How I Grew My Instagram Following

I had the idea for this post as I spent an extra 30 min yesterday filming a video about farmer cheese, picking up a grilled cheese sandwich as part of an exchange to promote National Grilled Cheese today (it’s today), and buying a $9 sushi donut because it’s the first place I’ve seen them in Chicago.

I did all of this for Instagram.

If you don’t use your Instagram as a marketing tool or as an extension of your blog or other online presence, this may seem absurd. For me, I absolutely love it. Ever since I started my blog in 2014 I have loved taking and sharing pictures of food, although at that time they were horribly unappetizing. I love finding new products, I love sharing them, and I love eating them.

I started putting serious work into growing my Instagram account in October of 2015. At that time I had around 600 followers and to date I have a little over 19,100. I have in no way exploded in growth as I’ve seen other accounts do, but I’m proud of the work I’ve put in and I love my colorful pictures of food.

I have reached a point where I am able to charge for images (should I choose to), which is another reason I take it so seriously. It is now a (small) part of my income, but when that shift happened it became more than slapping up a picture whenever I felt like it — it became a job. A job I love and treat with respect.

I wanted to share the steps I took to invest in and grow my account. Different people have different strategies and what works for one genre may not work for another. Based on conferences I’ve been to and information I’ve gleaned from others, many of these steps are basic and should help you out in your own journey. If you have no desire to use your account for anything besides personal entertainment and sharing with friends, there’s no reason for you to put this much work into it — remember, you do you.

In a little over a year I've grown my Instagram following from 600 to over 19,100. Here's a look at how I grew my Instagram following.

1. Figure out your goal

What do you want your feed to portray? Do you share pictures of food? Do you want to focus on fitness and workout videos? Lifestyle? Whatever you choose to focus on, do that really well.

My feed was originally only food. My intent was to show people that it’s possible to live a happy, healthy, and balanced life and still enjoy donuts and cookies. I love healthy food and I also love desserts. So often people think the key to being healthy is to ONLY eat healthy food. I wanted to show that that isn’t the case.

Over time, I felt like my Instagram was becoming more separate from this blog itself, which obviously talks about more than food. I started to put more of myself up and share more of my story to those followers who may not even know who I am (not everyone follows you on all channels). That helped get a more positive response, which in turn helped things grow further.

2. Post consistently

When I started posting more than once a day, my engagement increased. I currently post twice a day — once when I wake up and once in the evening. If I have extra photos I’ll post one around the lunch hour as well.

If you have a business page set up, you can check your insights to see when the best times are to post and what pictures are getting the most engagement. Figure out a schedule that works for you and stick to it.

3. Think ahead

Posting consistently means that you need to have enough material to do so. Since I post twice a day, I need to make sure I have at least two pictures ready to go. This means that I know what photos I have in my arsenal and when I need to shoot more. This means also paying attention to the time of day and the weather since I take my pictures with natural light. Once I had absolutely no idea what to post and took a picture of an overripe banana, asking people what they do with them. I’ve never gotten so many comments on a picture. Ha.

On some occasions when I have absolutely no material, I will reuse a photo from a long time ago. Don’t worry, no one remembers. 🙂

4. Composition

When it comes to actually taking the picture, think about what looks best. When I take my pictures, I don’t only think about the picture itself, but how the entire feed will look once the image is posted. For me, that means a lot of white or light backgrounds to really highlight what I’m trying to share while also not cluttering up the entire feed.

There are tons of tips on how to arrange your photo, but this is unique to each person’s style and genre, so experiment until you find what works for you.

5. Edit pictures 

This is probably one of my biggest pieces of advice. Once I started editing my pictures, it became a whole new ballgame. Several people didn’t believe I only used my phone to take them. Honestly, I’ve only used a DSLR once and it terrified me.

Two of the biggest photo editing apps are VSCO and Snapseed. I only use VSCO, but know several people who use both or more. VSCO is not the most intuitive app to use, but once you figure out what settings you want for your images, editing them becomes super easy and quick. I had to look up some tutorials to figure it out at first, but now I am done editing a picture in less than 30 seconds.

6. Captions

I used to not leave any captions or just a very literal one telling what the picture was. This didn’t have the best results.

