Followers and engagement

How to gain real followers on Instagram (without paying or cheating)

  • 17 Minutes
You want your following to be filled with real people excited about you and your business - not soulless bots generating fake interest. Here's how you can get real, authentic followers that will generate real ROI.

If you want to grow your brand, generate more leads, and attract more sales with Instagram, you need engaged followers. But scoring thousands of Instagram followers isn’t as easy as the Kardashians and Hadids make it look.

What’s more, buying followers or using bots to boost your likes and comments no longer flies. While your stats may spike short-term, you’re not going to get the ROI you need to make Instagram worthwhile.

You need followers – real, genuine followers – that care about your brand. Their values align with your values, and your solutions solve their problems.

Ready to make it happen? First, you need to understand the why.

Why do users follow an Instagram account?

It’s a loaded question, and there is no one right answer. Your why will depend on several factors: the niche you serve, the audience you’re targeting, and how you plan to provide value. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Know your niche

A local solicitor isn’t targeting the same people or curating the same content as a tech startup, beauty influencer, or fashion label.

The niche you serve will inform every facet of your Instagram strategy – from the people you follow and hashtags you use to the content you create and times of day you post.

Check out other successful businesses operating in the same niche as your own. These don’t have to be direct competitors – if you run a local painting business on the Central Coast, there’s value to be gained by examining the profiles of popular interior designers and home renovators around the world.

Know your audience

You cannot produce follow-worthy content and grow an engaged Instagram fanbase without first understanding who your target audience is. Consider these factors:

           Demographics – where do they live, who do they work for, and how old are they?

           Pain points – what problem do they need to be solved?

           Values – what motivates them to trust and purchase from a brand?

           Interests – what kinds of accounts are they already following?

           Behaviour – when, how, and why do they use Instagram?

Building a three-dimensional persona of your target audience will help you create and curate content that appeals to the right Instagram users. Plus, you’ll need a robust persona to action several tips in this guide.

Know your value proposition

Instagram users don’t want to be sold to. They want value.

Your value proposition will likely fall into one of three categories:

1. Inspiration

Instagram is a visual platform, and that makes it an ideal vehicle for inspirational content – think hair styling before and afters, motivational quotes, aesthetically appealing interiors, and once-in-a-lifetime travel destinations.

Perfect for: Brands with an aspirational product or service serving niches like tourism, beauty, fashion, and wellness.

2. Education

There’s more depth to Instagram than initially meets the eye. With the right approach, you can tap into your expertise and deliver educational content that makes your brand’s profile worthy of followers. How-tos, product tutorials, and fun facts are all reasons for your target audience to stick around.

Perfect for: Brands that deliver professional services or specialty products, such as cookware manufacturers, house cleaners, and accountants.

3. Entertainment

While inspirational and educational posts and videos should also entertain, content for enjoyment’s sake has its place on Instagram, too. Consider publishing memes, interviews, product teasers, and behind-the-scenes tours.

Perfect for: All brands on Instagram, but especially those that don’t have a visual or tangible product or service.

Bringing it all together and defining your why

Your niche, audience, and value proposition are moving parts of the same machine. Clearly defining these three factors will help you understand why your page deserves a fraction of Instagram users’ limited attention. 

But, there’s one more question to consider:

Once you’ve grown a solid foundation of followers, what do you want them to do?

You (hopefully) aren’t kick-starting an Instagram profile just for the sake of it. Maybe you want to sell more gluten-free cookies, secure more recommendations for your Airbnb, or help your garden maintenance team stay front-of-mind the next time your customers and prospects need their lawn mowed.

The trick is to align your Instagram strategy with real, revenue-driving business outcomes. This North Star will guide you as you experiment with the best and fastest way to grow on Instagram.

17 of the best ways to gain Instagram followers

Here’s how to gain followers on Instagram.

1. Create a brand voice and aesthetic

You already know the importance of consistent branding. But Instagram isn’t the place for shiny corporate logos. It’s a platform for connection and authenticity, an opportunity to humanise your brand and form a genuine relationship with your audience.

Think about how you’d like to position your brand on Instagram, keeping your audience and niche in mind. What kind of voice are you wanting to project? What story are you hoping to tell? 

