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Chapter 3: How To Rapidly Grow Your Instagram Following

Social Media-marketing

Intro | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Free Swipe File

Alright, so we know that Instagram is a great platform for driving not only traffic, but also opt-ins for your email list.

And that’s all true. But that traffic and those email subscribers are dependent on how many followers you have.

See, Instagram is a feed. So only the people who follow you will see your posts unless you boost them in Instagram by paying for ads.

The main method of driving traffic back to your site from Instagram is through Call to Action posts (which we’ll cover in depth in Chapter 4). And the more people you get those CTA posts in front of, the more effective they’ll be for driving traffic.

So here’s how to build up your Instagram following like crazy.

Screenshot showing google search results

The 4 Free Ways of Getting More Followers

Needless to say, if you have a budget to throw behind your Instagram growth, it’s going to grow much faster than if you have no budget.

In full disclosure, Sumo had a budget to grow our Instagram account. We did throw some money at it, so unless you can do the same, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to gain 49,000 followers in 3 months.

But that doesn't mean you can’t grow rapidly using free Instagram follower growth methods.

Here are all the ways you can get more followers for free.

I’ve ordered them by effectiveness. You can do all of these things or just one or two, depending on how quickly you want to grow.

Disclaimer: Please only choose what you’re comfortable with. If one of these methods doesn’t jive with you or seems spammy, move onto the next method.

Strategy #1: Share for Shares

One of the hands-down most effective ways we’ve used to grow our following on Instagram for free is through "share for shares".

This is when you identify similar accounts that reach the audience you want to reach (and vice versa) and you both post a Call to Action post to follow the other account. Here’s an example:

  1. I see an account that has a similar amount of followers to us. Let’s call it @S4SExample. The account reaches the audience that we want to reach, and we reach the audience that @S4SExample wants to reach.
  2. I message @S4SExample and ask them if they are up for a share for share, or "S4S".
  3. @S4SExample says yes, and identifies a post of @SumoMe’s they think will appeal to their audience. I identify a post on @S4SExample’s feed that I think will appeal to @SumoMe’s followers.
  4. I post @S4SExample’s post on our feed, with a call to action to follow @S4SExample.
  5. @S4SExample posts our post on their feed, with a call to action to follow @SumoMe.

Here’s an example of a share for share:

These are so effective because share for shares are exponential. As you get larger and grow your account, you can start working with larger accounts, driving a lot of followers to each.

At first, if you have under 1000 followers, you’ll be working with accounts of a similar size. You can expect 5-10 new followers for every share for share you do.

But as you grow to 5,000-10,000 followers, you can expect 20-30 new followers, scaling from there.

With Sumo, we made a goal to do four share for shares per day, or about 33% of the content we were posting. You have to mix these up with your own content (otherwise the accounts you’re working with will have nothing to share, not to mention that you’ll piss off your followers).

To find accounts to do a share for share with, you really just need to start with one or two. From there, you can find like accounts by expanding their account, and clicking onto the Suggested accounts:

Screenshot showing google search results

When you’ve identified an account you want to do a S4S with, you can either message them on Kik (if they’ve listed their Kik username in their profile) or direct message them on Instagram.

The preference is that you message them on Kik, which is an app you can download to your phone that many Instagrammers use to communicate.

The problem with direct messaging them in Instagram is that if they don’t follow you back, your message will go into their Message Requests folder, which means that they won’t be notified of a new message until they go into their messages to check.

Screenshot showing google search results

Usually, Instagrammers know what a S4S is, but if you’re starting from scratch and targeting accounts who have fewer than 1,000 followers, the account owners might not, so you may have to explain it to them.

The messages you send don’t have to be complicated.

Just say something like "Hey, want to do a S4S?". Here’s how we were approached:

Screenshot showing google search results

You don’t have to make it more complicated than that. Just a simple ask and then a post.

When you’re doing a S4S, for maximum benefit to both of you, make sure the call to action is clear, and not buried under reams of text. If you check the S4S I included above, we tag the other account early in the caption and explicitly tell our followers to go follow the other account.

If there’s a mutual benefit to the S4S, you could be setting up a relationship where you share each other's content for a long time.

Strategy #2: Follow/Unfollow

Alright, some people don’t like this method of getting more followers. But even so, it works.

This is a method by which many of the huge accounts you see out there today grew their following rapidly.

