10 Instagram Growth Hacks For More Engaged Followers (Without Running Ads)

Get more followers on Instagram without spending a dime on advertising.

Everyone wants to know how to grow on Instagram and we are here to let you in on a little secret: the way to do this is through an engaged following.

Having a lot of followers is meaningless if they’re not interested in what you have to say. Anyone with cash to burn can get a few bots to boost followers, but these bot-followers don’t create engagement.

The Instagram algorithm prioritizes posts in a user’s feed based on which accounts users are interacting with frequently, and if your account is a ghost town of disengaged followers then the algorithm won’t like it.

So, before you pay the big bucks to promote your product, you’ve got to take a step back and make sure you first have a fanbase that loves you. Below, we are going to outline Instagram growth hacks that will eventually build your loyal customer base.

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How the Instagram Algorithm Works

Before we get into our killer Instagram growth hacks, first you need to understand how the Instagram algorithm works. There’s a lot of speculation about it, but the social media platform revealed that “the order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting, and the timeliness of the post.”

In 2018, TechCrunch reported the details of the algorithm during a press conference organised by Instagram.

  • Interest – Instagram tries to serve you content based on your past behavior in relation to similar content.
  • Relationship – The algorithm prioritizes posts from accounts you interact with regularly, such as through likes and comments.
  • Timeliness – Recent posts are prioritized over old ones.

Simply put, if you are engaging regularly with an account, the algorithm is going to pick up on that and push it to the front of the queue.

If you are a brand, you want your followers to be engaging enough with your content to push it forwards.

That’s it, that’s the mysterious algorithm of Instagram. It wants to show you things it thinks you will like.

Instagram Growth Hacks to Build Your Follower Count

1. Make the most of instagram stories

In a study released by Instagram, it was found that more than 500 million users watch Instagram Stories on a daily basis. That’s half of Instagram’s user base!

These 24-hour snippets can provide an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at your business through photos and videos.

Take advantage of the numerous stickers that stories offer that allow your followers to interact with you. Everything from running a poll, answering questions, asking for DMs, emoji sliders, even quizzes are simple and enjoyable ways to boost engagement.

Running a Q&A session will require the most effort on your part, but it is a chance to directly speak to your customers and followers.

The Q&A can be about your brand such as “Ask us anything!” or “what are you most excited for in our upcoming launch?” to a more generalized question about the followers themselves such as “who is your hero?” and “what’s your favorite rainy-day recipe?”

READ MORE: 30 Expert Tips on How to Get 10k More Followers on Instagram

The key is to ask a question that your followers will want to answer, and then taking the time to reply either via sharing their answer in your stories or via DM.

The quiz is another fun way to boost engagement, and it can also be used for market research. Say you’re launching a new coffee-flavored candle. You can run a poll asking your followers which delicious fragrance they think is going to be released yet. If most of your followers guess cinnamon rather than coffee, perhaps you can consider launching a cinnamon flavor next. Same deal with the emoji slider, if the most common response to your new product isn’t great then you can consider adapting accordingly.

READ MORE: How to Develop Powerful Business Core Values and Mission Statements

The countdown sticker is the least interactive for followers, but it helps to generate hype for an upcoming launch. Be sure to throw in some key hashtags and any relevant mentions to ensure good branding.

If any followers mention or tag you, make sure to share that content either via a post or stories.

Everyone loves a little recognition, and with more and more users opting for stories over feed posts, be sure to share your feed posts to your stories too to encourage interaction.

Sharing other brands’ content in your stories is a good way to network, reflect your own company values, and remind the Instagram algorithm that you’re an active user. Make sure to share their content, rather than a screenshot, so followers can click-through and brands don’t get your engagement.

If you create awesome content and use the location tag, people will be exposed to your content who might not have otherwise. Because Instagram’s algorithm cares about each user’s relationship to another user, every touchpoint with a follower (when they like your photo, submit an answer through the questions sticker, etc.) could help increase your reach.

Location tags and hashtags help users who don’t follow you to find out about your brand.

2. Start an IGTV channel or Reels

It’s no secret that Instagram is prioritizing video content.

In a bid to tackle TikTok, Instagram has launched Reels, allowing users the same creative freedom and video format that TikTok allowed. IGTV and live streams are often push-notifications on people’s phones and favored heavily on the discover page.

Take advantage of this by prioritizing video content creation.

By creating an IGTV channel or Reels, you have a better chance of getting featured on the Discover page, thereby reaching more potential followers.

Instead of being limited to 15 seconds like on stories or one minute like in your feed, IGTV videos can be up to one hour long. To “subscribe” to your channel, interested viewers must follow your account to be notified of upcoming content—what a great way to grow your following! And unlike stories, IGTV videos remain on your channel for as long as you want them there.