This voice will underpin every piece of content you publish, creating a linking thread that weaves your posts, Stories, Reels, and IGTV videos together.

Beyond voice, you’ll also want to maintain aesthetic consistency across your content. That means using a similar colour scheme, editing your images in the same ways (or using pre-sets), and, if you use text in your posts, keeping fonts the same.

How does all this help you grow your Instagram following? The effect is two-fold:

1.         Branding consistency looks professional. It builds trust and credibility, and it demonstrates the legitimacy of your business.

2.         Your voice and aesthetic theme differentiate your brand in your followers’ feeds. Users are bombarded with content, but thematic consistency helps your brand become instantly recognisable.

2. Post regularly

If you want to know how to gain followers on Instagram, here’s the secret: post regularly. And we don’t mean post three times a day for one month and then never again; we mean commit to a posting schedule you can maintain long-term.

Persistence pays off. According to an analysis of over 100,000 Instagram posts, daily posting grows Instagram followers four times faster than posting once per week.

Here’s why:

           Your followers hit the follow button for a reason – they want to see content from your brand.

           When you publish high-quality, optimised content, your followers interact with it.

           High engagement sends signals to Instagram’s algorithm.

           The algorithm opens your posts up to even more users – some of which are not following your brand.

           More exposure results in new followers.

Simple, right?

3. Post at the right times

Instagram may not show posts in chronological order in your users’ feeds, but when you hit publish (or schedule) still matters. Timing is a key factor in Instagram’s algorithm.

No two audiences are alike, and when you should post depends on your followers’ activities. 

Chart showing audience most active time during the week

There are several ways to go about this:

           See what the research says. Head over to our Best Instagram Marketing Tips article and jump to Tip #22 for ideal times to post by industry.

           Check your analytics (you’ll need a business or creator account to do this – find out how to switch to a business profile on Instagram). Open Insights, tap “See All” next to “Your Audience,” and scroll right to the bottom. You’ll see the “Most Active Times” graph (screenshot above). Keep in mind, this information is only relevant if you already have followers that fall into your target audience.

           Use your common sense and experiment. Again, think about your target persona. What does their weekday look like? What does their weekend look like? How can you use their demographics to inform your posting schedule? Be sure to track your results.

4. Optimise your profile for search

Most copy in your Instagram profile isn’t searchable, but some parts are; your name and username are searchable. It’s crucial these two pieces of information directly relate to your brand, and in some cases, even your business’s location.

Your name can be anything you want, and you’ve got 30 characters to play with. You don’t want to stuff your name with keywords, but including your number one target phrase may prove helpful by increasing search discoverability.

If you run a bakery in Byron Bay, for example, you might want to include keywords “bakery” and “Byron” in your name.

Your username is the same as your Instagram handle. Ideally, keep it consistent with the usernames you use on other social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. If possible, make your username your brand name, ensuring anyone looking for your brand specifically can find it fast.

5. Use hashtags

Your Instagram profile and post captions may not be searchable, but hashtags absolutely are, making them an essential element of any follower growth strategy.

Here’s what you need to know about using hashtags:

Use relevant hashtags

One of the easiest ways to gain Instagram followers for free is to bolster your posts’ organic reach with relevant hashtags.

Every single piece of content you publish should include hashtags that reflect the post’s subject matter, potentially include your business’s location, and mirror what your audience is likely searching for.

The concept of search intent has long been a mainstay in SEO best practices. Put simply, search intent refers to the motivation behind a search query. For example, if someone types “best mascara” into Google, they want a review and comparison of different mascaras to determine which is worth buying. They don’t want a night out make-up routine with the phrase “best mascara” shoved in wherever possible.

If you want to use hashtags to win followers, use this theory to inform your hashtag choices. For example, don’t post a photo of your café’s Sunday brunch special and use #yoga just because it’s popular. People searching #yoga on Instagram aren’t going to follow your café.

Use the right number of hashtags

You can use up to 30 hashtags per post, but we wouldn’t recommend it. The sweet spot is around 11, but you can use more or less depending on your goals, target audience, and content.

