Social Media

Secrets to Grow Real Instagram Followers Lightning Fast

OK so Instagram isn’t just adorable dogs. I mean, it is, but also there are also cats on there. OK OK, also, there many more people on there: 1 billion people use Instagram every month. And, more than 200 million people visit the Explore tab every day. Plus, 72% percent of U.S. teens say they use Instagram, compared to 69% for Snapchat and 51% for Facebook, making it a prime channel for reaching Millennials and Generation Z. So today, let’s explore how to grow your Instagram followers lightning fast.

If your company’s differentiators are mostly visual (your images are better and more unique than your copy) or your audience skews young, definitely consider building a presence on Instagram. Scope out your competitors’ presence and the volume of relevant hashtags before making the leap to ensure it’s worth your time investment. You want high volume on hashtags, and to see if your competitors have gained any traction.

More than 200 million people visit the #Instagram Explore tab every day. Click To Tweet

Quick navigation table of contents:

  1. How to grow followers for an brand new Instagram account
  2. How to grow real followers for an established Instagram account
  3. How to pick the best Instagram hashtags
  4. How to create the best Instagram story ads
  5. Helpful Instagram tools

Here’s how to grow Instagram followers fast if you’re starting from zero:

1. Narrow in on a very specific niche:

Pick a very specific sub-niche to make your feed all about. Try to narrow your topic down to a three to four word keyword, for example: “nike running shoes vs. shoes”.

2. Use follow for follow:

This trick doesn’t work as well as it used to. But it’s great for getting to your first 1,000 because it guarantees followers. Once you have a few, regardless of how unengaged they are, you’ll look more legitimate to a better audience. Peer proof is where it’s at baby!

3. Visit the Places tab for ideas:

See what’s happening locally. Location is one way humans tend to define themselves – they immediately associate with it. So check out what’s going on in your neighborhood, a city you’re targeting in ads, or at an event in a certain location, and include a reference to that in your caption and tag the place. This is a way to extend your posts’ reach.

4. Don’t use story views bots:

Don’t do it bruh! Instagram will punish you for it, so cranking up the views this way, especially as you’re just getting started it a big no-no.

5. Ask questions to increase interaction:

Pose easily answerable questions such as rate this one scale of 1-100. Or “Do you think this is cool?” because Instagram will love this interaction. They think you’re doing a good job keeping people on their platform for longer.

6. Work your bright spots:

Instagram engagement tends to naturally ebb and flow, kind of in-spite of your actual content. So, when you notice particularly high engagement go ahead and push your best images (you can even use ones that have worked well before) and post consistently.

7. Use strategic hashtags:

Research hashtags similar accounts use. You can export some of their post captions’ hashtags and put them into a word cloud tool. Use up to 8 hashtags. The more specific your hashtags, the better. There’s a whole section on hashtag strategy below so if you want to skip right there just Apple F.

8. Run a giveaway:

Another Instagram secret is to get other users to tag you by launching a “tag friends to win X” giveaway.

9. Make hashtag mad libs:

Rather than dumping a bunch of hashtags at the end of your caption, weave them throughout it into a natural story. This is kind of fun for your readers and doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb, so Instagram views it more fondly than a hashtag dump at the end.

10. Follow influencers in your realm:

If you’re just getting started, follow accounts with 0-5k follows. Eventually work your way up to influencers with 0-25K followers. No need to go after those 50K+ accounts, because 0-25K have higher engagement rates regardless of their genre, target audience, or topics.

11. Boost posts working well as story ads:

If you have a 4:5 ratio image working well, use it as a story ad. Use the single picture format, not the carousel. More on story ads below. Apple F.

12. Put a call-to-action in every post:

For example include “Follow @username” in your caption.

13. Cross-post on all channels to grow Instagram followers:

Publish your Instagram photos within blog posts and on your other social media accounts, as well as link to your handle from your website.

14. Always be commenting:

Be a commenting queen. Commenting on 1-5K accounts should help you to get more reach from home. Comment on competitors posts to show up as a related account to follow.

