And 50 to 100 daily after that.
I passed the 500 follower threshold one day on Instagram with great rejoicing, then dropped to 480. Twenty-four hours later, I hit 500 again and did a happy dance again. Then dropped to 496. I did it again. And again, and again. I passed 500 followers on Instagram about six times, laughing at myself and determining to figure out how to grow Instagram consistently and gracefully.
It took me about two to three weeks to get to 600, and I was happy to leave 500 behind.
I read some posts about gallery makeovers and downloaded some of the apps they recommended. I studied my gallery and kept tweaking it and changing it and breathing life into it, artistically speaking. I kept listening to what people had to say about brand. And one day, I followed everyone my heart truly wanted to follow (not people I was trying to force myself to believe were part of my target market), without holding back.
A funny thing happened.
I had 606 followers when I woke up on Wednesday, June 7th. By sometime on Thursday, I had 800 followers. (Iconosquare reports it as 606 on Tuesday evening and 800 on Wednesday evening. I’m not sure why there’s a discrepancy between my memory and iconosquare, but at least Iconosquare is reporting that it happened in a shorter period of time than I remember).
People asked me, What did you do? How is it happening? Afraid I would lose all my followers by the next day, I hesitated to answer. What if I was doing something wrong, I mean even more wrong than what I was doing before, when I wasn’t getting followers very quickly?
But the rise continued. Some days 100, other days 50 or so. But every day since June 6th, I’ve averaged 90 new followers a day. This evening I have 1190 and am hoping for 1200 before I go to bed.
And not only that, but influencers I’ve been following and admiring for years started liking my posts. Something else was happening here besides me following a bunch of people and them following me back. Instagram, I concluded, must be promoting my account.
It brought a huge smile to my face when @crystalescobar2 (65.9k followers, and I have been following for a year or more) and @hilaryrushford (119k followers, following for a month or so) liked a few of my posts.
So now that I think I have a tiny bit of experience, I’m going to share it. How did I get 200 followers in one day and average 90 new followers per day since?
beautiful, consistent, meaningful content X genuine interaction with others in your demographic X following others in your demographic X not having too many follows versus followers
That is a very tricky algorithm to follow, and nobody has 100 percent of the answers. If they claim they do, you’ll probably spend a lot of money for their fancy course.
Follow others a lot when you are at this level (500-1500 or above)
UPDATE: Follow others, but do so intelligently and thoughtfully. Following others definitely helps you find people and people find you. However, be careful that you follow people who are in your target demographic, or that they are people you genuinely enjoy and wish to interact with.
This update is very important. All was going well until I installed the Unfollow app. I was urged to do so by a colleague who insisted it was uncool to have more follows than followers. I really doubted the wisdom of using an unfollow app, and now I see my doubts had good thoughts to share (“I always give myself very good advice, but I seldom follow it.”—Alice in Wonderland). The day I started hitting “unfollow 50 from bottom” on the app was the day my engagement started to drop. Instead of editing this post and pretending this never happened, I decided to post this update here with crossed out words so others can learn from my mistakes. The past four days or so, I was able to stabilize my Instagram account by researching and finding people I wanted to be like, or interact with, or people I was inspired by and following a few of those. I only unfollow one at a time. I ditched the unfollow en masse nonsense. I still have the app because it shows me some important things, but I’m not sure how useful those things are and I might just ditch the app, too. In other words, use Unfollow to view analytics, or not at all.
I used to focus only on great content and interaction, without using any following strategies. Now to be clear, great content is No. 1. You can’t replace this. You could follow and interact with the best of them, but people are looking for a visually beautiful design when they interact with Instagram.
Now I’m back on track with seeing a steady (but not as dramatic) rise in followers. I imagine it will take some time to become less shadowbanned by Instagram.
The lesson here is simple: don’t do things that don’t feel authentic to you. I should have known better than to use a bot.
Keep your own gallery consistent and beautiful. Posting like mad is hard to do while maintaining quality, so aim for quality and posting at least once per day. I’d sacrifice the posting if I didn’t have something good to post. Wait until you do. It’s better, really. Utilize Instagram’s archive feature when you post something you wish you hadn’t. Wait until you have that great image that fits your gallery.
Follow like crazy, but keep the ratio tight by using the unfollow app. The Unfollow app will also hint when you’re unfollowing too many people. Stop. It hurts your follows. It’s ok to be a bit off ratio in the beginning for me because the gap is closing as I balance it out with genuine interaction. Which brings me to interaction. Some people will say don’t follow like crazy—it makes you look desperate. It’s working well for me, and the gap is closing on my followers versus my followings. I attribute this to interacting genuinely to prove I’m not a spammer, and unfollowing when it’s right (you can get way too many follows if you never unfollow, and as dumb as this sounded at first, it actually works and it doesn’t offend anyone if you only unfollow people with whom you’re not mutually engaging).