When you write captions for your photos, make them personal. That doesn’t mean go into some long story about your personal life, but let your personality shine through. Sometimes I write the most absurd captions, sometimes they’re serious and meant to convey a point I think is important, and sometimes it’s about how I’m eating sliced turkey for dinner.

Find your voice and people will respond.

7. Hashtags

Hashtags are important in that they allow new people to find you. You are allowed up to 30, so feel free to use them all. I have different blocks of hashtags that I use with different types of photos. If I post a food that I’ve gotten in Chicago, I use the hashtags pertinent to that. If I post a fitness picture, I have a different set of hashtags focusing on fitness.

Do some research and see what people in your niche are using for hashtags. Keep them saved on your phone so that you don’t always have to type them all out when you post.

8. Tags

Tag everything you can in a photo. I have been contacted by brands after I’ve tagged them in a photo or featured on that brand’s page, increasing my exposure to a different audience. If I’ve made a smoothie, I make sure to tag Vitamix because that’s what I made it in. From that, some of my smoothie photos were featured on The FeedFeed’s page which has over a million followers.

One thing I would advise against is tagging people or brands that have nothing to do with your photo. Often, I will get tagged by another Instagrammer in what I’m assuming is a way to get my attention for me to like or repost the photo as some accounts do. I don’t, so it’s actually more annoying than anything. Just tag things affiliated with what’s in your photo.

9. Interact

Instagram is a SOCIAL network. I find that interacting with other people helps a lot in forming new relationships and keeping people coming back. I don’t comment for the sake of commenting since I’m usually trying to scroll through while walking around the city, but if it’s a friend or something I really want to comment on, I will.

I also try and take the time to respond to comments on my own photos. If someone has taken the time to write something to me, I almost always write back. If it’s obviously a bot comment or something like three hearts emojis, I probably won’t, but actual comments are the jam.

10. Get some help

There are many ways to cheat the system these days with Instagram. You can buy followers and pay for software that will leave random comments on posts. These are pretty easy to tell because they are either super generic (“nice one!”) or are just so absurd I don’t know why anyone would click on them (“you’d be great to rep our brand! contact us!”).

I don’t advocate for either approach, but I do use a program called Archie that likes photos using certain hashtags. That’s all it does — likes the photo. No annoying comments, no requests for follows, just a like. It’s the same thing I would be doing if I had 13214547567 hours to explore the “you might like” page (which I still do from time to time). Sometimes these likes convert to followers and sometimes they don’t, but I don’t have time to sit on one social media account and search for every picture I might like.

Instagram is one of my favorite tools and I’ve met so many amazing people through it. If you have any questions about anything I didn’t cover, let me know in the comments!

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23 Comments

  1. April 12, 2017 / 8:38 am

    YES! Loved this post. I’ve been trying to find my IG style and take more pics so that I have them on hand. I have a ways to go, but I know it will take time.
    Carrie this fit chick recently posted…Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

  2. April 12, 2017 / 10:19 am

    This is awesome Erin! Kudos to you for putting it together. I would say consistency is one of the biggest things that helped for me as well. Tagging other accounts too! Your IG is one of the best accounts!

  3. Nicci
    April 12, 2017 / 11:00 am

    Great tips, Erin. Your Instagram is informative, fun, and drool-worthy. (3 things I definitely look for when following accounts ;-)).

    Thanks for sharing and all that you do!

    XO

  4. April 12, 2017 / 11:32 am

    I LOVE what you’ve done with your IG account. I’m trying to find more time to focus on IG and growing it and am working on posting twice a day. I’ve even gone so far as to writing down those “national days” so I can post those on the Gram.
    Interesting about Archie, I’ve heard about it, and I’m definitely intrigued – I know some other bloggers who have also used it successfully.
    Ange // Cowgirl Runs recently posted…MEC Race 2 – Race RecapMy Profile

  5. April 12, 2017 / 1:17 pm

    I love how you look at Instagram! I feel the same way, it’s social, real, and you should share you and what you love with as decent of a picture as you can offer!
    Love the tips, thanks for always being so real ans transparent!

  6. April 12, 2017 / 3:10 pm

    I LOVEEEEE how you run all over the City to try cool foods for your feed. That’s the way to do it! Great tips, Erin! You’re ROCKING IG. Keep it up! 🙂
    Ashley @ A Lady Goes West recently posted…A Baby Goes WestMy Profile

  7. April 12, 2017 / 4:55 pm

    Thank you SO MUCH for posting this, Erin! Your feed is amazing, and your account is one I aspire to! Your hard work and dedication really shows. I love following you there.

