14 Ways I Grew my Instagram by over 500% Last Year
14 Ways I Grew my Instagram by over 500% Last Year
Note: This post was written for those interested in growing their Instagram as a part of their brand and business, so my tips don’t necessarily apply to a personal Instagram account. 😉
Instagram is my favorite social media platform. In 2015, I made a business goal to focus on growing it. Setting goals is a key part of growing your business. I tracked my growth on the first of each month.
Why should you take my advice? In January of 2015, I had 2,405 followers. By December 2015, I had 16,439. That’s a 515% increase over the course of the year. I worked really hard for that growth and I’m proud of it. (My Twitter however, is beyond sad so you won’t get any tips for The Twitter from me!)
I have a goal to hit 50k followers on Instagram this year. It’s a lofty goal, but I’m shooting for the stars. I currently have almost 45k followers so I just might hit my goal for 2016! (updated September 2016).
It’s worth noting that there are awesome Instagrammers that have grown their accounts doing the exact opposite of some of the things I’m about to tell you, but this is exactly what I did to grow my Instagram by 515% last year.
One: Educate Yourself on the Platform.
Instagram has over 400 Million users so it’s a major player in the social media game. It actually has more users than Twitter! I for one, am thrilled about that. I love, love, love Instagram. Twitter, not so much. (Side note: My Twitter numbers prove that I’m awful at it but part of that is I just don’t care for it much. I also feel like you can’t be good at everything. Pick one, two, or even three social media to rock. I focus on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook.)
About a year ago, I took the free Hilary Rushford Class, Instagram with Intention. I was so impressed with what I learned, I paid for her full class.
I’m not saying you have to take her class, but it’s only smart to get educated on a platform you want to work on growing. A good start is being right here reading this post right now! 😉
Two: Niche down.
I niched down. A lot.
I used to post about a bit of everything. That would be great for a personal Instagram but it’s not awesome for growing a focused and engaged following.
Having a very focused content means my followers are following me for that reason. By default, they are then more engaged in what I post. Someone that follows me for my hand-lettering and art might unfollow if a random throw in a “What I Wore” post or random shot of my kids in their feed because it catches them off-guard. Cute as my kids are, it’s not why they chose to follow me. The follow me for art and lettering, so that’s what I give them almost 100% of the time.
I’m very consistent with what I post and rarely post something that is outside of my niche.
Since it’s so easy to switch between multiple IG accounts now, I suggest you keep a personal IG account and one (or more) for your blog/business.
My Instagram accounts are dedicated to my niche and growing my brand. I actually don’t keep a personal IG account. I do all my personal stuff over on Facebook, because even my almost 80 year old grandparents are over there.
Three: Niche Up.
Wait, what? You just said you niched down. Well, I did…and then we got the news that we’re moving to Germany and I thought it would be fun to share our travel adventures.
Technically, I didn’t do this last year. I actually did it, like, just last week…but it’s something I feel needs to be included in this post.
To keep my main Instagram @ByDawnNicole focused on the Art + Lettering niche, I opted to start a new Instagram, @DawnNicoleDaily, which is focused on Travel & Lifestyle. I’ll let my @ByDawnNicole readers know about it from time to time so they can choose whether or not they want to follow me there.
Four: Get your Followers Involved
While I’d hardly call myself an Instagram expert, one thing I think I’ve done really well is that I’ve created a sense of community and engaged followers. If you’d like to work with brands (get paid to post on Instagram), engagement is key.
Getting your readers involved is absolutely essential to engagement. A few easy ways to do this:
- Ask questions.
- Teach them something (see post below).
- Inspire them. Everyone loves some positivity or a great inspirational quote.
- Share a relatable real life moment or life struggle. I often do this in the caption of a photo to be sure I keep my feed “on fleek” as the cool kids say these day (more on creating a pretty feed in tip seven later on in this post).
People often tell me they’re afraid to “break” their brush pens when using pressure on the downstroke. The pens are made for it! Pressing down is what gives you a nice think downstroke. Just be sure to work from an angle to help keep your tips in good shape! I’m using the @tombowusa Fudenosuke soft tip in these pics. I do like to keep a few extras on hand so that when I do need to replace one, I have a backup ready to go. I found the Tombow Fude easiest to learn brush calligraphy with hands down! Then I moved on to the Dual Tips. 👊🏻 #dawnnicoledesigns #DNDbrushcalligraphyguide #brushcalligraphy #brushlettering #typetuesday
In August of 2015, I started a monthly Art + Lettering Challenge on @ByDawnNicole. It went over so well that I continue to do it to this day.
When people participate in the challenges each day, they’re not only getting to be actively involved by sharing their work, they are constantly tagging my IG handle and using my #DNDChallenge hashtag. So they’re getting involved and I’m getting a lot of exposure for my account, which equals community and growth. Score.
About once a week, I feature a post from the challenge hashtag or share an IG account I love. Featuring people is not only fun for my readers but it also means I have something to easily post on a day I don’t have time to create original content. Win-win.
