Let's face it: Instagram has become one of the most engaging social platforms. It isn't quite as popular as Facebook, but users are often more engaged and active due to the visual nature of Instagram.
If you're using Instagram to grow your business, you might find it difficult to attract followers at first. That's okay. We're here to help with tested tips to get more real followers on Instagram for free.
Entrepreneurs often approach Instagram in the wrong way. They try to buy followers, post erratically, and give up out of frustration.
We don't want that to happen to you.
Instagram creates a visual smorgasbord of dynamic content that can get shared hundreds, thousands, and even millions of times. Additionally, the lines between brands and individuals often get blurred. Consumers often engage with the brands they love because of the content those brands publish.
If you want to become one of those brands, follow these tips to boost your follower count on Instagram and to elevate your brand in the eyes of your target audience.
Before we jump into the article, check out our panel discussion with Jessica Hawks (128k+ followers) and Haley Burkhead (28k+ followers) with fresh strategies for growing your Instagram with both organic and paid marketing strategies:
1. Fuel Up on Photography and Post-Production Skills
Before you start publishing on Instagram in earnest, you need a few photography skills, both behind the camera and in post-production. Fantastic photos will earn you more followers and more shares.
You don't need to become Ansel Adams — you just need to know the basics of photography, filters, overlays, and other skills.
First, every photograph should have a clearly defined subject. It could be a cup of coffee, a beautiful sunset, your pet Labrador, or anything else that you want to photograph.
You want to make sure that your camera does not shake while you take your photograph because you might introduce unwanted blur. Learn your camera's settings as well as its capabilities. For instance, some cameras perform better in low-light situations than others.
In post-production, you can make your photograph look even more sensational by adding filters, adjusting color saturation, sharpening the image, and playing with curves and levels.
You can also turn regular photographs into HDR photos through specialized software. Consider reading blogs like Digital Photography School. You can learn lots of interesting tips and strategies for making your Instagram photos shine.
Just remember that it's easy to go over the top with filters and other post-production strategies. When in doubt, make your photographs as natural as possible.
2. Figure Out What the Competition is Doing
Your next step toward Instagram success involves your direct competitors. You want to check out their Instagram accounts and figure out what type of content they publish.
This isn't about ripping off someone else's approach to Instagram. In fact, you want to distinguish yourself from your competitors as effectively as possible.
Many entrepreneurs and brands stand out on Instagram because they buck the system. They take a new approach to sharing content and they surprise their audiences.
For instance, maybe your direct competitors post on Instagram just once per week. You can stand out from the crowd by posting daily or even several times a day.
Think about how you can share photographs and captions in a unique and appealing way. Maybe you could add more video than your competitors or style your photographs in a way that doesn't resemble the styles of your competitors' photographs.
Keep checking back with your competitors to see how they're progressing on Instagram. You might even interact with them if you want to create camaraderie.
3. Devise a Dedicated Hashtag for Your Brand
Hashtags are among the easiest ways to get found on Instagram. Consumers often search for and follow specific hashtags that interest them.
Plus, you can have your own dedicated, branded hashtag that your followers can use to easily find your content. Some of your followers might even begin using your hashtag to share content related to selling online courses you've made.
That's a huge display of respect and admiration.
You're looking for a hashtag that is not been used by any other brand. You'll want to avoid generic hashtags that could be used by anyone. Start with the name of your company. Your personal name can work, as well.
The best hashtags give a hint about your industry and your purpose. When someone encounters your hashtag, whether through your Instagram profile or someone else's, they should immediately have an inkling about what you do.
You can find inspiration everywhere. Take the company Charmin, for instance. The company adopted the hashtag #TweetFromTheSeat. It's related to the company’s products, but it also adds a dose of humor. The company can use it on Twitter, then cross-post their content on Instagram.
Coca-Cola also has a memorable branded hashtag. It is #ShareACoke. Simple and straightforward.
You might not have an audience's largest Coca-Cola's or Charmin's, but that doesn't mean you can't get creative with your dedicated hashtag.
4. Use Cross-Promotion to Spread Your Hashtag
Once you've created a branded hashtag, you don't have to reserve it exclusively for Instagram. Cross-promotion can help your hashtag spread more quickly and give your company more visibility.
You can use hashtags on just about every social platform. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn are just a few examples.
When you cross-promote your hashtag, you'll reach prospective customers who don't use Instagram.
5. Experiment With Different Hashtags
In addition to your branded hashtag, you'll also want to tag your Instagram posts with other hashtags — preferably ones that are trending. You'll get more eyes on your content and you'll gain followers more quickly.
