Growing on Instagram takes time and effort — but with these must-do tactics, the path to an engaged following is a lot more straightforward than you might think.
You will learn
- Instagram fundamentals that are essential for organic growth
- Big-picture guidance on your Instagram content strategy and calendars
- Small tweaks and tips that make all the difference
There are no definitive “growth hacks” for increasing your number of followers on Instagram — but there are still plenty of things you can do to build your Instagram growth strategy.
Here are 13 steps you can take for organic Instagram growth, in the order we recommended doing them.
Before we dive in: If you’re just starting with Instagram for your business or as a creator, the first step is to tighten the nuts and bolts of your Instagram presence. As such, the first few tactics cover the basics and are particularly relevant to new creators or businesses.
Even if you’re a seasoned Instagrammer, it’s worth making sure you have the essential boxes ticked more moving on. If you are, don't worry: there's plenty of guidance in this guide for intermediate and advanced creators too.
Let's get into them all.
1. Avoid buying fake followers like the plague
When websites sell 1,000 Instagram followers for the cheap pricing of $12.99 (yes, those are real figures), it’s enticing to snag a quick win to inflate your follower count. But purchasing fake followers does more harm than good:
- Instagram actively discourages and purges accounts that engage in fraudulent activities
- Fake followers are bots and not real people — they don’t engage with your account authentically or convert into customers
- You destroy your credibility and lose the trust of your audience — which will make them unfollow you
Purchasing engagement such as views and comments or participating in engagement pods is equally futile at growing your Instagram account. You don’t just want a huge number of followers for the sake of it, you want to grow a meaningful community.
2. Embed keywords into your username and name
The Instagram algorithm prioritizes search results containing keywords in the name and username.
- Your username is your Instagram handle (your profile’s @name): Keep this the same as your company’s name and/or consistent with your profile’s username on other social channels to be instantly identifiable.
- Your name is your company’s name (or anything you like): Add relevant keywords here to improve your visibility.
Adding a relevant keyword is also an opportunity to tell who you are and what you sell to potential customers at a glance — since it’s the first thing someone sees when they land on your profile.
3. Optimize your Instagram bio
There are four elements you need to nail to unlock the perfect Instagram bio:
- A straightforward description of what you do and/or what you sell
- A stroke of brand personality
- A clear call to action
- A link
Your Instagram bio is only 150 characters. But it’s what makes or breaks your first impression on potential followers and customers. The science behind Instagram bios is to make them clear, creative, and complete. Anyone reading it should instantly know what your company does, how it can help them, and where they can learn more. Odd Giraffe, a personalized stationery brand, hits the nail on the head with their Instagram bio.
For starters, their “Hello, paper person” not only gives its bio a slash of character that’s uniquely them, but also filters out who they’re speaking to: Someone who lives and breathes stationery. The following line is a crystal-clear call to action that highlights what they sell and how they differentiate themselves (100+ designs).
The link in bio is your chance to redirect your audience to an external page. You can add your company’s website or keep updating it based on your recent posts. But if you want to go the extra mile, use link-in-bio tools like Buffer’s Start Page to combine all your URLs into one. Look how photographer Ryan Johnson does this using Buffer:
Not just this: You can also customize the Start Page as much as you like to make it on-brand and track how each link is performing.
4. Cross-promote your Instagram handle on other channels
Redirecting potential customers from other channels to your Instagram profile is a lightweight strategy to make yourself discoverable and boost your following quickly.
For example, at Buffer, we add our Instagram link on our website footer.
No one should have to manually go and search for you on Instagram if they already follow you in other places. Add your Instagram account’s link to:
- Your product packaging
- Your blogs (when relevant)
- Marketing and transactional emails
- Your website’s footer and/or sidebar
- Social media posts from team members
- Your and your employees’ email signature
- Bios on other social media platforms like TikTok and YouTube
- Networking events and webinars (Use your profile’s Instagram QR code for in-person events)
Your Instagram link doesn’t have to be big and flashy. A small Instagram icon or your QR code works for most places.
