August 8, 2021 7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Most entrepreneurs would agree that real, engaging followers on Instagram are some of the most powerful audiences that you can build on social media. I’ve been helping business owners convert their dead Instagram accounts into multi-million dollar businesses for a few years now, and I’m starting to get tired of seeing snake-oil salesmen promote their “Instagram growth secrets.” I think it’s time to set the record straight when it comes to Instagram growth for businesses.
I’ll tell you this right now: There are no secrets. Growing on Instagram simply requires time, patience and hard-work. Whether you’re promoting your yoga classes or selling t-shirts, these tips will help launch your business forward on Instagram.
1. Post engaging content
One would think that this is the most obvious step that businesses are taking to get ahead, but this is where 90% of businesses fail. In order to properly grow on Instagram, a business must be able to post high-engaging content consistently.
Even if you don’t have a large audience at the moment, you should strive to get as many likes and comments per post as possible. Post engagement is what leads to growth on Instagram. Some people think they can simply post promotional material and earn their followers some other way — that’s not the case.
Here’s the hard reality business owners will face on Instagram: Nobody wants to see unnecessary promotional material on their feed.
Instagram users want to follow personalities. They want to follow identities. They want to follow content that delivers value. Most businesses will struggle to produce a personality worth following. If you’re struggling on Instagram, you should rethink your entire content strategy and ask yourself this question: Does my business have a likable identity or is it just a promotional face for my company?
Let’s say you run a coffee shop. It’s not enough to post your daily specials. It’s not enough to post pictures of your customers. It’s not enough to post pictures of your shop. That’s what every coffee shop in the world does, and that content likely won’t drive your engagement up.
You should experiment with every type of content and see what draws the most engagement. Create funny Instagram Reels with your baristas. Do a live stream of a latte foam art tutorial. Run a giveaway where people have to like and comment on your post to win a year of free coffee. If you truly want to stand out on Instagram, you’ll need to create a unique identity by producing high-engaging content. If you notice a piece of content that received unusually high engagement, try to replicate that success.
The Instagram algorithm only works in your favor when your engagement is spiking. When Instagram realizes that your content is starting to get more attention from your followers, your account will get the exposure it deserves. Your account will then get pushed forward in hashtags, in locations, in similar accounts and in the explore page.
2. Follow high-quality accounts
Strategically following Instagram accounts is another key to success that is often seen as controversial. Many people have rejected the idea that the “follow/unfollow” strategy (when you routinely follow and unfollow Instagram accounts in an attempt to gain followers) is a valid growth method, but I believe it’s incredibly effective when done correctly.
Most people simply don’t use follow/unfollow strategically. At its core, this method should be used to instantly place your account in front of people who will support you. The follow/unfollow method should be used to build a base of engaging followers that will help you catapult your account into the eyes of more people. Instagram’s algorithms don’t favor smaller accounts as much as other social media platforms (such as Tik Tok), so using this strategy to build a core audience can help you grow your account exponentially later on with your engaging content.
Most people don’t do follow/unfollow correctly, and I think that’s why it typically gets discredited. I’ve personally coached someone who used follow/unfollow to gain a base following of 10,000 people, and then they turned that number into over a million by simply posting engaging content.
Finding the right people to follow is the biggest issue people run into when doing this strategy. It’s important to find people who are likely to be interested in your specific type of content. This can be done in various creative ways.
For example, I often work with personal fitness trainers who are desperately looking for clientele. They post good, educational content on Instagram, but they can’t seem to gain any new clients in their local area. We’ll then employ a follow/unfollow strategy where we strategically follow members who engage with particular gym locations in their city. This is essentially like handing out your business card to local gym-goers, and then them instantly checking out your Instagram “landing page.” This leads to hundreds of new followers, and dozens of new clientele for personal trainers.
Follow/unfollow simply succeeds in the area of gaining qualified followers. Sure, you can’t gain 5,000 followers per month on follow/unfollow alone, but you can gain 500 followers per month, and that will help you carve out your space on Instagram.
3. Be ultra social
Simply put, Instagram is a social media platform. It rewards people who are social. If you are running a business, you have something to offer people – whether that’s a product, your services or simply your expertise – there are plenty of ways to share your value on Instagram. If you are leaving high-quality comments, sending helpful DMs and engaging with others in your niche (niche-specific engagement is important), then you will likely begin to gain followers from your contributions.
If you engage with others, people will likely begin to engage with you. And like I said earlier: Engagement leads to growth. The Instagram algorithm won’t discredit you for genuinely leaving helpful comments on 30 posts every day. If 10 of those post authors return the favor to you on your most recent post, then you will likely receive an increase of exposure. It’s a win-win. You get to help other people, and you get to grow on Instagram.
Whenever I tell people these steps to growth, I often get met with disappointed faces. People often search for the “easy-way out” because they’re typically convinced that other people clearly must’ve used some kind of “secret” that explains their meteoric growth. And while it’s true that there have been black hat growth secrets that have worked in the past, most accounts that have used these methods have ended up facing consequences one way or another.
In the seven years that I’ve been doing Instagram marketing, I’ve always seen the accounts that abstain from shady methods succeed in the long run. If you truly focus on engaging with others and creating great content, you too will find Instagram success for your business.