Let’s face it: growing an Instagram account organically in 2020 is a lot more difficult. Since being an influencer on this social media platform in 2013, Instagram has evolved A LOT. How to organically grow your Instagram then unfortunately doesn’t necessarily work now.
It’s disappointing that I still see a plethora of influencers on Instagram not only use these methods, but rely on them like crutches, thinking these tactics are the only way to grow followers organically, when they’re completely missing the mark: knowing your target audience and building your community.
Earlier this year, I wrote an influencer mini-series on my blog and I touch on the importance of nurturing an audience quite a bit because I cannot stress it enough. Any time lost on creating quality content for your ideal audience and fostering relationships with people on Instagram essentially hurts your organic Instagram growth. And what eventually happens is that when influencers’ Instagram’s follower count hits a stagnant spot, they result to quick fixes that eventually serve as crutches, instead of going back to the drawing board and refining the art of content creation that drives engagement.
Social media marketing is constantly changing by the minute, and your brand should move with the evolution of how users consume content on social media.
And with that said, here are the 5 growth strategies that will not grow you an engaged audience in 2020. They may have worked in 2015, or even in 2018, but if you still overuse these methods, it’s time to scale back and reevaluate how you can gain Instagram followers organically.
The follow/unfollow method was a really popular growth strategy even before the Instagram algorithm was born. How it works is when a user mass follows their target audience (either through hashtags or another user’s followers) in a short period of time in hopes to get follows back (usually pretty easy if you already have a following and have a beautiful Instagram profile), then will unfollow the same group after a few days.
If you already have some social proof, this could be a no-brainer way to organically grow your following because it’s real people who will most likely keep following you if they like your content. But this method should be debunked ASAP. Not only is this rude to your followers who DO end up following you (there are at least 2 influencers that did this to me that I thought about unfollowing just for this method), but this activity can be tracked as spammy by Instagram and could potentially flag your profile and limit what you can do on the platform.
If you have a business account, you are able to track any Violations from Instagram’s Community Guidelines (Settings > Help > Support Requests > Violations).
Brands and any potential clients who would want to work with you can also easily track your follow/unfollow activity through third party sites like Ninjalitics (available even with the free trial version). Any suspicious activity could cause you brand partnerships.
The Fix: Create valuable content that people can either: share with their friends or on their stories, watch over and over, save for later, or want more of from you. Whether it be an educational Reels video, a post that provokes an emotional reaction or discussion, or infographics that tell a story. Find the sweet spot between trending and evergreen content that can get your post shared and the followers will overflow!
If you’re not familiar with mass giveaways, they’re organized contests where users have to follow 30 to 60 influencers to enter to win a high-ticketed item or a cash equivalent. The said 30 to 60 influencers opt into the giveaway by paying money to the organizer to host the giveaway. It’s been doing so well that many people have turned giveaway hosting as a small business.
Without a doubt, this strategy works. I’ve seen Instagram follower growth up to 100k solely by joining mass giveaways. So why shouldn’t I use this to grow my Instagram if everyone is doing it and it works?
Although mass giveaway loops inflate your follower numbers, it does nothing but HURT EVERYTHING ELSE that you’ve worked so hard to build. I’ve been guilty myself of doing them, and yes, it honestly felt awesome seeing those new followers… but that satisfaction went quick. Here’s why. Paying for mass giveaways
The Fix: Similar to the 1st point, creating valuable content is KEY to follower growth. But to add on to that, focus on building relationships, establishing your BRAND, and adding value. If you really want to target a specific audience, instead of opting into a mass giveaway, create one of your own, or host it with your friends who are in the same niche, has the demographic you’re looking for, and are likely to want to learn what you have to offer.
If you’re not familiar with engagement pods, they’re essentially group chats (either in the DMs or on a third party app like WhatsApp or Telegram) with influencers where they give each other likes, comments, saves and/or shares to receive the same. Think of it like you’re just telling your friends to check out your new post in case it got lost on their feed.
Without a doubt, engagement pods are great to boost your post up the algorithm and a wonderful way to network with other influencers in your niche. It helps if you’re in a pod with people in the same niche, if it’s tight-knit and closed, and you all follow each other. It’s an easy way to drive engagement, and yes, I still participate in them because I legitimately have grown friendships with some of the people I met in those groups.
