Instagram is my photography hub.

However, Instagram is also a social network where lots of brands are struggling to build their own following. But becoming successful brand on Instagram is at times somewhat counter-intuitive. And lots of users are already looking for shortcuts.

  • Are there any magic hashtags that you can use?
  • Or a way to cheat the Instagram user recommendation engine?
  • Should you sharpen your comedy skills — or just take some photography classes?

Good news is that there are some strategies that will help you. bad news is that they might just not be what you think they should be.

Challenging Strategies

(Out of reach) strategy: “I’m a celebrity!”

One obvious way to get hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers would be to become a celebrity. Being famous will trigger your fans to find and follow you on social media. If you’re a celebrity, you could post a picture of yourself brushing your teeth; you’d still get thousands and thousands of likes for it. That’s the power of internet fame. As I’m writing this, the most liked image on Instagram (2,700,000 likes and counting) is a recent pic by a celebrity — Kendall Jenner:

Kendall Jenner on Instagram.
Kendall Jenner’s feed is better than yours.

The Kendall Jenner image has many things going for it: It’s a message of love with a touch of creativity, it’s cute and instantaneous, and most of all — it’s a picture many of her fans and followers can replicate. (It gives people a reason to take selfies, which usually works well with certain publics on Instagram.) And the Kardashian/Jenner family are no strangers to hitting it big on Instagram:

Kanye West and Kim Kardashian's wedding on Instagram.
Kim and Kanye knows how to get likes.
Caitlyn Jenner's vanity Fair cover on Instagram.
Caitlyn Jenner also knows how to do it.

Just because it works for a celebrity, it doesn’t mean that copying their strategies will work for your brand.

(Out of reach) strategy: “I’m pretty!”

The German Instagram influencer deborah_tmz is a typical example. She has grown a following of 753,000 fans from just 340 selfies (that’s one selfie a day for less than a year) — much like this one:

Deborah_tmz are serious about selfies.
Deborah_tmz are serious about selfies.

(Out of reach) strategy: “I’m a talented photographer!”

If you’re a talented photographer, you could grow a serious audience. Swedish nature photographer @wisslaren (Christoffer Collin) grew his following to 1,000,000 fans by posting 5,000+ amazing pictures like this one:

Wisslaren on Instagram.
Requirements: Some serious talent and budgets for travel.

(Out of reach) strategy: “I’m a comedian!”

Some people are just born to be entertainers, and some have a knack for the particular type of comedy that works on Instagram. Like The Fat Jewish with his 5,000,000+ followers — with updates like this one:

The Fat Jew on Instagram.
Smile.

Going for a niche is generally good advice on Instagram — but be careful not to choose a niche where your brand simply can’t compete.

“But, Wait…”

“But, I’m not a celebrity!”
“But, I’m not model material!”
“But, I’m not a talented photographer!”
“But, our business has nothing to do with comedy!”

Well, I’m sure you’ll be okay. Chances are that your brand wouldn’t want the following of a celebrity, a model, a world-class photographer — or a New York internet sensation.If anything, you want a following that’s relevant to your business!

You should just consider some other type of Instagram strategy.

Easy Street Strategies

(Within reach) strategy: “I’m obsessively consistent!”

Those who manage to attract massive audiences via “Elite Inspiration” all have one thing in common: They’re surprisingly consistent in their postings. They don’t go out on tangents, and they rarely experiment with their content. They’ve learned what their followers appreciate, so they stick to that.

  • Consistent publishing schedule: They post on a consistent schedule that works well for the type of audience they’re building.
  • Consistent surround message: Their images have a consistent quality in evoking an emotional response, like laughter or surprise.
  • Consistent formatting: They are consistent in their use of filters/editing, whitespace, and general composition/cropping.
  • Consistent motive choices: They pick a type of motive(s), angle(s) and/or location(s) — and then they stick with these choices.
  • Consistent copy tonality: They are consistent with the way they write about their uploaded photos, from copy to tagging.

Swedish Instagram talent Louise Ljungberg serves as an excellent example of being consistent and getting a niche following. From posting 599 pictures, she has grown a following 182,000 fans — with consistent photos like these:

Consistent Instagram board.
Consistency — across the board.

(Within reach) strategy: “I’m an expert on hashtags!”

Instagram, as we all know, allow for the use of hashtags. However, most people (and brands) use them wrong.

You’re allowed to use 30 hashtags for a single picture — and you should try to use them all. However, it’s futile to use the hashtag #sunset, because there are already so many people using that tag. For every hashtag, Instagram’s algorithm picks out nine pictures to feature (click on a tag and you’ll see them). The featured pictures are chosen based on two main variables — age (how recent the photo is) and engagement (number of likes). So what does it take to get your photo featured? Look at those pictures already featured, and you’ll quickly get a sense of how many likes you need to get your picture among the top nine. If you get 30 likes on average, then you should only target 30 relevant hashtags where 30 likes will get you featured. As you get more and more likes, you’ll have to find new and more popular hashtags to use. it’s simple, it’s effective, and it’s quite a lot of work.

By targeting specific hashtags and anticipating the number of likes you’re likely to receive, you can make sure to have your picture end up in “Top Posts” for up to 30 tags!

Instagram's Top Posts
With about 100 likes you should be able to get your picture “featured” on this tag.

(Within reach) strategy: “I’m smart with automation software!”

You should never buy followers or get followers in various “follow4follow” programs. People will spot it and think that you’re a loser — and that’s not good public relations. Plus, fake followers won’t buy your products or services. And their passivity will kill your algorithmic momentum.

However, it does work to follow other accounts, like their pictures, and leave thoughtful comments. If you have a couple of hours each day to do this, that is. There are various software services that allow you to automate this. If you use these programs in a responsible manner, you’ll only be following the accounts that you have selected (and that you would have followed anyway), but the software takes care of this for you. While you sleep, so to speak. This is obviously a gray hat tactic — and Instagram hates it. They often shut these services down, one by one. And often for good reason. Automated “great capture” comments are terrible. Still, these software programs can be used for good, too. If you decide to use them, use them with great caution — or risk getting suspended by Instagram!

Here’s an example of a Chrome Extension that you can use to automatically follow, unfollow, like, and comment pictures. I won’t link to it, basically because I can’t guarantee the developer’s legitimacy (malware is always an issue with these types of services).

Instagram Chrome Extension
Look in the lower right corner…
How to grow your brand’s Instagram account.

Photo by Nigel Tadyanehondo on Unsplash.

How to get real Instagram followers for business.
Oh, almost forgot. You can also cross-promote your account via other platforms.