I get asked all the time how I gained a following on Instagram… because it seems like something so unattainable and hard to do. Well I’m here to tell you that it is possible to grow a large following on Instagram from scratch, and I won’t lie to you – it is hard work!
How I Grew My Instagram Following By 200k In 12 Months
I started my Instagram account, @reneeroaming, in mid 2014. It was fueled by my love for travel and wanting to share that with others. I began posting more regularly in 2015 and slowly but steadily grew my following to 30k in 12 months.
In August 2016 (at 30k followers) I decided to up my Instagram game, and by August 2017 I had hit 230k followers – completely authentically and without using bots, buying followers etc. Now almost 5 months later my account has over 279k followers and my engagement is still considered excellent. Want proof?
Here is a screen shot of my accounts growth, taken from Social Blade and available to the public (update in July 2018, Social Blade now has limited access to Instagram statistics, though this was and still is an accurate screenshot).
So how did I do it?
STEP 1: REBRANDING
Prior to August 2016, my Instagram handle was simply my name – @reneehahnel. After a while I had realized that people didn’t really know how to say my last name, my account name didn’t have anything to do with the type of content I posted, and it wasn’t memorable.
I brainstormed what my ultimate niche audience would be and the content I wanted to focus on: travel, photography, nature, adventure. Then I came up with a bunch of different options, checked if they were available on all social platforms (including a URL), and asked my friends what they thought. In the end I went with @reneeroaming because it was still personal, spoke to my niche, was easy to spell, and most importantly – to remember.
Within a week of rebranding, I noticed a substantial increase in my growth (you can see the jump on the graph above). My account grew by more than 25k in one month and was at 55k come September 2016. I attribute this growth to many factors (talked about below), but I think the rebranding played a significant part.
STEP 2: Creating striking content
I worked hard to create striking content, and by that I mean unique, real, noticeable, and most importantly – GOOD content! There were already an abundance of beautiful outdoor/travel related Instagram accounts when I launched @reneeroaming. I needed to stand out from the crowd and provide people with a reason to follow my account.
“If you really want to do this, you have to be amazing. You’ve got to stop my thumbs when I’m waking up in the morning” – Philip Trippenbach, Head of Influencer at Edelman
The first thing I did was focus on dialing in my photography and editing skills. I also started planning out shoots a little more, choosing appealing outfits, and traveling to picturesque destinations. Note – I was already going to these places, because I love to travel, but there were some extra steps involved to get striking Instagram content.
I invested in good equipment (find out what I use here), and learned to use my gear. I put a lot of time and effort into creating content that I loved and felt others would too. I always had in the back of my head – would this photo make someone want to travel there, or do that activity? I was finding that the better my content was, the more people would engage with it, therefore making it more likely to appear on the Explore page, and subsequently result in more people engaging/following.
Side note – I have an amazing husband, Matthew Hahnel, who has taught me so much about photography and compositions. You don’t need someone to help you get photos (check out my blog post about taking selfies), but it certainly helps in the beginning!
STEP 3: Being Consistent
People will rely on you to keep them entertained and inspired. I learned early on that posting consistently (once per day if I could) was key to staying at the top of the algorithm and continuing to grow my account. I also learned that people want to see content that flows and has an overall theme to it. I started to focus on ensuring my feed/grid looked appealing when viewed as a whole, not just individually.
STEP 4: Cross Promotion
I decided to make Renee Roaming a brand, not just an Instagram account. I therefore went ahead and changed my blog (which was still fairly new) to www.reneeroaming.com, and I set up Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest accounts in the same name – @reneeroaming.
I began to post frequently on all of my channels and this meant people were seeing me everywhere, no matter which platform they were most engaged with. Plus, it became fairly evident that brands require you to have more than one channel for social media related partnerships.
STEP 5:Engage, Engage, Engage
Engaging with my audience and others on Instagram was a vital part of my account’s growth. I would reply to every single comment on my photos, plus I would often (daily) check out other accounts and comment/like. I think it’s super important to be kind and genuine when doing this. People can spot a fake or bot a mile away. Also, don’t be afraid to delete any negative comments or block nasty accounts – it was (and still is) important to me to keep my account a positive space for myself and others.
Extra tip – don’t use an automated comment/engagement program. I have seen these bots write comments like “Amazing!” on someone’s post about their loved one passing away… Also, Instagram will likely throttle your engagement if they see you are using bots.
STEP 6:Using Tags, Hashtags & Geotag
Tagging larger accounts (and brands), using relevant hashtags and geotagging my photos were additional ways that I steadily gained a larger audience. These are simply means that help new people to find your account, so it was an absolute no-brainer to use them. I would use (and still do) hashtags that are applicable to my niche, plus I would tag brands and hubs in the photo for extended reach (I don’t do this so much anymore). I think geotags are a wonderful way to get more exposure, though I try to only give away a general location for the lesser visited/more vulnerable destinations.
Extra tip – I use the website Display Purposes to generate my hashtags for Instagram.
STEP 7: Story Telling & Vulnerabilit
I love reading other people’s stories, their tales of adventures, passions and inspirations. I try to incorporate as much of that as possible in my Instagram captions, and I strive to keep things real and honest. I find that my audience engages most with my captions when I show vulnerability… when I open up and show a little more of myself. Take this post below as an example. I shared my challenges with acne in the caption, and talked about everyone having their own struggles. I had an overwhelming response by people who were going through a similar thing, or simply appreciated my honesty.
STEP 8:Utilizing Stories
Instagram added the ‘stories’ function the week I chose to rebrand @reneeroaming. It took me a little while to start using the function, but I soon learned that I could engage on a deeper level with my audience through posting behind-the-scenes stories. In the past 12+ months stories have evolved to be a vital part of running any business Instagram account, and a fantastic way to engage and grow a following.
I love getting creative with my stories and will often use various apps and programs outside of Instagram to make unique and engaging content. By using geotags and hashtags, your stories can get featured on the Explore page, thus bringing new eyes to your account.
If you’re not using stories yet – GET TO IT!
STEP 9: Doing What Works
There can be some trial and error involved in growing your Instagram account. In the beginning, I would observe how each post performed and then focus on the aspects that were delivering the most engagement and growth. I still do this, but now feel that I have a more sound understanding of my audience and brand.
I noticed over time that photos of beautiful landscapes with a human element in them would perform better, so I continued posting those kinds of images. I noticed that my audience loved to see photos of my husband and I together, so I shared more of that. Simply, do what works. In saying that though, it is vital to stay true to your brand and passions. As I have said before, people can spot a fake a mile away.
STEP 10: Learning From Others
An important factor of my Instagram growth was being constantly inspired, learning from others and following incredible people/accounts. I was a sponge for information (and still am), whether it be about improving my photography skill set, trying new ways to engage with my audience, monetizing my brand, or being more vulnerable in my captions. After all, community is the core of Instagram.