In this guide, we will show you how to grow your Instagram account, how to get your first followers and everything you need to know to further progress on Instagram.
This guide is not for those with an attention span of less than 10 seconds, as we have not included many pictures in this guide (if any).
Following people in your niche is the best way to get started. If you post useful content and follow people who might be interested in your content, you have a great chance of earning a follow back. When following people, you need to accept the fact early on that you will be following complete strangers; however, there are right ways to follow people and wrong ways to follow people. My following techniques are one of the reasons I believe I have become so successful.
Step 1: The first thing you need to do before you start following is to identify ‘targets’. You will essentially be following the accounts that interact with these targets.
Find people who aren’t superstars, but still have a good following. For example, if you are into makeup and fashion, Kylie Jenner would not be a good option. Even though she’s the face of that niche on Instagram, her followers don’t necessarily want to see your stuff because they might be interested in her for a variety of reasons. Bots also target these big accounts. One company found that 53% of Justin Bieber’s Twitter followers were fake; and trust me, those kinds of numbers exist on Instagram.
Ideally, you want to look for people who have about 100,000 to 400,000 followers, and the number of likes per post they get should be at least 10% of their follower count. So if someone has 100,000 followers, their photos should get at least 10,000 likes. If this number is below 10%, do not use that account as a “target. When you follow people, you don’t just want to get followers in return – you want to get likes, comments, and customers. The best way to gain this type of audience is to follow the likers, commenters, and customers of target accounts.
Another thing to consider is the ratios from the perspective of the accounts you follow. When people talk about ratios on Instagram, they’re usually talking about the number of followers a person has compared to the number of people they follow. When you’re following people, it’s best to look for people who have close to an equal number of followers and followings – or a 1-to-1 ratio. For example, if you see someone who has 500 followers and follows 500 people, that person is much more likely to follow you back than someone who follows 100 people and has 2,000 followers.
You will have better luck following public accounts than private accounts. With public accounts, you will be able to follow with step 2. Following private accounts also affects the number of accounts you can follow. Instagram allows you to follow up to 7500 accounts, but if you are waiting for approval on 500 private accounts, then Instagram won’t allow you to follow more than 7,000.
Do not follow if the person has no posts. These people may follow back, but they are not good customers.
When I’m growing my accounts, I find myself following more than 200 people a day. This can be tedious and time consuming. But it is worth it. Following 200 people will usually result in a gain of 50 to 75 followers if you are providing good content. Once accounts get bigger, I can follow less and focus more on my content. This will be discussed later.
Step 2: Following with a 1-2 punch
Following with a 1-2 punch is the little-known method that has helped me gain millions of followers. Once you follow a user you identified in Step 1, the ideal way to get them to follow back is to like the most recent post they made and then like an older post from about 2-3 weeks ago. If they don’t post consistently, liking one of their first photos is also a great way to get them to follow back.
This looks great because when the user sees this notification, it looks like you’ve scrolled through their account and found content you like. They’ll appreciate it, and they’ll be more likely to follow you back and like some of your photos – increasing your engagement rate.
Often, when people are followed by strangers, they have a hard time following back because they assume it’s one of two things:
- A. Following to get a follow back (and then unfollowing).
- B. A bot following (and then un-following).
But if you follow with the 1-2 punch, most people will believe you are genuinely interested in their content. This gives you a much higher percentage of getting a follow back.
The 1-2 punch is the best way to grow on Instagram using the follow/unfollow method.
- Find target sources in your niche that have a lot of people commenting and liking their posts. If you have a comedy account, a great example would be @kalesalad. They have 300,000 followers and they have, on average, about 45,000 people who like their content and receive 500-2,500 comments per post.
- Search through the comments and likes for people who have a public profile. If they have less than 5,000 followers, they are more likely to follow back. Like their most recent photo and a photo from a few weeks ago, then follow them. Repeat this over again for the best results.
