Read on to find out the 12 best tactics (with tools and examples) that could help you grow a bigger, more engaged audience for your business on Instagram.
You will learn
- The best practices to help you grow your Instagram audience
- The importance of a unique brand voice on Instagram
- How to post consistently and at the right times to grow your audience
You spend hours planning and creating content for Instagram. For a brief moment after you hit “Share,” all is right with the world. You’re confident you published something great.
Then, radio silence. Or a few likes and comments from your handful of followers. But how do you get more followers on Instagram if not by publishing great content?
There’s no step-by-step guide for Instagram growth. But there are best practices that will help you reach a wider audience and win over new followers.
Here are 12 ways to get more followers on Instagram.
1. Optimize your bio
Make the most of those 150 characters. Your Instagram bio tells potential followers who you are, what you’re about, and what action you hope people will take after visiting your profile.
Your Instagram bio should include:
- A clear description of what you do
- Touches of your personality
- A call to action (shop, read more, contact us, etc.)
- A link
Your in-bio link is your only clickable link on Instagram, so use it wisely. Some businesses include a standard link to their website, while others change it regularly to reflect recent posts. But if you want to make it easier on yourself, take advantage of link-in-bio tools such as Shop Grid that allow you to turn a single link into a catalog of links.
Consider including a branded hashtag as well. For example, we encourage our fans to use #BufferLove when they talk about our products. Adding the branded hashtag to our bio tells people which hashtag to include to catch our attention. Plus, when anyone taps on the hashtag, they’ll see posts from fans who have used it.
2. Find your best time to post on Instagram
Notice how we didn’t say find thebest time to post on Instagram? The truth is, there is no universal answer for when to post on Instagram to reach the highest number of people. But there are ways to figure out the ideal times for your followers.
First, use Instagram Insights to figure out when your audience is online. Tap the “Insights” button from your Instagram business profile, scroll to “Your Audience,” then tap “See All.” From there, scroll to the bottom to find your audience’s most active times.
You should also consider when your content will be most relevant. For example, a step-by-step recipe video might perform better outside of work hours because people are more likely to be cooking. A coffee shop post, on the other hand, might do well around 2 p.m. when people go through an afternoon slump. Experiment with different posting times and track engagement.
If you're looking for some extra guidance on when to post, Buffer's Answers feature provides you with three posting time suggestions for maximizing your reach on Instagram.
Find more in-depth guidance in our article, How to Find Your Best Time to Post on Instagram.
3. Post consistently
A 2021 study of 14 industries shows that businesses share four Instagram posts per week, on average. But we recommend posting at least once a day. Brands that get into a regular flow with Instagram posts tend to see the best results. According to a Tailwind study, profiles that post daily gain Instagram followers faster than those that post less frequently.
With Instagram’s algorithmic timeline, consistency is a key element to getting your posts seen. If your posts are shared on a regular basis and picking up good engagement, Instagram’s algorithm will likely show your posts near the top of your followers’ feeds.
Of course, quality is always more important than quantity. Posting more often doesn’t necessarily translate to higher engagement rates. Focus on creating content that will resonate with your target audience—more on that in section 9: Engage with your audience.
Instagram scheduling tools allow you to post consistently without having to worry about posting directly from the app every day. Take a look at How to Schedule Instagram Posts to Save Time and Boost Engagement to discover our favorite Instagram scheduling tools (free and paid) along with scheduling tips.
4. Learn how the Instagram algorithm works
Many Instagram users initially panicked about the switch from a chronological feed to the ranked timeline. However, since the change, the average post is seen by 50% more followers than before. So, forget about learning how to beat the Instagram algorithm. Instead, focus on learning how to use the system to your advantage.
There are six factors that determine what shows up in each person’s timeline: interest, timeliness, relationship, frequency, following, and usage.
Here’s a quick rundown of what each of those factors refers to:
- Interest: How much Instagram thinks a person will like the post based on previous activity
- Timeliness: How recent the post is
- Relationship: Accounts a person engages with on a regular basis
- Frequency: How often a person uses the Instagram app
- Following: Posts from the accounts a person follows
- Usage: How much time a person spends on Instagram
Instagram’s algorithm aims to surface the best content for each individual user. So, while six separate factors may seem like a lot to worry about, the best thing you can do is create high-quality content consistently.
We dig into each ranking factor in more detail in How the Instagram Algorithm Works in 2021: Everything You Need to Know. We also include guidance on how to create content that caters to each factor and share tips on how to use the Instagram algorithm to your advantage.
