How I Gained My First 10k Followers on Instagram (and how you can, too).
Last Friday I hit the benchmark of 10k followers on Instagram and it honestly felt like the equivalent of Christmas morning as a 12-year-old. It was that kind of feeling. Suddenly, it’s as though Instagram has let you into their secret club. They give you new privileges (like the highly coveted swipe-up feature) and the interface changes just slightly, but enough for you to notice the difference.
Ten thousand followers is not something one can do by “accident,” as most of us spend weeks, months, even years trying to crack the code. (In other words, trying to figure out how to make our page interesting enough for people to want to follow it.)
I’ve read all the blog posts, watched all the videos, taken a lot of courses. And they were all saying the same thing: engage with your audience.
If I read that as a legitimate tip from ONE more blog, I was going to scream. I’m pretty sure I did scream at one point.
Obviously, you need to engage, that’s a given. It’s a game, and Instagram will favor anyone who treats the app as a second version of reality. Speak to your audience as you do in person, comment on posts like you would give compliments in real time, interact with stories like you would your favorite TV show or movie. When we mimic our reality through the app--it favors us. Creepy, but true.
But no, engagement alone is not how you will reach your goal of ten thousand followers. And if someone tells you that, they’re lying. Or they became an influencer back in 2010 when engagement actually was the path to a larger audience.
The fact is, things are much different now. Instagram users are smarter, and the cost to acquire a follower is much much higher than it was back when people like Gary Vaynerchuk and Jenna Kutcher were building their audiences.
I’ve spent hundreds of hours studying Instagram, testing the algorithm and managing dozens of accounts, I know what works and what doesn't work--and now I’m sharing exactly what I did to get my first ten thousand followers.
Move forward at your own risk.
Your content needs to be sensational
There is no exception to this rule, it’s a necessity. You will not go far without establishing your Instagram identity in a way that is captivating and engaging.
What you choose to post on Instagram is a complete manifestation of your personal brand. (You’ve got to have a strategy in place). Before, it may have been enough to share pretty photos that were centered around a general theme; people would follow you simply because they liked your style.
Now, I’m afraid to tell you that those days are long gone.
It’s not enough to have gorgeous photos and a cohesive looking Instagram grid. You’ve got to offer people something. Whether that’s long-form captions with a personal story intertwined or funny Instagram stories that showcase your personality, OR an IGTV that informs or teaches your listeners… you have to provide VALUE in order to win. Pretty photos are not enough.
Before posting content on Instagram, ask yourself if it says yes to one of these three questions:
1. Is it entertaining? Will my audience find joy from this?
2. Is it personal? Does this pull on my audience’s heartstrings?
3. Is it informative? Will my audience learn something?
If it says yes to one of those three questions, you’ve got yourself a piece of gold! Post away.
Consistency is Key
This is the long game. Get used to the idea that Instagram is something you will need to water everyday in order to reap the benefits of a big audience and well-established community. (Which, by the way, are not the same thing.)
If you’ve followed this topic before, then you’ve probably read the above statement a hundred times, so I’ll cut to the chase:
It doesn’t matter if you can commit to posting five times a week or two times a week. What do you have the bandwidth for? It does matter, however, that you keep it consistent.
What Instagram DOESN’T favor is 3x, then 6x, then 1x per week. When your posts appear sporadically it signals to Instagram that your content isn’t purposeful. Instagram’s algorithm favors accounts that post regularly and consistently.
So, you don't have to go from 0 to 100% overnight, but you should remain consistent with the number of times you do choose to post per week.
One of the tactics I used while building my following on Instagram was targeting certain accounts I knew were similar to mine.
Target Likely Followers
For example, I’m a personal brand strategist, right? My page is all about personal branding, entrepreneurship, and lifestyle content. Those are my things.
While searching for people who could benefit from my content, I would first search for people who had similar pages to mine. For instance, that might be another brand strategist, entrepreneur, blogger, or designer. After I found someone whom I admired and thought was similar to me, I would check to see who THEIR followers were and assess whether they would find my page interesting as well.
Most of the time they would.
And in order to find out for sure, I would follow these people first. Sometimes, I would follow 50 people at a time, 100 people at a time, or even 200 people at a time. There was a good chance that 20%-30% of the people I followed would follow me back.