Commenting is incredibly important for increasing your overall presence on Instagram. In a way, it’s more important than following because you can attract more people than just a single user.
Commenting is best used when the target has similar statistics to you. Find people in your niche who would be really interested in your account. Don’t waste your time commenting on superstar accounts.
I advise against spamming of any kind. There is no need to write comments like “Follow my account!” or “Nice post!” on every single post you come across. Get personal with the person. Ask questions. Be specific so it looks like you’re not just another bot.
Your goal when liking photos is to like over 400 per day. That may seem like a lot, but if you follow 200, then technically you can just use a 1-2 punch and like two photos when you follow someone and you should be fine. Liking is just not very effective if you don’t already follow the person… unless you like people in your own feed.
I ran a test once where I liked 1,000 random photos based on hashtags popular in my niche, and I only got two followers. I ran a similar test where I did a 1-2 Punch on the 500 people I followed and received 400 followers. So, liking people’s photos when you follow them is extremely important, and it’s less effective when it’s people you don’t follow.
Unfortunately, at some point you will have to unfollow the people you once followed (even if they followed you back). Instagram has a maximum of 7,500 followers. Unfollowing depends a lot on what your ratio cycles are. This is described below. If you’re just interested in unfollowing people who don’t follow you back, there are plenty of apps that can help you identify who those people are. Just search the Google Play or Apple Store and you’ll find one! Of course, unfollowing people you follow will result in some loss of followers, but this will be offset by the number of people you will gain organically. Also, people will have a hard time unfollowing your account if your content is what made them follow you in the first place. In other words, if you provide good content, people won’t unfollow you because they’re genuinely interested in your posts.
To optimize your follow-back percentages, it’s a great idea to follow a ratio cycle. A ratio cycle is what your account’s following-to-follower ratio should look like at any given point in time as you grow your account. Please refer to the chart below to see how you could gain 5,000 followers in a month (easily scalable to 15,000 or even 20,000, depending on how aggressive you are and how good your content is). By sticking to a strict ratio cycle, you will optimize the performance of your account. Note that these types of results will only occur if you have entertaining content, are in a fast-growing niche, and use the 1-2 punch following method.
Nobody likes following hundreds of people a day – but that’s the unsexy truth about gaining followers when you first start on Instagram. Don’t believe in these “secret tools” or “unique methods” that promise you thousands of free followers – they’re all scams. You need to attract real people to your account to get real results – and the only way to do that is to find them yourself.
Eventually, you won’t need to follow people to get followers; unfortunately, that’s not the case at first. Once you have your first 15,000 followers, you can spend more time creating viral content and interacting within engagement groups.
Generic Ratio Cycle – Gain 1,500 Followers in a Month
|Likes Per Day
|Following Per Day
|Un-follows Per Day
You will notice that I do not unfollow people for a few days. This is because I like to give people time to follow me back. There are automated programs that can unfollow people after they haven’t followed you for X number of days; however, without programs like this, it’s hard to know if they’ve had enough time to follow you. I recommend that you do your daily unfollows before you do your daily followings, so that you give everyone at least one day to follow you back.
You also need to be aware of Instagram delays. Instagram delays have changed over time. Instagram delays are the amount of time it takes to process each action an account takes. For example, you can’t follow 60 accounts in 60 seconds – Instagram will limit your actions if they think you’re spamming. It’s best to spread out your Instagram actions throughout the day to avoid Instagram’s limitations and delays. These delays and restrictions vary from account to account, so be careful.
Now, of course, this ratio cycle is incredibly idealistic and hypothetical. Most people won’t follow it exactly, and you probably won’t get this high of a follow-back ratio every day (especially considering recent Instagram action blocks), but this should give you a good idea of how to move forward.
Phases of Growth & Engagement Groups
Your First 15,000 Followers
Your account growth is measured by the number of followers you have. At some point in the life of your account, you will find that it takes less effort to grow. Let me walk you through the steps so you know what to do when you reach each stage.
