Want more followers on Instagram? Wondering how to find and engage with the right people?
To explore how to grow your Instagram following, I interview Tyler J. McCall on the Social Media Marketing Podcast.
Tyler is an Instagram marketing expert and founder of the Follower to Fan Society. He's host of the Online Business Show, a podcast that helps people start, grow, and scale their online businesses. He also founded the Online Business Association.
Tyler shares tips for identifying and engaging with new people on Instagram, and explains what types of content will keep followers interested and engaged with you.
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Strategic Instagram Follower Growth
To give context to the concept of follower growth, Tyler feels it's important for the purpose to be to help with business growth. A lot of businesses, brands, and entrepreneurs think that getting more followers will lead to getting more customers—but it doesn't always work that way.
Make sure you have a plan in place for how to turn your followers into customers. How are you generating leads, inquiries, or sales directly from your Instagram following? If you have that nailed down, then follower growth is important because it helps you amplify your message, get in front of more of the right people, and turn those right people into customers.
The concept of social proof on Instagram is interesting because a lot of the social proof has moved. It's not really even social proof anymore because it's hidden. As a creator on the platform—as a business or brand—only you can see the numbers. What's more important than anything else now is how savable and shareable your content is, versus how many likes and comments you get.
Social proof may not always be the best measurement of content effectiveness. If you have a very sophisticated audience—if you're trying to reach high net-worth customers or selling a high-ticket product or service—you may attract more lurkers on Instagram than engagers. You may attract folks who follow, watch, and consume the content, and may even decide to purchase, but they may not like and comment on what you're sharing.
Look more at your reach, impressions, and who you're getting in front of. Then look at what that turns into in terms of inquiries for actual sales of your product or service.
Put a marketing lens on this Instagram growth strategy because most of us would rather have 1,000 of the right people following us than 100,000 of the wrong people following us, right? If they're the right people, they might evangelize for us. They might purchase everything that we have to sell. They might interact with us over direct messages and give us feedback that maybe the rest of the world wouldn't give us so we can make our products better.
We all remember the story last year about the Instagram influencer with 2.5 million followers who tried to launch a product line and sold maybe 16 sweatshirts. It serves as a really good reminder that the number of followers you have doesn't equate to the amount of revenue your business generates.
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Tyler believes that if you can't get the followers you have right now to buy what you're selling—whether you have 25 followers or 25,000 followers—getting more followers isn't the solution to that problem. You have a messaging problem and a conversion problem with the followers you have right now.
It's important for brands and businesses to be clear on the path to take people from passive followers, to fans, to raving fans, to the point of purchasing what you're selling. Master that first and then focus on follower growth from there.
Mistakes to Avoid When Growing a Following
Let's consider some of the mistakes that people typically make when it comes to growing an Instagram following. Some of these may be things that we ought not to do and some that others are saying we ought to do.
It should go without saying but you have to stop buying likes and follows. It's basic Social Media Marketing 101. Stop doing it!
Also, if you're currently outsourcing your Instagram management and your following is growing at a suspicious rate, pay serious attention to the new followers you're getting. Consider whether the strategies your agency is implementing for you are the right strategies.
This doesn't have to mean spending hours a day pouring over new followers; just do a quick spot-check and look at some profiles. Do they look like legitimate profiles? Do they have a profile picture? Do they have some content? Do they have a bio? Does it look like a real human being or does it look like a bot is following you? Be cognizant of who you're getting as followers.
Don't obsess over “growth hacking” tips and tricks. The whole idea of getting 10K followers in 10 days is unrealistic, and it's also the wrong goal. If the focus is on how to generate $10,000 on Instagram in 10 days—sure, let's do that. That's exciting! But getting 10,000 followers in 10 days shouldn't be the goal.
Many people are just getting started and they've only got a couple of dozen followers on Instagram. In their mind, they're embarrassed by that. Remember that everyone starts somewhere.
Today, Tyler has more than 35,000 followers but he started with zero and built his following over time. His business hit its first six figures in revenue with fewer than 10,000 followers. Tyler can document story after story of people who are leading profitable businesses and have built profitable brands with very few followers, or who at least started out with very few followers. We all have to start somewhere.
