How I Authentically Gained Over 20K Instagram Followers in 4 Months & Maintain High Engagement

Updated: Sep 5, 2019

If you're looking for tips on how to gain a few thousand followers overnight with one hashtag, this isn't the blog post for you. Although it doesn't always seem that way from the outside, growing your Instagram account takes time, effort, and sometimes a little bit of luck. Even the biggest accounts started out with 0 followers (as hard as that may be to remember) and not all of them are authentic. The biggest question I get asked is how the heck I more than tripled the size of my Instagram in 4 months and still continue to authentically grow. Not everyone's growth timeline will look exactly the same but these are tips that helped me and continue to help me gain real followers and maintain high engagement.


My Instagram Background

My Instagram actually started out as a calligraphy account that I used as a portfolio to gain business making hand lettered items. Not a ton of followers, but it was fun! When I started making military homecoming signs, I transitioned my account to solely a homecoming sign business account. I reached out to a few different "large" military spouse accounts and advertised my homecoming signs there. At this point, I had maybe 2,000 followers just from the exposure and word of mouth between military spouses; there weren't a lot of people offering homecoming sign services at the time so I had a leg up. I won't go without saying that during this time, I also had a twitter account where I was involved in a community of military wives that purchased my homecoming signs and gave me an opportunity to advertise my Instagram on that platform. Right when I stopped selling homecoming signs, we had just bought our first home. This is when I started getting really into home decor. From my leftover followers that stayed with me since my lettering days (hey y'all, love u), I transitioned my account again to a home decor account with about 3,000 followers. It seems like a lot to "start" with, but I had been slowly accumulating a following for over a year and a half before home decor. From December 2017 to April 2019 (almost a year and a half), I shared just my home decor and DIY projects and had around 6,000 followers. April 2019 is when I really started to put forth effort into my account and take the time to understand how the app and algorithm worked. In 4 months, I gained almost 21,000 followers. I still continue to increase my following by hundreds weekly.


Of course, I'm not an Instagram expert by any means but these are some of the methods I use to keep my account growing.



1. Change your account to business instead of personal.

Business accounts have access to their insights. Your insights are helpful for telling you how well your posts and hashtags are doing, how many people are seeing your account, your website clicks, your follower demographics, the best time to post, and tons of other useful tools that will help you understand how your account is doing.



2. Pick your genre and stick to it.

What type of account are you? Food? Home Decor? Beauty? Lifestyle? A little bit of everything? Whatever it is, stick to it. When I follow a home decor account, I don't want to see 200 pictures of their baby (sorry!). When I follow a mom lifestyle account, I know babies are included! You can still be a food makin', decorating, makeup guru mom of 2, BUT it definitely shortens the list of people who can "relate" to your account. I kept mine pretty straightforward by only doing farmhouse decor, complete with some farm pet ducks!

Lifestyle accounts are somewhat trickier just because it includes a little bit of everything, but you should still be able to keep the same "theme" throughout your posts. As long as new followers know exactly what type of account they're following and can see the consistency, they'll have no reason to leave.

People change, lifestyles change, hobbies change, etc. so don't be afraid to switch it up when you need to. I changed the genre of my account like 4 times before I was a home decor account!



3. Picture quality and flow.

It seems like an obvious one, but sometimes it's not. The quality of your pictures and how they flow together is so important, especially for first impressions. Usually, I know if I want to follow an account within the first 3 seconds just by looking at their Instagram feed as a whole. It doesn't have to be so white and bright that it blinds everyone who looks at it, but it should be pleasing to look at and mesh well with your other pictures. I like to use the same group of presets for every picture to make sure my content looks the same. "Preview" is my favorite app that I use to preview how my picture will look on my IG feed before I even post it.

I posted a tutorial for how I edit my pictures on my IGTV. Even if you don't use the same preset as me, there's still a couple other apps and tricks worth watching.



4. Captions and call to action.

If you're like me and thought "no one reads the caption anyway", you're wrong! Most people absolutely read your captions. This is why I started being more meaningful with my captions and using them to add a call to action instead of just a "Happy Friday!". Call to actions are how you can get your audience to engage on your post and keep you higher up in the IG algorithm. So, instead of saying "Happy Friday!", a call to action would be "Tell me what you did on Friday!" or "Double tap if you forgot it was Friday!". It encourages people to engage with your post whether that be in comments or likes and IG sees this as "wow, people are loving this post" and puts you higher up in the algorithm so more people see your content. When those people like and engage with your content, they'll start seeing your posts first when they open Instagram.

I chose to be more meaningful with my captions to get a better response from my call to action. I don't just want to ask "what did you do this Friday?", so I'll write a short paragraph of how my own day went and then ask the question.

