How to grow your Instagram audience

With more than 500 million monthly active users, 300 million daily active users, 95 million daily uploads and over 4 billion daily likes, the number one Instagram challenge for business users is establishing an audience.

Growing your followers is likely to consume a large portion of the time you spend thinking about Instagram each week and with good reason – a bigger audience means a greater brand reach and more potential customers.

As with any social media platform, focusing solely on audience acquisition is dangerous territory. After all, a big audience is no good if it isn’t made up of the right kinds of people (your target demographic and those consumers likely to buy from you). The key here is not to think of your follower count in purely mathematical terms. Try to avoid seeing it as nothing more than a number. Think of it as the size of your community – a group of likeminded users primed and ready to interact with your business.

Try these tactics to grow your Instagram community:

Use hashtags correctly

Instagram is a discovery platform and hashtags are vital to that process. Think of hashtags as a way to categorize your content. Using hashtags is vital for increasing exposure but, you need to go about it in a certain way.

Try to avoid using very general hashtags such as #love or #fashion as millions of posts are tagged every day with these broad terms, meaning your image will quickly disappear under the avalanche of new uploads. Keep hashtags relevant to the image you are posting and make sure you use targeted phrases to help with the discovery process. Using brand names within your hashtag selection can also help to build your community and increase exposure.

Online clothing brand Missguided is a great example of how to create a branded and relevant hashtag. It coined the tag #babesofmissguided and encouraged girls buying their clothes to use the hashtag on their own uploads. As a trade off, the retailer posts some of the hashtagged images on its site.

Not only is Missguided using the hashtag to increase its exposure on Instagram, it’s also benefitting from user generated content, brand loyalty and an active, engaged community.

Host a competition

Hosting a competition is a quick and easy way to get more followers and reward your current followers for sticking with you. Simply decide what you want to give away and how long your contest will run for. For a competition to generate more followers from the right section of Instagram users, stipulate that users need to like a certain post and tag their friends to be entered into the contest. This increases your exposure by tapping into the networks of your existing followers.

Don’t neglect your captions

Because Instagram is such a visual medium, it’s easy to fall into the trap of pouring all of your creative energy into the taking and editing of the photo, forgetting that the caption also needs to be compelling. If you’re serious about developing a thriving Instagram account, don’t neglect your captions. Use them to tell the story of your image, take the viewer into the picture, share a funny anecdote or raise awareness of a cause close to your heart. Whatever you do, your caption content should be as compelling as your picture.

TV chef Jamie Oliver recently used an Instagram post to comment on a government action plan against childhood obesity. As a long time campaigner for better school dinners, an image of the plan’s front cover was accompanied by a long and passionate caption which shared his disappointment with the plan’s shortcomings and hopes for change. The photo has 35,342 likes and almost 900 comments.

Arrange a takeover

To make your Instagram account really pop, arrange a takeover by inviting a famous fan, an influencer such as a blogger, or an active member of your community to take over your Instagram account for a period of time. This is usually a day but could be a couple of days or even a week. The pros of hosting a takeover are numerous – it’s a great way to boost engagement, can increase exposure through your invited guest also promoting their involvement and can help to solidify your brand profile. On the con side, be sure to carefully vet who you hand your account over to. The person you choose for the takeover will need to be fully briefed on your brand voice and tone. Collaboration with a suitable third party can add a whole new dimension to your Instagram account and inject your profile with fresh burst of energy.

Nurture brand ambassador relationships

The beauty of social media is that it’s easier than ever to develop a strong network of ambassadors, even from locations geographically remote to your own. Setting up a brand ambassador program means actively nurturing relationships with bloggers, influencers and other users to endorse your products and services via their own channels (typically a blog and social media platforms).

To find brand ambassadors, you can look to active members of your existing community or reach out via your website. Cabinzero, a company which makes luggage, does just this with a banner on its homepage.

Brand ambassadors will often be gifted with a product and will then share and post about that product across their own network, helping to increase your exposure and reach. Having brand ambassadors also adds an authentic voice to your brand. Brand ambassadors should be active, have their own audience, be genuine fans of your product or service and share your brand values.

Upload videos

Video is a very popular part of Instagram and a format to use alongside standard images as a means of building your follower counts. You can upload videos of between three and 60 seconds. Use the same approach to Instagram videos as you would for other video created to be shared socially – make it fun, relevant and engaging for the viewer.

Be an active member of Instagram yourself

In order to make authentic connections, increase exposure and ultimately to build your own brand likes, become an active member of Instagram yourself. Use the discovery tab to browse photos from users you do not follow (these are suggested images based on your interaction with other accounts). You’ll likely find more than a few new accounts you wish to follow. Liking other pictures, following other users and commenting on images can also help to grow your own network. Each time you like, comment or follow another user, a notification will pop up on their account, bringing your profile to their attention and often, resulting in a reciprocal like or follow back.