20 Ways to Grow an Authentic Following on Instagram

August 28, 2017

After last week’s post about identifying and verifying authentic Instagram followings I wanted to provide some insight into how you can do so.

Social media can be discouraging these days, but there’s absolutely still hope when it comes to growing an authentic following.

While there are plenty of accounts with a far larger audience than myself, in just over two years I have grown my Instagram following to over 66,000 and that’s something I’m proud of. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I wanted to open up about the tactics that have really worked well for me.

1. Get clear about your ultimate goal. Prior to starting Household Mag. I had no desire to grow my Instagram following – I had a personal account with photos that brought me joy and that was that. It wasn’t until I started a business and recognized that Instagram would be integral to my success that I started really thinking about growing an authentic following. I say this because I think it’s healthy to understand why you want to build a following. The amount of followers you have or likes you get on a photo should never be the measuring stick you use to determine your self worth. Set goals that relate to what your business can achieve by gaining a following – maybe it’s more paid projects, maybe you’ll boost your online sales, land more clients or get the message of your company out there. It’s also very possible that social media isn’t integral to your business and if that’s the case I wouldn’t waste your time! Take 10 minutes and write down how your business will benefit from a larger following and go from there.

2. Get specific about the content you want to share. I share a wide range of content, but it’s still specific. My audience knows what they can expect from me and are able to return to my account periodically to see the content they enjoy the most. Some say that it’s better to be super niche, for instance just motherhood content, but I use Household as a channel for lots of different things I’m passionate about and I think that’s okay. So long as it’s all cohesive I think you can’t go wrong!

3. Identify your audience. My content might range, but I realize my audience is over 90% female and that most of those women are mothers. Sharing recipes, fashion and travel tips based on that perspective is important. It doesn’t mean everything needs to be about being a mother, but what kind of recipes do moms want to save and use? What fashion are they interested in? Think from your audience’s perspective.

4. Create quality content. I’m not just talking about photos, I’m talking about captions. Sure, I’ll share a short and sweet or funny caption every now and then, but more often than not I try to share something that provides value to my followers. Maybe it’s a quote I came across, some tips for traveling, a new parenting book I really love, a realization in motherhood or even a sale I think they might all enjoy – whatever it is I try to make it worth a like, comment or save.

5. Make connections with others in your field. I’m not talking about a comment pod – I think these can be really difficult to keep up with (I know from experience) and I think Instagram tends to flag these as spammy behavior, but I’m referring to people who you can genuinely reach out to and ask questions. I have about five different bloggers/influencers that I turn to when I have a question or concern and their insight is SO helpful.

6. Use hashtags. I know, I know – the next post I make will probably tell you not to, but you guys, I can’t figure it out for the life of me. There was an article that mentioned hashtags maybe fading away in the near future, but as long as they’re here I think that they might be worth a shot. At least if you’re just getting started. Do some research on the best ones for your content – I have a different set for food, travel, home decor and motherhood and use them accordingly. It seems as though putting them in your caption helps a bit more than the comments, but again these things are their own beast!

7. Tag brands/publications & use hashtags that are meant for user generated content. Some of my largest increases in followers have come from larger accounts reposting my content like @airbnb, @mydomaine & @westelm. It’s definitely worth it to use one of those tags for that reason alone! In addition to this don’t be afraid to contact certain publications directly if you’re interested in writing for their sites and so on. This has helped growth for me tremendously!

8. Partner with brands you and your audience believe in. This seems simple, but there are certain brands on social media that really have a strong presence and will either resonate with your audience or not. This is helpful when you’re doing sponsored content for a couple reasons. 1. Your followers will be more likely to engage if it’s something they too enjoy or have been wanting to try & 2. If it’s the perfect match and the brand has agreed to share your content then you’re potentially going to now reach their audience as well. This is especially important when you’re hosting giveaways!

9. Use analytics. Since I don’t have a business account I’m using Iconosquare to analyze the best times to post and so on. I thought I could do without this and analyze myself, but it’s a lot of work and their system just makes it so much easier. The most helpful part of Iconosquare that I don’t believe is available through Instagram’s insights is analyzing your best times to post. Instagram shows you when users are the most active, but not necessarily when your posts perform best from what I remember. This is crucial! I’m not suggesting to obsess over the numbers, but when you can see a noticeable difference between 7pm and 10pm it’s something worth noting.

10. Report spam accounts. This is something I’ve been doing the last month or so after noticing so many bot like accounts beginning to follow along. It might be hard for you to remove followers when you’re just getting started, but having inactive/fake followers messes with your demographics and can really throw of your visibility to your real followers since Instagram doesn’t show your content to everyone that follows you. I’ve noticed growth slow down a bit, but the real followers that are making their way to my page seem to align with the most active followers I have. These followers will be more likely to click through to my site, like photos and comment because they’re real! In return this will hopefully mean you can end up as a suggested user for more and more folks.