Your first 15,000 followers will test your patience like a roommate who doesn’t clean up after himself. Your first 15,000 followers will be the longest and hardest to get. Simply because not many people want to follow accounts that don’t have many followers. Often, accounts with low follower counts are seen as low quality accounts. This makes it incredibly difficult to gain traction on Instagram.
So ultimately, you want to be incredibly aggressive with your interactions during this phase. You want to be very personable with other accounts. It’s a good idea to leave a lot of comments on other accounts, follow 200 accounts a day, and like close to 400 photos a day (preferably using the 1-2 punch method mentioned above). Gaining your first 15,000 followers can be accomplished within a few months, but you will need to spend at least 3-4 hours per day on manual interaction tasks. Refer to the ratio cycle above to get a good idea of what your numbers should be.
Now, does this mean you should spend 3-4 hours a day on your content? Not necessarily, but you still want to make sure your content is of high quality. It would be a good idea to have at least 20-30 high quality posts during this follower phase. The more posts the better. It will be difficult to gain followers if you only have a few posts.
Remember that your content should follow the 10% engagement rule up to this point. If you have 10,000 followers, you should be getting about 1,000 likes per photo. If you are getting less than 10% of your likes, you need to consider a few things:
- Is your content good enough to get 10% of your audience’s attention? Does your content need to be of higher quality? Is your content original?
- Do you need to change your target account? Sometimes popular accounts can be deceptive and have fake likes/followers. Make sure you follow good accounts and like their material.
The number of comments you receive depends entirely on your niche and each specific post. For example, if you have a comedy/meme account, it is likely that your followers will tag their friends in the comments section – resulting in more comments than the typical niche. If you have a fitness account, you will typically receive more question-type comments. Know what type of comments to expect in your niche.
Depending on the niche, monetizing too early may turn off your customers; and in most cases, monetizing is not recommended if you have less than 15,000 followers. Effectively monetizing to your followers requires authority and trust, and it’s hard to get that with less than 15,000 followers.
During this stage, your follower-to-follower ratio will be the most out of whack. At some point, you will be following more people than people are following you. Don’t worry about it now; it will look better as you gain more followers.
Your First 50,000 Followers
Once you exceed 15,000 followers, your interaction still needs to be vigorous, but at this stage, your content will determine how quickly you reach 50,000 followers.
I typically spend about 2 hours a day doing the 1-2 punch and about 2 hours a day preparing the best content I can. This seems like a lot of work, but when you think about it, it’s an investment that can pay off big time.
Sometimes it can take a month to get to 50,000 followers, and sometimes it can take 3-4 months, depending on your niche and the content you provide, but one thing is for sure – your growth rate will accelerate once you get past 15,000 followers.
Monetizing at this point is still not ideal, but when you feel like you’ve become an authority in your niche, you can start monetizing your followers; however, being too aggressive at this stage will kill a lot of momentum. People are still looking at your account and deciding whether or not to follow you – if it looks like you’re just selling things to your followers, people won’t follow you, and getting to 50,000 will be incredibly difficult.
Now is a good time to start creating content that people want to share, and get your content ranked in certain hashtags. If you can get over 1,500 likes per post, it should be fairly easy to become a featured post within a particular hashtag. Many of your followers at this stage will come from the Explore tab and the hashtag.
You can also start thinking about engagement groups at this stage. Oh, what are engagement groups?
Engagement groups are one of the best ways to accelerate your growth if you use them correctly. The problem is: Most people don’t use them right.
Now, I can’t go into the specifics of any particular engagement group (they all vary), but the concept is pretty simple. You are in a group with other people based on the size (or niche) of your Instagram account(s). These groups are usually in an Instagram DM chat. Sometimes larger groups use a Telegram chat room. I believe some groups use Skype.
For example: If you are in a 50k engagement group, you are in a group with other people who have at least 50,000 followers.
Example: If you are in a nature engagement group, you will be in a group with other people who have nature accounts.