Also, don’t unfollower your followers, as a general rule. Appreciate every one.
I use Unfollowers Plus app to keep track of who I’m following mutually, who is following me that I’m not following, and vice versa. This way, you can appreciate your tribe, unfollow spam followers, and even try to win people back. It’s like a mini contact manager for Instagram. I recommend it.
Interact with others consistently and genuinely.
Make a minimum goal you can keep and follow it. But please don’t do what a lot of people do and post meaningless emoticons all over other people’s feeds. It’s ok to do this occasionally, but your interaction should be deep and genuine. As someone who values high engagement over volume of followers, I choose to leave long, thoughtful comments so people will remember me and we’ll get to know each other. This means I get long, thoughtful comments from engaged people! We’re becoming friends. To date, my interaction per follower is on the high end, and I like it this way.
Keep a beautiful gallery at all costs
Two parts to this, and you have to understand design and photography.
Enter: crash course in Instagram Gallery beauty. I keep hearing a lot about this subject but am posting the most helpful things right here for you.
Peter McKinnon gets this and explains it better than anybody on the planet that I’ve seen. I can’t remember if he says this in this video or if it was someone else, but a photographer on Instagram says if he posts an image where the editing is just a little bit too cool, he loses thousands of followers because they followed him for the exact look his gallery has. They were used to it, and they expected it.
And that gives you a bit of an idea about how important a consistent gallery is. Think of it as an art installation, like Peter says. You don’t just bring every random art piece you’ve ever created. You curate it.
Do you hear what Peter is saying? You have to let yourself get a little bored in your expertise and consistency to begin to speak your brand. Brand consistency IS boring to implement—because you have to create so many variations on the theme of your message that you’re sure the world is sick of it. But they’re not. They can barely hear you yet. Keep going. One off post can make you hemorrhage followers. I’ve been there. Instagram is unforgiving in their pursuit of consistent, meaningful beauty.
And then there is the following article from Refinery29. I don’t typically get my info from Refinery29, but they got it about exactly right when it comes to the various ways to make a feed consistent.
This is ones of the best posts I’ve read about how to create an overall look for your Instagram. It broke me out of the #bookstagram straightjacket I was in for awhile and helped me realize, along with guidance from Hilary Rushford and Shayla Eaton, that I could be both varied and consistent. (At one point, I was trying to focus on three Instagram accounts based on my interests, my personas really. Which is kind of weird. There were three different Marisas. Marisa the Designer/Coder, Marisa the Writer, Marisa the Mom). I began to believe that I could be a lifestyle Instablogger and that would help me share my writing with the world (and it has—my posts where I write long blogs or poetry are some of my most popular).
One of the tips from The Refinery that has helped me the most was thinking of your gallery, not just in terms of the first nine to 12 images, but the first three. The Row. I love making my rows relate in color. It brings a subtle, deeper consistency to it than just making the whole grid relate. It’s also breaking the job into smaller, more manageable pieces.
An example of “The Row” at work. Bright, colorful, sunlight-filled, lots of exposure.
This is the best Instagram tip I’ve ever heard, so I’m going to repeat it. Consistent times beautiful times meaningful. Consistency both in message (theme) and photo editing style.
So now you know you have to have a theme, and each picture has to be beautiful. Now what? How do you view your feed and keep from posting and deleting hell like I was doing for months?
Use the preview app. I love it.
You do need a consistent theme, but that consistent theme might be something that a word or phrase wraps up, not something quite as a tight as a theme like “bookstagram” or “coffee lover.” Some accounts get massive followers like that, but you might not be expressing what you want to if you hem yourself in that tight. Hilary Rushford tags herself “more joy, less overwhelm.” A lot of mommybloggers really have got this thing down. Content should be meaningful. Beautiful pictures get clicks, but not as much as beautiful pictures with meaningful blog posts.
I’m going to share some beautiful curated Instagram galleries.
Bright, modern, solid background-colored type art.
I have to post this one that uses lots of white backgrounds. Consistency, again, is key.
On the bed of the day ▹ Congratulations to @iharvera ⠀⠀⠀ Follow @onthebed_project and tag #onthebed for a chance to be featured Ad: @quellaclaudia ⠀⠀⠀ #whatitalyis #viewfromtop #communityfirst #flatlay #fromabove #huntgram #vsco #socality #igrecommend #huffpostgram #finditliveit #featuremeinstagood #igmasters #exklusive_shot #ig_italia #vscogrid #instagood #passionpassport #artofvisuals #vscoaward #livefolk #foodvsco #fromabove #flatlays #italia #mashpics #artofvisuals #coffeegram #instacoffee #vscocoffee #freedomthinkers
Crimebythebook is one of my favorite feeds. Books and lattes. Cool greys and rainy-looking days with some sunshine peaking through the clouds looks to be the atmospheric backdrop of these photos. (Notice there’s a lot of natural lighting in these feeds?)