READ MORE: FREE TRAINING: Explode Your Instagram Account With Our IG Hacks Masterclass

3. Work with influencers to grow your own followers

We talk a lot about working with influencers here at Foundr, and that’s because it really works when you’re just starting out or looking for user-generated content.

Search for micro-influencers (up to 50,000 followers or so) if you’re looking to do product-for-post collaborations instead of requiring cash payments. Big-name influencers are going to charge in the thousands of dollars, and if you’re in the beginning stages of growing your account, that won’t be feasible. Plus, it’s often the micro-influencers who have the most devoted fans because they haven’t worn out their followings with sponsored posts.

To find micro-influencers in your niche:

  • Look at the posts you’re tagged in. It always helps to work with what you’ve already got. Search through the posts you’re tagged in to see if any micro-influencers have already posted about your brand.
  • Search popular hashtags in your niche. Scroll through the top content and see if any of the accounts are on-brand and might be good to work with.
  • Look at the recommended accounts. You probably already have a few influencers in mind who align well with your brand.

We suggest contacting influencers using DMs rather than emailing them, or worse, calling or texting them. When you contact them using DMs, they can quickly check out your page to see if your brands suit each other. As with all advertising, make it easier for them.

Even if you can’t pay with cash, you can collaborate with influencers in other ways. It’s common for brands to send free product to micro-influencers in exchange for a post. You can also promote the influencer’s content on your account to help grow their brand too.

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When the influencer posts about your business, make sure to ask them to tag you. Additionally, focus on long-term relationships, as these tend to work out best for both the influencer and the brand.

Instead of worrying about this being a one-off post, influencers often prefer to know they will have future work with your brand. As for your business, you won’t have to waste time searching for more influencers if you’ve got a steady pool of reliable ones you can work with again and again.

4. Grow your Instgram account by cross-promoting

If you want to grow your following, you should take advantage of every opportunity to promote your Instagram account.

Follow popular hashtags in your niche. When you follow hashtags, posts tagged with them will start showing up in your feed, just like when you follow an account. The advantage here is you can easily scroll through and like and comment on these posts.

Repurpose Instagram videos for YouTube (or vice versa).

Try uploading your Instagram videos to YouTube and then linking to and promoting your Instagram account. IGTV now supports horizontal video too, so you can take content from your YouTube channel and easily upload it to IGTV.

READ MORE: How to Triple Your YouTube Subscribers in 6 Months

Work with complementary brands, especially brands that are in the same business as you but are not direct competitors. Below, PopSugar Fitness YouTube channel has featured and shared content from Sweat, a fitness app. Both brands are in the fitness realm but not in direct competition with each other.

Lastly, you should point to your Instagram profile every chance you get. Consider adding prominent icons on your website to get visitors to click through to your Instagram account. We have our social channels on all our platforms, from email to YouTube to our homepage.

5. Engage with other Instagram accounts

To get engagement, you have to give engagement.

Again, a key component of the Instagram algorithm is relationships.

Instagram looks at things like which posts you like and which stories you frequently watch. The more active you are on others’ content, the more likely your own content will be shown in people’s feeds.

A word to the wise: Instagram has been cracking down on accounts that use third-party apps to like, comment, and follow. So to keep things authentic, do these actions manually.

Make time to respond to all comments, DMs, and shares. If a follower takes the time to comment on your posts, respond to them even if it’s only to say, “Thank you.” People are much more likely to keep interacting with your brand if they’re rewarded with recognition.

READ MORE: 3 Ways to Create a Facebook Sales Funnel That Will Convert Customers on Autopilot

Leave genuine comments on other accounts’ posts. Manually comment on your follower’s posts, people you’d like to be your followers, or brands that are similar to yours. And be sure that these comments are genuine and add to the conversation. Instagram does not need more mindless comments like “so cute!” and “wow!” Make it clear that you’re not a bot by saying something specific to that post.

You can also spend some time reacting to stories. Scroll through stories and send reactions to them, either with the emojis you can access by swiping up or by sending a message.

6. Use hashtags wisely

Instagram has debunked the myth of “shadowbanning” so feel free to use as many hashtags as you can (the maximum is 30).

There’s some debate about whether brands should hide hashtags at the bottom of their captions or hide hashtags in the comments section.

We have always been a fan of hiding them in the first comment, but we are slowly changing our minds thanks to our experiments with AgoraPulse (our go-to social media data aggregator).

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It was found that posts with hashtags in the caption outperformed posts with hashtags in the comments. More specifically, accounts with 100,000 followers or fewer have a higher reach rate when they put hashtags in the caption.