You can find trending Instagram hashtags in a number of ways.
Consider downloading the HashTags for Instagram app from Google play with the iOS store. It's a free tool that lets you search for trending hashtags in real time.
You can choose a category and narrow down hashtag suggestions based on subject or you can track a favorite hashtag to find out when it starts to trend.
Alternatively, use the auto-complete feature on Instagram. Type the first few letters of a subject related to your business, then check out the suggestions that Instagram rolls out below.
Instagram will tell you how many times each hashtag has been used. You'll quickly determine which hashtags have been trending recently so you can use them to reach more potential followers.
6. Track and Join Popular Conversations
You can't expect to generate Instagram followers if you simply post photographs and captions. Posting is only half the process.
To entice people to engage with your brand, you must track relevant conversations and join in on the discussions. Become part of the natural daily discourse on Instagram to establish your authority in your industry and to convince other Instagram users that you are worth following.
Hashtag tracking is a big part of the strategy. However, you might also want to check in with the people you follow and figure out what they're talking about. Use Instagram as part of your pipeline marketing campaign.
Comment on your followers’ posts, reply to their comments, and add value with everything you write.
7. Regularly Update Your Bio URL
You only get to publish one URL on Instagram. It's found in your bio. You'll notice that the veteran Instagram users continually update their bio URLs on the content they want to promote.
You can use that strategy to promote your landing pages, sales pages, latest blog posts, and other meaningful content. If you want to draw attention to the URL in your bio, add the words "link in bio" to related posts.
You can track engagement levels with each of your links to see which fit the most clicks. That way, you can optimize every link for conversions and click-through rates.
Updating your bio URL can also make your profile on Instagram more relevant. Followers will know that you are active on the platform and will, therefore, check your feed more often to find out what types of content your posting.
8. Have Fun With Image Captions
Image captions matter almost as much as the images you post on Instagram. They give context to the images and help drive engagement in the comment section.
Your captions can include several elements, including prose, hashtags, emojis, and more. Spice up the captions with text that educates, entertains, or inspires your audience. Don't be afraid to throw in a few jokes or to tag other Instagrammers.
Always start with the most important part of your message. If you bury the important words at the end of your caption, you risk people not seeing it because they don't click to read the entire caption.
To boost engagement, consider asking questions in your caption. People love to voice their opinions on subjects large and small, and asking a question gives followers an excuse to respond.
9. Know Relevant Influencers
Get to know the influencers in your industry who are active on Instagram. Even if you don't have room in your budget to pay an influencer to market your online courses, you might be able to engage influencers in conversations.
Influencers do not always promote products and services because they receive financial incentive. Many spread the word to their audiences because they find a product they love and want to let others know about it.
If you want to work with influencers and you don't have a big budget, consider offering a barter arrangement. In exchange for a free copy of your online course, the influencer plugs your product to his or her audience.
10. Scrub Your Profile of Unwanted Photographs
Maybe you've been active on Instagram for a long period of time. In this case, you might have posted many personal photographs that have no relevance to your target audience.
It's time to scrub those old photographs from your account. You can either remove them completely or transfer them to another account that you use purely for personal purposes.
You don't want to leave any photographs that might compromise your brand or confuse your audience. Additionally, you want your Instagram account to focus on converting potential customers. Irrelevant photographs and captions will impede your progress.
11. Approve Photo Tags Before Content Goes Live
Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of worrying only about their own activities on Instagram and other social media platforms. Remember, however, that other people can target and mention you in their own posts.
In your Instagram settings, elect to manually approve tags. You'll receive notification when a photograph goes live and you're tagged in it. You can then edit the target if you do not want it to appear in that photo's caption.
This strategy allows you to better control your brand's image and reputation. If someone with a negative reputation mentions you on Instagram, you can decide to distance yourself from that particular conversation.
12. Make Your Photography and Captioning Style Unique
If you want to get more Instagram followers, you need to set yourself apart not only from the competition but from everyone else who uses the platform. You accomplish this through a unique photography style and through a unique written voice in captions.
Only you can decide what style of photography and what voice you want to use in your Instagram posts. However, you want to keep both consistent with your content on other platforms. If you sound radically different on Instagram than you do in your online courses, you'll create more confusion than anything else.
Consider developing your own photography filter, posting photographs of a unique and curated subject, and developing a unique way to communicate through emojis. All of these small details can make you more recognizable on Instagram.
13. Use Local Marketing
Local marketing has become increasingly important for entrepreneurs in all industries. Using your hometown as your geographical base can help you build your brand more effectively.
