Instagram Growth Hacks: Strategies to Avoid

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Are you on the hunt for Instagram growth hacks? Let’s talk about some of my tried and true methods.

If there’s one social media platform I know better than any other, it’s definitely Instagram. I try to use other platforms, of course, but my heart always comes back to those tiny squares of visual delight.

Having said that, with constantly shifting algorithms, I know how frustrating it can be to grow your Instagram following, which is why I want to share some tips and tricks that I’ve learned while trying to grow my own account.

I know what you’re thinking, though: Who is this chick? Her following isn’t that impressive. Why should I listen to her suggestions?

instagram growth

And you would be absolutely correct in that observation, but what I can tell you is I grew my following to over 1K followers in less than 28 days, and I continue to grow daily.

So with that being said, I want to help people fall back in love with the platform, and I’m going to do that by sharing the six biggest mistakes I see people make when trying to grow their Instagram account. If you’re doing any of the things listed below, hopefully changing something will help you fall back in love with Instagram.

Let’s give it a try, okay?

This post contains  affiliate links, but don’t worry, I only recommend things I truly believe in. Thank you for supporting Hustle and Hearts. You rock 😉

Get the Instagram insider scoop up with my Ebook, “Instagram Rediscovered.” Read on for more details. instagram growth hacks

Mistake #1: Going on Instagram follow sprees

This is probably the biggest and the most common mistake I see occur. I’ll look at a profile and see that the account has 500 followers. Ok, nothing wrong with that, but then I’ll look over and see they’re following 5000 accounts. Five thousand?!

Please don’t do this. Please.

The whole point of following accounts on Instagram is to gain inspiration, motivation, and entertainment from them; it’s not simply for a follow back. If we all just followed each other back there would be no point to Instagram. You only want to follow those accounts that truly interest you.

Now, I’ll be real with you guys here: sometimes I will follow an account because I think they could be my ideal reader, not necessarily because I’m interested in their content. I use my follow as a little friendly wave, saying, “Hey there, come on over to my profile, I think I have some content you might enjoy.” Sometimes they do follow, and sometimes they don’t.

If I engage with them and still don’t receive a follow then I assume they’re not interested in my content. At this point I will unfollow, because we’re probably not the right match for each other. However, if they do follow back then I take that as I just made a connection with someone who I can hopefully serve valuable content to.



Basically, there are three types of accounts you should follow:

1. Those you follow because you want the follow back (i.e. your readers/customers/clients)

2. Those you follow because you’re a fan and they inspire you (with no expectation of a follow back)

3. And those you follow because they have similar messaging to you. The hope here is that through engagement and forming a connection with those similar accounts, they may help promote your content to their community (assuming you return the favour!), plus you make a new friend 🙂

Note: please don’t follow people, have them follow you back, and then unfollow them, especially if they’ve been engaging with you. The only time I’ll do this is when I realize an account’s interests don’t align with the content I’m providing. Your follows are currency; spend the currency, but make sure you budget for what has true value for you. And again, make sure not to use your follows as your sole currency for growth. Yes, some growth comes from following, but the majority of it is going to come through your efforts with engagement.

Mistake #2: Not posting consistently on Instagram 

This is an obvious one, but there’s no denying that you have to post consistently on Instagram.

And no, I don’t mean three times per week. I mean once every day, at minimum.

Remember, you can always make quote graphics in Canva for free, you can take multiple shots of the same thing at different angles, or you can even do some reposting of content (just make sure you ask permission AND give credit).

Having said all that, I know how incredibly time consuming creating visual content can be, especially if you already have a full plate and photography isn’t something you’re passionate about.

If you fit into this category, but you still want to have that professional Instagram feed that helps you build your brand and online presence, I highly recommend sprinkling in some styled stock photography into your feed. 

No, these don’t have to be the cheesy, generic photos that everyone uses. And no, your entire feed doesn’t have to become stock images.

You can find gorgeous, styled stock images that can you seamlessly add to your own content to help give you a professional (and consistent!) edge. Because again, consistency is an absolute must for Instagram growth.

