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In this article, we are going to cover what should and shouldn’t be done as you learn how to grow Instagram followers organically.

Instagram is all about freedom and expression (think college, without all of the boring classes). However, with freedom comes responsibility. As a social media wizard (still waiting on my acceptance into Instagram Hogwarts), I have successfully launched and grown a number of Instagram accounts. With his experience comes knowledge. I have combined all of my favorite social-wizarding tips and tricks to help you lock in your own Instagram marketing plan. Now, onto the real reason you’re reading: the magic.

*Note from the author: I do not believe I am actually a wizard, but I do wish I was.*

How to Grow Instagram Followers Organically: Your To-Do List

Do your research
Like any new venture you take as an entrepreneur, you need to know what you’re getting into. So do your research. You’re already reading this series, so go you! If you haven’t already, try using Instagram as a user for a few weeks to understand what your fans are experiencing. Look through your explore tabs, follow your competitors and learn from the platform itself. Figure out what type of account you want to be, what community you want to break into and how you want to proceed.

Create a focused strategy
Instagram marketing is great for taking the focus off of sales and moving onto creating a lifestyle around your brand. Think of Instagram as an extension of your core products. However, this does not mean that you can go all willy-nilly with your content. It is important to develop a laser-focused strategy in order to build out content that represents your brand in the most authentic way. This allows your brand to target a niche community and become a regular part of that conversation.

Here are important things to develop in your content strategy:

How do you want to represent your brand/company? Are you going to be strictly informative and authoritative, or will you err on the side of fun? Are you willing to push boundaries and be controversial, or are you going to play it safe? Develop a definitive voice and make sure it is reflected in every single post. Yes. Every. Single. Post. Don’t get lazy here!

Which topics will you be posting on? Personally, a safe bet is to stick to 5-10 general topics you and your team can post within. This will ensure that your followers know what to expect from you. You’re not a wildcard account. If your fans are interested in music, don’t post about your favorite Thanksgiving recipe (pumpkin pie with whipped cream, duh).

Stance on important issues:
How are you going to address controversial topics? Will you avoid taking a stance or will you have a clear side you support? This is important during political races, social movements and anything in between. Again, the key is consistency. Your followers grow to expect a certain response from you (even if it is no response at all).

Time commitment:
Determine how much time you have and how much time you are willing to commit to Instagram marketing. While Instagram is fun and can be easy, building a fan base takes time and effort. Make a set goal for yourself every week. “This week, I will post 8 pictures and spend 5 hours engaging and following users on Instagram”. Then, stick to that commitment.

Image style:
Most importantly, determine your style. Are your photos going to be contemporary and simple, or warm and full of color? Pick a filter on Instagram to be your “go-to”. While you can (and should) play around with editing, try and create a consistent look and feel to your profile. Have you noticed how many times I have used the term “consistent” or “consistency”? This way, if a new user is looking at your entire profile, they can quickly judge what your style is and if they want to follow. Don’t make them look around for your swag.

Engage, engage, engage

Instagram is an ever-changing platform. With the new feed algorithms, your fans may be harder to reach and a bit fleeting. The best way to prevent a social flop is to engage, engage, engage (I could say it a million more times). This sounds simple, but it takes time! You need to make sure you are interacting with the right people that will help drive a following. Be sure to engage with the people who comment on your posts and go comment on theirs as well to create an actual conversation. Also, go and search for the influencers in your field. Start creating a bond with them by liking, commenting and reposting their photos (this is something we will dive into later in this series).

Have fun

Have fun, really? Yes, I am going to throw this cliche at you, because it works. If you aren’t having fun posting photos, thinking of new content and engaging with people all over the world, you should invest your time elsewhere.

The thing is, Instagram is amazing. It visually connects brands to people and people to brands from all edges of the world. It allows us, as entrepreneurs, to show our fans who we really are. Instagram allows us to be the magicians who are finally showing our fans how we got that darn rabbit out of the hat.

So… don’t get too caught up in the numbers. With good content will come good followers, it just takes time. Rather than hitting your head against a wall trying to discover the secret to Instagram fame (hint, there is no secret, trust me, I have looked high and low for it), just enjoy sharing bits and pieces of your work. Success will come if you are working hard and enjoying the Instagram process!

How to Grow Instagram Followers Organically: Your Absolutely-Do-Not-Do List

Choose quantity over quality
Take a hot-minute and think about how the platform works from the perspective of a user. They are scrolling through oodles of images and videos, only pausing if something really catches their eye.