How Engagement Groups Work
During “rounds,” you comment/post your Instagram content so that it can be liked/commented on by other people in the group. The influence of the other people who like/comment on your content increases the likelihood that your content will appear in more Explore feeds.
What exactly happens in an engagement group (how many rounds per day, posting requirements, account requirements) varies from group to group, but the goal is to like (and/or comment on) each other’s Instagram posts in the group. The main theory is based on this: If you have ten other accounts in the group that like your post, each with over 100k followers, you could potentially show up in over 1 million Explore feeds across all of those accounts’ followers. This could lead to huge exposure!
I really appreciate engagement groups; and when done right, they can be an incredibly powerful tool for rapid growth. However, most accounts in engagement groups are doing it wrong. Here’s why:
Many of the engagement groups have specific posting rules that can damage content.
Never feel pressured to post bad content just because a round is in progress. This kind of pressure forces a lot of users to post really bad content just to get all that extra exposure. I’m not kidding.
Now, my views on how often you should post have changed a bit. I think if you can post 3-6 quality posts a day, then you should do it (depending on your niche). The problem is that most people can’t even post two quality posts a day. So they end up getting thrown into engagement groups, and they want to get as much exposure as possible, so they post sub-par content to maximize their potential benefits. I firmly believe that rushing content just to get into an engagement group is detrimental. Sure, you might get more exposure, but rushed, sloppy content will hinder your ability to sell to your followers, and your current followers may not appreciate the sloppy content – which could lead them to unfollow you.
Engagement groups are pretty much useless unless you are all in the same niche (unless your content has mass appeal).
This should be a very simple concept. If you’re a 100k nature account and you’re liked by a 100k fitness account, you’re not going to get nearly as many benefits as if you were liked by another 100k nature account. The people who follow fitness accounts probably won’t be interested in your nature account (unless you have mass appeal). Very specific niche accounts will still struggle in general, non-specific engagement groups.
Engagement groups are of little use if the accounts that like you have less than 10,000 followers.
You are more likely to end up in the Explore feed of the followers of the accounts that like your content. You see, it doesn’t do you much good to be liked by accounts that barely have any followers (especially if everyone in the group is from a variety of different niches). Simply put, using a follow/unfollow method will most likely give you much better growth than praying to land in the Explore feed somewhere. Instead, try the 1-2 punch method.
You can benefit greatly from being liked by large follower accounts, but small follower accounts won’t do you much good. If you are a small follower account (and you have your checkbook open), you can message larger accounts (within your niche) to see if they would be willing to interact with you. Most accounts will do this if you offer them cash, and it can accelerate your growth if done correctly.
Engagement groups really don’t work well for huge accounts.
Large, established accounts seem to have a hard time benefiting from engagement groups – which is interesting. This could be for a number of reasons, but I know a lot of people who seem to opt out of engagement groups when they hit 1 million followers. Some reasons include: not trying to grow aggressively, focusing more on monetization, lack of growth numbers, the niche is at capacity, etc.
Engagement Group Verdict
If you have at least 10,000-500,000 followers, I would recommend finding a niche-specific engagement group that includes a lot of the big players in your niche. Otherwise, go out and DM/message similar accounts in your niche and ask them if they’d be interested in doing some sort of engagement group. Don’t be tempted to create weak content just to get more exposure. The best way to find engagement groups is to simply message people within your niche on Instagram.
But remember this: Content is key. You don’t need engagement groups to go viral. At the end of the day, if you’re still posting weak content (engagement groups or not), you’re going to struggle to find success on Instagram.
Once you hit 50,000 followers, Instagram switches from “working on an assembly line” to “playing a game of chess. Interaction, while still important, can be dialed down. Most of your followers at this stage, and beyond, will come from your content. It’s up to you to create the most exciting, shareable content you can. You don’t necessarily need to follow people anymore, but liking and commenting on your timeline can increase your likes (keep these engagements within your niche). While it’s no longer the biggest benefit, it’s common for people with over 50,000 followers to keep their following under 2,500.