Avoid spammy hashtags

Gaining followers on Instagram may be your goal, but there’s no need to tell the world about it. Avoid #followback, #like4like, and #followme like your reputation depends on it – because it kind of does.

Anyone searching those sorts of hashtags is looking to build their own following. They aren’t going to engage with your posts, and they certainly aren’t going to purchase your bespoke graphic design service – no matter how many fire emojis they comment.

6. Write a compelling bio

According to Instagram, two in three business profile visits come from non-followers. That means two-thirds of users that land on your profile are ripe for conversion.

The most effective tool in your arsenal? Your profile.

In 150 characters or less, your profile should tell visitors what you sell, where you’re located (if you are a local business), and what makes you different to your competitors. Make it short, punchy, and easy to digest.

Be sure to include a link to your website and appropriate contact buttons (email, phone, directions, and text).

7. Publish exceptional content

Obvious? Yes. Essential when learning how to grow your Instagram following fast? Absolutely.

If you don’t publish really good content on Instagram, you don’t give users any reason to follow you. It’s that simple.

Every single post you push out into the Insta-verse must be visually striking, engaging, and topped with a sense of authenticity. Plus, it should lean into your value proposition.

Excellent content compels profile visitors to hit the follow button, but that’s not all. Remember what we said in Tip #2? High-quality content with high levels of engagement is strengthened by Instagram’s algorithm with greater organic reach. More reach equals more followers.

Whichever way you slice it, your content has got to be good. You can follow every other tip in the guide to a T, but you won’t see results if your posts get lost in the crowd.

8. Craft captions that trigger engagement

Yep. It’s true that Instagram is a visual-centric platform. But if you want to know how to grow followers on Instagram, you’ve got to learn to craft captions that trigger all-important engagement.

Here are a couple of best practices to follow:

           It’s writing 101, but always put the most critical part of your message up-front. If your caption is over 125 characters long, users must tap “more” to see the rest. Those first 125 characters have to be good enough to inspire action.

           Use emojis sparingly to stand out and catch scrollers’ attention.

           Prompt engagement by asking your followers a question. We’ve said it before: engagement is key to unlocking broader reach and scoring new followers.

           Experiment with the length of your captions. Captions can be quite long – up to 2,200 characters. Give long-form storytelling a go and see if that resonates. Or trial super-short one-liners, even one-worders. 

9. Tag your brand’s location

Location is another searchable element of Instagram. By tagging your brand’s location, you can reach audiences living in, interested in, or visiting your area.

Instagram's add location feature

To tag your location in a post, tap “Add location” on the same screen where you write your caption. Either enable location services or manually search your location. That’s it!

10. Target the Explore feed

As Instagram puts it, Explore (accessed by tapping the magnifying glass at the bottom of the app) is where “you can find photos and videos that you might like from accounts you don’t yet follow.” Incredibly, half of all Instagram accounts browse Explore every month.

You want your posts, Stories, Reels, and IGTV videos to land in your target audience’s Explore feed – that much is clear. How to get there is a little muddier, and there are no guarantees.

Here are three tips to improve your likelihood of scoring a coveted position in the Explore feed:

1.         Post when your followers are active because Instagram rewards timeliness. Recency wins you more engagement, which is the first prerequisite for earning a spot on the Explore feed.

2.         Browse the Explore feed yourself and pinpoint the similarities between high-performing videos and images.

3.         Look at Instagram Insights to determine what kind of content best resonates with your audience. Maybe it’s carousels or long-form IGTV videos. Maybe your inspirational quote posts are bottom of the rung and ready to retire. Continuously optimise your content strategy to build engagement levels.

11. Follow others

Following relevant accounts is one of the fastest ways to grow on Instagram. When you hit follow, the user is notified, prompting them to check out your profile and follow back if they like what they see.

You can find relevant users to follow in several ways:

           Use your competitors as a guide. See who they follow by tapping on their following count on their profile. Don’t just spam follow everyone – vet each user for relevancy before committing.

           Target users that follow your competitors. You can view your competitors’ followers by tapping on their follower count on their profile. These users are already following an account similar to yours, so they may be more likely to follow back.

           Browse Instagram’s suggestions by navigating to your profile, tapping the burger menu in the top-right corner, and selecting “Discover.”

