How to grow your Instagram following for free

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Our most commonly asked question:Hi! I’m new to Instagram and am having trouble growing my account. Can you help me?

The world of social media is incredibly intimidating when you’re first starting out. You might have a Facebook account and think you’re social media savvy, but using social media for business marketing is a whole different ball park.

First of the bat – no one (particularly a stranger) is going to walk you through social media growth unless you’re paying them to directly manage the account. Don’t get me wrong, the social media world is actually a very inviting community but everyone got to where they are by putting in the hard work. There are no short cuts unless you pay for them. With that said, don’t panic!! All the information that you need to learn about social media marketing can be found on the internet. You just need to put in a bit of sweat equity and dig around.

There is a steep learning curve so we are going to start with a quick rundown of the many different FREE strategies that you can use to grow your Instagram.  This is definitely not a comprehensive list and we will be discussing more strategies in depth in future posts.

Let’s get started.

Your goal is simple: reach out to as many people as possible with hopes that they’ll like your content, follow you, stick around and eventually become a paying customer.

Here are some ways to do so:

  1. Use your hashtags in posts: This is how strangers will find you on the internet. Think of it as using a keyword search in Google.  Say, you run a shop selling baby bibs. If an Instagrammer wanted ideas for a baby gift, they are not going to know that your shop @droolybits4ever sell baby bibs. But what they might do is a hashtag search for #babygiftideas. If you’ve been tagging your posts with that hashtag and they rank well on Instagram, now there is a chance that this stranger can find you. If you do not include hashtags, no one, other than your existing followers, will find your content. Instagram allows you to include up to 30 hashtags and you’ll want to include as many relevant ones as you can find to maximize your reach.  There are guidelines to hashtag use but that will be for another blog post! Just remember not to use the same 30 hashtags in every post because that is spammy behaviour and will get you flagged.
  2. Use your hashtags in stories: This isn’t popular knowledge yet but Instagram stories do appear on the Instagram explore page, which means people that you don’t know can still find you and watch your stories.
  3. Use geolocation in posts and stories: Same reason for using hashtags – people can find you through location tags!
  4. Invest time in your content and profile: Your feed is the first impression of your brand. You have three seconds to convince people to tap the “follow” button before they move onto something else.  Look at your feed through the eyes of your ideal client. Does it speak to you? Is it obvious what you sell/do? Are your images clean, coherent and consistent with your brand? Don’t forget about your story highlights and profile too!
  5. Use your other social media channels to direct traffic to your Instagram: You probably also have at least one other social media account (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.). Most of us have a personal Facebook account with a good handful of friends. Start with them! Share your business with your personal friends and ask that they help share your content.
  6. Join giveaways: These are events where people can follow you for a chance to win a prize. Their “follow” is essentially like an entry ballot. These are most successful if you organize them with other businesses in your niche and everyone contributes a prize and helps with the marketing.  That way your giveaway will reach people beyond your own followers. You can organize your own or there are many accounts that organize giveaways.
  7. Join engagement groups: These are DM chat groups with other businesses that are in your niche. When you post a new image, everyone in the chat group will go to like and comment on them. Likewise, you do the same for everyone else’s posts. The reason for this strange behaviour is to help boost engagement which will increase the reach of your posts.
  8. Collaborate with influencers: Remember that you want to reach as many people as possible. One of the ways that you can do this is if other accounts feature about your products and refer their followers to you.  Influencers typically have a larger following which is why brands work with them to increase their marketing reach. When you’re starting out, you don’t need to reach out to mega-influencers. Look for micro-influencers in your niche who might have a smaller following but will also be more likely to agree to a collaboration and work harder for you.
  9. Network with people in your niche: Find other shop owners in your niche and just get to know them. Collaboration opportunities will arise in many forms. You can trade your products (which means they’ll likely tag you and expose your brand to their following), run sale events together, cross-promote each other’s products, collaborate on product design, etc. The possibilities are endless and best of all – you’ll meet a tribe of people that you can go to with questions and headaches (because let’s face it, even the most professional owners sometimes need to complain about *that* customer). This is a group of people who are more than happy to help you!
  10. Have engaging content: I can talk about this for days, but in a nutshell, you want engaging content that people will want to share. Imagine if you had a delightfully relevant post that someone fell in love with. What would they do? They would probably want to share it with the world by tagging their friends and/or sharing it on their own feed.  Tah-dah! You’ve just increased your reach to a new audience!
  11. Join relevant Facebook groups: If you dig around, there are countless local and
    national Facebook groups where small business owners congregate (think: The Rising Tide Society, Business Babes Collective/Vancity Business Babes, Fraser Valley Boss Babes, to name a few). These groups will not only provide you with information but they will expose you to many potential customers.
  12. Engage and network: You’ve heard it before, “Don’t forget the social in social media.” Respond to all the comments on your feed with meaningful responses.  Go leave a comment back on the feed of your followers. Don’t leave your followers hanging! They’re more likely to stick around if they know that there’s a real person behind the screen.
  13. Be observant: Find similar businesses in your niche who might be a bit ahead of you. What marketing tactics are they using? Who are they collaborating with? What do their images look like? What clients are they attracting? What hashtags are they using? Learn from them and adapt their strategies to suit your own needs. Don’t copy them – everyone has their own unique angle so find yours and sell it!

The above information probably left you with even more questions – what hashtags should I use? Why is engagement so important?  Is this going to be a huge time suck?

That’s great! It means your brain is on the right track. We will be answering all your questions in the blog posts to come so if there’s anything on your mind – ask us in the comments below!

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