If you need a little help staying consistent with your Instagram content, I highly recommend downloading these FREE styled stock images from The Styled Stock Society.

I love the Styled Stock Society Society not only because their images are totally dreamy and professional, but also because they provide plenty of lifestyle images instead of the standard desktop flatlays that you see on everyone’s Instagram feed. Boring. 

You can check out the rest of their extensive photo collections and membership pricing by clicking here

And don’t forget to download your FREE images here.

Trust me, whether you have the budget for a membership site or not, as a content creator, you should always pick up FREE photos when you can. They’re not only great for Instagram, but you can also use them for Pinterest graphics, featured images on blog posts, email newsletter headers, and any marketing materials you’re putting out for your business.

Mistake #3: Generic Instagram Captions

This is one I see a lot, and it might be something that people disagree with me on, but personally, I feel like the point of Instagram is to let people into your life.

One way to do that is through thoughtful, interesting, witty, and/or entertaining captions.

Because yeah, an Instagram feed is usually a highly edited version of real life when you look at the pictures, but it’s in the caption that you’re really able to get to know the person behind the account. Not the brand, not the business, not the product. But actually the real person and their real life.

It’s the followers who read your captions and engage back with them that are your true customers/clients/readers. The people who don’t read captions and just like for the hope you’ll like back are probably never going to invest in whatever you’re trying to promote.

My point?

You want people to actually like you, not just double tap on your photo. You want people to know you. And most importantly, you want people to trust you. To do this, give them a glimpse into your real life with a clever caption, or just let people in on your life a little, like I did here.

instagram caption

See, how talked to my reader in a relatable, enagaging tone? I didn’t sound robotic, I opened up about how I was truly feeling (even when that feeling wasn’t so great), and I asked a question at the end to hopefully stir up some engagement.

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Mistake #4: Following unrelated Instagram accounts

This is a mistake I still make on occasion. When somebody follows me and I like their account, I feel inclined to follow back, naturally. And sometimes this is okay, but when you start following too many completely random accounts, I really think it starts confusing Instagram.

What do I mean by this?

Well, Instagram is not a human being. We know this, of course, but I think we often forget it’s the algorithm that determines how often our account appears to potential followers. Why does this matter? Because knowing that the success of your Instagram is in the hands of an algorithm means you have to make it as clear as possible to the algorithm what kind of IG account you have.

RELATED: The Ultimate Strategy For Beating The Instagram Algorithm 

What’s one way to do this? Make sure you’re following accounts within your own circle. If you do this, it increases your chances that Instagram will suggest your account to other IG users as a similar account. For example, you know how when you follow a new account and then below a list of “suggested” accounts appears? Like this:

instagram growth

You want to be included in that “suggested” list. How do you get on that list? In my experience, you need to follow and engage within your circle of potential followers. Following a bunch of fitness accounts when you run a bakery probably isn’t going to do you any good, while following fellow bakers, food bloggers, and local bakeries will do you good.



Pro tip

When you go to a new account, at the bottom of the bio, you’ll see “Followed by…” and then a list of all those you’re following who also follow that particular account.

You want to make sure that number is relatively high.

How high depends on how large your account is, but at least make sure 5 other accounts you follow also follow that new account.

This ensures your following within your own circle and increases your chances of being suggested as a new account. Here’s a screenshot of Rachel’s Instagram of The Confused Millennial. Our accounts aren’t exactly the same, but they’re similar, meaning that “followed by” number is relatively high.

Mistake #4: Not engaging/liking the wrong things on Instagram 

Again, this should be fairly obvious, but to get engagement on your photos, you have to engage on other people’s photos. There’s no way around this. Having a large following is great, but if you don’t have people who actually care about what you post, really, what’s the point?