Consider tagging your posts with your geographical location and targeting other cities and towns with your posts if you plan to travel.
For instance, you might attend a conference or other event to promote your brand and to meet prospective customers. Use local marketing to let your followers know where you will be to generate excitement about meeting you.
14. Tell Instagram Stories
Why would you want to create content that will vanish after 24 hours have passed? The answer is simple: Instagram Stories. This unique content type allows you to share intimate photos and videos with your audience that will only remain active for a limited time.
You can use Instagram Stories to connect with your followers and to make your content more visible. Many brands use Instagram Stories to host Q&A sessions, to give behind-the-scenes looks at their creative processes, and to share day-in-the-life vignettes.
Video content often works best with Instagram Stories, but you can also share series of photographs. Consider loading a set of photos from your camera roll directly to Instagram as part of an Instagram Story.
15. Use the latest Instagram features
You might also want to "go live" with your Instagram audience. Live streaming allows you to appear in front of your fans in real time. You can answer questions, listen to feedback, and provide off-the-cuff content.
Live streaming has become increasingly popular across all social platforms. You get to meet your followers in person and share what you've learned in an intimate way. Going live with your audience makes your brand more transparent and helps you to form a more connected bond with current and prospective customers.
instagram has also rolled out a feature called Reels. Like Tik Tok, this allows you to stitch together 15-second videos in various fun ways.
16. Share Videos That Have Gone Viral
Sometimes, you don't have to create your own content to attract followers on Instagram. Instead, you can share other people's content — especially that which has gone viral.
It's a little bit like peer pressure but in a good way. Instead of dressing, acting, and looking like everyone else, you share content that you know other people have liked. This strategy can also endear you to the creators of the content that you share.
When it comes to sharing other people's content, keep it to a minimum in comparison to the original content you post on Instagram. A 90/10 ratio can work well.
To find content that you think your audience will appreciate, track hashtags and your favorite creators on Instagram. That way, you'll see viral content as soon as it starts to take off.
17. Run an Instagram Contest
Everybody likes to get something for free. Contests and giveaways allow you to attract more followers, especially if you encourage contest participants to share your contest with their own audiences.
Contests work well when you give away something that's related to your brand. For instance, everyone might want a new television or the latest iPhone, but unless you create online courses related to TV or telecommunications, neither product is a relevant giveaway for your brand.
Fortunately, your digital product offers the perfect getaway for your audience. The winter might receive free access to one of your online courses, and might eventually purchase your other digital products because they were impressed with the one they got for free.
Other contest participants who did not win might register online course after the contest ends.
18. Link to Your Branded Hashtag From Other Platforms
You don't want to use Instagram in a bubble. Connecting your presence on Instagram to other social platforms and digital properties can massively increase your reach and improve brand recognition. One way to do this is to use your branded hashtag on platforms other than Instagram.
When you use your branded hashtag on your Kajabi blog, for instance, we get to one of your Instagram posts or to your Instagram profile. When readers click on that link, they get the automatic option to follow you on Instagram.
You can do the same thing on Twitter, Facebook, and in online forums.
19. Keep a Consistent Posting Schedule
We've mentioned before here on the Kajabi blog that consistency matters more than anything else when it comes to content marketing. This strategy applies to Instagram just as much as it does to your blog and other social media platforms.
If you want to post once a day, continue to do that, preferably at the same time every day. You can use social media scheduling apps to schedule posts well in advance.
When you're consistent in your Instagram posting schedule, your followers will get used to seeing your content in their feeds on a regular basis. You certainly don't have to limit yourself to one post per day. Some brands post every few hours.
Just figure out the schedule that works best for your brand, audience, and available time. If you commit to posting more often than you're able, you'll simply disappoint yourself – and worse, your audience.
20. Interact and Engage
Just as we suggested sharing other people's content on Instagram, you want to actively engage with your followers in conversations. Respond to comments on your individual posts, comments on other people's posts, and jump on trending hashtags.
The more active you are using your Instagram profile, the more visible you become to potential followers. Keep in mind that your available audience extends well beyond the people who already follow you.
Each time your brand shows up in someone else's comment section, your voice gets exposed to new people. It's an excellent way to grow your follower list organically and for free.
21. Use Tags Appropriately
When tagging your posts, make sure every tag is relevant to the content. You don't want to use the tab just because it's become popular. Doing this will only irritate people who stumble upon your posts and realize that they aren't finding what they came there for.