The concept on this one is simple: you follow the followers of similar accounts, in hopes that they’ll follow you back.

Because Instagram is still "up and coming", there aren’t a lot of spammers or companies spending time there. So when you only have 125 followers, and most of them are your friends and family, you notice when somebody new follows you.

What if that somebody new was similar to another account that you were following because you were interested in the content?

By golly, you’d probably follow them back!

By following the audience you want to reach, you’re making them aware of your existence. You show up in their notifications as a recent new follower, and it’s easy for them to just press the + button to follow you as well.

Screenshot showing google search results

Let’s use an example. Let’s say you were a personal trainer, and you had online fitness programs. You wanted to build your Instagram account to build your email list and conversions.

You might identify that the uber-popular Instagrammer Kayla Itsines already reaches your target audience. You create similar content and inspire people on your Instagram feed to lose weight and feel better about themselves.

Chances are, Kayla’s audience will also enjoy the content that you publish.

Follow Your Target Audience For 30% More Followers

Because there’s a process for everything, here’s the ideal follow/unfollow process – so you don’t lose friends and alienate people by spamming them with following and unfollowing them.

Step 1: Find accounts who already have large followings of your target audience.

Step 2: Click on to their followers, and begin following any of the accounts that don’t look like spam and match your target audience.

Step 3: Repeat this every hour up to 60 new follows.

After you’ve followed these accounts, you can increase the chances that they’ll follow you back by engaging with them on Instagram. Like and comment on their posts.

We’ve found that around 30% of the accounts that we follow will follow us back.

This might seem super promising – after all, you could just follow thousands of people every day and grow super quickly, right?

Well, not necessarily. Instagram doesn't want any spambots mass following and unfollowing, so it’s imposed follow limits.

You can only follow 7500 accounts, and per hour you can only perform 60 actions (follow and unfollow).

Protip: Even though there are follow limits, Instagram still may flag you as a spammer and block your account from following and unfollowing anyone if you’re hitting the pavement too hard. Don’t be too aggressive. You don’t want to lose your privileges or be seen as a spammer.

Unfollow The People Who Haven’t Followed You Back

This is called the follow/unfollow method rather than just the "follow" method because you don’t want to continue following any accounts that have not followed you back.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. You can only follow 7500 accounts overall on Instagram, and you don’t want to waste those follows.

  2. If you’re following far more people than are following you, this works as anti social proof. This means that if your audience sees that you have fewer followers than you’re following, they won’t want to follow you. It’s like asking every girl you know to prom just to have a backup. It seems desperate.

In the past you could use a tool called Crowdfire to see who is not following you back, and then go unfollow them. However since early 2017 Instagram stopped allowing third-party tools to see one-to-one relationship data like who you’re following but isn’t following you back. So Crowdfire no longer works.

Now the best way to do it is manually. Set a schedule for yourself to follow and unfollow. Maximize the amount of follows you can do in one day by fulfilling Instagram’s limit of 60 actions per hour as much as possible, and then set one or two days per week when you only unfollow.

Remember: first followed, first unfollowed. Meaning unfollow those you followed first who aren’t following you. If you just followed the person a day ago and they’re not following you yet, it might be premature to unfollow them.

Protip: To avoid being spammerific, I highly recommend you interact with the people you’re following before unfollowing them. Go into your feed periodically and like their posts, comment on their photos and videos and engage with them.

If they still don’t follow you, chances are it’s because they made the conscious decision not to.

If you just unfollow people a couple of days after following them, you may not have given them the chance to notice you and follow you back.

Strategy #3: Using Relevant Hashtags

I recently moved "back" to Vancouver after a short, 6 month stint of vagabonding.

Because I was new (again) to the city and had never lived in the city proper before, I didn’t really know what was going on. And guys, lemme just say – summers in Vancouver are the bomb dot com, and I wanted to stay active in the community with events.

So, I took it to Instagram.

I searched a few Vancouver-related hashtags to see what people were posting about, and ended up finding some great Instagram accounts that have led me to some events and things to do around the city:

Screenshot showing google search results

You better bet that once I found those accounts, I followed them.

And I followed them because they were using the hashtags I was searching.

On social media, especially Instagram, hashtags are still a highly relevant way to search for content surrounding a theme or idea.

Your audience is almost definitely using hashtags, too, so to grow your account, it’s important that you use all of the hashtags Instagram allows for each post.