So by engage I mean “like” and “comment” on accounts you actually feel a connection with. Take the time to read someone’s caption and say something about it. Please, please, please don’t leave a comment like “beautiful” or “great pic.” If you’re looking for a comment for comment scenario, this will do nothing for growing your community. Also, for the most part, you’ll find a lot of authentic people on IG who won’t engage back with comments that appear spammy. I, for one, know I don’t. In fact, if I get a generic comment, I intentionally won’t engage back. It’s all about being genuine and authentic with those that you engage with.

Also, here’s mistake I used to make a couple years ago: I would go look at all the likes I had on a particular post. I would then go like back all those people’s most recent posts. I figured that was the right thing to do, kind of like a thank you.

No.

Don’t make that mistake.

While returning the love is great, it’s more important to be genuine. And trust me, if somebody is engaging enough with you and you’ve chosen to engage back, Instagram will make sure their account shows up at the top of your feed so you don’t miss their recent content (one of the perks of the new algorithm). But, if an account has nothing to do with your niche and you know you can’t add any sort of value to that account, then there’s no point in engaging back with a like or comment.

For example, if you sell women’s clothing and you have a 60 year old man who constantly likes your pictures, you are not obligated to go back and likes his pictures. He’s likely using the like for a like rule, meaning he’s only liking your pictures with the expectation that you’ll like his photos back. Is that going to get you sales? No, so don’t waste your time on it. Make sense?

RELATED: Why Instagram Matters + How You Should Be Using It


Mistake #6: Average photos and an inconsistent Instagram theme

Now, I’m not one of those people who believes an account needs to have a highly specific theme. When you’re trying to insert your personality into your Instagram account, I think it’s important not to get too stuck on making sure all your pictures have a pop of blue in them, for example.

It might look nice for a bit, but eventually you’ll get tired of it, your photos will seem forced, and the lack of authenticity in your feed will show. You can always throw that pop of blue in throughout, but just don’t get too hung up on it. I also don’t believe in applying the same exact filter to every single picture. To me, it’s boring, and I think every picture needs something different.

Having said that, your images should have a consistent look and feel to them. If all your images are very light and bright, try not to throw a dark and moody pictures in there. If you have a very minimalist theme to your feed, don’t randomly pop up a picture full of bright colours. Those pictures are going to stick out like a sore thumb.

If you look at my feed, all my images are very bright with lots of natural light. You’ll also notice all my images are very girly and “pretty” (i.e. lots of pink, makeup, flowers).

Why?

Because this is my personality and when you use your IG to match your personality, the feed is going to come across as much more authentic and “you.”

instagram growth

Also, make sure your images are good quality.

Now, I’m not saying you need a fancy camera for your Instagram. I actually only use my camera phone for the majority of my images, but what I am saying is don’t use the flash, don’t post pictures from that dark restaurant you ate at last night, and please avoid having every other pictures be a selfie.

Keeping it real is good, but Instagram is still a highly curated social platform that relies on nice visuals.

As I mentioned above, let your real self shine through in the caption but keep the visuals looking top-notch.

Remember, it’s all about balance. Don’t be too picky and make all your pictures look the exact same, but also don’t be too lax and have none of your photos relate.

You can check out this book if you need help with photography, composition, and styling on Instagram

Also, keep in mind, as mentioned above, if taking pictures is just not your thing, and you’re struggling to build a feed of high quality, branded photos, I strongly suggest checking out the extensive photo collections from Styled Stock Society

This membership will allow you to create the feed of your dreams without the hassle of taking all your own pictures. Hello massive time saver.

styled stock society

You can also download your FREE images from the Styled Stock Society here. 

Pro Tip

Stop using filters. I hate to be this person, but filters are so last year. But seriously, they are. There are a couple that are okay, but nothing makes my pictures look better than when I actually edit them myself to give them the optimal contrast, brightness, warmth, etc. Simply upload your photo into Instagram and click “edit”, then play with the different settings to get your image looking how you want it to look, no third party editing app needed. Remember, you want some consistency between your photos, so if you have a bright feed, but a dark image, use the edit feature to brighten that image up! Below I used IG editing to do this. You’ll notice the first image is slightly different, but the lighting was exactly the same (the downside of deleting pictures to maximize storage on your phone…).

instagram editing

I didn’t realize I had so many thoughts and opinions when it comes to Instagram! If you’d like to follow me along on my own Instagram journey, you’ll find me over at @hustleandhearts

I hope you found these tips helpful!

