05 Jun 2017

Case Study: Increasing Instagram Followers 462% in Two Weeks


This week’s blog is a bit of a departure from my typical blog about Facebook Ads, but rather another social network that is near and dear to my heart – Instagram.

If you know me well, or asked, you would know Instagram is by far my favorite social network. As a marketer with a graphic design background and a love for photography, I’ve naturally gravitated to Instagram since it’s launch.

But recently, I’ve taken it more seriously in terms of growing an engaged following instead of following friends, family and keeping my feed fairly personal. After doing some traveling lately, and noticing the success of my travel photos within my own feed and beyond, I decided I would focus on growing my personal community on what I know is an already active travel photography community on Instagram.

The following blog post details the strategy I used over the past 14 days to grow my account from 478 followers to 2545 highly targeted and engaged followers – or 432% growth – through completely organic methods

Knowing Your Audience and Community

I have been lucky to travel to some beautiful places over the past two years and also have a large backlog of content that is ripe for Instagram and my particular interests.

The Travel Photography community on Instagram is highly active and engaged, which is ripe for acquiring a following within. But this method could be repeated within any niche, as long as there is an active community.

A few notes about understanding your community and preparing your account:

Identify hashtags relevant to your community. There’s a reason Instagram is rife with hashtags, they are a great way for you to increase the reach and exposure of your content – understand your niche, and choose hashtags that have plenty of activity. There’s also a fine line between identifying a hashtag that has

There’s also a fine line between identifying a hashtag that has too much activity, which might cause your posts to be buried. For instance: #wanderlust versus #traveldiary while both have over a million pieces of content on Instagram, the #wanderlust stream is updated multiple times a second, where #traveldiary is only updated a few times a minute, meaning if people are out searching for new content with new hashtags, there is a higher chance your content will be closer to the top of the #traveldiary feed than the #wanderlust feed.

Quick tip: You can also use the suggested hashtags at the top of the feed, to discover new hashtags.

Determine how you will identify an influencer. We’re not just looking for accounts that have high follower counts, we are looking for accounts that have a highly engaged following. Meaning someone with 5K fans who averages 200+ comments/likes per post is more valuable than someone with 10K fans who averages 150+ comments/likes per post. Make a short list of these, and start to follow them, view their posting schedule, their comment structure, and how they engage with their followers. For the Travel Photography community, I noticed many of the most popular accounts contained quite a few emoji’s in their bio description and even in their name – so I edited my bio to reflect my the new focus of my account and also to include additional emojis.

Make a short list of these, and start to follow them, view their posting schedule, their comment structure, and how they engage with their followers. For the Travel Photography community, I noticed many of the most popular accounts contained quite a few emoji’s in their bio description and even in their name – so I edited my bio to reflect my the new focus of my account and also to include additional emojis.

Set up a consistent posting schedule. This goes for any social media platform, you must have some sort of content posting schedule that keeps new, fresh content in your followers’ feeds, as well as your targeted hashtag feeds. I have also always been a proponent of a ‘slow and steady’ approach that is easy to maintain, than something that will burn you out.

In my case, since this is a personal account, I settled on a schedule of posting one picture per day, in the morning between 7:30am – 9:00am. This  creates a consistent, predictable feed of new content on my page and is something I can easily manage.

Activating Your Growth

The overall strategy to growth that I employed was simple. I identified a handful of influencers – emphasizing quality of following over quantity of following as mentioned above – and followed them. Once one of my targeted influencers followed me in return, I would visit their most recent content posted on the page, and follow all of the people who liked that particular content.

The reason to wait until an influencer followed me was simple, when viewing a new profile, you can see the “Followed by” accounts – these are accounts that you share in common. In this case, having an influencer listed in this ‘Followed by” section creates additional social proof that your account has valuable content.

Continuing Growth

As you continue to find new accounts to follow, you may begin to stretch your definition of an influencer. But continue to stick to the general concept that the number of followers doesn’t matter – it’s the number of engaged followers.

Always stick to the rule that the account you are sourcing followers from must follow you in return, and must have content similar to your stream with a high engagement rate. Leverage that social proof.

When you are followed by a new account with quality content relating to yours, examine their most recent posts, if they have a high number of engagements – likes/comments, on their posts in general, then the second step is to look at their most recent post. If it was posted in the last 6 hours, follow all the accounts who have liked this particular media. The more recent the content was posted, the better, because this increases the likelihood that the person is still engaged on Instagram at that moment.

This tactic is at the core of why this strategy works for building an actively engaged Instagram Account. The reason being is two-fold:

  1. These followers are actively engaged on Instagram
  2. They are also interested in engaging with the type of content that you are posting on your account.

Managing Your Growth

You will end up following a LOT of accounts following this strategy, and while your followers to following ratio is more of a vanity metric, you don’t want your account and feed bogged down with people who are not engaging with your content. The whole purpose is to build a highly active and engaged community – so if the accounts you follow are not following you back, you should be unfollowing them.

The two types of accounts I monitor are:

  1. Not following me back: accounts who have not followed me, but I have followed.
  2. Ghost followers, being accounts who like my page, but do not engage with any of my content.

It would be possible to manage this all through the Instagram app, but I’ve found two tools that have been useful in managing the growth of my account.

To manage my following I use a free app called “FollowMeter” to track who is not following me back and ghost followers. Generally speaking, I give an account 24 hours to follow me back, and if they have not followed me back after that 24 hour period, I unfollow them. FollowMeter app makes identifying these accounts and unfollowing them easy. The only downside is there is an hourly limit to the number of accounts you can unfollow.

The second useful tool that I use is “Iconosquare” which is a paid app, but has a 14 day free trial. Iconosquare helps measure account growth, engagement, and allows you to build feeds, manage comments and plenty of other useful tools that I haven’t fully explored. This tool is likely much more robust than the hobbyist needs, but is worth exploring the 14 day free trial to see some very deep analytics and insights into your account.

My Results

By applying the above strategy, over the 14 days of my experiment, my account grew tremendously in terms of engagement and following:


Beginning: 478

Ending: 2,690

Growth:   462%

Averaged 169 new followers per day.


Percentage Following Engaged Beginning: 13%

Percentage Following Engaged Beginning: 49%

Growth: 36%

Most Post Likes:   982 Likes

Most Post Comments: 26 Comments

Key Takeaways


  • Understand your audience and your niche: The most important piece is understanding who your target is, and what type of content they engage with. Identifying influencers within your niche and learning from them can be the best place to start.
  • Be consistent with your approach: Whether it’s your posting schedule, your commenting/liking approach or the number of new followers you engage each day, just be consistent. Make it something you can manage.
  • Track your results and make adjustments: If you find that you’re not getting results, adjust your content, the accounts you’re attempting to follow or the influencers whom you are using to identify trends.


Adam May

Adam has been helping businesses tell their stories for the last decade. With a background as a graphic designer, Adam feels right at home in the visual world of social media, which he has been helping brands navigate for the past 7 years. This includes a long history of helping brands in the hospitality, retail, family services and real estate industries promote their business with Facebook Ads. Adam has worked with all media outlets big and small, ranging from local college periodicals through the Travel Channel and everything in between – giving him the experience and professionalism to move the needle for your business. In his “off hours” he enjoys playing volleyball, looking for treasure at antique shops and searching for his future cabin on a lake. Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/agkmay