11. Engage with your community. This goes for the people who follow you and the people you follow. Always respond to comments. I can’t tell you how much this means to people and it’s the simplest thing to do. It seems like every few days I get a comment thanking me for replying to each person. This really deepens the connection between you and your followers when they know you’re actually reading what they share and taking the time to get back to them. I believe it’s also important to stay active with the people you follow. Zack always laughs at me because I like nearly every photo I scroll through on Instagram, but my thought is I don’t follow people unless I really love their content. It’s important to support each other.

12. Utilize your social channels. I always push my Instagram posts to Facebook and Twitter, but I’ve noticed that Pinterest really helps to drive traffic. You can do this within the app and it’s so worth it!

13. Use Instagram stories to gain new followers. There are a few ways that Instagram stories can help reach new followers and they shouldn’t be overlooked. By using their location tags and hashtag buttons your stories will become an active part of those places and tags meaning new users can view your stories. I’ve also found that Instagram stories are a place to keep it real, to show more of the behind the scenes and to be less pushy about your other content. Later published an article about stories and the trends they’ve noticed these days that they’re liking/not liking.

14. Think about how the explore feed works & use Instagram’s functionality to your best ability. This article can help you out. Everything they mention here is super interesting and important to take note of. Highlights you want to keep in mind are that the explore page starts with stories, then videos then photos. Focusing your content in these areas could be super helpful to growth.

15. Develop a consistent schedule & plan the posts you can. Once you dive into your analytics and get a grasp on when the best times to post are create a schedule. I think it’s really helpful for your audience to know when you typically post, that way if for some reason you don’t show up in their feed they can find their way to your account regardless. I just noticed that weekends aren’t the best time for me to post which is a blessing in disguise. I’m going to experiment with taking breaks on the weekends and see what happens. Monday through Friday seems to be the best for my audience so why not! And when it comes to planning ahead I love the layout of Planoly.

16. Find ways to share / be shared with others in your community. #followfridays are great for this and while they don’t do much for me now, they were super helpful when I was getting started. I’ve noticed better results when the approach is more organic than your standard four square image that you will probably see dozens of times each Friday. My friend Chrissy and I shared in our stories about one another and each received a large handful of genuinely engaged followers. Working on projects or writing series together is also a great way to increase exposure. Remember our #togetherwemother series? It can be tricky to coordinate these groups, but they’re totally worth it when it comes to building community!

17. Be patient. Don’t get discouraged by larger accounts. There are so many fantastic accounts out there that have millions of followers and it can be hard not to look and compare. Growing an authentic following takes time and it’s best to focus on healthy, personal growth than it is to try to be someone else. Chances are they have felt what you’re feeling at some point along the line and that even today there is someone doing it bigger and better than them. For me growing to 66,000 in just over two years is a huge accomplishment. It has meant a lot of things for my family that I couldn’t have otherwise imagined happening.

18. Make sure there’s more to your business than just Instagram.
Building a business on Instagram alone is shaky ground if you ask me. There are constant changes with the platform that are out of your control and always will be. For me this has meant developing more quality content on the blog, developing content for other brands to use, recording more podcast episodes, working on events (like Documented Workshop) and that was even part of my motivation when I started my online shop (which closed when we started our travels). There was a time we all thought Myspace was the peak, then Facebook, now Instagram. If history repeats itself there will be a better form of social that we have to switch to down the line so don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

19. Don’t be afraid to change as you go. It’s easy to get caught in a, well I can only post this sort of content trap. There’s the famous quote by Lou Holtz, “In this world you’re either growing or you’re dying so get in motion and grow.” Evolution is a natural part of the process and as a creative you’re naturally going to change over time. Your style will change, the content you share might change and your voice might even shift. Don’t be afraid of this! I realize from my own experience that this can often times slow things down for a short amount of time that it’s always better to stay true to yourself. The beauty of this is that you get to choose the direction of your business.


20. Don’t take it too seriously. Seems like a funny note to end on after 19 other tips on building your business, but if there’s more to your business than just Instagram this becomes easier. Regardless of how perfect your strategy might be you still might not get it right 100% of the time and that’s okay too. Learn from your mistakes and don’t beat yourself up over it. At the end of the day it’s just Instagram.

Leave a Comment

  • This was so insightful! Congratulations on all your growth and success!

  • Anne-Laure

    So interesting and handy ! I will definitely put your tips into practice asap. And congrats for building this account and all the growth ! Plus, I particularly like no. 11 and cannot but agree with you when you say that it means a lot to people when they see you’re answering them and all. W really feel you value our reactions, us and shows you have a real interest in your community ! There’s a bond and that makes it really special, you’re one of the best (if not the best !) account I follow and you caring surely helps. Thank you ! 🙂

    • Anne-Laure! This note means so much to me. Thank you for taking the time to read and write here. So glad these tips are helpful & would love to hear if you see any changes for your account. Have a great week! You’re welcome & thank YOU!

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