Because the challenges have gone so well on @ByDawnNicole, I started a Photo A Day Challenge on my new @DawnNicoleDaily account. In the first six days, my account went from 0 to over 500 followers. It’s a fun challenge to grow a whole new account and I’m exited that I get to post totally different content over there.
Five: Use Other Social Media to Grow Your Instagram
This is such an easy way to get more bang for your buck. I do this in four main ways:
- Facebook: I started an Art + Hand Lettering Class Facebook group that’s an extension of the challenges. It’s a free art + lettering class where I also post daily challenge prompt share threads for both of my IG accounts. It’s a bit easier for all of us to interest over than it is on IG. I started it in September of 2015 group has over 20k members, and many people find me on IG because of they first found the FB Group.
- Blog: I post the challenge prompts with a free printable version on my blog each month. You can see a recent Art + Lettering post here and a Photo A Day post here.
- Pinterest: I pin each of those blog posts to a Pin Campaign of all my applicable Pinterest boards to drive traffic and promote the challenges, which in turn, promotes my Instagram accounts.
- Tailwind: I use Tailwind for most of my pin scheduling but I also super love Tailwind’s “Pin from Instagram (Beta)” feature because I can easily pin my IG posts on Pinterest to obtain additional traffic.
Six: Don’t be a Copycat.
I don’t know anyone else that does a monthly challenge that is a combo lettering and art and I think that’s part of why it’s worked so well for me. (So…please don’t copy my exact plan for growing my IG! Find one that works for your readers and your niche and make it your own.) There are some really great challenges out there now but if you copy one, people are less likely to follow you because yours isn’t unique. You need a spin that makes it an original idea…something they can’t get elsewhere or it won’t work very well to bring in new followers!
In the book “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert, there’s an awesome part in which she personifies ideas. This explains why we see things pop up in our social medias feed that we planned to created, already did create, or had an idea for. If you don’t take ownership of an idea when it comes to you, Gilbert says that it bounces around and finds someone else who will. Kind of a cool way to think of ideas, right?
How do I avoid being a copycat? It’s pretty simple. I “keep my eyes on my own page” and don’t worry too much about what anyone else is doing. And if I do create something inspired by someone else, I be sure to give credit where credit is due.
Seven: Make it Pretty.
If you’re growing your IG as a blog/business, you need a professional looking feed. Some people will say that edited and planned content is unauthentic but I strongly disagree. People like a pretty Instagram feed. People don’t want to see blurry pics, what you’re eating for breakfast (unless you’re a food blogger), or every moment of your day. (i.e. Don’t post 7 pics from one party. Pic just one to share!) A platform like Facebook is better suited for sharing a group of photos or in the moment photos.
Here are a few things that will help you achieve a cohesive and aesthetically pleasing feed:
- Make a plan: Look at your overall feed. When people browse your main Instagram feed, they decide in a split second whether or not to follow you. If you’ve got a pretty feed, they are much more likely to click “follow”. For my @bydawnnicole feed, I do a checkerboard pattern. A colorful photo, alternated with a white photo. For my @dawnnicoledaily feed, I do 5 photos and then a white image to create photo frames around the white images.
- Brush up on your photography skills. Take well lit photos that are bright and in focus. No one wants to see a blurry or dark pic on Instagram!
- Edit your images. Is this more work, yes? But it goes back to having a feed that is fun and pretty for people to look at. If you truly want to grow your Instagram and your brand, it’s worth the effort. Lately, I’m stuck on the A Color Story App for editing my photos.
- Look for popular feeds in your niche for ideas on what kind of a feed you’d like to design for yourself. Again, don’t be a copycat, but do actively seek out inspiration!
- Connect with readers via your captions. If you go browse either of my Instagram feeds, you can see how often I share a quote or relatable/funny life tidbit in my photo captions. You CAN be real with a pretty feed. You just have to get creative about how you do it!
Here is a peek at my layout design plan for each of my IG accounts:
Eight: Be Consistent
Consistency is key. You can’t grow without it. You have to show up and be consistent so your readers know what to expect.
I usually post once a day. Mornings and mid-afternoons seem to get the best engagement for me, so that’s typically when I post.
Make a commitment to post consistently, no matter how many times or week or day that may be.
Nine: Treat Instagram as a mini-blog.
Because it doesn’t allow for clickable links in the captions of photos, Instagram is not a great social media platform for driving traffic to your site. That’s my goal with Pinterest and Facebook.
You’ll see a lot of bloggers that do nothing on Instagram but post a pic and caption it with “Pop over to my blog for this tutorial”. It’s not that I don’t do that from time to time but because Instagram doesn’t have clickable links, it’s really inconvenient for people to leave Instagram to get to your blog.
See how it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the goal of your Instagram account to be to drive traffic to your site?
I have to reeeeally want to see something to leave Instagram to go to the person’s blog. And when that happens, I usually just screenshot their post to look it up later.