As mentioned above, there is currently a post on the blog all about how to beat the Instagram algorithm. Feel free to check it out here.

If you’ve already read Part 1 on How To Beat The Instagram Algorithm, there’s a Part 2 you can get by providing your email below. I’ll send the strategies right to your inbox. You’ll then have 5 strategies to boost your following from this blog post, and 10 strategies to beat the Instagram algorithm. Let’s build that Instagram account, ladies!

UPDATE

I also recently wrote an ebook on the topic of Instagram, where I even further expand on how to build your Instagram following.

I suggest starting with my blog posts, and signing up for my email newsletter; however, if you found this post helpful and you want to dive deep into Instagram, I’d love for you to check out, “Instagram Rediscovered.”

grow your instagram account

In “Instagram Rediscovered,” we chat about:

1) Writing captions that inspire engagement

My full-time job is in copywriting, so I have quite a bit of expert knowledge to share on this topic.

2) Why you need to build relationships off of Instagram

Plus I’ll give you a strategy for how to do this in an impactful way that helps you build your following, create connections, and expand your business.

3) The truth about the follow/unfollow trend on Instagram

I’m not going to sugarcoat this topic, like most people do, and instead I’m going to talk to you about it in a way that you’ve probably never heard before. By doing this we’ll be able to get clear about how people actually grow on Instagram.

4) We’ll talk about how consistency is key on Instagram, but I’ll also share with you what exactly you need to be consistent with

Oh, and bonus strategies for streamlining your posting, so you’re not on your phone 24/7!

Plussssss other tips and tricks to ensure you’re following the right people on Instagram, and using the platform in a strategic way that serves you and your business!

This is a 39 page ebook, and I promise it’s jam packed with action based strategies that are different from everything you’ve read before.

If you’re ready to tackle Instagram, and start thinking about the platform in a new and strategic way, check out the ebook for only $15

If you have questions, feel free to hit leave a comment below. I’d be happy to chat with you about all things Instagram.

And, if you found this post helpful, please feel free to share this image with your Pinterest folllowers

boost instagram following

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34 Comments

  1. Reply

    Kait

    May 5, 2017

    Andrea, I love this post! So funny because I was JUST talking in a Facebook group about how I am getting super discouraged that people are following me, I follow back, and then they’re unfollowing me (ugh… so dirty feeling). I started blogging two months ago and I am having a hard time building my following because I have to search so hard for authenticity. Your tips are so helpful! By the way, I already follow you and you really do have a great Instagram. I am going to take some of these tips and run with them!! Have a great weekend xx

    • Reply

      Andrea

      May 5, 2017

      Kait, it makes me so happy to read comments like this! Seriously, so happy :). I’m so glad you find these tips helpful. They’re honestly just really little things, but I think they make all the difference. I’m sorry to hear your difficulty with Instagram, though. If you ever want/need some personalized tips, feel free to get in touch! And I hope you have a great weekend as well! xox

    • Reply

      Cheyenne

      January 5, 2018

      This article was super helpful – I’m finally getting used to posting everyday or at least trying to and it’s def helped.

      • Reply

        Andrea

        January 8, 2018

        Glad you were able to find something in there that helped you, Cheyenne! 🙂

  2. Reply

    Samantha Lee

    May 5, 2017

    Following on Instagram (@wonderlandsam) and got over here through Facebook. 🙂 Thanks for sharing -these are all really great tips. I’d actually LOVE to hear even more about how you grew your account. 🙂

    http://www.wonderlandsam.com

    • Reply

      Andrea

      May 10, 2017

      Hi Samantha! I’ll be sure to share more content about IG 🙂

  3. Reply

    @lisaelaine_

    May 8, 2017

    Wow I really enjoyed this blog and found it super helpful! I’m going through my IG right now and make sure my pictures all have a common edit theme! I see what you mean of how it makes it look good together!

