So many people on Instagram base success on how many followers they have. As artists, the number of followers shouldn't be as important as the number of art patrons. However the fact is that the more followers you have, the more people will see your posts and the more buyers will be reached. The magic goal of 10K followers also allows Instagram users to create stories that link to websites -- a rare benefit on Instagram as you can only have one outside link on the whole service otherwise, and only in your profile. So how do we gain those followers?
There are a lot of ways to gain followers, but not all are created equal. In some cases you can game the system, but will that translate in to engaged followers who help your posts rise above the social media noise to be seen by a wider range of people? Maybe, maybe not.
I'll address 10 ways you can gain followers on Instagram and the benefits and drawbacks to each.
1. Consistent Quality Content
This should be a no brainer, but sometimes it has to be repeated and each word needs to be explained. Post consistent quality content.
Consistent: meaning periodic and repeated. Many think if they create an Instagram page and put a few examples of their work, that should be enough. Instagram doesn't work well as a static advertisement. No new users will be served up older content. Posts grow stale quickly and then the only way users will find you is if they know to go looking for you. And even if your patrons look for you, if they follow you, they won't be reminded that you make beautiful work if you don't add new content consistently. One of my favorite sayings is that your customers need to see your work repetitively before they make a substantial purchase and you shouldn't wait for them to search for you each time for that or it may not happen.
Quality: posting just to have updates is also not recommended. You need to put something your customers will want to see and consider buying. Reposting quality content or repurposing it (creating a new look via image editing software like Canva for instance) can be a way to produce more quality while still maintaining a consistent posting schedule.
When you post repetitive interesting content, the organic followers will come. They like your content and follow you because they want to see what you post. These will be the best followers because they are engaged with your work and are self-motivated.
2. Follow for Follow
This technique is simply to follow as many people as possible and hope they follow you back. Many times this will build up your follower count because many Instagram users will reciprocate a follow almost automatically. This does dilute your own feed, however, and engaging with customers (which I will write about in future posts) will become more difficult as you will have a huge variety of non-related content in your own feed. These may or may not be engaged followers and this is not one of my favorite techniques.
As a note: you do not need to reciprocate when someone follows you. You might decide to go check out their page and see if you legitimately want to see their content in your own feed or engage with them in the future before following them.
3. Follow Unfollow
This method starts out as the Follow for Follow, but then some of the more unscrupulous social media marketers advise to unfollow after the other user reciprocates. This is rampant on Instagram at the moment and a cause of much consternation and pain. The idea is that once you unfollow, the reciprocators will continue to follow you and you will have a follower-to-followed ration that makes it appear as though you are more popular than you really are on the service. Instagram does not make it easy to determine who has unfollowed you on the service and does not give notifications.
This technique does no one any good. First, you would not be collecting the engaged followers in the first place, but secondly, it creates negative feelings when other users notice it being done (and they notice because you won't remember everyone you followed and you will likely refollow the same user multiple times which will let them know you unfollowed originally). Consider how you feel when building up your business and discovering someone was a fan and was helping you up, only to discover they actually just used you to bolster themselves with no benefit to you at all. It's not a great feeling and does not create loyalty or community.
This type of gaming of follower count also can be penalized by Instagram. I have heard that some have noticed their content was not reaching their actual quality followers because they believed Instagram was penalizing them for this strategy. There are apps that will allow you to check for unfollowers and possibly unfollow automatically, however keep in mind that those apps also take control of your account. It may be better to use something like Helper Tools for Instagram, which would not require your Instagram login to identify the accounts that have unfollowed.
As a tip, when you notice someone following you and you go to check out their page, look at the follow-to-followers ratio. If they have a lot more followers than the number of people they follow, beware. Only follow them if you really do like their work enough to want it in your own feed even if they choose to unfollow you. If they have roughly equal follows and followers, or more follows than followers, they may be a good candidate to engage with in the future and a quality follower that will stick around.
4. Buying Followers
Yes, you can actually buy followers via various internet based markets, and you will likely also be approached in your Instagram private messages by someone telling you that they can guarantee a number of followers for a price. This is a common practice for celebrities looking to boost their numbers when trying to get movie roles or politicians boosting numbers before an election to appear to have more influence, but unless you are either of those, they won't be quality or engaged followers. In fact, they are often not real at all but dummy accounts just to make money and they not only won't engage with your content, they will never load you posts and are only there to swell your numbers. It may be tempting to buy them for the chance to get above the 10K followers threshold to share links in stories, but occasionally Instagram cleans out the robot networks and kills these accounts, which could send your follower count tumbling.