15. Be consistent:

Instagram wants to know they can rely on you, and your followers want to know what to expect. Post two to three times every day. And, post at the right time of the day. Check Google trends to get started, and then look at your audience insights. Typically posting outside of business hours is best, such as 8AM or 9PM.

16. Use engagement groups (or Instagram pods/DMs):

Get your account into about 10 groups. Be sure that all accounts are in the same niche, active, and have a similar range of followers to you. Ideally they’re in the same location as you as well so that they’re in a time zone where they can start interacting with your stuff as soon as you post.

17. Write longer captions:

Feeds will be filled with an average caption length of 405 characters in 2020 — which is about 65-70 words. So use at least that many, maybe more.

18. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery:

Create viral content by finding a post exploding on the explore page or check out your competitors’ top posts. Try to figure out what makes the post work, and create something similar.

19. Use the best types of posts:

Use lots of videos and polls because these increase interaction. People play all their video Stories while they’re bored, so yours is more likely to get seen.

20. Follow accounts in your niche:

Follow at least 2,000 of these accounts. Don’t unfollow them. Also look for micro influencers and build real relationships. You could even swap content. All of this will be the fuel you need to make the viral posts hit the explorer.

21. Respond to your audience:

Interact with comments and DM followers, because making emotional connections with your audience is vital. Lead with value in your DMs: ask how you can help them, or make it personal such as “I really loved your photo where’d you get those shoes?”

22. Run ads:

Run a brand awareness campaign ad from within Facebook’s Ad Manager. This will increase profile visits and give your brand exposure early on to kickstart the flywheel.

If you’ve already got 1K followers, here’s how to increase active followers:

Now you’re ready to go after one million followers. So here are a few simple steps.

1. Set up Shoppable Posts:

Instagram Shoppable Posts are a native integration that makes it easy to tag and shop products directly from your organic Instagram posts. This only works if you have a shop on Facebook, which is easy with Shopify or BigCommerce. Here’s how to get these posts set up and maximize their impact.

2. Run weekly giveaways:

Now that you’ve built a bigger audience, running giveaways can help you clean up insights because it shows which accounts that follow you are actually engaged with you. And, it continues to build your audience at the same time.

3. Run story ads:

Run story ads at $5 per day just to keep traction flowing. Unlike the newsfeed ads, Instagram Story Ads can only be run by themselves; you can’t simultaneously run them under the same ad set with any other placement type, because there just isn’t any equivalent on other platforms. These ads have such different creative and technical requirements that there’s no way around this. So, this sends a strong signal to Instagram that you’re invested in their platform.

4. Get more “saves”:

This is the strongest interest signal to Instagram. Encourage people to save the post in the caption. Write longer captions with step-by-step instructions, create helpful infographics for a problem your audience typically has that’s really hard to solve, or disclose how you captured the specific picture featured like what equipment you used.

5. Create viral loops:

Repost viral content from the Explore page, and get engagement from similar accounts (use your DM groups!) to make it hit the Explore feed again.

6. Launch a welcome DM message:

For every new follower, welcome them with a private message that includes a small discount code. Be sure you personalize the message for each follower by complimenting something you see in their feed.

7. Keep your trust score healthy:

Don’t delete tons of posts at once. Don’t always use the same hashtags in the same order. If you need to increase your trust score you can link to your Facebook profile, Go Live, post daily, or buy ads.

8. Get verified:

To get verified on Instagram you need to get continuous meaningful media coverage, and having a Wikipedia article helps. Here are the guidelines for requesting a badge.

  • Authentic: Your account must represent a real person, registered business or entity.
  • Unique: Your account must be the unique presence of the person or business it represents. Only one account per person or business may be verified, with exceptions for language-specific accounts. We don’t verify general interest accounts (example: @puppymemes).
  • Complete: Your account must be public and have a bio, profile photo, and at least one post. Your profile can’t contain “add me” links to other social media services.
  • Notable: Your account must represent a well-known, highly searched for person, brand or entity. We review accounts that are featured in multiple news sources, and we don’t consider paid or promotional content as sources for review.