While developing your profile out to have adequate content is important, Instagram and it’s users care more about the quality. When using Instagram Marketing, don’t sacrifice quality for mass amounts of quantity, you may even be flagged by Instagram for this. Rather than spending hours spitting out 4 mediocre Instagram posts per day, invest that time into creating one or two visually appealing, high-quality posts that your fans will have no choice but to stop and look at.

Ignore hashtags
Maybe Instagram didn’t invent the hashtag, but they surely harnessed their power. Users on Instagram use the search capabilities to find accounts that post within their specific interest. Some may argue that with the new Instagram update not showing photos in real time lessens the power of hashtags, but I must disagree. While it may be harder to reach new users, not using hashtags is giving up on even trying to reach potential fans.

No hashtags, too many hashtags (Instagram caps you at 30 per post) or the wrong hashtags can quickly cause a negative trend in engagement. Take the time to find niche-specific hashtags and use them strategically.

Force Sales
You don’t want to ignore your products completely on Instagram, but you do have to be smart about it. Instagram is a great place for giveaways and sale announcements, but balance is your best friend. The most popular aspect of Instagram is its dedication to remaining authentic; they have a content-first, ad-second approach. Forcing sales and overflowing your feed with promotions will turn users away. Instead, find creative ways to intrigue fans into your products and you will steadily see an increase in mobile traffic.

Underestimate the investment
I’ve said this already, but it’s worth repeating. Instagram is awesome, and amazing, and SO much fun when you get the hang of it all. But it takes time to get your Instagram marketing strategy down, so work and focus. Instagram is an ever-changing platform that is still growing into it’s own skin. Don’t underestimate the investment of this platform. If you understand it’s importance (which you should by now), then you can come to expect to spend some serious time on it. If you are stuck wondering if Instagram is worth all of this time and effort I will put your mind to rest, it absolutely is.

Use Links Incorrectly
This is such a simple tip, but so many accounts fail to use links correctly on Instagram. Instagram, unlike other social platforms, does not allow you to add useful links within your caption. Key word here is useful. You CAN add a link directly on your posts, but it will be absolutely worthless. Links within captions are not clickable, meaning you are simply cluttering your caption with an ugly, useless link that is likely to drive people away.

If you don’t know what I mean, take a look at this example I made (and soon deleted). See how the link is in black, unclickable text. That little “link” is nothing but a useless (and ugly) bunch of characters.

However, you can and absolutely should include a link in your bio. This link can be updated according to what webpage you are driving traffic to. For example, if you are promoting your most recent blog, add a note in your photo caption to the effect of “to read the entire blog, click the link in our bio!” Then, make sure the link works and directs to that page. One last important note, make sure the webpage you are sending them to is mobile-optimized. We already know Instagram users are using their smartphones, so you want to make sure that if they go so far as to click through to your site, they are landing on an inviting and easy page to manage.

Give up
Again, ending a list with a cliche. Don’t give up on Instagram marketing. No one becomes Instagram famous overnight or even over one month. While Instagram is growing and trying to find it’s own place in the social world, so will you. Keep pushing on. If you’re getting 1 like per photo, that means one person thinks you rock, and THAT rocks.

While I wish I could tell you the exact picture, caption, hashtag combination will grant you 200 followers overnight, I simply cannot. There is no golden rule that will bring you Instagram fame. Never stop testing, playing and enjoying the ups and downs of your social journey. It’s time to crack out that iPhone camera, get #artsy with it, and just keep swimming!

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About the author

Kristen DeCosta

Kristen DeCosta is a growth marketer and content marketing specialist turning casual browsers into loyal customers.

When she isn’t busy working, you can find Kristen out hiking a mountain or snuggling with her three rescue dogs, Cooper, Tobi, and Finn.


  1. Murray

    Hi Kristen,
    thank you for sharing the article! I will keep myself up to date in part 4! Heading over to Josh’s hashtags to check out what he has discovered. The more time you have to spend on the research the better the outcome it is however trying to find the time!

  2. Josh

    Great post! Interesting read for sure. I myself believe the use of instagram hashtags are crucial when trying to reach your target audience. I recently wrote and article highlighting the top instagram hashtags to use for maximum engagements, take a look if you’d like :)

    1. Kristen DeCosta

      Thanks, Josh! I am glad you found this interesting!

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