How to Gain a Massive Following on Instagram: 10 Proven Tactics To Grow Followers and Engagement

It’s an exciting time to get to know Instagram. The popular photo-sharing app is fun, simple and growing—Instagram has more than 700 million monthly users and sky-high user engagement levels.

And for marketers, it’s an especially interesting time. The company just announced that it will open up a set of business tools including new business profiles, analytics and the ability to create ads from posts directly within the app.

With such brand-friendly features on the way, it seems like marketers might be more keen than ever to get acquainted with Instagram for their business. I know we are at Buffer!

Lately, we’ve been sharing, liking and trying new ways to grow Buffer’s Instagram account, and it’s been so much fun. Since Instagram is a platform we’re keen to focus on, we thought it would be fun to research some ways to grow a following there.

Update: We recently launched one of our biggest product enhancements, Buffer for Instagram, to help you plan, track and amplify your Instagram marketing.

Whether you’re growing your own personal account or working on behalf of a company, read on to find out the 10 best tactics (with tools and examples!) we uncovered that could help you grow a bigger, relevant audience on Instagram.

Want to make your business stand out on Instagram? Check out our complete guide to Instagram marketing and get the playbook that drives results for Instagram’s top profiles.

Top 10 Instagram Growth Tactics

10 actionable ways to supercharge your follower growth on Instagram:

1. Post consistently (at least once a day)
2. Study and load up on quality hashtags
3. Share user generated content
4. Ask users to “tag a friend”
5. Use the right filters
6. Host a photo contest
7. Add some emojis
8. Cross-promote
9. Try video, too
10. Share the love


 1. Post consistently (at least once a day)

Social media analytics tool Quintly analyzed over 5,000 profiles in early 2015 to learn that the average Instagram account posts once per day.

More intriguing: Accounts with the highest number of fans tend to post a bit more than that–up to 2 or 3 photos per day on average. This data might allow us to say that “more successful” accounts tend to post with a higher frequency.

The key takeaway: Post often on Instagram. Brands that get in a regular flow with Instagram posts tend to see the best results.

Instagram is rolling out a Facebook-like algorithm based timeline and consistency feels like a key element to getting your posts seen and appearing at the top of the timeline. If your posts are shared on a regular basis and picking up good engagement, then our hunch is Instagram’s algorithm may then determine this post should appear near the top of your follower’s feeds.

[Interested in listening to this post in podcast format? We invite you to check out Buffer’s very own podcast – The Science of Social Media!] 

How to listen: iTunes | Google Play | SoundCloud | Stitcher | RSS

Further reading: 8 Ways to Get Your Best Instagram Marketing Results with Buffer

Buffer for Instagram is Here: 8 Ways to Get Your Best Instagram Marketing Results with Buffer


2. Study and load up on quality hashtags

We’ve explored hashtags a lot on the blog, but it seems that nowhere on social media are they quite as important as on Instagram. The right hashtags can expose your image to a large and targeted audience, and Instagram users don’t seem to get hashtag fatigue in the same way they might on other networks.

In other words, hashtags could be your best bet for growing a fast following on Instagram. Instagram allows for a maximum of 30 hashtags per post, and many power users max out this ability. For example, check out how many hashtags our recent Bufferchat guest, Jeff Sieh, used on a post of his:

A TrackMaven study discovered that interactions are highest on Instagram posts with 11+ hashtags. Which hashtags should you use?

It can be a little difficult to discover the right hashtags to add to your Instagram posts and I’d love to share a few tips with you here.

One method I use a lot is to look for hashtags on similar posts to mine. Here’s how I do it in a few quick steps:

  1. Add a couple of relevant and obvious hashtags to my photo before posting it.
  2. Then I’ll click through to search those hashtags and scroll through other, similar photos that share my hashtag to see what other tags those users have added that I might add, too.
  3. Then I go back to my photo and edit it to add all the additional relevant hashtags I’ve found.

You can do this process in a more formalized way by searching and recording hashtags relevant to your brand, in a similar way you might do keyword research for a blog post. Brands are using hashtags to run unique campaigns as well—here’s a look at just a few:

Another way to discover hashtags is to check out the top 100 hashtags from Websta here. (You can also use Websta to search relevant keywords and find popular accounts.)

3. Share user-generated content

In under three months, we grew our Instagram account by 60%  – from 5,850 to 9,400 followers. And a large percentage of this growth was a result of us embracing and sharing user-generated content.

The easiest way to think about user-generated content is this: brands taking the best-of-the-best user content from around the web and featuring it on their own social media or other platforms while giving credit to the original creator (user).

At Buffer, we started the hashtags #BufferStories and #BufferCommunity to showcase the unique stories of our users. These hashtags have opened up a huge variety of content options from curated stories of digital nomads to social media tips from marketers. Each time we share a new UGC photo on Instagram we are sure to include these hashtags. Every once in a while we include a CTA along the lines of: “share your story using #BufferStories” to keep the campaign alive.