It's also important to remember that if you're showing up on Instagram with this desperate need for more followers, your followers can sense it. When people create content out of a sense of desperation for someone to consume it, their followers can tell.
The best way to build your Instagram following right now, whether you have 10 followers or 100 followers or 1,000 followers, is to show up regularly with really great content for those 10 or 100 or 1,000 people. Talk to them as people. Focus on serving them as people. Build a relationship with them as people. That's the way to attract more of the right followers.
A lot of folks think they need some strategy or tactic or tool—some special hack—to get more followers. But at the end of the day, the number-one component of successful follower growth is really good content. Do people have a reason to follow you? That's the question. And if not, you're not going to gain your following. The best thing you can do right now is show up for the people you have, if they're the right people.
A lot of people have accidentally built a following of the wrong people, and they have to make some adjustments to get back on track. But if the followers you have right now are the ones you want, show up for them regularly with great content, have conversations with them, and then they're going to refer others to you. They're going to share your content and more of the right people are going to find you.
Show Up Regularly
Showing up regularly means whatever you can commit to in terms of consistent content creation and posting. But it can't be so much of a burden that you fall off the wagon. Be honest with yourself. If you're a solo entrepreneur or running a small business or team, you need to face the fact that while posting on Instagram 5 days a week may be a great goal, it may not be doable for your business for the next month or quarter or 6 months.
Creating good content takes time and effort. If you can't commit to doing it long-term, then you need to reevaluate. What can you commit to doing on a regular basis long-term? For a lot of Tyler's clients, that may mean two or three posts a week in the feed on Instagram, and then showing up on Stories as regularly as possible. That's actually good news because the algorithm helps them get that feed content in front of more people for longer, especially when they're creating really good content.
What does consistency look like? That depends on you. If you can be on Instagram Stories 5 days a week, do that because Stories is where you can deepen the relationship with the followers you already have. That's what gets your followers excited to share your content and have a conversation with you. But committing to a schedule that you can do long-term is what's important.
Now let's consider what contributes more to the growth of quality followers: the feed posts or the stories. The feed at this point is mainly about discovery and follow decisions.
How many times have you been scrolling through Instagram and something pops up that makes you wonder what the heck it is and why you're following the person who posted it? You tap over and unfollow them because you don't even recognize where they came from. So the feed is really about that discovery and those follow decisions.
When people view your profile for the first time, they're looking at your bio and your top six to nine posts to decide whether they want to follow you. This is the feed across all platforms, not just Instagram. When someone's following you on a social platform and your content shows up for them in the feed and they keep following you, whether they realize it, they've decided to keep following you. They keep consenting to what you share with them.
Tyler knows some businesses and brands right now—typically personal brands—that are only posting in their feed once or twice a month but they're making magic happen in their stories every single day.
Deliver Quality Instagram Content
Instagram Feed Content
Good content in the feed doesn't necessarily have to be beautiful or branded content. Some people still believe that they'll never get more followers or be profitable or successful on Instagram because their feed doesn't look like some other business or brand.
It doesn't have to be beautiful. However, that doesn't give you a free pass to make all of your content look like it was captured in a casual local restaurant at 9:00 PM under weird yellow lighting. It just needs to be consistent.
There are so many easy ways to create a consistent visual presence on Instagram these days. You can download free or low-cost presets to your phone that use Lightroom. It's basically a fancy filter for your photos that creates this consistent aesthetic for your Instagram feed. And it does it with a photo from your phone. So rather than just rely on the basic filters built into Instagram, you can create something a little more custom.
You just need to be really clear on the visual identity of your feed. That's the easy part. A lot of folks overcomplicate this. They want to have a perfect color scheme or a perfect flow of their content with a graphic in a picture. That's too complicated; you don't need all of that. You just need a consistent visual identity.
Why is this so important? Because really good content gives people some kind of information, knowledge, or experience. It's eliciting a response from people. It's answering that question—when someone comes to your profile for the very first time and they're looking at what you're doing—as to why in the world they should follow your account.
What's in it for them as a follower? What are they going to get out of this? That's the lens you need to look through as you're creating your content.