5. Find your best times to post on Instagram
What’s the best time to post on Instagram? When your audience is online.
There’s no one universal best time to share content on Instagram. Instead, aim to determine the ideal time to post for your followers.How will you know when your audience is online? Instagram tells you through its Insights in four simple steps:
- Go to your Instagram profile within the app and click on the hamburger menu (the three horizontal lines) on the top right of your screen.
- Tap on ‘Insights’.
- From there, click on ‘Total followers’
- Scroll down to the bottom of this page and look for ‘Most active times’. You’ll be able to toggle between hours for every day of the week or look at specific days.
Want to take it up a notch? Use Buffer’s analytics to determine the best times to post, the best types of posts, and the best post frequency. Buffer uses data from your previous posts and followers’ activity and organizes the numbers in a way that’s easy to understand.
Along with the time, also consider when your content is more relevant logically. A step-by-step video recipe will perform better post-working hours when people cook. On the other hand, a coffee shop post might do better at the 2 p.m. afternoon slump.
Experiment with posting times to determine when you get the most reach and engagement.
Now we’re moving on from the fundamental tips into intermediate territory. We recommend completing steps 1 through 5 before tackling the rest of this list.
6. Build an Instagram marketing strategy
Having a clear idea of where Instagram fits into your overall social media marketing strategy will not only give you positive business results but also steer you in a laser-focused direction on what to post on Instagram.But how do you create an Instagram growth strategy?
Step 1: Solidify your goals
Define whether you want to increase brand awareness, boost direct conversions, drive website traffic, or something else. Clarifying your goal dictates the content you post, your call-to-actions, and keeps your Instagram grid on-brand.
Step 2: Get a 360-view of your target audience
Knowing the basic demographics is crucial. But also go beyond that and deeply understand what your audience struggles with and how you can help them resolve their challenges using your Instagram content strategy.
Natasha Pierre — host of the Shine Online Podcast and a Video Marketing Coach — says losing sight of your ideal follower in exchange for virality is the single biggest mistake creators make:
“People often focus so much on going viral and reaching as many people as possible that they lose sight of the ideal follower they're trying to reach. You could go viral today, and if you're reaching mostly the wrong people:
1) Chances are it won't result in them following you, and;
2) It would lead to a follower who is not an engaged community member if you're a creator or would never be a warm lead if you're a small business.
Taking the time to reflect on who your ideal follower is will help you create specific-to-them content which will not only result in better growth but quality new followers.”
Step 3: Define your brand voice and aesthetic
Even if you’re a creator and not a company, it’s worth crafting a social media marketing voice that’s uniquely you, so Instagram users can identify your posts without seeing the username.
Brand voice is hard to track or quantify, but it’s non-negotiable to be memorable. On Instagram, you can also define your aesthetic along with your brand voice. Use brand colors, stick to a consistent content theme, and have a personality.⚠️ Remember: If you’re a small business, remember that your social media marketing voice shouldn’t differ vastly from your general brand voice. Reflect your company values on and off the app.
Step 4: Create content pillar themes and stick to them
Decide on a niche for your Instagram account. Have a few overarching topics you’ll post about, and don’t deviate from them too much. This has many benefits:
- You don’t have to constantly reinvent the wheel for brainstorming great content ideas
- Your Instagram community starts recognizing you for the type of content you create
- You don’t get distracted by the new, hot, shiny thing and keep revising your Instagram strategy
Step 5: Create a content calendar and post consistently
How often should you post on Instagram?
We recommend posting at least once daily — whether a carousel, a Reel, or a Story. Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, recommends posting two feed posts per week and two stories per day.
Brock Johnson — an Instagram growth coach who grew to 400K followers in one year — says posting more frequently is the most surprising way to boost your Instagram following. But this often sounds like the route to creator burnout.
A potential solution? Content repurposing. This doesn’t just mean repurposing content you’ve posted on previous channels (though that is a great option, if you’re not doing that already) but also within the same platform. Don’t be afraid of tweaking content that performed well and sharing it again.