"Holy crap, today was amazing! I was finally able to enjoy a lazy day off and do absolutely nothing except eat pizza and binge watch Netflix in my Pj's. That's everyone's ideal day...isn't it? What did you guys do today?"

People want to hear about you: that's why they followed you! Give your caption some thought and make it interesting.

It's also important to remember that when you post a call to action, YOU need to be active too. Reply to comments that people leave on your posts. Not only does it bring you higher in the IG algorithm, it makes you more personable. People don't like talking to a brick wall and they'll be more inclined to comment on your next post if you acknowledge their responses.



5. Promote from another platform.

Facebook, snapchat, twitter, tik tok, twitch, whatever you use promote your Instagram! I never promoted because I thought "well it's in my bio, they'll follow if they want". Not true! Most people just don't know it's there or they forgot. Post a link to your IG, post a screenshot of your feed, post a picture you put on your IG and say something like "check out my IG for more pics!". Get creative with it and make people want to look at your Instagram. Say something intriguing about your picture without uploading it and make people look up your IG to see it. If you host a giveaway, make one of the requirements liking your IG page. There are so many creative ways to promote your Instagram through other platforms and even if you think everyone already follows you, there's always going to be those few people who are like "oh wait, I don't follow her IG!" Listen, when I ran a calligraphy business from my Instagram account, I had a decal with my username on my CAR. You can promote from ANYWHERE! 😂



6. Use stories (or snapchat).

We follow people because we like their content, but we also follow people because we like the person. I don't know about y'all, but I feel like I'm BFF's with some of my favorite Instagram accounts and I haven't said more than 4 sentences to them. They're just so personable! You can't get that type of interaction through a picture. We like to see the behind the scenes, raw content that makes us think of you as a person, not just an account. It's more relatable and realistic to see people's mess, bare faces, rough days, good days, whatever it is. I would rather listen to people yak away on stories while I'm doing my makeup than listen to music. Actually, it's part of my morning LOL. I don't even care what you're talking about, I just like to hear someone else tell me about their life. Personally, I think IG stories is the best place to do this but I started out using Snapchat so I still stay on Snap. Occasionally I'll pop on IG stories but I do prefer Snapchat.

When someone consistently watches your stories, you'll be first in line on their stories bar every day. I watch the same 10-12 people and they show up in a row every morning, first on my list. This is so easy to use to your advantage because stories is a great way to bring people to your posts. You can screenshot your feed or share your most recent post to stories, slap a GIF or emoji over it, and drive people to see the picture on your feed. Make it interesting and intriguing. Person A writes: "come see my latest post" and Person B writes "Oh my god I can't believe this actually happened. Has this happened to y'all?". Which one sounds more interesting to click on? Use the stories feature!



7. Post to IGTV.

IGTV is so overlooked and underutilized but this is where I bring in the majority of my followers from. I get asked all the time why I won't use YouTube for my videos but when you're getting anywhere from 30,000-200,000 views on IGTV and gaining hundreds of followers a week solely from the videos, it's hard to stay on YouTube with a few thousand views and no new followers. IGTV is so useful because anyone can see your video, even if they aren't following you. The more interactions the video gets, the more people see it and follow your page. I'm still gaining tons of followers from videos I uploaded months ago. Depending on what genre your page is, IGTV is an awesome feature to use for tours, DIY ideas, recipes, how to's, etc. You can post IGTV videos straight to your feed or advertise them in stories. Keep these videos interesting so more people are inclined to engage with it and follow your account.


8. Use Hashtags.

I don't care who thinks my 20 hashtags look ridiculous at the end of every caption, those 20 hashtags more than double my picture's exposure. People look up hashtags more often than you think, and now people are able to follow specific hashtags to see pictures from accounts they don't even follow. Without hashtags, my pictures are generally seen by about 20,000 people. With hashtags, my pictures reach anywhere from 50,000-100,000 people.

But, hashtags can be tricky and they don't always gain crazy amounts of exposure. I use a strategy for choosing hashtags, but ultimately this is where that little bit of luck comes in to play.


Here's how I use hashtags:


Relevancy: obviously, your hashtag should be relevant to what you're posting. If you're posting a traveling picture, you'll want to use travel-related hashtags.


Number of times the hashtag has been used: If you use a hashtag with 2,000,000 posts the chances of your picture being seen are slim to none. You can definitely still use these ones (I mean, hey you might get lucky), but I'd use them sparingly. I try to stick to hashtags that have no more than 100,000 posts and no less than 1,000. For example, the hashtag # travel has 435,000,000 posts, but the hashtag # wherethelocalsgo has 13,200. You'll have a way better chance of being found and making it to the top section of the hashtag if you used # wherethelocalsgo. You can see how many photos a hashtag has when you search the hashtag either in your search bar or in your caption.


