February 1, 2018

Inevitably, people often ask me a number of questions about Instagram strategies. One of the most common topics is hashtags (we’ll talk about that in a sec) and one of the other most common questions I get is how to grow your Instagram followers. While I’ve answered this question in many different ways and in many different places, I decided to wrap it all up in one pretty post right here for you to reference.

But, before I jump into my tips for growing your Instagram audience, I want to take a hot minute to discuss why my tactics might not be the quick fix answer you’re looking for.

My tips have nothing to do with buying followers, doing like-for-like games, and otherwise trying to game the system. These tips require you to actually do the work of interacting with others and creating quality content. So, if that’s not something you are prepared to do, you can totally stop reading this now 

I don’t encourage any sort of manipulative tactics or buying followers because they don’t generate honest engagement, loyal audiences, or authentic branding for you.

Alright, so, let’s dive in!


Running a contest on Instagram is relatively easy and doesn’t come with a lot of restrictions (though there are some). They take a little work on your behalf to execute them effectively but they are highly rewarding when done well. For more of my tips on running a successful Instagram contest, you can read this previous post.

In order to use a contest to generate more followers, I recommend keeping the contest entry simple: one criteria is to follow your account, the second criteria is to tag a friend in the post comments. That’s it.


Because it makes your followers do all the work for you and if your prize is something they actually want (hint, it should be!), then they’re happy to tag friends in the post comments as a chance to win. When a current follower of your account tags a friend, and let’s say that friend wants a chance to win, they’ll follow your account now too and tag one of their friends. And so the cycle continues. It’s easy to do, doesn’t require a lot of work from your audience, and you just sit back and watch the new followers roll in.

Here’s an example of a contest I recently ran with the same format:


Of course, depending on your audience, the prize, the duration of the contest, and some other factors, you may gain 10 new followers or you may gain 1000. But it is a steady tactic for follower growth.

In order to increase the effectiveness of this method, I recommend doing it consistently. It could be once a month or once a quarter – whatever works for you. But the more often you do it and your audience gets used to it, the more likely they are to participate and increase the participation.



Yes, I told you we’d talk about hashtags. I do love me the power of a hashtag (or 10 or 20) on Instagram. Why? Because when you use the right hashtag recipe, you can consistently rank as a top post in your most targeted hashtag searches, increasing the views and exposure to new people on Instagram.

I’ve previously shared my formula for strategic hashtag use, and you can read that here. I do encourage you take a few minutes to read it and understand the strategy behind the combination of hashtags I recommend.

When you use this method of combining popular, moderately popular, highly targeted, and branded hashtags, you create a scenario where your content is likely to appear as a top post in the targeted hashtag categories. When people search these hashtags and see your content at the top of the search, chances are they will view it, engage with it, and potentially even navigate to your profile where they may follow you.

And, because they found you in a highly targeted topic of search, they are likely your ideal target audience. Making it a win-win in targeted growth for your account.


Stalk Event Hashtags

This is my secret sauce recipe that I tell everyone, so it’s not so secret, but it works so I don’t wanna keep it a secret!

To do this, you’ll need to find the event hashtags related to your industry, business, or niche. It could be conferences, shows, performances, or even hobby related hashtags where your target audience is likely to be creating content. For example, my target audience is small business owners and marketers new to social media marketing. These people often go to social media conferences so I find the hashtags for everything from small, local conferences to large national conferences (like Social Media Day San Diego, Inbound, Social Media Marketing World, Social Camp, etc.). If you’re in the fashion industry, you might want to consider hashtags for local or popular fashion shows (not necessarily NYFW cuz that’s kinda massive, but others would be good). If your target audience is pet owners, think about dog shows, fairs where animals are being shown, local pet store events or charities, etc.

The key is to find the hashtags for events and venues where YOUR target audience is likely to be.

Then, you want to go through and stalk that event hashtag. You could choose to follow the hashtag but that still won’t show you all of them so it’s best to go into the actual hashtag search on Instagram. The key is to scroll through and “like” as many of the posts in that hashtag gallery as possible (as long as it’s relevant and not inappropriate content). Smaller events are easy because you can scroll through once a day and hit all the posts. Bigger events, with thousands of posts uploaded, can be harder to manage but just do what you can to go through and engage frequently.

Here’s why this works. Chances are a lot of people uploading posts are uploading more than one to that hashtag. If you’re going through and liking their posts as they appear in the hashtag feed, you’re popping up repeatedly in their notifications. You don’t have to follow them or do anything but ever-so-nicely like their posts and now they see your name in their notifications. They think, who’s the person liking all my stuff? They come over, check out your profile, and (hopefully) realize that you’re someone they should follow. Boom! Another new follower.

When using this tactic for events, you can gain a handful of new followers or you can gain hundreds. The key is that they are all highly targeted new followers and you didn’t harass them into following you or getting their attention. You simply did something nice by liking their posts and they made the decision to follow you 


There are actually a number of other ways your brand can get discovered on Instagram and build your audience. Using Stories with location tags (and/or hashtags) will give you opportunities to show up in those searches and more. High performing posts help you rank in the search algorithm which may help you appear as “Recommended For You” content in new users’ feeds.

These are both powerful opportunities for new exposure, but I didn’t include them specifically in my top tips because they rely a lot on the algorithm and some luck. You can be strategic with these methods but their results aren’t consistent like the three tips I mentioned above.

I hope these tips help you to grow your Instagram followers in an authentic and targeted way. Yes, my strategies will take longer than the overnight tactics that are out there. But the quality followers, engaged users, and soon-to-be-loyal fans you’ll develop are worth the extra work!

Did you find this helpful? Please share:
  1. Hi Jenn! Great post, you’re definitely my go-to resource for IG tips! I have a question about events/#3. I’m a food blogger and feel that my audience is primarily mom’s trying to feed their families simply and healthfully… therefore, they have private IG accounts. So I’m assuming #3 wouldn’t have any application to me. Am I correct? Thanks!

    1. Jenny – great question! Yes, the accounts need to public for that tactic to work. But, you’d be surprised at how many people keep their accounts public 😉 So, it’s still worth trying out by finding the right hashtags that they’re using.

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