How to Increase Your Instagram Followers in 2018
Tips and Advice for Artists to Grow an Organic and Genuine Following
I was pretty bummed in January when the new Instagram algorithm went into effect, because my engagement and new followers dropped like crazy. Since then, I have been on a mission to try to get my account to see the steady growth and engagement that I had before the change.
I must admit, I had a few dark days of wallowing when the change happened, because of course my hypercritical brain was all “You’re failing as an artist!! Your dreams are dead!” Melodramatic, I know, but the important thing is that I kept going and still managed to organically gain 15,000 new followers in three months. (As opposed to the 20,000 in three months I gained last year.)
I have learned a few new things since the algorithm change. Well, some of it is new but most of it isn’t. I don’t like repeating information that is already out there—but let’s be real guys. Everything I’m saying has probably been said before. The only difference is that I’m actively doing the things on this list and getting real results.
Anyway, the main thing to keep in mind is that the quality of your content is more important than ever to gain organic followers on Instagram.
Create Attractive Content
You are an artist, which means you probably know the basics about what makes something look attractive. Negative space, balance, contrast, lighting, and all that. It’s not enough to create your art. You have to photograph your art with the same attention to detail and create a viewing experience.
Instagram is an incredibly visual experience. You have to make your photos look good on their own. It’s easy to lose perspective when you are in the studio and take a crappy photo without realizing it. My following was stagnant for months when I first started my account, and I know part of the reason was my unattractive photos. Sure, my art looked cool in person, but if you can’t translate that to a photo, you’ll have a hard time attracting new followers.
Stay Relevant- Post 2 to 3 Times Every Day
You’re following isn’t going to grow consistently if you aren’t posting consistently. It’s a lot of work, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to post 2 to 3 times a day. Even on your “days off”.
I usually gain between 75-125 new followers a day (before the new algorithm, I gained 150-200 a day). If my schedule is thrown off and I miss a day of posting or only post one time a day for a couple of days, I see an immediate drop in new followers. I used to get away with taking little breaks, but not anymore.
Instagram is a fast paced social media platform. If your post doesn’t get enough engagement for the algorithm to boost it, it’s likely going to fizzle out and become a distant memory within a few hours thanks to the new algorithm.
Use the right Hashtags and alternate use
You can use 30 hashtags per post and I suggest using almost all of them. I use about 25 tags per post and I spend a good amount of time researching the right tags for my account size and art style. If you are using huge generic tags (#love) and you only have 300 followers, your posts are going to get swallowed up and will likely go unseen.
To increase your exposure, always post your hashtags in the post caption, and focus on smaller, niche tags. I have a whole blog post on how to find the right tags. You can read it here.
With the new algorithm, there is a growing fear about being shadow banned by doing spammy things with your account. One fear is that using the same tags over and over again can get you banned. I don’t know if it’s true, but just in case I have a couple of saved lists of tags that I alternate the use of on my posts.
Use your stories
Stories are gaining popularity and they are a great way to connect with your current followers and expand your reach to a new following as stories show up in your explore feed.
Stories are great for posting the content that isn’t polished enough to be on your profile, for giving shout outs to other artists you love, letting people know about sales or new inventory in your store, behind the scenes looks at your studio, insights into your personal life, etc..
Once your following grows to 10k, you can start linking external sites to your story (which is probably how you got to this blog post!).
Make sure your account is attractive and branded
I’m sorry to say it, but it doesn’t matter how skilled you are as an artist. If your profile doesn’t look attractive and inviting, your following is less likely to grow.
When you post, always keep your overall profile in mind. The first 9 to 18 photos of your profile should look connected and cohesive. You should have a variety of photo compositions with negative space to keep your profile from looking chaotic and overwhelming.
Every time I go to make a new post, I look at my 9 most recent posts and take note of the colors and photo compositions and make sure that I choose a new post that will fit into this collection.
Write engaging captions and respond to comments.
The new algorithm works like Facebook now where posts with high engagement show up higher in your feed and posts with low engagement hide in a corner, never to be looked at again. Stupid popularity contests…
From what I have read, a new post is first shown to smaller portion of your followers, and if it gets their attention in the form of likes and comments over 4 words, then it is moved up in status and shown to more of your following.
This means it is incredibly important to write a caption that people can engage with. I don’t know if the 4 word requirement for comments is for sure true, but the common theory out there is that Instagram wanted to reduce bot comments from inflating the engagement on posts. So, write an engaging caption and make sure to respond to comments with 4 words or more within the first hour of posting.
Post during peak Hours of Activity
Since initial engagement is the key to getting your posts seen by more people, you need to post when your audience is most active. You’ll have to do some trial and error or search other blogs for this info, but I can say what personally works best for me is posting between 10am and 3pm CST. Monday through Thursday seem to be really active days. The weekends are hit or miss, but sometimes the hits are a major hit.
Before the new algorithm, I posted between 9am and 7pm. My posts would get 1500-2000 likes within the first day and multiple comments immediately. Now, it feels like a gamble with each post and I’ve had to be way more strategic, but still some posts only get 800 likes, and some get 3000 if all the stars align and the algorithm works in my favor. It’s annoying.
But I say, keep posting every day and take note of when your posts get the most engagement. Tweak your schedule as necessary.
Consider joining a casual Comment Pod
During my darkest days of thinking my time on Instagram was over, I joined a comment pod. My posts were no longer being engaged with and I had no idea what the heck was happening. Did my art suddenly suck?! I’d post something and all I’d get were crickets.
Naturally, when another artist messaged me and asked if I wanted to join her pod I was desperately enthusiastic. If you haven’t heard of comment pods yet, it’s basically a group of 8 to 15 artists that let each other know when they have posted something new and each artist takes the time to comment and like everyone’s stuff with the hope of boosting engagement. It’s time consuming, it makes you even more addicted to social media, and I honestly don’t know if it works.
Some fear (including me) that you can be shadow banned by doing this, because having the same group of people interact with each other over and over again may look like bot behavior. This is why I say participate casually. After I experienced an even more severe drop in engagement after a couple of weeks of being in the pod, I stepped back. I feared the ban. Since then, I still interact with pod member accounts and they still interact with mine, but the engagement is only on every couple of posts. This way, it’s genuine.
If you are considering joining a pod, don’t be so routine with your comments. As a group, decide on an intermittent schedule. Don’t comment on every single post. Pretty much, just make friends with artists and support each other.
The best part of being in a pod is having a group of like minded artists chatting about their experiences and sharing their stories. I have met a lot of wonderful artists through doing this, and even if it doesn’t help my engagement or increase my following much at the moment, I still get to feel a tight knit sense of community with people all over the world.
Things I still Don’t do To Increase my following
- I don’t do follows for follows or waste time liking a bunch of people’s photos. Sure, it can get you a few followers here and there, but ain’t nobody got time for that.
- I don’t use a bot or any sort. Seriously, all of my growth is organic.
- I don’t pay for larger accounts to share my work. Most of the time those accounts don’t get a lot of engagement anyway, so it’s a waste of money. Instead, you can message accounts that share work and ask for a share, or use their hashtags to increase your chances of being shared.
- I don’t pay for Instagram promotions (at the moment).
There you have it. More tips and reminders on how to organically increase your following as an artist on Instagram. I hope this helps! I am proof that it is possible to grow quickly and organically. Sometimes you have to try a bunch of different things before you find what works and sometimes you just have to trust that the same repeated tips you’ve been hearing for a while actually do get results when you dedicate time to it.
If you are struggling and want an outside opinion on your Instagram account, I am always happy to offer my consulting services. I want to see you grow as an artist!