As creators or marketers, we often make the assumption that all of our followers have seen every single piece of content we create, but in reality, only a small portion of our audience will see a particular post. As long as you’re clever with your tweaks, content repurposing can save you loads of time and energy.
Some examples could be to turn a series of Instagram Stories into a Reel or an insightful caption into a poignant video. Here’s a great example of the latter from @stanforcreators:
Content batching often comes to the rescue when creating a content calendar and posting schedule, but you often need to hop on trends to gain visibility — which means publishing Instagram posts on the go.
The best part? Buffer’s content calendar is visual, giving you a bird’s eye view of what you have coming up and the content gaps you need to fill.
7. Write compelling captions
It’s enticing to skimp on Instagram captions when you’ve toiled to create the perfect carousel or video. But Instagram captions hold more weight than you think: They can either nudge someone to follow you or scroll past you without looking.
For example, wellness brand Cosmix doesn’t simply write, “shop on our website!” on its Instagram posts. It explains the ingredients used, how their products help specific issues, and mentions the studies that back up their claims.
Don’t mistake long for better though: Instagram captions perform best when they’re either very long or very short (20 characters vs. 2,000 characters), according to HubSpot’s 2023 Instagram Engagement Report.
Writing the perfect Instagram caption is more about understanding your audience and the context of your post than trying to hit a character count. If you’re writing an educational post, it makes sense to have a longer caption. But when you’re sharing an aesthetic product image, shorter is sweeter.
If coming up with cheeky captions isn’t your forte, try Buffer’s AI assistant to have a rough first draft in seconds. For example, if you’re a skincare brand and want to post about wearing sunscreen indoors, write it as a prompt for Buffer.
8. Use relevant hashtags
The right hashtags can expose your Instagram posts to a large and targeted audience.
How many hashtags should you use? The limit is up to 30, but Instagram recommends using only three to five hashtags.
But quantity isn’t where it’s at — you want to rank for your Instagram hashtags to make the most of them. Why? Many people follow hashtags to see posts about a topic or search for something specific. Your goal is to appear on the Explore page at first glance when someone uses your niche’s hashtag.
The right strategy is to use hashtags with a mix of popular and niche — this way, you don’t get lost in a sea of spam or remain hidden in your little corner of Instagram.
How do you find hashtags that would appeal to your target audience? Use free hashtag generators to help you find relevant hashtags for your Instagram post. Add a few words about your image or video, and these tools will recommend the top hashtags that go well with it.
Curate a list of hashtags for your community and group them together using Buffer’s Hashtag Manager. For example, make a group of product-specific hashtags and another for niche or industry-specific hashtags. Select from your pre-saved groups on Buffer and add hashtags to your scheduled Instagram posts.
9. Understand your analytics
Regularly checking your Instagram analytics is key to understanding what’s working for you and what’s not. You might find that your audience responds best to entertaining Reels, but educational posts work best as carousels. Discovering trends guides your content creation strategy to get maximum return on investment from Instagram.
Instagram has native analytics on its app, but they’re pretty limited. You can’t see your individual post’s performance in a single window to analyze them side by side neither can you handpick metrics important to you. It’s better to use a third-party tool like Buffer’s analytics to get all the data at a glance and even make custom reports for stakeholders.
Which metric is the most important to track? It depends on your Instagram goals and strategy. For example, if you’re testing a new hashtag, knowing the number of new followers is more important than tracking likes from your current followers. But if you’re experimenting with posting times, keeping an eye on impressions is more important.
10. Collaborate with Instagram creators or other small businesses
Collaborating with other creators via influencer marketing or partnerships with small businesses is a win-win because it exposes both parties to a new community. The critical bit is ensuring you partner with a company or creator who aligns with your values and whose followers’ demographics & interests overlap with your target audience.
For example, the period tracker app, Flo, collaborated with Charity Ekezie and created a sarcastic, funny, paid Instagram post to highlight the social initiative by the company where premium features are available free of charge in several countries from Ethiopia to Haiti.
