In Summer 2018, Instagram finally smashed the 1 billion users milestone.

Today, Instagram is one of the most popular social platforms on the web. It’s a place where people create, share and interact with both their friends and their favorite brands. 80% of Instagrammers follow businesses on the channel.

As with any social platform, brands that want to get the most out of Instagram need a substantial following. More followers mean more interactions, greater credibility and a stronger online presence.

The problem is, Instagram growth is more than just a numbers game.

Companies tap into the $6.48 billion worth of revenue Instagram churns out per year by making real connections with the people on their page.

Quality over quantity: Why Instagram growth must be organic

If you’ve considered buying followers to boost your IG presence, you’re not alone.

Influencers, celebs and even politicians have all experimented with buying followers in the past.

When you’re just getting started on IG, it’s hard to convince customers that you’re worth your time when you only have one or two existing fans. However, if you already have a few thousand people in your follower count, you instantly seem more credible.

Unfortunately, crowd mentality will only get you so far.

Paying for followers means that you get nothing more than a number. In other words, the people you’re posting to aren’t going to like your photos, share your content or buy your products. At the same time, paying for followers also goes against the IG community guidelines, which means you could risk an account purge.

So, if you can’t buy followers, how do you stand out among the 25 million businesses active on Instagram?

The answer is simple – learn how to grow your followers organically. Of course, actually doing so takes a little more effort. Read on to learn strategies for engaging audiences & bringing in organic followers.

1.     Post consistently (every day)

Instagram has the highest interaction levels of any social media channel. Your followers are waiting to connect with you, but you need to give them something to respond to first.

People are looking for consistency and timeliness from the brands they follow. What’s more, the Instagram algorithm considers your presence on the app when deciding where to rank you on the Explore page.

However, when you start planning a regular posting schedule, you need to get the timing right too. It’s no good posting pictures for your audience of busy moms when they’re in the middle of a school run.

Our studies show that the best time to post on Instagram (for most businesses) is 3 pm on a Wednesday, 11 am, 3 pm and 4 pm on a Thursday and 5 am on a Friday. You’ll need to do some of your own digging into details like your industry’s audience habits to make sure that schedule works for you. Check out your Instagram insights to see when your followers are most active.

If you’re worried about having time to run a business and manage Instagram growth on a regular basis, consider using a scheduling tool like Sprout Social. Prepping posts ahead of time ensures you have a steady stream of content waiting, even when you’re busy with other things.

Screenshot of Sprout Social scheduling

2.     Give your audience what they want

Instagram organic growth, just like any genuine social media follower strategy, relies on great content. Ultimately, if you want people to like, follow and engage with you, then you’re going to need content that appeals to them.

So, how do you decide what your fans expect from you?

Fortunately, you don’t need to guess. Instead, try:

  • Keeping an eye on competitors with a similar target audience: Find out what kind of content your competitors are posting and make a note of anything that generates a lot of engagement. For instance, do people in your space seem to get better results when they post regular Instagram Stories alongside their standard pictures?
  • Tracking what’s trending: Keep an eye on customer and influencer profiles in your space and find out what #hashtags they’re using, or trends they’re following. This will give you an insight into the kind of content that generates the most buzz among your audience.
  • Use tools to track performance: With a tool like Sprout Social, you can follow the keywords that are sending the most traffic your way, and learn what’s working for your top performing posts.

If you’re struggling to choose the right content for Instagram organic growth, ask your followers what they’d like to see. Load Instagram Stories and select the “poll” sticker option to start collecting ideas and feedback from your existing customers.

3.     Experiment with different media

Speaking of choosing the right content for Instagram growth, remember that there’s more to IG than just photos. While the images you share on a daily basis help to grow your personality and develop your reputation on the channel, don’t be afraid to explore other options too.

For example, 65% of all the ad impressions on Insta come from video. Experimenting with story ads increases your marketing recall, improves purchasing intent and enhances click-through rate all at the same time. One campaign by DiGiorno accomplished an incredible 6 point lift in purchase intent, an improved reach of 20 million and an 8 point rise in ad recall.

As video content continues to dominate on Instagram, it’s worth diversifying your feed. Now that IGTV is here to offer opportunities for long-form content, the demand for video is set to grow even more. Try:

  • How-to content that demonstrates the unique appeal of your product or service.
  • Behind-the-scenes videos to introduce your team and build organic relationships
  • Q&A sessions with influencers that boost your credibility.

4.     Engage with your audience

Social media (on any channel) is all about engagement.

You’d be surprised how many companies searching for Instagram growth forget the “social” part of social media marketing.

Posting the right content, consistently and at the right times, will attract more attention from your target audience. However, it’s the conversations you have with those people that turn casual visitors into brand advocates and loyal fans.