9. Unfollow accounts you don’t interact with

Want to see which Instagram accounts show up in your feed the most and who you interact with the least? Now you can. Just tap “Following” and manage your list from there. This makes it easy to unfollow accounts that aren’t as valuable to you. You can also sort accounts from earliest to latest followed.

How to set the best hashtag strategy for Instagram

When it comes to picking the best hashtags the gist is: Use many lower popularity hashtags to boost you into the top posts for higher popularity hashtags. Don’t use hashtags with over 10 million posts because your post will just never get seen there – that cup already overfloweth! For every post there are two attributes of hashtags to be aware of: 1. their volume 2. their intent. And that’s what we’ll take a look at here.

1. Pick the right Instagram hashtag volume

When it comes to volume, begin with lower volume, long-tail hashtags while testing a fewer higher ones out. Once a few of the hashtags with the lower popularity rank on “top posts” pages your post will start getting a lot of organic engagement. But, you always want to aim higher so reserve about a quarter of your hashtags for hashtags with much larger popularity.

It’s a little bit different for small versus large accounts though. So, for example for small accounts (if you have between 0 and 2.5K followers) you should use about:

  • 65% hashtags sizes of 5K-50K (notice how you start about 2.5K higher than your number of followers),
  • 25% 50K-250K,
  • and 10% percent 250k-1M.

For larger accounts, with between 20K and50K followers you still want to hit some of those lower hashtags so you dominate there and that boosts you on the bigger ones:

  • Use 30% hashtags with a size of 5k-250K,
  • 50% hashtags 250k -1 million,
  • and 20% hashtags 1 milllion to 3 million.
Begin with 65% lower volume, long-tail #instagram hashtags (2k-50k) & reserve 35% for hashtags with much larger popularity (50k+). Click To Tweet

2. Pick the right Instagram hashtag intent

When it comes to intent there are branded hashtags (your name, your products, etc), emotional hashtags (surprise, funny, angry, etc), trending hashtags (Motivation Monday, etc), and descriptive tags (exactly what’s going on in the photo). Aim for about half descriptive, a quarter emotion, and then trending, followed by a branded hashtag or two.

3. Find the best Instagram hashtags

There are a few ways to identify the best hashtags:

  1. Instagram search: Just type a keyword and see what Instagram suggests.
  2. Paid SEM ads: Try the retargeting keywords getting the most views for your paid ads.
  3. Pinterest organic: Try the Pinterest keywords getting the most views from your pins.
  4. Twitter hashtags: What’s getting your posts the most reach on Twitter? Try those.
  5. Your competitors: Find large accounts in your niche, copy paste their captions or bios into word cloud generator tool, and then use those in your bio name and description, and on your posts.
  6. Your ad interests: See what Instagram has identified as your own accounts’ ad interests. First, go to your Instagram settings. Tap the “security” button then the “access data” section. There at the bottom, you’ll find a part that says “ads”. Tap that and the “ads interests” button that appears afterwards. Then target people with those interests as your audience.

Pro tip: Find top hashtags for every product you have, and store it in email draft to post anytime.

How to create the best Instagram stories & story ads in 9 steps

My understanding is that Story Ads are still an underused medium so they get a nice reach at a low rate. Here are the steps for the best Story Ad creative to maximize your impressions and reach with stories.

1. Post high-quality videos:

Repost high quality videos within your niche to hit the explore page. You can find these on TikTok. Make sure you only do 1 every 24 hours to maximize reach. You can also use sites like VideoBlocks to find video footage for stories. And, you can use helpful Instagram stories templates.

2. Use polls and surveys:

Poll interaction is a sign of high-quality engagement. Use a poll asking something like “Have you been following me?” because it makes people question whether they are, and they end up wanting to find out more about your page, leading to them following you.

3. Use a CTA from the start:

Get some sort of call-to-action into the first 3-10 seconds of your video. You can include an arrow to point to where they should click or look. You can also add a sticker and tag your own page to allow people to go to your profile and even follow you.