So what do I do with Instagram then?
I treat Instagram as a mini blog. My goal is to give my readers value-added content about art, lettering, and running a creative business.
Be generous with your talent and your knowledge.
Focus on creating mini-tutorials and content just for your Instagram followers.
If you have content on Instagram that your readers can’t get elsewhere, they’ll follow you there to be sure they get those exclusive tidbits of info and education.
Ten: Create Original Content
I largely treat Instagram as an online portfolio-at-glance of my work. If you want to work with brands, they are going to want to see your work on your social media.
A curated Instagram feed can great but you really need to produce more original content than curated content if you really want to grow your brand. While I do the occasional feature as part of my monthly challenges, my feed is mostly original content.
Along the same lines, don’t keep re-posting the same exact content over and over. I follow a few people who post variations of the same exact project over and over. It’s boring to see the same thing repeatedly and it will probably bring you more unfollows than follows. It also comes across a bit lazy. Take the time to create fresh content…or just skip posting that day!
Eleven: Tag Brands!
This might seem obvious but a lot of people don’t do it. If you love a product and use it, tag the brand and let them know. I bought some Oh Joy! Band-Aids at Target and used them for creating lettering in the below photo. I tagged her and then she “re-grammed” my photo, with credit, to her well over 200k followers. Many brands will do the same and getting featured like that is an awesome way to gain new followers!
Pretty sure my kids will not be thrilled I used the last of their @ohjoy Band-Aids for more letter art. But I can’t help myself. I feel like they beg to be turned into art. Happy Friday! 😍#dawnnicoledesigns #dndletterart #nothingisordinary
A photo posted by Dawn Nicole Designs LLC (@bydawnnicole) on
Twelve: Work Sponsored Content in Organically
You want sponsored work to fit your feed seamlessly and create engagement. If you can do that, you’re golden! You don’t want an ad to stick out like a sore thumb.
While food isn’t a big part of my feed, I found a way to creatively work with GODIVA by doing a hand-lettered printable to gift along with their yummy truffles. I also asked a question to help create more engagement.
All you need is love…and chocolate. Guess how many dark chocolates I ate while working on hand lettering this design to turn into a free gift tag and card printable that goes perfectly along with @GODIVA Gift Boxes? 🎁 What do you you give to the person on your list who is hard to buy for? I decided the answer is always chocolate. What kind of chocolate is your favorite: dark, milk, or white? #giveGODIVA #ad #Pmedia #chocolatemakesmehappy
When I did a sneak peak post for a Sponsored post with Prismacolor, I got more engagement by asking followers to share their favorite color using emojis and people seemed to have a lot of fun with that questions = community and comments = engagement).
I am all about the Merry & Bright color scheme this year, so I popped into @MichaelsStores yesterday for a few pretty @prisma_color Colored Pencils and an Illustration Marker. 😍 Because new Christmas coloring pages are in the works today and they’ll be free on the blog Monday! 🎨 If you had to pick a favorite color, what would you pick? Show me in emojis! I’d have to go with Aqua! 👗🐬🎿 #ad #relaxandcolor #coloringwithMichaels #PMedia #dawnnicoledesigns
A photo posted by Dawn Nicole Designs LLC (@bydawnnicole) on
Thirteen: Use hashtags wisely.
Sure, using a ton can grow your account, but I also think it’s really spammy looking. It’s probably not bringing in the kind of engaged followers you really want to have. And as I’ve mentioned a few times, brands want to see that engagement if they are going to be paying you to post on Instagram.
Create a few hashtags for your brand, use a funny or witty hashtag, and sprinkle in a few for growth, but don’t go overboard.
And don’t abuse popular hashtags that don’t fit your post. I see this done all the time and it’s a tactic that’s just plain uncool.
If you insist on using a paragraph’s worth of hashtags, I recommend putting them in a second comment, not your main caption.
Fourteen: Do What Works for You
That hardest part of social media is that there isn’t one tried and true formula that works for everyone. You have to do some trial and error to figure out what works best for you.
For example, I’ve heard many Instagram experts say Instagram isn’t the best platform for videos. That may very well be true for the masses, but it’s not true for me. My videos are always my most liked content.
One last thing: Giveaways…
I’m not big on giveaways on Instagram. I find the Round-Robin style giveaways especially meh. To me, they feel kinda spammy, they’re often insanely lengthy, and I found they didn’t bring engaged followers. So I just don’t do them.
When it comes to growing your account, you want quality followers over quantity of followers…or you’ll be sacrificing engagement.
On a very rare occasion, I’ll give something that fits my niche away just because I love my readers. No strings attached. No making them follow 49 accounts to follow to enter. Sure, you may grow a bit faster by doing them, but I guarantee you’re not picking up the kind of long-lasting followers you really want to have.
Educate yourself about Instagram, pay attention to what content your readers are most engaged with and/or are asking for, experiment with your content and post times, and then do what works best for you and your readers.