Before you follow thousands of unsuspecting users, remember to maintain a balance between the number of accounts you follow and the number of accounts that follow you. This ratio is essential for maintaining trust and legitimacy.

Finally, don’t follow an account, wait for them to follow you back, and then unfollow them instantly. That’s a pretty bad look, and it likely won’t help you in the long run.

12. Encourage users to tag your brand

Another way to get more eyes on your brand is to encourage other users to tag your account in their posts. Their audience can then see your brand name, and if they want to learn more, they can tap through to your profile.

Add a line prompting users to tag you on Instagram in your bio.

Here’s a great example from @Australia.

Australia's official Instagram account bio

13. Partner with other brands

The right approach to a collaborative partnership on Instagram could help all brands involved win more followers, so don’t be afraid to make the first move.

To get started, consider brands you work with already. Maybe you own a florist, and when your clients ask for wedding cake recommendations, you always pass on the contact details of a particular baker in your local area. Or perhaps your hair salon is next door to a café that supplies your staff with their much-needed morning coffees. How can you capitalise on this relationship on Instagram?

One of the most common strategies is to run a joint competition, with a prize pack containing products and services from several companies. Each company then promotes the competition to their audience.

14. Leverage Instagram Stories

Every day, half a billion Instagram accounts publish and watch Stories. That’s not all – according to Instagram, one-third of Stories lead to a direct message. If you want to reach a broader audience, your brand must embrace this popular feature.

Just like posts, use hashtags and location features to increase your Stories’ organic exposure. Post when your target audience is most active, too. Remember, Stories can appear in the Explore feed.

15. Use IGTV

IGTV videos can be up to 60 minutes long, allowing you to create more in-depth, immersive video content. You can give a product tutorial, share behind-the-scenes exclusives, or interview a team member – the possibilities are limitless.

You can also start an IGTV series. If a user stumbles upon one instalment of your series and enjoys it, they are likely to hit follow.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning IGTV’s (quite literally) huge presence on the Explore feed. IGTV videos appear four times larger than photos.

16. Share your Instagram handle on other channels

If you want people to follow your Instagram page, you’ve got to make it easy for them. And one of the best ways to do that is to promote your Instagram handle on other channels.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

           If you’ve already built up an engaged following on another social platform like Facebook or Twitter, ask your fans to follow you on Instagram, too. Don’t forget to share a link to your profile or your handle.

           You are probably already doing this, but make sure you have links to your social profiles on your website, typically in the footer. Double-check they work – one pesky typo could be costing you followers.

           Promote Instagram-specific events via your blog, email newsletter, and other social channels. If you’re running a competition on Instagram or starting a Live in 30 minutes, shout it from the rooftops.

If your Instagram profile is brand-new, aim to publish around 12 posts before sharing your account via other platforms. 

17. Embed your Instagram posts 

Are you an avid blogger? Fantastic. You can embed relevant Instagram posts directly into your blog articles, enhancing your content and gently promoting your account to your readers.

Embedded Instagram posts are clickable, making it quick and easy for a reader to click-through and (hopefully) follow.

An example of embedding an Insta post

To embed an Instagram post:

1.         Visit your profile on your web browser (your URL is instagram.com/USERNAME).

2.         Click on the post you’d like to embed, and then click the three dots in the top-right corner.

3.         Select “Embed” and click “Copy Embed Code”.

4.         Paste the code into the backend of your website.

You can embed any publicly viewable Instagram post – not just your own.

Now, it’s your turn

There is no one best way to gain Instagram followers. It’s about implementing several proven strategies, monitoring your results, tweaking, optimising, and following your target personas’ evolving expectations.

Building an engaged network of fans is not rocket science, but it does take time. Be patient and focus on quality, and you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by followers all too happy to tap like, comment, and buy.

 

Photo of Kyra GoodmanKyra Goodman

Kyra is a Junior Marketing Manager and "Spicy Meme Master" at Sked Social who loves to create content. Born and raised in Hawaii, her favorite things are traveling, yoga, beaching, coffee and baseball. Connect with her on twitter at @kyra_n_goodman.

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