  4. Reply

    Monica

    May 8, 2017

    Congrats on increasing your Instagram following to over 1k in such a short time! I’ve been on Instagram for almost a year and I still haven’t cracked 1k. Loved your tips! I’m definitely guilty of mistake #3. Trying to post on Instagram everyday is so HARD!

    Monica | elegantista.com

    • Reply

      Andrea

      May 10, 2017

      I totally understand, it can be overwhelming, but I promise, you’ll see an improvement with your engagement when you do. I’m so glad you found this post helpful 🙂

  5. Reply

    Lanae Bond

    May 9, 2017

    There are some many things I did not know about Instagram! It is more than just taking pretty pictures but engagement, caption, hashtags, and so much more. Thank you for providing this information because I really did not know what I was doing! lol

  6. Reply

    sian

    May 12, 2017

    This post was awesome. I’ve technically speaking had instagram for aages but I used it to look at food photos and that was it. Then I started a blog about a month ago and I realised I needed to build a presence and instagram was part of that. For someone not used to spending a lot of time on social media it was a bit of a shock.. having to learn how to cheat it and understand this beast of a thing.. So yeah thanks 🙂 This has given me some stuff to think about….

  7. Reply

    Anna

    May 16, 2017

    Loved this post Andrea! I feel you. It’s amazing what can be done with a little goal and a lot of engagement. I grew to 10k in a year, and did a lot of the same things! I really relate to your point about authentic captions and editing photos. Keep being awesome!

    • Reply

      Andrea

      May 18, 2017

      Thanks Anna! 🙂 I didn’t see this post because for some reason it was put into my spam comments (silly wordpress!). Love your IG. You grew so fast and it’s super inspiring, xo

  8. Reply

    Lisa

    May 30, 2017

    Thanks so much for this post! As someone who started their Instagram account in December and only just recently hit 650 followers, I’m always looking for the best advice on how to build my following. I feel like this was an easy to read post with some good tips that I will put into practice and hopefully gain more blog followers! Thanks!

  9. Reply

    Mishelle Milne

    May 31, 2017

    Who knew there was so much political drama to Instagram! I don’t seem to have mastered the art of this site yet. It’s been 3 months and I only have 80 followers. But I will admit I interact with these followers regularly and have developed some lovely online friendships from them.
    I will most definitely try your tips, thank you.

  10. Reply

    Zainah Peerally

    June 2, 2017

    I loved it! Very well explained… new sub

  11. Reply

    Lailah

    September 29, 2017

    I absolutely loved this post. I did not know the people you follow and engage with also affects your algorithm on instagram. I also hate the follow for follow if not they unfollow. Seriously what makes them think you’ll follow back if your accounts are not even similiar. I’ll def. need to check who I follow and who I angage with now. There’s a lot of accounts I follow that have to do nothing with my blog and my content. I guess I’ll leave those for my personal account. I also think that posting a selfie once in a while is good too. I personally like to know who’s behind the account and who am I engaging with. I hate accounts that only post flatlays or product pictures and then write a caption on this test they approved or a new car they bought, lol. Loved, loved all your tips.

    • Reply

      Andrea

      September 29, 2017

      Thanks, Lailah!

      Of course nobody really knows how the IG algorithm works, but these are just some observations I’ve noticed myself. I like to think of the IG algorithm as really dumb, and the only way I can make it understand me is to be very clear with what kind of account I am. Having said that, I might occasionally follow an account that doesn’t relate to my blog, but for the most part, I try to engage with aspirational accounts or potential readers.

      I’m glad you found something helpful in there! 🙂

  12. Reply

    Elisabeth

    October 25, 2017

    I love these tips! So helpful to see all your tips come together on your page! I’ve been following you for a while and your feed is so lively, definitely showing personality instead of just the same filter throughout. Thanks for mentioning how boring that looks after a while! Great tips, love reading your page. Thank you!