5. Follower Loops
There are a tons of follower loops available to join on Instagram. Members of the loops post the loop on their own feed to help advertise the loop while also following specific instructions on how to get listed with the group, usually requiring them to follow everyone followed by the loop account. Then the loop follows the member and all the loop account members must follow back. This often works well beyond the loop listed members because other Instagram users get confused on how to join the loop, meaning that you will have more people following than need to be followed back. These can work well as long as the loop itself is applicable to your industry. For example, artists should consider joining art loops or maker loops or specific types of art loops but unless you are a mother, you might not join the mother loops or if you could care less about gardening you probably shouldn't join the gardener loops (unless you paint botanicals as they might be your customers!) as it will lower your engaged followers ration and clutter your own feed.
Some do not like the requirement that they post the loop advertisement periodically in their own feed, and many loops give users a chance to boost the loop in other ways, including paying a small fee to be included without posting. Additionally, the loops advertisement posts can be archived at the end of each loop period which will clean up your own feed so that you never have more than one of each loop image active.
6. Active Engagement
This is the most work-intensive way to gain followers, but it also brings you the most actively engaged and loyal followers. In this strategy, you find hashtags or sections of the discover page you enjoy and personally pick out Instagram accounts you like. Then go to those accounts and engage with their content. Like and comment. Give them kudos or feedback. You might follow them if you like them enough, but that is often not necessary. Chances are at the very least, they will come back and engage with your content but also very likely they will follow you. I generally follow back if they engage and because I found them, I know I will like them in my own feed.
7. Contests, Challenges and Give-aways
Contests, Challenges and Give-aways, or anything with the chance of getting a freebie, can be a quick way to gain followers. At least temporarily. Advertising a give-away with a popular hashtag will bring in a lot of attention and if you require a follow for entry, you will swell your numbers, however some of these will unfollow as soon as the giveaway if over, and unless the prize is very specific, they may not be engaged followers and only after the next chance to win. You can extend the reach by not only requiring the follow you but that they tag a friend, and each friend they tag gives them an extra chance to win. In this way, you may find that the tagged friends also join in and follow for a chance to win.
8. Follow Friday and Share Saturday (Motivational Monday, Welcome Wednesday)
Follow Friday (and related) posts allow users to recommend others to follow. This does not require you to even be the poster of the Follow Friday thread, although the poster will benefit the most. To participate, users comment on a Follow Friday post tagging a friend (or three, or five, whatever is required) and they should also follow some of the posted accounts. There is little to force anyone to follow the others, but often the exposure to a number of other accounts is useful and you will gain some followers. Additionally, the accounts you recommend others follow will often be grateful for the tag and will tag you in future similar situations as well as engage with your own posts. Again, the primary beneficiary will be the original poster as they will be noticed by 100% of the tagged posts.
Instagram allows users to follow hashtags as well as accounts, which gives the opportunity to follow the myriad of follower request hashtags like #follow4follow and #f4f. When a user posts content to these hashtags, it is an open invitation for those looking for followers to get a follow back. To participate, usually all that is required is to follow the poster and comment on the tagged post with either the hashtag or that you are looking for a follow back. Will this method bring quality followers that will engage? Potentially, but the primary goal for the hashtag is the number of followers and they may not be interested in engagement.
10. Instagram Ads
Purchasing an Instagram advertisement may also be a great way to get followers since it can be targeted by demographic. If you can identify any demographic (location, age, interests, etc) in which your customer base can be located, you can put an advertisement directly into their feed with a call-to-action to follow your account. This might be one of the best ways to gain engaged followers as using this promises them nothing but also requires their engagement to start. The primary benefit you are getting for your money is to get in front of your selected audience with no action needed from them other than using Instagram as usual.
There you have it. You now have a selection of ways to boost your Instagram account. Some are more effective or ethical than others. Please let me know what you think... and since you got this far, if you follow me and mention this blog post - I promise to follow you back!