Give me all the coffee + cozy reading spots today ☕️ • I’m back in NYC after a fantastic time at my best friend’s wedding!! buuut along the way I lost my phone which was honestly so stressful Thankfully one of the other bridesmaids found it and reunited me with it today. Every day a new adventure guys • I’ve decided to dive into Sara Blaedel’s upcoming book THE UNDERTAKER’S DAUGHTER today!!! I was trying to resist reading it, but I’m absolutely exhausted and need something right up my alley to read today – and Sara’s books always do the trick. ♀️ • THE UNDERTAKER’S DAUGHTER (releasing early 2018) launches a whole new series!! It follows a woman who moves from Denmark to the US in pursuit of the truth about her estranged father’s life. When she arrives in the US, she discovers he has willed his funeral parlor to her – and while settling her father’s affairs, she begins to piece together the mysterious explanations behind his disappearance from her life when she was a child. this book promises to deliver a new kind of read for Blaedel’s fans: less police procedural, more interpersonal secrets. I am SO excited!! • What are you reading this weekend?!
Primary colors from @natewilldo.
I got stuck for awhile on this point. I looked at sweptawaybybooks and crimebythebook and thought, do I have to do that? Post nothing but pictures of books and lattes to reach my readers? Those accounts are drool-worthy and have mega followers. I love them, and they are some of the accounts that I go look up and catch up with when I get behind because I crave their images.
But books and lattes wouldn’t have expressed me, and I felt boxed in. Again. (It’s the story of my life).
Here’s Virtually Marisa now.
Here are two examples from my feed (virtuallymarisa) to show you how I am trying to order my grid. I keep longing to go back to that hand-written quote grid order, where every other post is my handwriting and it’s a pastel checkerboard effect. I sometimes felt this broke the flow of the feed, but it sure does have its own sort of loveliness. The one on the right is more recent.
Here are two other examples of how I began applying these principles to the accounts I manage.
Ukuupeople really uses the row idea, while WannaPixel relates the images or crops them without making them into a collage like UkuuPeople.
Filters and editing
Also be consistent in your photo editing.
Buy a filter (I got mine from Preview app) instead of using one of the Instagram ones that everybody is tired of.
You’ve heard the advice to not use filters at all. This is something to take with a grain of salt. Because you’re going to edit your photos. And once you find the perfect edit, you want to apply those series of edits (mine at first was a mixture of brightness, contrast, highlights, structure warmth, and color filter) to every single photo almost exactly the same way. But after awhile, you realize how unrealistic it is to remember what that is and you just wish it were in a package you could click. After all, they are your edits. I looked all over for an app that would save my own custom made filter. I’m sure there is one, but I couldn’t find it. Once I found preview, I picked an edit package (sort of like a filter) that most closely matched what I was trying to do (it was better actually) and used that on every single post. I’m not going to share which one it is. That’s my secret sauce! But pick one and be consistent.
You’ll also see the best Instagrams have similar backgrounds in each post, like wood, or white. Find your thing and go with it. You can even alternate, but whatever you do, make it consistent.
Yes, it actually is worth it to start to buy clothes and objects in one to three colors. It helps when you take the impromptu shots.
Instagram photo likes come from beautiful imagery + message. What’s your message? Relate every image to your message, and apply the same color theme to each image in taking it and posting it, and you will develop a consistent Instagram. It doesn’t have to be as strict as @crimebythebook. You don’t have to do what everybody else is doing. I am a writer, but also a designer, mom, and coder, and I was going crazy wanting to look like @toddbrison or @tylerknott or @milkandhoney, those writers that just have photographs of words on a white page, or a typewriter. They are incredibly beautiful, but that’s just not me.
Have a message.
If people can see your message right away, like in your bio and last three images, they will know immediately if they want to follow you. This way you get real follows instead of just the quickly unfollow type of follows.
One day it hit me that I’m about gratitude for the little and big things. And I write about that. And I love typography, so I do my blog post titles in hand writing, something not too many people are doing yet. Because I was trying to pick a handwriting font and thought, the heck with this, why not make my own? So I did. No, it’s not on dafont.com yet (though that’s one of my life goals). It’s just my own handwriting. Custom made each time. And that’s how all my loves are coming together. Typography, design, writing. I always thought that having more than one interest was a detriment. I’m figuring out how to make it an advantage.
Find one, two, or three times a day that work best for you to post, and do it then. Mine are 6 AM, 2PM, 7PM, and 10PM. I plug my scheduled posts into those times. Iconosquare uses stars to tell you the best times to post, based on analytics. It’s really cool. But you can also figure it out on your own.