So why are engagement pods bad?
Engagement pods only simulate engagement. Yes, pods help push your content up the algorithm, but if your Instagram account 90% relies on them, then you haven’t really organically built an audience… it just looks like you do. And if your comments always look like “great post” or “this is amazing”, it just looks like your social media activity is almost mechanical. What would you do if you sold a digital product or offered a course or something? Who would buy your product if your engagement is coming from people who won’t even like your content to begin with?
I’ve seen a lot of people use engagement pods like a crutch and work overtime to get their metrics up instead of creating content that actually drives engagement and building relationships with their followers. It’s not a sustainable way to keep an audience in the long run.
The Fix: Delegate hours of your time away from engagement pods and build actual relationships with your community. Get on Instagram stories and show up for your audience. Create content that will start conversations in the comments and in the DMs. Get to know the people who follow you. Your followers look at you as their friend, so reciprocate the same energy.
The more the Instagram algorithm sees your account interacting more authentically with the people who follow you, the more your posts will be pushed to similar accounts who look for the same type of content. Not only that, but your audience will be there to support you through every season of your growth.
I hope you know this, but the clever puns and the one liner captions are so 2019. Creating content has so many layers now, and unfortunately, unless you’re a social celebrity, quality content goes BEYOND pretty pictures and clever one liners. Social media is constantly evolving, and more and more, people are craving human connection on the internet… with you. Since the pandemic shut the world down, social media has been a place of escape for people from the horrible reality.
I know this point is not exactly a growth strategy, but the result of doing the opposite is. The algorithm is the HUGE THING that influencers struggle understanding and leveraging, and it’s such a simple concept. The intent of the Instagram algorithm is for users to spend as much time as possible on the app, and your job as an influencer is to contribute to that time spent. And the longer people spend on your content, the more the algorithm will push more of your content to those same people because it thinks you have a relationship with that user.
The algorithm aside, how will your audience know who you are and want to invest their time to get to know you through your content if all you give them is a one liner caption?
The Fix: Try microblogging. Tell a story. Share some actionable tips. Talk about a lesson you learned. And if you still like the one liners like me, use them as a hook to draw people to want to read more.
I’ve seen this happen so much on all stages of people’s influencer journeys, including my own. Experimenting and throwing spaghetti on the wall is part of the process, but once you’ve gained your momentum with your growth, the experimenting actually causes your Instagram account to plateau if you constantly confuse your audience with what type of content you put out.
If you’re a starting influencer, it’s VERY ESSENTIAL to niche down and stay in your lane until you’ve gained authority on a topic before talking about something else. I’m not knocking on having a lot of interests and wanting to share all of this with your audience. But it’s very smart to start small and build trust with a target audience before warming them up to who you are and what else you know.
Take a look at my latest Reels views here. It’s pretty obvious that my influencer tips are doing exponentially better than the travel post I created to promote my latest Tulum blog post. Seeing a post flop like this is a lesson for me to keep creating content for my target audience for my posts to consistently do well.
The Fix: Start posting with purpose. Serve your audience. Take a good look at your top posts and see what type of content your audience resonates with the most, and POST MORE OF THAT. Doing this will help narrow down your niche and really help you define your target audience. Go deeper. Get more vulnerable. Establish your expertise and authority on one thing, and stay on that lane of expertise before introducing your audience to something else.
The general message to organically grow your Instagram is to build a community and create quality and valuable content. As you grow your influence on Instagram (or any platform), you will stretch your boundaries, from monetization, to trying a new trend, to opportunities, to being a thought leader in your niche. But the foundation should never change: your community. Because without a community that backs up your influence, your platform is nothing more than just another account.
This PDF includes tips, tricks, & expert advice on how I’ve grown my Instagram.
This isn’t just ANYTHING you can Google. These are tried & true strategies I’ve used over the last 7 years in the influencer industry, understanding how to use the behavior of the algorithm to work to your advantage.
If you would like to read more of my Influencer tips, check out the Influencer section on my blog!
This PDF includes tips, tricks, & expert advice on how I've grown my Instagram. This isn't just ANYTHING you can Google. These are tried & true strategies I've used over the last 7 years in the influencer industry, understanding how to use the behavior of the algorithm to work to your advantage.