Right now, each post on Instagram can have 30 hashtags.

I highly suggest having a bank of hashtags that you can use and pull from. We sort our hashtags into a spreadsheet that help us organize which we want to use for each post, so we can maximize the impact of each post.

Brainstorm 30-50 hashtags that you can use on a regular basis and paste them into a spreadsheet for easy tracking.

Sumo does this in a tab on our Instagram marketing plan. Don’t want to make your own? Grab ours for free by clicking the button below:

Download the Instagram Marketing Plan

Once you have a list of relevant hashtags for your brand, you want to use them in your posts.

Don’t actually post them in your post, however. Comment on the post after it’s up so that you don’t break the flow of the nice Instagram post. See how we’ve done this with our posts:

Not sure which hashtags to use?

Search popular accounts similar to yours to see what hashtags they use. Then, allow yourself to be sucked down the rabbit hole. Click on the hashtag and see what the top posters are using.

Protip: Choose hashtags that aren’t too big, but aren’t tiny, either. If you have fewer than 10,000 followers, aim for over 100,000 posts, but under 1,000,000. You want to aim to get to the "Top Posts" of those hashtags, which isn’t outside of the realm of possibility if you choose hashtags that aren’t too huge.

Strategy #4: Engage With Other Accounts to Get More Followers

Let’s face it. You’re not Beyonce.

Screenshot showing google search results

I know. Shocking.

So as a regular user of social media, one of the best things is to get comments and engagement on your posts, right?

And this is especially true if you don’t have a ton of followers and you haven’t become accustomed to dozens of comments on each Facebook post, Tweet, or ‘gram.

If you even have just a small following you’d probably recognize a user who comments on a post every once in awhile or likes your posts and likely start following them back.

That’s why engaging with your target audience on Instagram is a crazy effective way to not only grow your following, but also build relationships with your target audience.

Not only that, but it’s effective in gaining social proof. After all, if you're engaging with the people you follow on Instagram, they’re more likely to engage with your posts. And if your posts consistently have a large number of "likes" and comments on them, others will see you as more legit and be more likely to follow suit.

There are three ways to engage on Instagram for more growth:

  1. Engage with the users you’re already following. Like the posts in your feed, comment on any that catch your eye, and message the people who resonate with you. This will help you increase the ratio of people you follow who follow you back, as well as the engagement on your own posts.

  2. Engage with users who are following your "competition". Visit your competitors Instagram profile page, click on their number of followers, then like or comment on their posts. This exposes you to new audiences who may not have been following you before (without necessarily having to follow them).

  3. Engage with the people who use relevant hashtags. Look up hashtags relevant to your niche or industry and engage with the posts under that hashtag.

The 2 Paid Ways of Getting More Followers

Luckily, there are a lot of uber-effective free methods to getting more Instagram followers.

And let’s say you’re using them all.

You’re following and engaging with your target audience, working with similar accounts on share for shares, and using hashtags like a boss.

But you’re as impatient as me standing in line at the gelato shop. You want to get it moving faster.

One way to get that line moving faster is to use these paid methods of growing your account. If you have a bit of money to spend on your growth, you can push that needle even further.

All of these methods are based around working with other accounts that are larger than yours to get in front of their audience.

Before you jump into all of the methods, know that the effectiveness of each of these methods depends on a few factors related to the accounts you’re working with:

  1. The size of the account. The more followers the account has, the more followers the call to action on the post will get in front of, which generally means more followers for you.

  2. The engagement of the account. The account could have 6 million followers, but if most of those followers are spambots or completely unengaged, you won’t get as many followers (not to mention that the followers you do get will be useless).

  3. The relevancy of the account you’re working with. If you have a gourmet foods store and you’re working with entrepreneurship accounts, chances are you won’t get as much bang for your buck. Focus on working with only highly relevant accounts that reach the audience you want to reach.

  4. The strength of the call to action in the post. Instead of just asking the account you’re working with to tag you in the caption, tell them you want a call to action to follow you. If you’re a brand and want to drive sales and traffic to your product pages, you can do so too, but remember that if they’re following you, you can put that post in front of them at any time.

  5. The day of the week and time of day the post is posted. The first time we ever paid for a shoutout, I didn’t know this was such a big factor. The account owner recognized my ignorance in this regard, and decided to post the shoutout on a Friday night – one of the worst performing days and times on his feed. Shady of him, and silly of me to not have thought of this. After all, Instagram is a feed, and if nobody is online when your post is published, your results will be bleak. The account had almost a million followers, and we only got around 25 new followers from it. Overall, it should have been 2.5-4x that amount.