    I do have a question about how to incorporate more professional photos into a feed that might not look that “pro” right off the bat. Mine, for example, haha. Eventually down the road a goal of mine is to get some professional headshots and fitness photos to use on my blog and Instagram. Since my feed isn’t exactly pro quality at the moment, how would that look if I all of a sudden had a few pro-looking shots thrown in? This is something I’ve always wondered about. I also wonder how everyone gets their pro shots of them just standing, posing, or engaged in some activity… I noticed for you, you’ve had friends take them. Did you schedule a “photo shoot” ahead of time, or did it just happen organically?

    That was a lot of questions – sorry girl! Love this post though, and I will definitely be referring back to it – Instagram is an account I really want to focus on growing!
    Ellyn @ In Fitness and In Health recently posted…12-Minute Abs On Fire WorkoutMy Profile

    • April 13, 2017 / 1:23 pm

      Hey Ellyn … I thought I’d chime in as I’ve faced similar issues.

      First off, I don’t think it seems odd to suddenly have nicer quality shots on your feed. But I do believe at that point you need to commit to being very critical about the quality of your content. As you can see from Erin’s posts, and other popular accounts, quality content is important on Instagram.

      But that does not mean you need a professional photoshoot everytime. Snapseed was mentioned in this article and that’s what I use. The majority of my content is also shot with my phone.

      You can certainly have friends help out too; “hey can you take a picture for me?” And yes, it wouldn’t hurt to schedule a shoot that will give you a handful of content that you can schedule accordingly for the future. Hope this helps!

    • April 13, 2017 / 2:52 pm

      Hi Ellyn!

      I think everyone has to start somewhere. If you go WAY back (bc I didn’t delete any old photos), I have non so good photos mixed in with better ones. Also, when I decided I really wanted to concentrate on it, I upped my bar for what I felt made the cut. Initially that meant posting less because I just didn’t have the quantity of photos to post at that time. Once a day – maybe every other day.

      In terms of the professional ones, I had the opportunity to take photos w the company I worked for at no cost to me which was awesome. I also hired a photographer to do a shoot. When I’m around friends who have a DSLR (bc I don’t), we will often take time to snap some pictures of each other. Even photos taken on my phone turn out well bc I can edit them w those apps.

      I hope that helped some! If you have more, don’t hesitate to email me! (erinsinsidejob@gmail.com)

  8. April 12, 2017 / 11:08 pm

    I swear you already posted on this topic and I was looking for that post the other day. Maybe you saw my search terms as posted this, LOL!!! Either way, thank you for sharing these tips 🙂 Another ‘grammer recommended VSCO and I downloaded it and was like WTF do I do with this? So, tutorials. Noted 🙂

  9. April 13, 2017 / 1:04 pm

    Didn’t know about Archie. I will definitely check it out. Thanks for these tips (@djkanoya)

    • April 13, 2017 / 1:07 pm

      Whoops spelled my name wrong, hi it’s Justin Kanoya 🙂

  10. April 13, 2017 / 9:52 pm

    This is great information, answered alot of my questions…thanks for sharing it.

  11. April 15, 2017 / 6:34 pm

    Wow, 19000 followers… I don’t even know how you did that (ok, you just explained how – LOL)… maybe I should put a little more effort into my IG account.
    San recently posted…Weekend recap + some random thoughts My Profile

  12. April 16, 2017 / 9:26 pm

    Love the tips, thank you for the post! I recently joined the SweatPink community after the Sonoma Fitapproach retreat, and I’m loving it.

  13. April 18, 2017 / 5:36 pm

    It’s so funny that I was just creeping your Instagram page and then thought “Wow, how do these accounts get so big” and voila, a post about it! 🙂

  14. April 19, 2017 / 3:14 pm

    LOVE that you did this organically for the most part and didn’t buy into a million loop giveaways like I see all over the Instasphere. I kept thinking that was the only way to grow, until I read this! Thank you for sharing and noting that it DOES take a lot of effort- throwing random pics up doesn’t cut it. Love the tip about tagging brands!!

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