You need to create content that educates, inspires, or motivates people. It can make them laugh or even challenge them to be better or make better choices. It may help them reach a goal or find a solution that gets them closer to whatever your product or service helps them accomplish.
Instagram Story Content
Go back to elementary school. Remember that every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Begin your story with something that sets the tone so your followers aren't confused. Next, take them through an experience—whether it's teaching them something, showing a how-to, relating a “day in the life,” whatever it may be—throughout the entire story. Finally, you have to wrap that story up at the very end.
You also need to diversify your content in Stories. You can do this on your smartphone. You don't need to create stories outside of your device and bring them into your phone. Do some text on the screen, then maybe do a little bit of video, then maybe some Boomerangs. Create something that builds some visual interest and catches the eye of your followers so they keep watching.
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Focus on Savable and Shareable Content
There are two really important new insights on Instagram that a lot of marketers aren't paying attention to yet: saves and shares. These insights aren't available on personal accounts, just business profiles and possibly creator accounts. But there's no reason not to upgrade.
Tyler feels that if you're a business or a brand using Instagram to market your products and services, you need a business profile. If you don't have one, you're making a lot of marketing decisions based on your gut and very few data points. You need more information.
The new Save insight happens when someone taps that bookmark icon. Followers can create custom collections of this saved content, similar to having a Pinterest board on Instagram. The other new insight is Shares. People now can either share your content to their own story or DM it to another Instagram user.
The more content you create that's highly savable and/or highly shareable, the more your following will grow because your content is catching people's attention. It's getting your content in front of new people and it's also giving people something to come back to.
Building in a call to action for a save or a share is a great thing to try. Content that elicits some kind of emotional response—something that's making people laugh or smile, even content that may be frustrating or bothering them a little bit that's going to elicit that response—tends to be the most savable or shareable content.
High-quality educational content is also great for this. It comes down to the graphic itself, the visual component of the post. Quotes, graphics, memes, cartoons, charts, any kind of visual representation of an idea or something educational is highly savable and incredibly shareable.
A couple of years ago, Tyler would have been talking about the importance of posting pictures of people, which is still true. People need to see faces, especially if you're a solopreneur, a personal brand, or a small business. People want to see who's behind the screen. But what he's finding now is that photos of people aren't really valuable for saving and sharing, even with a great caption.
Think about it: How likely are you to share a picture of a stranger on your own Instagram story? It's a little bit weird. But if you take that information and put it into a graphic or a cartoon or something like that, it's going to get a lot more shares.
There's also a really popular trend now of posting something that would traditionally be a static-based post on Instagram, adding some kind of moving element to the post, and posting it instead as a video. This opens up retargeting capabilities for ads and custom audiences.
Strategic Outreach on Instagram
If you want to grow your following, get proficient at creating good content, and then go out and find your followers.
The days of posting really great content with well-researched hashtags and then just magically getting likes and comments and follows are unfortunately over because user habits have changed.
A couple of years ago (pre-Instagram Stories), if you were mindlessly scrolling and liking things on Instagram, you would go to hashtags and you would look at the Discovery tab. That's where you would hang out. But now we have Stories. That's the first thing most people click on when they open up Instagram. They're mindlessly watching Instagram stories instead of mindlessly scrolling like they used to.
Definitely still use hashtags in your feed posts because people could be searching there, but know that they're less effective than they were a few years ago.
Tyler teaches his clients about outward engagement strategies. “Outward engagement” doesn't mean cold messaging. Instead, it's about finding potential followers. This involves going to their profiles, liking their posts, and leaving meaningful comments on the content they've shared.
When you do this, you're catching their attention. We can all attest to the fact that when someone we don't know engages with us the first time, we're going to go check out their profile in response.
When they check out your profile, they'll look at your content, read your bio, and then decide whether to follow you. That's the strategy pretty boiled down: going out, finding people, liking their posts, and leaving meaningful comments on their content to catch their attention, and bringing them back to your profile.
Five Ways to Find New People to Connect With on Instagram
There are five different areas on Instagram where you can go out and find people.
Hashtags: Go into hashtags, where people are creating and sharing content, and engage with them at that hashtag level.
