How I Grew My Instagram Following By 200k In 12 Months

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).

How I grew my instagram following by 200k in 12 months

 

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.

How I grew my instagram following by 200k in 12 months - Renee Roaming

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.

Iceland, Jokulsarlon Beach Iceberg - Renee Roaming

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.

How I grew my instagram following by 200k in 12 months - Renee Roaming

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.

View this post on Instagram

Time to get real for a moment 👇🏼 • I often get asked why I don't show my face in more of my photos & videos. Well there are two reasons. The main reason is that my aim isn't for the image and story to be just about me. I want to inspire people to step into my shoes & imagine being there in that moment. I want to invoke a sense of wanderlust & the thought process of "that could be me". The second reason is because of my insecurities. I have been struggling with problematic skin on & off for a number of years. Anyone who has suffered from acne knows that it can be soul crushing, embarrassing and down right frustrating 🙇🏻‍♀️ I've taken some massive steps this year to feel more secure in my own skin, including only wearing makeup occasionally (instead of every day) & reminding myself that other people simply don't care what state my skin is in. So there you go, I'm far from perfect & I have everyday struggles regardless of whether I'm in a ridiculously beautiful location or not. Don't let people's highlight reels fool you into thinking that their life is a dream 100% of the time 💛 • 📷 Photo by the lovely @matthewhahnel that continues to support & love me through all the good and bad 🚐 Van thanks to @gowestycampers 🌏 Plus a massive shoutout to @drinkevolve for the road trip of a lifetime

A post shared by RENEE HAHNEL (@reneeroaming) on

 

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.

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How I grew my instagram following by 200k in 12 months - Renee Roaming

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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).

How I grew my instagram following by 200k in 12 months

 

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.

How I grew my instagram following by 200k in 12 months - Renee Roaming

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.

Iceland, Jokulsarlon Beach Iceberg - Renee Roaming

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.

How I grew my instagram following by 200k in 12 months - Renee Roaming

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.

View this post on Instagram

Time to get real for a moment 👇🏼 • I often get asked why I don't show my face in more of my photos & videos. Well there are two reasons. The main reason is that my aim isn't for the image and story to be just about me. I want to inspire people to step into my shoes & imagine being there in that moment. I want to invoke a sense of wanderlust & the thought process of "that could be me". The second reason is because of my insecurities. I have been struggling with problematic skin on & off for a number of years. Anyone who has suffered from acne knows that it can be soul crushing, embarrassing and down right frustrating 🙇🏻‍♀️ I've taken some massive steps this year to feel more secure in my own skin, including only wearing makeup occasionally (instead of every day) & reminding myself that other people simply don't care what state my skin is in. So there you go, I'm far from perfect & I have everyday struggles regardless of whether I'm in a ridiculously beautiful location or not. Don't let people's highlight reels fool you into thinking that their life is a dream 100% of the time 💛 • 📷 Photo by the lovely @matthewhahnel that continues to support & love me through all the good and bad 🚐 Van thanks to @gowestycampers 🌏 Plus a massive shoutout to @drinkevolve for the road trip of a lifetime

A post shared by RENEE HAHNEL (@reneeroaming) on

 

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.

PIN THIS!

How I grew my instagram following by 200k in 12 months - Renee Roaming

Renee Hahnel

Hi! My name is Renee and I'm an Australian photographer, blogger & travel addict. I now call the U.S.A home but you can usually find me wandering the globe with a camera in hand ✈ Let's get lost!

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32 Comments

  1. Michelle Stelly on December 28, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    Renee thanks for posting this! I hope my photos get as good as yours in the future, because I love them. I even bought a red beanie to take pictures with this weekend since I loved your red beanie. Have you ever thought of selling your Lightroom presets?

    I know what you mean with working hard though my husband says this has become a second job for us. Lol

    Anyways I’m sending you some good vibes and keep on doing what you are doing! Love your work ❤️

    • Renee Hahnel on December 31, 2017 at 2:10 pm

      Aw thank you Michelle! I have thought of selling Lightroom presets and I am in the process of deciding whether it’s something I want to do – thanks for your interest! Happy New Year 🙂

  2. Elisabeth on December 28, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    Renee, these are awesome tips & tricks and i love that you took the time to write this for others who are curious! I get questions about how i grew my following a lot as well (I’m a designer & calligrapher) so I might just refer people to this post! Love your work – feel free to email me if you ever want a complimentary wood sign ? you can see my work on Instagram @elisaannecalligraphy

    • Renee Hahnel on December 31, 2017 at 2:15 pm

      Thank you Elisabeth! I love your work – you will hear from me soon about collaborating on a new logo for 2018! 🙂

  3. Jackie on December 28, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    Renee this post was so inspiring and informative and I really enjoyed learning more about your journey.
    Keep up the fantastic work.

  4. Pocket-sized Adventures on December 28, 2017 at 11:40 pm

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us Renee ?. I have just started a travel blog as Me and my boyfriend have quit our jobs and are heading to Asia; Sri Lanka first. So I could do with all of the tips!
    Jess x

  5. David on December 29, 2017 at 12:56 am

    Wow – fantastic post Renee.
    Very informative, inspiring and helpful.
    Love your work and i look forward to your next blog !
    Thanks David

  6. meysam on December 29, 2017 at 4:17 am

    wow
    fantastic article
    brands must use this kind of social media

  7. Ashley on December 29, 2017 at 7:23 am

    Your IG is so unique Renee and the pictures you and your husband capture are unlike any other! This was a very helpful post, I also love all of your photography tips/tricks posts. I would love to get better at photography and using photoshop.