Remember, your engagement rate should still be above 10%. A common practice to keep people engaged with your content is to write captions such as “Tag someone who…” or “Like this post if you…”. Let your imagination do the rest. At this point, monetization needs to come to the forefront. This is the point where you have enough authority to sell things to your followers without turning them off – if you do it right.
As your account progresses, continuing to do niche-specific engagement groups is a great idea. The bigger your account gets, the bigger the accounts you should be engaging with. If you have 100,000 followers, avoid interacting with an account with 1,000 followers – Instagram doesn’t like to see such drastic differences.
Growing with Shout-Outs
Now it’s time to talk about another growth hack: Shout-outs. As the name implies, a shout-out is when an account tags or calls out your account in their posts.
Shout-outs are often controversial, as some people claim they work, while others claim they don’t. However, when done correctly, shout-outs are a powerful growth tactic because it leverages the growth of two accounts as opposed to one. When it comes to Instagram growth, there is strength in numbers.
Finding people who will shout you out
There are three different ways you can approach shoutouts:
- Use your own network (your accounts do shout-outs to each other)
- Buying shout-outs from other people
- Exchange Shout-outs with someone else (S4S)
The first option is probably the cheapest because you can use your own network. This can be accounts that you own, or by asking friends and acquaintances to give you shout-outs (hopefully for free). On a practical level, this will be the most feasible way to use this strategy over a long period of time.
If you are a woman and have a fitness-related account, you can start building other niche fitness accounts (fitness workout videos, fitness nutrition, etc.) in your spare time. You can use your main fitness account to “shout out” the smaller accounts, and as the smaller accounts grow, you can shout out your main account.
The second option is to buy shout-outs from other accounts outside your network. If you have a fitness account with 10,000 followers, buying a shout-out from a fitness account with 100,000 followers could lead to some nice growth.
However, this could be an absolute nightmare. It’s not free, and the end result may not be anything like what you expected. If you are considering buying shout-outs, be sure to do a quality check on the account first. Watch out for:
● The use of engagement groups or any form of ‘artificial’ engagement
● The overall engagement rate of the account
● The growth of their follower base
These are all important things to consider, as they will greatly affect the price and impact of the shout-out. I list engagement groups as a form of “artificial” engagement because, while engagement groups are generally a good thing, the number of people commenting on their post may not match what you’d expect from a shout-out.
For example, if your account consistently has 20 commenters (15 of them in an engagement group), you probably shouldn’t expect a shout-out to bring you 10 new commenters. Additionally, you’ll want to buy shout-outs on accounts that have a high “organic” engagement rate. Due to Instagram’s recent API updates, it can be difficult to track an account’s growth. The higher the organic growth and engagement, the better.
Every time you advertise, you are likely to lose followers. People don’t like to see advertisements. The more you can “hide” the shout-out, the fewer followers you’ll lose; however, it’s also possible that if you “hide” a shout-out, it won’t be very effective anyway.
In my experience, it is best to do this every 2-4 days. Keep in mind that posting shout-outs frequently will hurt the engagement of the poster. As I just mentioned, shout-outs are essentially ads, and no one engages with ads. The account should expect losses in both likes and comments, and perhaps even a period of slower follower growth, but a regular posting schedule can bring those levels back to normal.
Stories for Additional Exposure
You can also get creative with Story shout-outs. A “healthy” Story shout-out isn’t nearly as damaging as a regular feed shout-out, but it can also be much less effective. Have the person shouting you out prepare 3-4 regular Stories, and then add your shout-out at the end.
Captions can make or break your shout-out. You want to find that healthy balance between “Go follow @thisaccount” and a typical post you’d expect on the account.A typical post probably won’t urge anybody to go do anything, and advertisements can be harmful to growth and engagement.