Use related hashtags: So, you have your travel picture and your first hashtag, # wherethelocalsgo. The best way to find trending, low post hashtags is in the "related" section of the hashtag. When you search for the tag # wherethelocalsgo, an entire row of other hashtags pop up: pick hashtags from this list.


Use 10-25 Hashtags: You can use up to 30 hashtags, but some people say IG thinks it looks "spammy" and lowers your post on the algorithm. Other people say 11-15 gets you the best engagement. I think it just depends. Hashtags are mostly a gamble anyway.


Don't use banned hashtags: I'm mostly weary of these around holidays because it's usually tags like # happy easter that are banned (for whatever reason). If you use a banned hashtag, your post won't show up at all. You can check to see if your hashtags are banned on bannedhashtags.com.


Look at someone else's hashtags: Check out what hashtags other people are using that get high engagement. It's ok to try some of these ones out; hashtags are open game for anyone.



9. Pay attention to what time you're posting. Be consistent.

On a Monday morning around 10am, we can assume most people are at work or school. On a Sunday night around 8pm, we can assume most people are relaxing before the upcoming week (which includes playing on their phone). Your insights will give you the best idea of when and what time your followers are most active on IG. For my own account, I stick to nights and weekdays. I post to IG Monday-Thursday around 8-9pm and I found these posts do significantly better than when I would post in the afternoon or weekends. However, I'm on the east coast so when I post at 9pm, my west coast followers are still awake because they're 3 hours behind. If you're on the west coast and post at 9pm, it's midnight on the east coast and most of those followers won't be on IG. Pay attention to your insights and trial and error some times that work for your account.

Be consistent! Try to post at least 3-4 times a week if you can. I never post in the moment. When my house is clean, I take a TON of pictures and save them all to post at another time!


10. Don't overdo the collaborations, exposure pods, giveaways, etc.

Don't get me wrong, these can all bring tons of exposure to your account and I've used all of them...wisely. I say wisely because although they might seem beneficial to growing your account, sometimes they do exactly the opposite. I'll break them down:


Collaborations: Paid or unpaid (I'll make a separate post about this another day), collaborations are when you work with a company or another account to advertise a product or service that mutually benefits both parties. For example, a company that sells dog treats wants to collaborate with you. They send you a bag of dog treats and all you have to do is take a picture of your dog eating the treats and upload it to IG. That company is using you as an advertisement, and in return you're gaining exposure from their account (if they share your picture) and receiving free product.

Too many collaborations can look spammy and annoying because these aren't REAL posts from you. Trust me, there's enough advertisements on IG as is.


Exposure Pods: Exposure pods (Instagram pods) are groups of people who like and comment on each other posts to boost engagement and bump posts higher in the algorithm. Sometimes they take turns sharing each others accounts through a group rotation.

Exposure pods can have the same effect with looking too spammy when you're re-sharing the same accounts over and over every week; people just like to see your content!


Giveaways: These can either be your own product or promoting someone else's giveaway for exposure. You or another account give something away in exchange for likes, comments, and follows.

Giveaways from your own product are more widely accepted vs. giveaway "loops". You know when you try to enter a giveaway but they make you follow 50+ random accounts first? Those are the loops. They're hosted by giveaway accounts that give away large prizes (usually money) because those 50+ people you followed paid anywhere from $20-$100 to help host. You can gain hundreds of followers from being part of a giveaway loop and while I don't think they're all bad (I've done some), they do have some bad qualities. The first being the followers aren't truly authentic because they were kinda forced to follow you to enter a giveaway. Most will stay if they like your content, but the ones that don't will unfollow after the giveaway ends. And the ones that forgot they ever followed you for a giveaway probably won't interact with your content that much, which throws off your engagement rate and makes it look worse. The second being it can appear as too spammy if you're constantly hosting giveaways and asking people to follow 50+ random accounts instead of posting any real content.


*A tip when considering collaborations: stay true to your content. It can be tempting to want to collaborate with everyone for free product and money but if the product isn't compatible with your content (for example, a makeup artist sharing dog treats) it's not going to benefit your account. I've turned down multiple collaboration opportunities (and money) because their product didn't fit my brand. In the end, it just makes you look like a spam advertisement. Use these exposure methods wisely and sparingly!



11. There's room for everyone, but be original.

I hear it all the time: "I want to make a home decor IG account but there's SO many out there that I won't make it". Stop thinking like that, it's not true! IG doesn't have a limit on how many "home decor" accounts there are. There's always room for everyone! However, a little bit of uniqueness will go a long way if you want to grow your account. There's only one you!




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