5. Experiment with different content types
Instagram is so much more than photos. Over the years, the app has introduced many ways to share content on the platform. Mixing it up with different content types is one of the best ways to gain more followers on Instagram because it gives you the chance to reach and connect with a wider range of people.
Remember: The algorithm looks at interest and strives to show people the content types that they interact with most often. So, if one person likes and comments on Instagram Reels more often than other post types, they’re likely to see more Reels in their Instagram feed. However, if another person interacts more frequently with carousel posts, they’ll see more of that content type in their timeline.
Each type of content has advantages. For instance, Instagram Reels have an edge because they’re the newest content type and Instagram always pushes new features. Since launching Instagram Reels in 2020, the app has moved the Reels button to the center position in the menu bar and made Reels appear larger than photo posts on the Explore page. Considering 200 million people check the Explore page every day, that additional visual real estate can make a big difference in how many people you reach.
Instagram TV (IGTV) videos also appear 4x larger than photos on the Explore page. And, since IGTV videos can be as long as 60 minutes, this type of content is ideal for long-form video.
Instagram Stories disappear after 24 hours, but they have their benefits as well. Fifty-seven percent of brands believe thatStories have been “somewhat effective” or “very effective”as a part of their social media strategy. Plus, if you have a verified account or at least 10,000 followers, you can add Instagram Swipe Up links to Stories to drive traffic to specific pages.
Meanwhile, carousel posts—a series of up to 10 images/videos in a single post—boast the highest engagement rates of all post types. Think of carousels as a mini-story or teaser to a longer-form piece of content, such as a blog. You can use text images, photos, video, or a mix of everything all in one thematic post.
Confused by all the arguments for different post types? People like what they like. So, while studies can tell you what the average engagement rate is for each content type or argue for one over the other, the best strategy is to use a variety. Mixing up your Instagram content allows you to reach people with different preferences, and that extended reach helps you boost your Instagram followers.
6. Find your brand voice and create unique content
People don’t follow your business on social media so they can see sales pitches. They follow your brand because they enjoy your personality and the content you create.
What works for one business might not suit your branding—even when you’re in similar industries. For example, Juggling Daisies Hobby Farm and Such and Such Farm both consider themselves to be unique farms. Juggling Daises is all about fun stories, cute photos, and wholesome content. Meanwhile, Such and Such Farm has a more rough-around-the-edges style that includes curse words and humor.
Ask yourself what you want your tone to be. Funny? Informative? Playful? Cynical? Your personality should also reflect what you’re passionate about. Such and Such Farm believes in sustainably grown produce, so many of their Instagram posts talk about their farming practices. What topics do you address with your Instagram content? Everything you share on your business account should show off your brand’s personality and beliefs.
Think of your business account as a person. Design a personality for the account and create branding guidelines so you can stay consistent. Branding guidelines should include notes on tone, style, and values along with your brand’s colors and fonts.
7. Write great captions
Nice photos catch people’s attention—great Instagram captions keep it. Captions give you a chance to provide more context or details about the photo or video you’re sharing. Plus, using keywords in captions can help you appear in search results on the app.
Instagram captions can be up to 2,200 characters. Of course, not every caption needs to read like a blog post. Play around with different lengths. Some photos pair nicely with a short, quippy caption with a couple of emojis, while others might benefit from something longer and more reflective.
The average length of Instagram captions is on the rise, but most brands still don’t go anywhere near that 2,200 character limit. In 2020, the average was projected to be 405 characters, up from 142 in 2016.
So, when do you go long, and when do you keep it simple? There’s no hard-and-fast rule. Just like with content types, it’s best to mix it up. Take a look at these two posts from Andréa Jones of OnlineDrea. One post has a short caption, while the other specifically directs you to the caption for a longer explanation.
8. Research and use hashtags
We’ve explored hashtags a lot on the blog, but it seems that nowhere on social media are they quite as important as on Instagram. The right hashtags can expose your image to a large and targeted audience, and Instagram users don’t seem to get hashtag fatigue in the same way they might on other networks.
Start by finding hashtags that would appeal to your target audience. Free Instagram tools like Display Purposes and AutoHash help you find relevant hashtags for your Instagram posts. For instance, with Display Purposes, you simply type in a few words about your image, and it will recommend the top hashtags to use.
If you want to gain more Instagram followers, hashtags are essential. Using hashtags makes your content discoverable via search or filtering when people tap on the same hashtag from another post. People can even follow their favorite hashtags so that top content with that hashtag will show up in their Instagram timeline.
Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post, but don’t tack on extras just to hit 30. TrackMaven recommends nine hashtags for maximum engagement. Just make sure you don’t use the same nine hashtags over and over again. Instead, group your go-to hashtags by category so you can quickly add a few relevant hashtags to each post.
With Buffer Hashtag Manager, you can create and save groups of hashtags. Then, you can select from your pre-saved groups and add hashtags to your scheduled Instagram posts.
9. Engage with your audience
Engagement is crucial for growth on Instagram. Many brands make the mistake of focusing on likes and comments without considering the people behind those metrics. If you really want to get more Instagram followers, you need to engage your fans in a conversation.
Keep in mind that just because someone sees your content, that doesn’t mean they currently follow you. If you have a chance to interact with a potential follower, you should take it. Every comment is an opportunity to gain a new follower (or keep a current one), so make sure you respond to each comment you receive. If your hands are already cramping at the thought of tapping away on your phone, don’t worry. With the Buffer Engage tool, you can reply to comments from your desktop.
But don’t just wait for your followers to start the conversation. Create engagement opportunities. Use Instagram stickers such as open-ended questions and polls in Instagram Stories. Ask questions in your photo captions. Encourage people to tag friends in the comments with prompts such as “Tag your BFF who you’d invite on this cruise!” or “Tag your wine-loving friend who you’d do this wine tasting with.”
Need more ideas? Take a look at our Instagram engagement tips to learn how to get more followers on Instagram by increasing engagement.
10. Collaborate with others
Another great way to gain Instagram followers is to collaborate with others through partnerships or influencer campaigns.
Our brand spotlight with Blume is a great example. Blume gets access to Buffer’s followers through the original Instagram Story and the accompanying Highlights. Meanwhile, Blume will share the spotlight with their fans, which brings their audience to Buffer. It’s a win-win.
Influencer marketing is another way to grow your Instagram following. If you have the budget, you can pay content creators to promote your brand. But if you’re hoping to keep it simple (and low-budget), micro-influencers (1,000–10,000 followers) can be very impactful. In fact, content from micro-influencers has higher engagement rates than content from larger accounts. You can seek out micro-influencers to set up collaborations or simply re-share user-generated content (UGC).
Remember those branded hashtags we talked about in Section 1: Optimize your bio? One tap on your branded hashtag, and you’ll have an entire catalog of content to choose from.
When we first launched Buffer’s Instagram, we encouraged fans to use #BufferStories and #BufferCommunity. We used those hashtags to find and re-share user-generated content. Within one year, we increased our Instagram followers from 4,250 to 21,000.
Why is UGC so popular? "It relays authentic experiences about a brand’s products or services from previous customers, which boosts brand credibility," says Ramon Berrios of Trend.
Collaborations are also a chance to show off your values and personality through association. The businesses and people you align with and support say a lot about your own brand. Partnerships can be especially powerful for local businesses, too. Consider partnering with your neighbors so you can reach a hyper-targeted audience.
11. Link to your Instagram from elsewhere
Make it easy for people to find your Instagram. No one should have to hunt through pages of your website to find your Instagram profile.
Add your Instagram account link to:
- Email footers
- Your website’s footer and/or sidebar
- Bios on other social media platforms
- Social media posts from team members
12. Analyze your results
One way to figure out how to get more followers on Instagram is to look into what your current fans respond to. You can monitor several Instagram metrics directly in the app with Instagram Insights or through third-party analytics tools such as Buffer.
Don’t obsess over vanity metrics such as likes and comments. Instead, think about what the metrics tell you. For example, if you’re testing out a new hashtag, metrics such as new followers and reach will tell you more about the value of that hashtag than likes from your current followers will. However, if you’re experimenting with different posting times, impressions can give you an idea of when your content is most likely to be seen. Your end goal will determine which metrics matter the most.
Watch for trends. Does a specific type of image get more impressions or engagement? Post more of those images and see how your followers respond. Do certain hashtags result in more likes from people who don’t follow you? Use those hashtags more often and keep an eye on new followers.
Read our Instagram Analytics guide to learn more about Instagram metrics and how to use them to fuel your marketing strategy.
How do you manage your Instagram marketing?
If you want steady Instagram growth, you have to give your target audience quality content on a regular basis. While piecemeal social media is fine for personal accounts, businesses need to be more strategic. All of the tactics we covered will help you gain more Instagram followers, but they’re not boxes you can check off once. Staying on top of your social media content strategy is crucial.
It takes time to plan and schedule posts. And managing engagement can be a challenge as well. With Buffer, you can manage every aspect of your Instagram marketing strategy, from scheduling through analytics, right in one platform. Get started for free.