Saying something as dry as “follow my friend @photographer for some cool photos” probably won’t do much, but it’s better than nothing. Shout-outs should be treated as introductions to accounts – not advertisements. They simply help people discover what a great account it is by instilling a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out). Make them want to follow the account.
A good example of a fitness account shouting out to another fitness account:
“Hey guys! If you like my fitness videos, you should check out @fitnesschick! She posts some awesome fitness videos that I’m sure you’ll really enjoy! (insert emoji here)”
This caption accomplishes:
1.) Doesn’t look like a paid ad
2.) It looks like you are just helping your followers and this random Instagrammer
3.) You’re not pressuring your followers to follow, but there’s a fear of missing out if they don’t
The caption above is way better than:
“Follow @fitnesschick for the best daily workout videos!”
Ideally, the account doing the shout-outs (whether it is your account or someone else’s) should archive old shout-out posts. This will ensure that there is only 1 post in their feed that is a shout-out. The advantage of archiving is that all the metrics (likes, comments, views) are saved. This can be an important resource later, and it’s important for the algorithm.
Private Shout-Outs can be Extremely Effective
It’s no secret that shout-outs can be either a hit or a miss – especially for smaller Instagram entrepreneurs who just want to get their name out there. If you’re an Instagram newbie, chances are you’ve paid for some unsuccessful shout-outs. Wondering what you’re doing wrong? There could be numerous issues with your shout-out, but the best way to get more followers is to go private right before the shout-out.
If doing engagement groups isn’t the best way to grow, then going private is. This is probably the most commonly used growth tactic right now. There are two ways to do this.
1.) You pay for a shout-out from another account. You go private before you get shouted out.
2.) You swap shout-outs with another account. You both go private before the shout-out, and you post at the same time. Typically, every time you post a shout-out you’ll lose followers, but when you are also receiving a shout-out, you end up gaining a TON.
It’s such a simple idea, yet no one does it. This works better than public profiles because it creates a sense of intrigue. More people are likely to scroll through a page and not follow it if it’s a public profile. If it’s private, a lot more people are likely to follow it.
Try this the next time you get a shout-out. It also helps if the person giving you a shout-out creates a call to action that recognizes that your account is private. A common call-to-action caption I see is something like this:
“Check them out! They’re accepting the next 500 people that follow!”
Many accounts do promotions by simply “giving credit” to the picture they are shouting-out.
Use Caption Pods for Insane Growth
This is also self-explanatory. The idea here is to share captions with other users to get more followers together. You simply tell your followers to follow other accounts (that also have your name in their caption).
Sure, you’ll lose some followers by doing this. But statistics show that you’ll grow more together than if you tried to do it yourself.
Use Stories & Instagram Live When You Post to Get Additional Traction
Getting as many people as possible to like and comment on your post immediately after you upload it will drastically improve your chances of landing in Explore. You’ll often see people taking advantage of Instagram Live by encouraging their followers to like and comment on their latest post. Both niche and personal accounts use this tactic to their advantage. Even though it doesn’t look great (it looks pretty spammy), people continue to do it because of the results it gets.
Chapter Overview & Key Points
- Interacting with others is essential for growth when your account is relatively small.
- Identify a target account in your niche. Find a popular account that has a strong following, a high engagement rate, and followers who would be interested in your content.
- Follow with a 1-2 punch. Follow the likers and commenters of the target account, and like a recent photo of theirs and a more dated photo of theirs. This is your best chance of getting quality followers.
- Just liking random photos within your niche is not very effective. Stick to the 1-2 punch and quality comments.
- Find a ratio cycle and stick to it.
- Find people within your niche who are willing to trade shout-outs with you. When creating shout-outs, try to make them seem natural.
- Understand that there are several different stages of growth when it comes to Instagram.
- Making your account private right before you receive a shout-out can greatly increase the number of follows you receive.
- Using caption pods with other growing Instagram accounts can help you share the wealth.
- Using Stories and Instagram live to your advantage can quickly drive users to your posts – the more users who initially engage with your posts, the greater your reach!