Don’t sweat this if you want to post at another time. Posting at some time is more important than posting at the perfect time. The image itself is much more important than the time.
Also remember this rule, the more often you post at a certain time, the more people who are on Instagram at that time will see your post. It’s kind of an upward spiral. You could make a bad time work better eventually, but it’s a hard road. Pick a time that’s already good and capitalize on it.
I left hashtags for last, because most people put it first. You can have the most beautiful gallery in the world and nobody will find it if you don’t use hashtags.
Here is my tip on hashtags. You can google “best hashtags for…(your particular demographic).” Sometimes you’ll find some pretty good articles, but often they’re out of date. The best way to find good hashtags for me is to find influencers in your field and do what they’re doing. Hashtags on Instagram move on quickly, and I want to be up to date. You can use 30 hashtags. There is a debate on whether you should put them in the caption or in the comment. I’ve seen both work. I concluded after trying both that putting them in the first comment immediately after posting gives me more stable followers. Putting them in the caption gives me more followers immediately, but more of them would unfollow. You can try it yourself and pick what works best for you. To keep my caption neat when I used that method, I would go like this:
Words of my caption
#hashtag #hashtag #hashtag
Most of the time, Instagram crushed my dots together, so I got really tired of this.
I did not bother doing this in the comment.
Save your hashtags in iconosquare, evernote, google keep, whatever works for you. That way you can access them quickly.
If you use them in the first comment, you have to be very quick to post them.
Every day, click on the hashtags you want to be known for the most and interact with others who use them well.
Avoid hashtags with millions of photos. They’re usually outdated and misused.
Here are my favorite groups of hashtags.
My little moments
#thehappynow #petitejoys #livethelittlethings #livecolorfully #photooftheday #photodaily #picoftheday #justgoshoot #igmasters #friendsinmyfeed #keepitwild #postthepeople #thousandwords #photographysouls #mommybloggers #mommyblogger #liveauthentic #documentyourdays #lovelysquares #chooselovely
#uniteinmotherhood #candidchildhood #dailyparenting #mytinymoments
risingtidesociety #communityovercompetition #creativeminds #creativepreneur #savvybusinessowner #tnchustler #creativityfound #businesscoach #solopreneur #lifeofanartist #creativelife #happylife #makersgonnamake #thehappynow #creativeentrepreneur #makersmovement #handsandhustle
My poetry and handlettering:
#lettering #handlettering #designtext #dailyquote #thedailytype #goodtype #typespire #typegang #typography #typographyinspired #handmadefont #brushlettering #brushtype #calligraphy #moderncalligraphy #graphicdesign #graphics #thedesigntip
#bookish #novel #readmore #bookstagram #booktastic #amreading #readersofinstagram #bookoftheday #booknerdigans #booknerd #bookhaul #bookaddict #booklove #bibliophile #bookclub #ilovereading #bookworm #yalit #yabooks #booksofinstagram #bookphoto #bookphotography #creativityfound
#bibliophile #bookstagram #bookish #bookworm #bookaddict #bookphotography #booknerd #bookaholic #books #book #reading #reader #nerd #igreads #yalit #yalovin #yabooks #instabooks #instablogging #blogger #igdaily #igstyle #ilovereading #ilovebooks #coffee #onthetable #flatlay
#childrensliterature #childrenslit #bookworm #bookstagram #raisingareader #readingisfun #kidsbookstagram #childrensbooks #booksforkids #readtoyourkids #classicbooks #readtome #kidlitpicks #picturebooks #readingtime #naptimestories #igreads #bookphotography
#creativityfound #graphicdesign #coding #codeispoetry #wordpress #tellyourstory #rebrand #homepage #website #developer #webdesign #uxdesign #ourpassion #ourwork #lovewhatyoudo #loveyourjob #nonprofit #nptech #nptalk #dosomething #dogood #causes #change #bethechange #design for #socialgood #coding #womenwhocode #uxdesign #webdesign #ux #ui #css #php #codehappy #codesimply
#amwriting #authorlife #indieauthor #words #writer #instablogger #instawriter #blogger #instablog #iwrite #writingcommunity #writercommunity #writelife #love #poetry #photooftheday #beautiful #instagood #picoftheday #poem #writers #writersofinstagram #writersofig #poet #poetsofinstagram (I think Natasha has the most up to date list).
And now I’m going to repeat my formula:
beautiful, consistent, meaningful content
X genuine interaction with others in your demographic
X following others in your demographic
X not having too many follows versus followers
Do all of these in balance for Instagram to reward you. Do them all more for more follows.
What are your Instagram tips and questions? What are your favorite accounts? I have so much to learn and discover about my favorite platform.