How to Build an Engaged Instagram Following

Hello, friends! Let’s talk about building an Instagram following in 2019! I started blogging in February and had around 1200 followers, but didn’t really start seeing growth until April. It is now May and I’m right at 3000 as of right this minute! So that’s about 1700 followers within the last month. Crazy! I more than doubled my following and it was all done naturally, organically and without buying followers.

Before we start, I just wanted to talk about why you should want to build an Instagram following for your business. Aside from the numbers and the likes, think about it! These are people who are engaging with your posts, who are able to see your advertising on a daily basis. They can consume posts, stories, comments and likes from you, building brand familiarity. This is a great way to drive potential customers to your brand, whether it’s a product or service or a blog, like mine. Most of my readers come from my Instagram, according to my WordPress analytics. Many followers also come from Pinterest, but that’s a different post (coming soon).

Gaining more followers gives you the potential to gain more business, drive traffic from your social media pages to your website and convert those potential leads into consumers. Isn’t that what we all want for our businesses or blogs? Social media is such an integral tool when it comes to marketing and advertising in 2019, and if you’re not with it, your business isn’t living up to its full potential.

And so, my friends, you may ask: how do I even build a following in the first place? How do I extend beyond my circle of friends, classmates, coworkers and family to people that I don’t know? In this post, I’m going to be talking about how to engage new followers, build your following and effectively communicate with that audience in order to create a meaningful, intentional network of leads.

Why You Can’t Just Buy Followers

This should go without saying, but DO NOT buy followers. I can’t tell you how many followers I’ll get and they have upwards of 30k followers and only 20 likes on a post… it’s so obvious. The whole point of building a follower base is so that we can have an engaged, real audience. What’s the point of having 30k followers if none of them buying your products, engaging with your content, etc.? Basically, what’s the point of having 30k BOTS following you? I have no idea. To each their own, but I really don’t believe in this and you shouldn’t either if you want to build a credible, active and real business.

If you only care about numbers, then by all means, go ahead. But, I would caution it; so many brands look at your follower number, sure, but they’re also looking at your engagement rate. I have an engagement of upwards of 10%, which means 10% of my followers (on average) engage with my content, which is actually pretty high! So, I’m happy with that. But if you’ve got 30k followers and only 20 likes, no comments… that engagement rate is absolutely awful. Plus, once potential brands or real potential followers see this, they’re going to automatically know that your numbers aren’t real. And that just completely breaks that credibility in the first place, so why do it? You feel me? Am I getting through to you? DO NOT buy followers.

1. Ask yourself: what are you adding to someone’s feed?

It’s important to ask yourself a handful of questions when evaluating your social media feed. Is your content relevant to someone who doesn’t know you? What’s the balance of you talking about your personal life, your brand, and adding to a conversation that has nothing to do with you personally? You want to add value to your viewers’ feeds. Think about it: would you want to follow someone who talks a lot about their personal life that you know nothing about? It’d have to be pretty interesting and unique, right?

So, add to a conversation. Talk about how you found this dress on sale. Ask a question to your followers to encourage a “call to action.” Provide links to your shoes, and let your followers know when they’re on sale. Let them know your thoughts on that new supplement, how you deal with stress, a new recipe you tried, etc. Invite them into the conversation with you instead of excluding them from it. Make it relevant to others rather than just being relevant to you and your life.

I’m not saying that personal posts aren’t allowed; people love to see that you’re human! And you should provide personal elements in every single post. However, I’m sayin’: if your content doesn’t add value to their feeds, if it’s not educating or helping them in some way, if you’re not spreading a message and you’re just posting something with a vague caption, what’s the point of committing to that subscription?

2. Drop the ego

I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the lines of our collective social media journey, we all decided that it was best to have more followers than people you’re following. Drop the ego if you want to build a following! In order to engage with new consumers, you’re going to have to do the reaching out. It’s naive to think that people will just flock to your content and follow along because they already know of and like your brand. Chances are, if you’re a small business or a blogger just starting out, people don’t know what you’re bringing to the table. You’ve gotta drop the ego if you want to grow! Follow accounts like yours, engage with content that is similar, and bring meaningful, insightful and personal comments and DMs to the table to get NOTICED.

Follow and Engage with Accounts like Your Own

Make it a habit to try and reach new accounts every single day. Like some of their posts, comment on their latest stories or posts and follow them. Continue to bring insightful and personal engagements to them. And, if it so happens they follow you first, do the same thing — thank them for following you and engage with some of their latest posts. I hate to break it to ‘ya, but there’s room for all of us to win.

So, commit to helping out people who share a similar message as you. I try to comment on at least 50 posts before I leave the house in the morning, and at least 50 when I lay down for bed at night. Seems like a lot, right? Well, I honestly don’t always make it to that many, but I sure do try! And that’s honestly one of the biggest reasons I think both my engagement and following has skyrocketed in the last three months.

Remember, you don’t just want to broadcast at people. You want to build a meaningful conversation with an engaged following, so let’s focus on relationship-building.

3. Understanding the Algorithm

Ah, yes, the infamous Instagram algorithm. The legend, the myth, the be-all-end-all algorithm that everyone talks about but never really fully understands. That’s because it’s CONSTANTLY changing up to cycle content and prevent bots from taking over. Content creators are always having to change up their social media strategy in order to benefit from the algorithm.