    • Renee Hahnel on December 31, 2017 at 2:19 pm

      Thank you Ashley – I am so glad you found this post (and others) to be helpful! I have found that the more time I invest in practicing editing, the better I get – it’s achievable to anyone 🙂

  8. Anika May on December 29, 2017 at 11:32 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this Renee! I just discovered your blog today and absolutely love it! This post is so well-written and easy to follow, I can’t wait to try out some of your tips and tricks as I’m currently under the 1K mark and have been for a while :/

    Thanks again for the awesome tips and inspo!

    Anika | anikamay.co.uk

    • Renee Hahnel on December 31, 2017 at 2:20 pm

      Thank you Anika! I hope you have success with implementing some of my suggestions – keep working at it 🙂

  9. April | April Everyday on December 31, 2017 at 11:15 am

    I love this so much. It’s amazing to see how much you’ve managed to grow your instagram over the past year or two! I’ve kind of had a love/hate relationship with instagram the last half of the year, with the algorithm, but I’m really wanting to try more with it next year.
    Also, I love the way you edit your photos – do you plan on selling your presets at any point?
    xo April | April Everyday

    • Renee Hahnel on December 31, 2017 at 2:29 pm

      Thanks so much April! I am thinking of selling presets but trying to decide if it’s the route for me 🙂 Thanks for your interest!

  10. Finnja on January 1, 2018 at 2:33 am

    Thank you for sharing, this seems really useful!! I love sharing my photos on instagram, but I never edit any of them… How do you find the time to edit all of your photos? What “equipment” do you use and what does it cost? It would be amazing if you could make a post about editing if you ever feel like it/find the time. All the best for 2018! ?

  11. Cynthia Joanne on January 3, 2018 at 3:07 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this! It’s inspiring to know that it is possible to grow a following organically, without paying for ads or bots or big accounts to promote you. You deserve it, as well – your photography is so amazing and total goals!

  12. Holly on January 5, 2018 at 1:11 am

    Wow thank you so much for a great post! It has some really good tips and new websites I didn’t know about. I really struggle to grow my instagram following and I’d say I do most of the above apart from post everyday (which I am working on) but have not seen anywhere near the same growth. Guess I’ll keep working on it! 🙂 http://bit.ly/20z22DM

    Holly x
    http://www.ldnmuse.com

  13. Sara Peter on January 14, 2018 at 11:26 am

    Hello! Absolutely love this article and your Instagram account which I recently discovered. I have two questions because I am really just curious about how you do what you do. I was wondering what job you have that you have the funds and time to travel all year and visit so many countries (I saw your “2017” Instagram story)? Also how do you have the time to edit so many photos and create a uniform theme? That is what I struggle with when taking photos. I like taking them, but the editing takes me too long and I don’t know how to be consistent. Just in awe of your travels and wondering how I can fit a bit more of it in my life!

  14. Shannon on January 17, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    Loved reading this! Very helpful and inspiring. I’ve felt a little defeated with growing my Instagram, like I was missing something that everyone else seemed to know or have. I feel more motivated to get better and be more consistent, thanks for the advice!

    Shann Eileen | http://www.shanneileen.com

  15. Alexander on February 10, 2018 at 10:16 am

    You failed to mention that you are a photogenic young woman constantly being photographed while traveling non-stop. This is more of a prerequisite, I suppose. That said, capturing top notch photos like yours requires a lot of effort, I know. I’m not being cynical, just pointing out the obvious.

  16. Anonymous on February 21, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    This has blown me away, your instagram is on a whole other level and I can’t believe how quickly you managed to grow – what an achievement. I will definitely be implementing these tips, need to get more creative with my feed! I’m a newbie blogger so I am soaking up as much as I possibly can! Thank you for sharing your tips!

    my20staughtme.wordpress.com

  17. Alice on March 31, 2018 at 10:11 am

    Hi Renee,

    Your blog is absolutely amazing: the photos are so beautiful, your articles very well written and helpful and it’s overall super user-friendly! (the UX background talking ahaha)

    Thank you for the tips and all the inspiration!

    xx Alice

  18. Lucero on April 1, 2018 at 10:55 pm

    Hi Renee! Thank you for all the advice! I just found you a few weeks ago & I’m at absolutely in love with your content! I have always wanted to start my own blog & share my expreriences with everyone else. You along with some other influencers have really inspired me to dream bigger!
    Thank you, have a wonderful day!!! <3
    -Lucy

  19. Megri on April 6, 2018 at 6:17 am

    First of all many congratulations to reach this benchmark, I see you have written a well informative post to grow followers constantly. I am glad to let you know that I have decided to follow your steps and implement it soon.

  20. […] photography and social media tips and trips to her audience of 320,000+ (like how she grew her Instagram by 200K in 12 months, night photography info, and couple photography advice […]

  21. Maria Jesus on October 10, 2018 at 2:28 am

    Such a great post! LOOOVE IT 🙂

    It’s amazing how authentic & sensitive you’re! I can feel it just by reading this. I totally get what you mean, but it’s so hard to follow your heart without the social pressure of having a lot of followers. I’m really working hard on that.

    Thanks for the inspiration and your kind words!

    Cheers from Argentina 🙂

    Meri

  22. Denis Petrov on March 4, 2019 at 10:11 am

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Renee Hahnel

Hi! My name is Renee and I'm an Australian photographer, blogger & travel addict. I now call the U.S.A home but you can usually find me wandering the globe with a camera in hand ✈ Let's get lost!

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