22. Consider Instagram Advertising
We promised to share 25 ways to grow your Instagram follower count for free. Instagram advertising is not free, but it can actually become lucrative if your cost to acquire a customer exceeds the amount you spend on advertising.
Let's say, for example, that you spend $100 to advertise on Instagram. From those advertising dollars, you generate 10 new customers who each purchase your online course for $200. You spent $100, but you earned $2,000.
That's an incredible ROI. It will work out like that every time, but learning how to advertise effectively on Instagram could help you garner more followers – and, more importantly, more customers.
23. Check Your Instagram Insights
We are big fans of data here at Kajabi, and Instagram Insights can provide valuable information about your audience. You'll want to track your Instagram Insights with data analysis software regularly to find new patterns and behaviors.
You'll quickly learn, for instance, which types of posts garner the most engagement. Once you recognize that pattern, you can produce more of that type of content and attract more followers.
24. Increase Your Visibility
Visibility matters more on social media than most other factors. When you have a low follower count, few people see each post you published on the platform.
You can increase visibility on Instagram by promoting your account on other online properties. Consider adding social share buttons to each of your blog posts. That way, people can automatically share your content and find your Instagram account.
25. Add CTAs to Your Posts
Calls to action aren't just for blog posts and landing pages. They were just as effectively on your Instagram posts as well as in your bio.
Just a few words can act as a CTA and drive more visitors to your posts. People want to share your content with their own audiences, which can lead to a higher follower count.
26. Set and Meet Goals
If you don't have any goals for your Instagram activity, you will have no metric by which to measure your success. Set specific, actionable goals for both short- and long-term strategies.
A short-term goal, for example, might need to acquire 100 followers in two weeks. You set a number, which makes the goal specific, and you set a deadline. The same thing works for long-term goals.
A long-term goal could be to generate $5,000 in revenue from Instagram conversions in one year. As time passes, you'll begin to see whether or not your goal was achievable.
Use Instagram To Promote & Sell Your Online Course
After you create an online course, your job isn't done. In fact, some might argue that it's just starting. Numerous digital products likely exist in your industry, so you have to fight for your prospective customers' attention. The best way to do this is to promote your online courses through email marketing, blogging, and social media.
There are various ways to use Instagram to sell your online courses. Here are the major things to keep in mind:
- Build an Instagram following around a niche that's similar to your online course
- Directly promote your courses in posts. Let people know what they can expect from taking your course.
- Consider using Instagram ads to get your courses in front of more people
- Lean on Instagram influencers to promote your courses
- Leverage all the latest features that Instagram rolls out like Instagram Reels.
Should I Buy Instagram Followers?
People have long tried to game various systems by buying their way to success. True to this fashion, entrepreneurs have attempted to buy Instagram followers to artificially inflate their follower counts.
Do not do this.
It's tempting, we know, but buying Instagram followers will only get you into hot water.
For one thing, savvy tech professionals have created ways to find out whether certain social media accounts have artificial followers. Someone will figure it out.
But that's not the only concern. Buying Instagram followers might increase your follower count, but it won't increase engagement rates. You're usually buying followers from the company that has created thousands of so-called zombie accounts.
The zombie accounts rarely have any posts and have no engagement. All of those followers you bought will not benefit you in terms of conversions, reputation, or credibility.
Sure, it sounds easier to buy a bunch of followers on Instagram them to work through the steps we listed above, but entrepreneurs succeed in the wake of hard work — not cheating.
Use Instagram to boost your business
You are now armed with more than two dozen strategies for gaining real followers on Instagram for free. You're well on your way to building a devoted following.
If you’re successful, you’ll find it much easier to grow your audience and promote your online courses.
Is it easy? Not by a long shot. However, if you're willing to put in the work, you can easily build your brand on Instagram and help your business thrive.
Start by sharpening your photography and post-production skills. Create your own branded hashtag and cross-promote it on other social networks. Don't neglect other hashtags. Find out which ones are trending and use them to attract traffic.
Be as active as possible on Instagram so that you become a recognized brand among your followers. Make your photography and your captions unique and compelling, tell Instagram stories, and create live videos. You might even want to try local marketing.
You can further increase your Instagram follower count I keeping track of your Instagram Insights, adding CTAs to your post, and setting and meeting goals.
If you're consistent enough, you'll see your Instagram follower count gradually increase. That's the type of growth that you can sustain over the long haul.
Buying Instagram followers isn't a sustainable strategy. Worse, it can harm your brand's reputation and lead to low engagement levels with your audience.
Are you active on Instagram? What strategies have you used to attract more followers for free?