Tools: To find out almost all the data you need on other accounts to get the largest ROI for your money when working with them, the best tool out there we’ve found is SocialBook. There is a 3-day free trial to check it out, and not only can you learn valuable data about your own audience, but also other accounts as well.[*]

For example, you can find the engagement ratings of any account (and compare and contrast):

Screenshot showing google search results

One of the best features is finding the most liked and commented on posts on any account you are interested in potentially working with:

Screenshot showing google search results

Which will allow you to know what works with the other accounts audience so you can then reverse-engineer a popular post for maximum ROI.

Equipped with a badass tool and the knowledge of all the factors that make a post effective (or not!), let’s get into the paid methods of growing your account.

Strategy #1: Pay for Big Accounts to Shout You Out

So you know how I told you about share for shares (S4S)?

To refresh your memory, these are a free way of working with similar accounts that reach the audience that you want to reach, to put your content in front of their audience (and vice versa).

Usually, with a free S4S, you work with accounts around a similar size as yours to make it fair. But if you're impatient or also want to work with accounts much larger than yours, you can get larger accounts to "shout you out".

This is where you pay authoritative accounts in your industry to perform a "shoutout", where they share your content for a fee. They include a call to action in the caption to follow your account or click the link in your bio.

Here’s an example of a shoutout that @Millionaire_mentor did with @Durothreads, driving followers to their bio:

Screenshot showing google search results

Many Instagram accounts operate almost solely for this purpose – they have built up strong followings just so they can charge other accounts to get in front of their audience.

If you work with accounts with over 500,000 followers, you can usually see anywhere between 20-50 new followers (0.01%) from one shoutout.

Shoutouts usually go up for a period of time from one hour to one day. The account owner then removes them (because they’re no longer relevant). Don’t bother paying for a shoutout to be up longer than a day. The amount of followers you’ll get from a shout will have diminishing returns.

Shoutouts can cost anywhere from $5-$75+ depending on the size of the account and the volume of shoutouts you pay for. Aim for around $50 per shoutout – you should be able to work with large, engaged accounts for that price.

When you’re working with accounts for any of these paid methods, you need to come up with the caption. Ensure the caption has a clear call to action to follow your account, tagging you more than once in it:

Screenshot showing google search results

This was an effective shout we did with another account.

Protip: Some of the accounts that charge for shoutouts are a bit shady. You’ll have to monitor the account to make sure the shoutout is done. Also make sure that you tell them exactly what you want in the caption (and ensure they include the call to action "follow [your username]" or any other call to action).

Strategy #2: Pay for Larger Accounts to Post a Screenshot Of Your Account

There’s another, even more effective way to get more followers by working with other accounts for paid opportunities.

There’s no mistaking these posts – the sole purpose of them is to drive followers to your account.

These work like a shoutout, except that instead of reposting (or recreating) one of your posts with an inspirational quote or image, the account takes a screenshot of your account, and posts it to their account, asking their followers to follow you.

These can drive a flood of followers to your account if your content is compelling to the host account’s audience, so naturally they are more expensive than a shoutout.

Depending on the size of the account, you can expect to pay anywhere from $40-$150 per screenshot, or (as some Instagrammers call it) "screener".

With "screeners", we’ve seen 50-250 new followers or more.

Protip: How your account as a whole looks when somebody lands on your profile is important for branding and visual appeal. This is especially true for screenshot shoutouts. If you decide to do screenshot shoutouts, make sure the posts to your feed work together and provide a compelling picture of what you do.

Whether you choose to tackle all of the methods or just the free methods of growing your following, you should be able to grow your account rapidly with the strategies in this chapter.

Now, you’re ready to move onto Chapter 4 that will show you how to use your following to drive traffic to your website.

Running short on time? Click the button below to download a free eBook with this entire process, including bonus material like our Instagram marketing plan and SOPs.

Download the FREE Instagram marketing swipe file

And then, you're free to move on!

Click here to go to Chapter 4

P.S. Want to learn the 10 growth hacks we’ve used to grow our email list to over 100,000 subscribers once people get to our site via Instagram and other channels? Click here for our most actionable growth hacking ideas to grow your email list and traffic.


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