This article details the 2019 Instagram Algorithm, and I’d recommend giving it a read. The Instagram strategy right now focuses on your personal relationship with another user, as well as the interest the user has conveyed and the recency of the post. All of these things fit together to put certain content in front of you and put your followers’ content in front of them, and everyone’s looks different.

So, as of right now, engagement plays a huge role in whether or not your content gets shown to another user. This is exactly why you can’t just go and follow 3,000 people and hope they’ll see your content if they follow you back; they have to engage with your posts, either liking or commenting on them, view your stories and spend time reading your captions or on your profile. Weird, right? All of these things mix together to decide when and how often you’re shown to others, and that’s so important to understand.

Again, I underline the fact that you need to be engaging if you expect engagement.

Some tips that I’ve learned of from different influencers and content creators along the way:

Ask a question in your caption to your audience

One great way to ensure you’ll get meaningful, rich engagements in the comments of your posts is to ask a question in the caption of your post. This way, you’re prompting your viewers to answer something thoughtfully and contribute to a conversation! Hopefully, your users will answer your question, and then you can go back and respond to their comments in order to continue the conversation.

Respond to comments ASAP

This basically ups your engagement rate on the post, telling Instagram “hey, this is relevant, rich content that users are engaging with.” You can utilize this opportunity to start a conversation with your followers, too, rather than just saying “thanks” or responding with an emoji.

Always ensure your comments are more than 4 words, and they’re more than just an emoji and a one word answer. This tells Instagram that this post is actually engaging the audience rather than just being a place for bots and “meaningless” engagement.

Post at the best times

I use the When to Post app, which tells you the exact time (down to the minute) that you should be pushing your content to your users. It gives you detailed timing information to let you know not only when your users are online, but when they’re the most active. Everyone’s times are different because we all have different followings, so when works for me may not be the best time that works for you because of our audiences.

When to Post App

This feeds into the “recency” component of the algorithm. You want to ensure you’re posting at the very best time for the highest engagement rate and highest amount of potential reach. You can also use the native Instagram insights tool that lets you know when your followers are online! I just like When to Post because it gives me the exact timing rather than the range.

Respond to all DMs and initiate DMs yourself

A great way to up your engagement rate and ensure your posts are getting in front of your viewers is to do work behind the scenes. Your DM’s are an excellent way to build one on one engagement with new or potential followers. Ask them a question that you genuinely would like to know, comment something relative and specific to their profiles and ensure you’re answering everyone that does the same for you! This is a great way to ensure your posts are being shown to those users after they follow you. Cool, right?

Use quality hashtags and keywords

Another great way to improve your reach is to utilize hashtags. I know, I know: you’re cringing at the thought, right? But, don’t be so quick to shoot it down! One of my most effective tips for getting that engagement up right when you post (which is important to determine the shelf-life of your post) is to utilize hashtags. Do some research, see what similar accounts are using, see how many posts are using that hashtag and vary up the sizing of the hashtags. I personally will just use Ritetag or Instagram itself to do this research! Steer clear of HUGE hashtags like #love and #usa. Instead, use targeted and specific hashtags that are going to ensure those followers are relevant to you and would like your content!

Here’s a great step by step tutorial of how to find and use the best hashtags by Ivory Mix.

I personally follow a few different hashtags so that those posts appear in my feed, such as #arizonablogger and #uoonyou (among others). This is a great way for me to see people I’d potentially like to engage with. However, something like #love and #usa opens the door for a lot of irrelevant accounts that I don’t think would engage with me in a personalized and relevant way. You know?

4. Improve your SEO for Search Engines

You’ve heard me talk about search engine optimization, or SEO, in other posts, but did you know that it’s still relevant on Instagram? It’s important to optimize your page for search engines because it tells the search engine who you are and what you do. This allows the SERP (or search engine page results) to pull your account because it knows that you’re relevant. An effective way to do this is to put your name as what you are. So, on my page, I have Jade | Arizona Blogger in place of my name. That way, whenever someone searches “Arizona blogger,” I can show up! This is especially helpful if you provide a service. For example, if I were a photographer and put “Arizona Photographer” into my name, I’d show up whenever someone searched exactly that.

I’ve also written a piece all about target marketing, segmentation and Instagram promotions, which you can read here. It talks all about upping your reach on Instagram! 

Improve Your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for Instagram

In the same way, you want to provide a keyword rich bio. Add in different parts of your brand that are relevant to other users, such as your location, what you do, different things you stand for, etc. You can use Google Keyword Planner for keyword research! Also, don’t forget to utilize your captions and alt text in order to help the search engine “read” what your post is about. Remember, everything is rendered in HTML. So, as it pulls relevant information, it can identify and categorize your posts to users looking for relevant content. Make sense?

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Let me know if I’ve missed anything! I’m constantly learning and, as I mentioned before, the algorithm and the system is constantly evolving and changing. We’ll always have to continue learning and changing our strategies in order to keep up with it, but hey, isn’t that what makes this exciting? It allows different users to reach our content and prevents others from taking advantage of the system, right?


Jade Nicole

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