How I grew my Instagram following by over 500% in five months.

Today’s blog post is inspired by a couple of newsletter questions I got recently - and also by the fact that I hit 800 (!!!!) followers on Instagram yesterday morning! 

To some, this might not be a big deal. To me, it is. Let me tell you why: At the beginning of this year, I set the intention to grow my Instagram community. It felt as if it could become a place for me to connect with like-minded Creative Bosses - and let me tell you, it has delivered. Oh boy, it has. 

Yayyyy!! Still can't believe this graph.

Yayyyy!! Still can't believe this graph.

On January 1st, I started with 147 followers. As of June 22, I’m at 813 - a growth rate of over 550% over the last (almost) six months.

Witchcraft? No. Hard? No. Well, yes, sometimes. And I learned a couple of things along the way that I think helped me grow which I’d love to share with you! Also, I love learning about new tips and tricks regarding Instagram - I’d love it if you shared your insights and experience in the comments below!

 

Consistency is key.

I found that consistency is key for growing your Instagram following in two ways: Your visual language, and your posting frequency

Your visual language (aka how do your photos look?): 

I made the conscious decision on January 1st to only post photos that I took on my white table - flat lays, close ups, a lot of white space. This self-imposed constraint not only made it easier for me to actually take photos that looked somewhat decent, but it also ensured that my visual language was consistent. No more weird selfies (although I deviated from that recently ;)), no more random knitting on the couch shots.

Before ...

Before ...

... and after.

... and after.

Now, you don’t have to be as strict as I was! You can still have a consistent visual language even if you use different formats or backgrounds. Two excellent examples for this are @thewoolclub and @rebeccadesnos - beautiful feeds with consistent visual language. 

You have no idea how to come up with a visual concept for your photos? Fear not! Just take a look at your favorite Instagram accounts and write down what you like about them. Is it the way the light hits the picture? Is it the background of the photos? Is it the colors? Figure that out, and then start with this list as your first visual guide.

Your posting frequency:

I’ve found that a regular posting schedule helps with building a community. I try to post at least one picture a day - recently I’ve upped that to two, maximum three. More feels like spamming to me. 

I do see a slight correlation between posting more often and getting more followers, but I wouldn’t put my hand into the fire for that. 

Still, I think it’s good advice to try and post at least one picture a day! I made it one of my daily goals until it actually became a habit - maybe that works for you too? 

 

Choose 3 to 5 topics. 

This was a game changer for me, and I think I got this tip from Francoise Danoy’s excellent guide on how to grow your Instagram following (you can get that here if you sign up - it’s for free!)!

Choosing a range of maximum 5 topics makes it easier for you to be consistent (see #1), and it also helps you attract the kind of followers you want to attract. After all, if you want to have knitting enthusiasts follow you, and you only post picture of salads, it’s not going to get you anywhere.

My topics are:

  • Knitting & spinning (projects, tools, yaaaaaarn)
  • Sewing (again projects, tools, fabric!)
  • Creative Boss projects & business insights 
  • Online shop

Choose topics that you love to share and that you can imagine photos for. For knitting and sewing it’s pretty straight forward - for Creative Boss projects it’s a bit more challenging, but I like to figure out new ways to take pictures for that!

Stick to these topics - and research hashtags for them!

Hashtags are THE way how people are going to find you on Instagram. I tend to look into the hashtags of accounts who cover similar topics for inspiration for new hashtags - exchanging them regularly helps with finding new target groups in my experience!

The hashtags I use most frequently. 

The hashtags I use most frequently. 

Oh, and, bonus tip for all iPhone owners: There’s a handy function that you can use to create shortcuts for all your hashtags. You can find it in the “General” settings —> Keyboard —> Text Replacement. Simply enter a shortcut and then add all the hashtags you want to use. Now you only need to enter the shortcut in your IG caption and boom! you get ALL the hashtags!

1st step: Create the shortcut!