These posts are shown on both accounts — meaning all followers of your creator partner will see the shared post (and, by extension, your Instagram profile and small business).
If influencers with over a hundred thousand followers are out of your budget, run a micro-influencer campaign. Smaller creators often have a tightly-knit community who trusts their recommendations.
How to find these influencers? You can go through a manual Google search or search using hashtags and keywords on Instagram. A smarter approach is to use influencer discovery tools like Modash to save time and find relevant creators.
It’s not necessary to restrict yourself to partnering with individual creators. You can also form partnerships with other small businesses — like LinkedIn and Headspace collaborated to create a post about recovering from job loss.
Instagram collab posts don’t necessarily have to be a shared post, either. You can also:
- Go live with a creator
- Do an Instagram account takeover
- Repost Instagram content from an influencer’s profile
- Post videos created by them natively on your brand account
11. Experiment with different types of Instagram posts
Instagram is no longer just a photo app. The platform has introduced many formats, including Instagram Reels, pinned posts, Story Highlights, and carousel posts.
Which type of post will increase your Instagram engagement? Studies show Instagram carousels have the highest engagement, but it’s more complicated than that. Your audience might prefer Instagram Reels for bite-sized entertaining posts and carousel posts for everything educational.
If you feel your Instagram isn’t growing, experiment with different kinds of posts. It’s best to combine all the varieties, like the skincare brand 100percentpure.
12. Talk to your audience in comments and Stories
Engage with your Instagram audience to understand their problems, answer their questions, and get content ideas.
Elise Darma — an Instagram educator for business owners — says speaking to your audience is an underutilized strategy for follower growth on Instagram:
“Don't wait for everyone to come to you. The best hack ever is to proactively engage with other people on Instagram who are the kind of people your business helps. Imagine if you were at a cocktail party and wanted to make friends there.”
“The smartest strategy wouldn't be to wait for everyone to come up to you; if you were to take the initiative to talk to people, introduce yourself, and ask them questions about themselves, you would leave that party with many more friends than if you didn't take that action.”
How do you talk to your audience on Instagram? Social media management pros will know the basic thing is responding to the comments and messages you receive — especially if it’s a question by a potential customer. The yogurt brand Chobani is a good example. They respond to almost every comment they receive.
Responding to each comment and DM isn’t realistic once you start receiving thousands of them, but do your best to answer all queries. Buffer’s engagement features make it easier — you can respond to comments from your desktop instead of cramping your hand using the mobile app.
Beyond comments and DMs, get active on Instagram Stories. There are so many features that can inspire amazing content ideas — like asking a question, interactive stickers, polls, countdowns, and even adding links. For example, nutrition brand Bulletproof does a weekly Q&A on their Instagram account to answer their audience’s most frequently asked questions about their products.
The best part about Stories? You can create a group of them and make Instagram Highlights — these remain in your profile forever instead of disappearing in 24 hours. Use them to create a go-to resource section answering all common customer queries to reduce the hindrance in selling your products on Instagram.
13. Get verified on Instagram
Having the coveted blue checkmark next to your Instagram account is a badge of instant credibility. It helps you stand out in search results, avoids impersonation, and even get higher engagement rates.
If your aim is to increase your Instagram growth rate, getting verified will undoubtedly help. But how do you get verified on Instagram? It’s simple: Buy a subscription through your Instagram profile — but there are certain eligibility requirements you have to meet, like adhering to Meta’s minimum activity requirements.
Getting more followers on Instagram isn’t a one-time affair
With these 13 tips under your belt, you’re certainly more equipped to grow your following on Instagram. But it isn’t a one-and-done deal. Maintaining Instagram growth requires regularly publishing high-quality content and staying on top of your social media strategy.
It’s time-consuming and laborious to manage the planning, posting, engaging, and tracking manually. Having an all-in-one tool — like Buffer — lets you do all of that under one roof. Don’t take just my word for it: Get started for free today and see for yourself.