMs to ‘thank’ everyone who followers you.
  • Sending DMs asking new followers to buy something from you or to follow you on other social media platforms.
  • Leaving a comment begging to be followed on other people’s posts.
  • Leaving comments selling yourself or your products on other people’s posts.
  • Using a bot that leaves a generic ‘nice pic’ or ‘cool shot’ comment on everyone’s post.

Be Patient

Growing an engaged Instagram following is a long game. Short-term tactics like ‘follow unfollow’ or bots that automatically like and comment on posts on your behalf, attract half-hearted followers who won’t engage with your content consistently. But if you use the tactics outlined in this post, your followers will be people who have chosen to follow you because your account resonates with them.

This means they’ll be excited to see new posts from you each day, and they will like and comment, and will be more likely to go to your website or buy something from you. The fact is that gaining an organic following takes time – especially the first 1,000 followers – but to do this, you need to show up every single day, even when it feels like no one is seeing your posts. If you stick with it, you’ll find that after a couple of months you won’t have to work so hard to get a high engagement rate and your popularity will naturally snowball from there.

Want to know more? You can follow The Ambition Plan on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. They’re also running their first event for people looking to break into the media on October 3, and there’s 15 per cent off for JR fans!