1st step: Create the shortcut!

2nd step: Use it in your IG captions!

2nd step: Use it in your IG captions!

 

You don’t need a fancy camera. But you do need an editing app. 

I find that shooting all my photos with my iPhone (I have a 6S) works well - I don’t really like working with a big camera anyways, and I tend to take photos more often when I can simply use the phone.

Still - editing photos is key to a consistent visual language. My favourite editing app is VSCO - I don’t use any filters, I just use the manual editing features. Usually I adjust the brightness, the contrast and the sharpness - that's it.

Before editing ...

Before editing ...

... and after.

... and after.

Another tip that has helped me a lot is to always try and shoot the photos at the same time of day. I can then just copy and paste the editing that I’ve done and apply it to all pictures - yayyy! I try to shoot in the mornings or in the late afternoon as the light is best at that time of the day.

My setup is super simple: our white IKEA couch table that sits next to south-facing windows. Put some stuff on it, shoot a couple of photos. Done and done.  

Real life mess on real life table that sometimes doubles as my Instagram photo shoot studio. 

Real life mess on real life table that sometimes doubles as my Instagram photo shoot studio. 

I also find it comes in handy (at least later ;)) to shoot multiple different photos at once - that way I always have a backup photo in case I miss shooting one or the light sucks. 

 

Interact, interact, interact.

When you’re just starting out to grow your Instagram following, set aside some time every day to search through hashtags, like people’s photos and leave comments. 

I don’t like the approach of just randomly liking the first pictures that pop up when you search for hashtags. I prefer to click through to the profile and see if the person has a similar aesthetic and cares about similar things like I do. I think that’s part of why my engagement rate hasn’t dropped while growing my following. (I also think it’s the best way to grow a community of people you care about and who care about you.) 

Also, answer to comments in a timely manner. You don’t have to do it immediately, but I try to make an effort to answer to everyone within one day. Firstly, I think it’s the right (and polite) thing to do, and secondly, I think it helps you build community faster. 

Still, it took at least two to three months until I actually started getting comments on my photos - so don’t despair if you’re starting out to grow your IG following and it takes some time to get engagement! 

And then, sometimes, out of the blue, after months of work, one of your knitting heroes comments. YAAAAAAAYYYYYY! (Picture me jumping up and down like a mad woman.) 

And then, sometimes, out of the blue, after months of work, one of your knitting heroes comments. YAAAAAAAYYYYYY! (Picture me jumping up and down like a mad woman.) 

 

Tag brands —> give credit where credit is due. (Plus, reposts give follower bursts!)

The growth picture at the beginning of the post seems to suggest that the growth has always been sort of linear - which, honestly, is not really the case. 

I saw a couple of growth spurts when my photos got reposted by bigger brands or designers - like here when my Sparrow Tank photo got reposted by Quince & Co.:

Whooooooot??? 

Whooooooot??? 

See that jump at the end of April? That's the follower burst I got from the repost from Quince & Co.

See that jump at the end of April? That's the follower burst I got from the repost from Quince & Co.

I originally started tagging the yarn brands and designers of the patterns I made in my posts because I felt that it was the right thing to do - after all, I’m a big big believer in giving credit where credit is due. 

I never ever anticipated that someone would actually think my photos were worthy of a repost - and then it happened and I FREAKED OUT. I think you can increase your chances for getting reposted by being consistent and sharing high quality photos, but also remember to just SHARE YOUR WORK so that people know about you. 

 

Give it time. 

As I mentioned in the beginning - it’s not hard (at least most of the time), but it takes time and practice and willingness to figure out what works for you to grow your following on Instagram. 

Set a couple of small goals for yourself - like posting only flat lays, posting once a day, setting a timer for 10 minutes to research new hashtags once per week, and taking 15 minutes every morning to go through hashtags looking for people whose feed you might like. 

These small steps are going to take you somewhere big time over time!!