Further reading: Check out our full guide to user-generated content on Instagram here.

4. Ask users to “tag a friend”

I recently got a great Instagram tip from some new local friends who helped me out with marketing a non-profit food tasting event. They shared a food photo from a past event and asked their 11,000 followers to comment and tag a friend they wanted to attend with. The response was awesome, and exposed our event to a lot of people who wouldn’t have heard about it otherwise:

I’ve seen this tactic work well for lots more than events, too.

5. Use the right filters

All those filters Instagram gives you to use aren’t just fun—choosing the right ones can actually lead to more views and engagement. Researchers from Georgia Tech and Yahoo Labs analyzed millions of photos and corresponding data on how frequently they were viewed and commented upon to determine that filtered photos are 21% more likely to be viewed and 45% more likely to be commented on than unfiltered ones. What kind of filter works best? After examining five different types, researchers found that the top filters to increase chances of views and comments are those that create:

Higher exposure was the most tied to more views, and warmth had the biggest correlation with comments.  Two types of filters had negative correlations: Saturation correlated to slightly lower views, and age effects led to lower comments. Curalate has a great infographic with even more specific pointers on optimizing the look of your image for greater engagement:


6. Host a photo contest

Instagram hashtags make it easy for to collect photos from followers around a theme, and many brands have had success and fun using this capability to host photo contests. Here’s an example of Instagram itself hosting a photo contest, asking users to recreate an iconic image and share it with the hashtag #recreatedclassic.

Instagram has a great blog post with some tips for getting your photo contest off on the best foot, and Social Media Examiner has an awesome primer on all kinds of Instagram contests.

7. Add some emojis

Emoji are becoming a universal method of expressionInstagram reports that nearly 50 percent of all captions and comments on Instagram now have an emoji or two. I know I’m drawn to them in posts and I’ve noticed some folks are even adding to their user names for a bit of extra pop.

Anthony Thompson explains over at PostPlanner how he earned 3x Instagram growth by calling on emojis to ignite engagement in both posts and comments—smart. He uses this adorable example from Sue Zimmerman to prove his point:

8. Cross-promote

Make sure your existing fans know you’re on Instagram through cross-promotion. Instagram makes it simple to share your images to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, and Foursquare, which could be a great tactic to get some extra exposure. You can also try embedding Instagram photos in your blog posts (see the bottom of this post for an example) or adding an Instagram feed to your Facebook page for some additional discovery. Here’s a look atBuffer’s Facebook page with an added Instagram feed:

A Buzzsumo study of over 1 billion Facebook posts from 3 million brand pages found that images posted to Facebook via Instagram receive more engagement than natively published images:


9. Try video, too

Instagram allows users to upload videos between 3-60 seconds in length, and when the feature was introduced, more than 5 million were shared in 24 hours. However, an April 2015 study from Locowise found that only about 10% of all posts on Instagram are videos right now, but they’re getting 18% of all comments. This shows there’s still plenty of room for you to focus on video and be one of the first!

10. Share the love

In our quest to grow our followers, it’s always helpful to remember what really matters in all of this: The friends we’ll talk to, the relationships we’ll create and the fun we’ll have.

An easy way to keep this principle central is to spend a bit of time each day just hanging out and enjoying Instagram. You might respond to comments, like photos, follow some new friends, and comment on awesome posts. If the “follow like like like” strategy above tells us anything, it’s that time spent showing and sharing the love can pay off in new followers. It also creates a better social media experience for everyone.

One last tactic: How to drive traffic from Instagram?

One of the challenges of marketing on Instagram (and possibly a part of its joy for users) is that you can’t quite add links for your viewers to click.

If you want to send your followers to a specific link, though, it seems that it’s becoming common practice to change the link in your Instagram profile and add the comment “link in bio” to a corresponding photo or video.

Wrapping it up: Anatomy of a perfect post

We’ve gone over quite a lot of tactics to remember and try! The kind folks at Made Freshly combined lots of these tips for growing a following into this fun infographic:

Bonus: How to use Buffer to start amplifying your Instagram marketing today

With Buffer for Instagram, we’re excited to be giving you the power to manage your social media marketing from one central location, and we’re eager for you to have the tools you need to plan, track, and amplify your Instagram marketing.

What are your Instagram experiences?

We’d love to keep the conversation going—both in the comments here and on Instagram, of course! Lots of awesome friends shared their top tips for marketing on the photo social network, and we’d love to hear yours, too! Add your thoughts below!

 

You might also enjoy these Instagram marketing resources:
The Ultimate Guide to Instagram Analytics: Metrics, Insights, Tools, and Tips


A Complete Guide to Instagram Marketing: The Playbook That Drives Results


How Instagram Stories Work: A Powerful New Way to Engage