4. Include music in Instagram stories:

Music is a great way to induce a certain feeling, and you want people to connect with your story. Business accounts can’t have music because Instagram ran into a copyright issue. But personal and creator accounts can have it.

5. Be mobile-friendly through the whole ad funnel:

Make the ad match what’s on your profile and your landing page – this congruency is important so the user feels they’re in the right place. And, make it a mobile optimized landing page.

Make sure your #Instagram ads' landing pages are mobile-friendly. Click To Tweet

6. Get engagement signals on the story right when you launch:

Like always, you need to prime the pump. Get engagement on your story right after you post by asking partner pages to engage with your post right after posting your story, or engage with it from your other personal accounts. Or if you are in DM groups, share your story on there and ask other pages to vote on your polls. Or put it into your company’s Slack and ask employees to interact.

7. Pick the right audience:

Send your ads to your competitors’ audience. Check out the Facebook profiles of competitors’ Instagram followers, as well as their Facebook fan page’s followers, or look at Facebook groups in your topic niche that aren’t private. Copy-paste their interests and dump them into a word cloud generator. Then, see their shared interests and target those.

8. Track results for your Instagram story ads:

Test multiple creatives. Compare your follower gains to your link clicks. You can use to track link clicks.

9. Use Story highlights to make your content evergreen:

Now that you’ve made a video, you might as well showcase it forever. Organize your Stories into themes based on your most popular hashtags/keywords. Create a section of “new” stories for folks entirely new to your account that features trailers that tease what your account is about. Explain your products through “how-to” videos. And/or show your products on real people. You can also promote your products using swipe-up links, but you need at least 10K followers and a Instagram Business account to do this with your Stories.

Finally, discover helpful Instagram tools to grow:

Here are a few handy tools that can save you time when managing Instagram, and help you analyze results.

  • Social Blade: A free tool for analyzing the growth of your following (or your competitors’ following). It shows you followers added and lost over time and on specific days.
  • Later: A free tool to schedule and automatically publish your Instagram posts from your computer or mobile device.
  • Hootsuite: If you’re doing multiple social media channels, this makes it easy to cross-post content. It’s not free though.
  • IconoSquare: This tools provides analytics and insights into your account and followers and works across Instagram and Facebook. Story analytics are included. It’s also not free.

Let’s review how to grow your Instagram overnight:

How do I get followers fast on Instagram?

1. Pick a very specific niche (a 3-4 word topic).
2. Follow micro-influencers and do follow-for-follow.
3. Cross-post Instagram posts within your blogs and social accounts.
4. Write long captions with long-tail keywords interwoven within the copy.
5. Copy or repost viral posts from the Explore feed and get instant interaction on them via DM groups or Slack.
6. Create stories using the best TikTok videos.
7. Run polls and ask questions in your captions.
8. Create how-to content that people want to save.

How long does it take to grow Instagram followers?

You can grow about 1,000 real Instagram followers every week.

How do I grow my Instagram following 2020?

1. Get more saves by creating infographics, or helpful step-by-step captions, or by sharing the equipment or ingredients you used to create what’s in the image.
2. Create viral Explore loops. Find your competitors’ best posts and re-create them, or see top videos on TikTok. Get engagement on them right away with a DM group or through Slack.
3. Comment on micro-influencers’ posts.
4. DM new followers and ask them questions plus compliment them.
5. Use 65% lower volume, long-tail hashtags (2k-50k) and reserve 35% for hashtags with much larger popularity (50k+).

Get started growing your Instagram account:

Now you’re read to grow to infinity and beyond!

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Target hashtags based on what Instagram thinks is your account's ads interests. Go to settings > security > access data > ads > ad interests. Click To Tweet

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By Megan Mitzel

I'm the wearer of overalls behind the marketing advice website Marketing Overalls. I'm also a senior marketing director with more than ten years of experience leading acquisition and lifecycle marketing at successful startups. Before that, I got a business degree at UNC-Chapel Hill. Before that, I owned a seashell shop. And that's the tea on me.