Liking a comment, answering a question, or even responding to a direct message all help you build deeper relationships with your followers. In fact, according to Sprout Social Insights, answering consumer questions on social media drives 49% of fans to purchase.

You don’t need to respond to every message or @mention. Just be as active as possible. Your people understand that you’re busy running a business, but they’ll appreciate every interaction you give them. For instance, @LocalWanderer doesn’t respond to compliments on her IG photos, but she does answer questions about where she is, or where she got her clothes. This delights her followers and simultaneously lets her give a shout-out to her latest blog post.

 5.     Hack your hashtag strategy

Hashtags are easily one of the most important parts of achieving Instagram organic growth, and can drive engagement on your posts.

What’s more, now that people can follow hashtags on IG, it’s easier to expand brand reach with the right tags.

The question is, what is the best way to use hashtags? The rules have changed in the last year, with IG placing more focus on “relevant” tags that offer unique value to followers. Today, you can’t just post the same 11 tags on every photo and expect results. Instead, you need to find the right combination of brand-boosting tags for every image.

For the best results, try using:

  • Branded hashtags: Use your company name or a unique tag to generate engagement for your brand. 70% of Instagram’s hashtags are branded.
  • Trending tags: Check out the tags that are appearing in the Instagram Explore page. Are any of them relevant to your brand or content? Consider adding them to your posts to expand your reach.
  • Popular hashtags: While #Love, #TBT and #InstaGood are tough to rank for, they still have a place in certain types of content. Consider adding 3-5 popular tags to your images and stories.
  • Location tags: Posts with geotags earn up to 79% more engagement. You’ll find the geotag in the top left of your post.

For an instant strategy boost, use Sprout Social’s Instagram competitors report to find which of their hashtags are generating the best response.

Screenshot of Sprout Social's Instagram Competitor Report

6.     Encourage more UGC (User-Generated Content)

Struggling to achieve measurable Instagram growth alone?

Why not have your existing followers help you out?

Consumers are 7 times more likely to buy from a brand suggested by their peers. What’s more, @mentions and tags from your customers help you to reach new audience members that you may never have found on your own.

There are plenty of ways to cultivate UGC. One of the easiest options is to run a competition with a branded hashtag. Give your customers the chance to win something special if they share pictures of themselves with your product, follow your profiles and tag their friends in the comments.

When you choose a winner for your competition, you’ll be able to access more user-generated content by asking your customer to post a review or show off their prize on their own social profile. Remember, great giveaways need:

  • An attractive prize
  • Branded hashtags and promotional tags like #Giveaway
  • A method of monitoring entries

7.     Develop some influence

Learning how to grow your followers on IG organically is tough.

Real progress takes time because you need to earn consumer respect and demonstrate your credibility in a cluttered marketplace. A great way to instantly turbo-charge your efforts is to piggyback on the existing influence that someone else in your space already has.

Influencer marketing on social media is one of the easiest ways to amplify your voice on IG. With the right influencer, you leverage the trust that already exists between an Instagrammer and their following, to expand your brand reach. Find influencers in your field by searching for industry hashtags and begin building a relationship with them as soon as possible.

Remember, don’t just jump in and instantly ask for a shout-out. Instead, mention the influencer in your posts, comment on their content and send them freebies of your products. Eventually, your influencer should reward your hard work. For instance, check out this post from Strideline socks:

8.     Earn attention outside of Instagram

Finally, remember to drive attention back to your Instagram page from other locations online.

Don’t assume that the people following you on Facebook and Twitter also know you’re active on Instagram. Link back to your Instagram posts on Facebook, mention your branded hashtags in your emails and screenshot pictures from Instagram for your blog posts.

The more attention you bring to your IG profile from other locations on the web, the greater your brand reach gets. What’s more, by building your presence on other channels you may boost your credibility enough to earn a chance at Instagram verification.

Some ways to cross-promote your IG channel include:

  • Writing guest posts for blogs relevant to your audience
  • Mentioning your #hashtags and posting links on other social channels
  • Submitting press releases with links to your IG account
  • Adding Instagram information to your email campaigns

Time to accelerate your Instagram growth

Figuring out how to grow your followers safely and organically isn’t easy.

The best Instagram accounts take a significant amount of time and effort to create. It’s no wonder that busy brands often resort to shortcuts like buying followers instead.

Don’t be tempted by the dark side. While it might seem like a good idea at first, it ultimately won’t do anything for your business bottom line. Instead, make sure you focus on organic growth, careful content creation and consistent measurement. Use Sprout Social to track the success of each campaign and you’ll have a substantial genuine following.