So unless you’ve got more than 100,000 followers, stick to putting hashtags in the caption.

You should also consider creating a branded hashtag. By making a hashtag that’s unique to your brand, two things will happen:

  • You’ll increase brand awareness.
  • It will be easier for you to find user-generated content to share, which we’ll talk about in the next section.

Check out the #thefrankeffect by Frank Bod. Not only does it help you to keep track of what others are posting about your brand and account, but it also creates a mini-community or tribe of followers.

7. Encourage user-generated content (UGC)

Related to branded hashtags mentioned above, find ways to encourage user-generated content.

Having a branded hashtag will help you find posts from your community, but there are still more ways to foster UGC:

Build it into your product. If you have a physical product, consider adding a card with each shipment that encourages your customers to follow you on Instagram, share a photo of their order, and use your branded hashtag.

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You can get creative in other ways too. If your business is bricks-and-mortar, consider creating an Instagram wall or branded space for people to share their experience instore. Bars and cafes make great use of this, with lots of recognizable interior design points that are specifically made for sharing.

Another way to boost UGC is to host a giveaway where, to enter, participants must post to Instagram, tag you, and use your branded hashtag. We do this a lot at Foundr in order to promote new courses, new material, and reach a new market. Followers are often more than happy to enter a competition, and it doesn’t hurt to have our brand exposed to a wider market.

READ MORE: The Ultimate Guide on How to Start a Digital Magazine From Scratch

8. Create standout content

In order to grow your Instagram account, create content that stands out from the crowd. It may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed by how many businesses overlook this simple tip.

No number of clever tricks will ever disguise the fact that an account is publishing mediocre or even subpar content.

An old case study of this in action is Jennelle Eliana. Janelle burst on the YouTube scene as a solo “vanlifer” who lives in a renovated GMC van with her pet snake. Seems interesting, right?

But what’s really interesting is that she was able to grow her YouTube account to more than 2.4 million subscribers in under 2 years. Her Instagram also took off too and is currently at more than 350k followers.

Here’s what makes that so incredible: #Vanlife is huge right now; there’s no shortage of people living in vans, traveling to beautiful locations, and posting about it on Instagram and YouTube.

So how did Eliana take off so quickly in an already saturated market? While there have been plenty of naysayers and conspiracy theorists offering up explanations, I think the answer is pretty simple: Eliana is unique! Here’s why:

  • Most vanlifers travel with pet dogs; Eliana has a pet snake.
  • A lot of vanlifers are couples; Eliana travels alone.
  • Many vanlifers have expensive builds and often hire companies to help them with it; Eliana’s build cost only $8,000, and she did it completely on her own.

While you don’t have to do something as unusual as live in a van with a snake, you do need to find what makes your business unique.

To find out how you can approach Instagram content from a unique angle, research your competitors. What type of posts do they publish on Instagram? Which ones tend to get the most likes and comments? Do your competitors have IGTV channels? If so, what are their videos about? When analyzing your competitors’ Instagram accounts, brainstorm gaps you can fill or unique angles you can take.

9. Define your customer persona

Your customer persona is your ideal customer. This is the person for whom you create your products and Instagram content. The best way to determine who your customers and what they like is to study demographics along with psychographics.

Knowing what your customer persona watches on TV, which brands they love, how much income they make, etc., will make it much easier to create content for your Instagram. It gives you a sense of direction and ensures that everything you publish aligns with your brand.

READ MORE: Psychographics 101: Everything You Need to Know; How It’s Used in Marketing

10. Look at your own activity on Instagram

What is it that draws you to certain Instagram accounts? If you have a personal account, look through the posts you’ve saved. Which posts have you liked and commented on? Do some self-reflection and then see how you can apply those learnings to your business content to publish posts that your ideal customer would love too.

Brainstorm how you can stand out. Taking into account your competitors, your customer persona, and your own Instagram activity, how can you stand out on this crowded platform? Find a unique angle, a fresh perspective, that will give users a reason to follow you and engage with your posts.

Which One of These Instagram Growth Hacks Will You Try This Week?

As you can see, attracting faithful fans who engage with your content is way more important than merely increasing your follower count.

To recap, here are Instagram growth hacking tips that can help you skyrocket your followers and engagement:

  • Use Instagram Stories
  • Start an IGTV channel or Reels
  • Work with micro-influencers
  • Cross-promote with YouTube and other brands
  • Engage with other accounts
  • Use hashtags wisely
  • Encourage user-generated content
  • Create standout content
  • Define your customer persona
  • Look at your own activity on Instagram

Have you tried any of these Instagram growth hacks on your own account? Tell us how it went in the comments below!