This is what people call the follow/unfollow method. (The unfollow part comes later, when you adjust the number of people you are following yourself.) But be forewarned, Instagram is cracking down on this method heavily. You won’t get penalized for following 200 accounts in a day. But you WILL most certainly pay a price for following upwards of 400-500 accounts in a short time frame.
Be careful with this approach. My advice is to only follow people you think you will actually want to stay connected with, not who you’re conning into following you so you can unfollow them back.
This tactic can be a GREAT tool if done purposefully and genuinely.
(I should also note that this strategy was something I learned by taking one of Mastery by Mal’s courses. You can check them out here.)
Blogger giveaways, AKA ‘the secret underground society for bloggers’ is something I discovered way too late on my Instagram journey.
This is how it works:
Bloggers, or anyone really, can choose to “sponsor” a giveaway. The sponsors are then put into an exclusive group that is followed by the official giveaway account. Anyone who enters to win the giveaway MUST follow all of the sponsors in order to enter.
This is what some people call “loop giveaways” essentially meaning that you must follow a loop of bloggers who are sponsoring the post.
Here’s what I like about it:
Fast growth (we’re talking anywhere from 200-1k followers gained over the course of 5 days)
A great way to build your network with other bloggers and influencers
Here’s what I don’t like about it:
It can cost anywhere from $25 to $1000 to sponsor
Can sometimes feel “sketchy” when you can’t tell exactly who’s running it
Certain giveaways may attract people from foreign countries. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but these followers may not be aligned with your target audience.
There are pros and cons to any strategy like this one. Ultimately, sponsoring giveaways is what got me from 8.5k to 10k in a few weeks. I was thankful that this approach was able to push me through the last stretch so I could focus my attention on the other facets of my business.
However, in the future, I am going to be very particular and choosy about deciding which giveaways are worth the money and my name. I suggest that you do your research, too! OR better yet, send me a message and I will plug you in.
Turn On Post Notifications
At the time I was starting to take Instagram more seriously, I remember listening to Gary Vaynerchuk talk about his $1.80 Instagram strategy. The gist is simple: leave your .02 cents on the top 9 trending Instagram posts for 10 different hashtags that are relevant to your business. By the end of this, you haven’t just left your .02 cents–you’ve left a full $1.80 of thoughts in the specific category, niche, or industry you want to become a part of.
He wasn’t the only entrepreneur who was telling people to “engage” in order to attract more followers. Everyone was... and still is.
But. do you know what the problem with this strategy is?
After a while, it doesn’t feel genuine anymore.
The intention is so clearly to attract more followers--and not to start a genuine conversation regarding a topic you are passionate about.
In my opinion, this strategy is simply tired and I don’t think it works anymore (especially now that Instagram users have become smarter and more attuned to these tactics.)
While thinking about a different approach to the overused term of engagement, I took a hint from,This is Marketing by Seth Godin.
I asked myself who my core group of customers, or in this case, followers were. These were the people who were liking my photos, commenting genuinely on my captions, engaging with my stories, and messaging me when I launched a new product or services. I wanted to start a REAL conversation with THESE people.
And so I did.
I turned on post notifications for every single person who engaged with my content on a regular basis and then I returned the favor...and continue to return the favor.
In my opinion, this is much more effective than commenting on a stranger’s post in hopes that they may follow me. This is what builds community, centers people around your message, and ultimately shapes your personal brand.
Remember, it’s the long game. One comment on someone’s post may not make an impression, but 20 comments over the course of a month will. This has been the most effective strategy for me while I continue to build my following on Instagram. It’s genuine, it’s real, and I believe it’s what the App was actually intended for.
When you reciprocate engagement in a way that brings value, people are inclined to share your message. They tell their friends about you, they buy your next product, and they show up at your next event. I would rather have 500 core group of followers than waste my time chasing people who don’t know me well enough to give me the time of day.
Look, there are so many ways to win on Instagram. The above methods are what worked for me, but I would encourage you to experiment with your page. Make bold moves, share your journey, let people in on the ride and you will find that your page is a place that holds a strong community and gives you a sense of purpose.
As I reflect on my journey to ten thousand followers, it makes me think that the hardest part hasn’t even begun. To really succeed on Instagram, you have to care.
You have to show up every day and care about the people who are following you.
Who are they?
What do they want?
And how can I serve them?
If you are attuned to the answers to these questions, you’ll do just fine.
Are we friends on Instagram yet? Say hi!