  13. Reply

    Nina | Lemons and Luggage

    January 7, 2018

    Interesting about the filters. I really like some of them, especially for pictures I took with my phone. For pictures taken with my camera and already edited in RawTherapee I usually don’t use filters because I really don’t think the filters improve the image. I think that’s the important thing to think about: Does this really improve your picture/account or not? 🙂

    • Reply

      Andrea

      January 8, 2018

      Yeah, I think it just depends! Totally preference :). I mostly just say that because sometimes filters can look really generic or unnatural. But at the same time, sometimes they can look really great with certain feeds. And yes! Definitely, it’s all about finding what works best for your own feed!

  14. Reply

    Maya Maceka

    January 8, 2018

    I read this post for the first time a few months ago, but I am actually SO glad that I found it on Facebook and re-read it tonight. One of my blog/business goals for 2018 is to better my Instagram strategy. Needless to say, I will be sure to follow your advice and AVOID these common mistakes!

    Like #5… my captions are SO generic sometimes. Definitely going to work on making them more personal.

    Also, just opened the rest of your Instagram posts in new tabs. Ready to get my learnin’ on! 🙂

    • Reply

      Andrea

      January 8, 2018

      You’re a gem! Instagram is really just all about trial and error. I’ve loved it, and I’ve hated it. It’s really just all about finding that balance between growing, but also still authentically engaging. Hope you’re able to find some stuff in those articles that helps you!! 🙂

  15. Reply

    Krista @ Reroute Lifestyle

    January 8, 2018

    I *LOVE* how this post goes above-and-beyond in terms of the unique tips. I keep telling myself I’m going to try focusing on Instagram… but I always make excuses.

    I especially LOVE that tip to follow accounts related to the message you’re putting out – that’s SO helpful, girl!

    xoxo

  16. Reply

    Brianna

    January 8, 2018

    These tips are super helpful – thanks for sharing them with us!

  17. Reply

    Lauryn Mills

    January 30, 2018

    Hey girl!! Loved the tips you gave, I hate when people do that follow for follow thing. Wayyyy to spammy for me.
    Awesome post!
    -Lauryn
    (elegantchances.com)

    • Reply

      Andrea

      February 1, 2018

      Thanks, Lauryn! Yeah, it’s the worst. It’s all about using Instagram for engagement! Everyone gets wayyyy too caught up in growth. Glad it helped 🙂

  18. Reply

    Lauren

    September 21, 2018

    Andrea! Thank you so much for the helpful tips! Instagram is hard to build up since so many millions of people are on it and theres a ton of bots out there! I’ll definitely but your advice to practice!
    Much love!

    • Reply

      Andrea

      September 25, 2018

      So happy that you found the tips helpful! Thanks Lauren 🙂

  19. Reply

    Laura

    December 30, 2018

    Your Instagram pictures look so good. What filter do you use to make them look bright but not too overexposed?

    • Reply

      Andrea

      January 3, 2019

      Hi Laura! Thanks so much :). I actually almost never use filters. I just edit the photo directly on the app. I’ll usually play around with brightness, contrast, warmth, highlights and shadows. It’s really easy, and it always makes my photos look good without having to use another app. Hope that helps! 🙂

  20. Reply

    Maddie

    February 5, 2019

    This is some really useful advice. Thank you for sharing because I’ve been looking everywhere for quality, unique advice on growing instagram. My following is still pretty low, but I’ll utilize this tips and HOPEFULLY I’ll see a difference. Thank you!

    • Reply

      Andrea

      February 5, 2019

      That’s great, Maddie! Happy to hear some of that resonated with you. I totally get it– Instagram can be super frustrating. Goodluck! 🙂

  21. Reply

    Smith

    April 11, 2019

    Hi Andrea, such an amazing ideas to start a blog on different niches. Really an useful post with clean and clear details. Thanks for sharing this post. Keep sharing.

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