Locations: Locations tend to be the most overlooked place on Instagram. When you go into the Search tab on Instagram, all the way over on the right you'll see a little Places tab where you can search for content shared at specific locations. This works really well for local brick-and-mortar businesses.
Let's say you own a dance studio and you're trying to reach families for your programs. You could go and engage with content that's shared at local schools, family centers, gyms, and faith centers. Go where families are hanging out and engage with content shared there because you're going to catch their attention, and maybe they'll come back and follow your studio on Instagram.
Competitors: These are people who do what you do, or provide a similar product or service.
Complementary brands: These are businesses on Instagram that round out what you do in your business. If you're a wedding photographer, for instance, and you want to grow your following, you could engage with people who are following and engaging with wedding planners, officiants, venues, bakers, dress shops, florists, and DJs. These are complementary brands to your product or service.
Customer or client favorites: This may be something that's not even related to what you sell but you know that your people hang out on that account and love what that account does. You can find these “favorites” by asking people. Talk to your customers and find out who else they follow and what other kinds of content they enjoy. You can also do some good old-fashioned internet sleuthing and find who else these people follow on Instagram. When you've dialed into your ICA (ideal client avatar), it becomes pretty easy to guess where they hang out on social media and who else they like to follow.
You interact with target accounts differently than you do with the others. At the hashtag and location levels, you're seeing who's posting in those places and engaging with those people directly. Target accounts are a bit different because you don't necessarily want to engage with the targeted accounts themselves.
Let's take that dance-studio example again. Maybe you want to engage with people at a local trampoline park. If you're trying to grow your following and get in front of potential customers at the trampoline park, engaging with the trampoline park itself isn't the goal. You can build a relationship with them but they're not the primary audience here. It's their followers—the people who are engaging with their content—that you're trying to reach.
The easiest way to do this as the dance-studio owner is to go to the trampoline park's Instagram account, pull up their posts, go to the comments, and look at who's commenting on their posts. Then engage with those commenters.
The reason to go to the commenters is that they're the most engaged users for that account. If there aren't commenters, you can look at people who are liking their posts or just people who follow the account. It's about following those people back to their own accounts, liking what they're sharing, and leaving meaningful comments on what they've shared.
When you click on those profiles, you're looking for some sort of signal that they might also be the target audience that you're going after. In this scenario, you'd make sure they were posting pictures of family or kids.
Don't just say, “Great post,” “Great picture,” or, “Hey, I saw your comment over on the trampoline page.” Instead, look at the account and find a post where you can leave a real, meaningful, human-to-human comment about what they've shared. If it's a picture at a restaurant, you might say, “Oh, my gosh. I love that restaurant. Have you tried the _____ there?”
To go back to the wedding-professional example, wedding photographers often engage with pictures that have been posted at bridal shops. That can mean saying something as simple as, “Congratulations, I'm so excited for you,” and attaching a champagne-cheers emoji.
It's not pitching yourself. It's not promoting anything. It's not being weird. It's just leaving a real comment on the person's account. If they don't like it, they're going to ignore you, which is the worst that can happen. But there's also the opportunity for them to come back to your account, check you out, and see that you provide something they're looking for. They may like your content, give you a follow, give you some love back, and maybe even buy your product or service.
How many times you go back to these accounts depends on how much effort you want to put into tracking or developing your own system. When Tyler does this for his own business, it's often one and done. He and his marketing coordinator like three to five posts and leave at least one meaningful comment. They may watch a few Instagram stories just so the content will pop up in their followers' viewers on Instagram, and then they're on to the next one.
They spend about 15 minutes a day doing this, ideally engaging with about 100 people each day, and then just pay attention and track their follower growth on a weekly basis.
More than one person can do this if you have multiple people managing your business's accounts. Social Media Examiner has many individuals who have access to our Social Media Examiner Instagram account. Tyler's marketing coordinator has been working with him for about a year, and she now creates and posts a majority of his Instagram feed content. She manages most of his direct messages and she's now doing this growth and engagement strategy for him as well.
There's tons of opportunity here for you, along with someone else, to build this out in your company. It doesn't have to be a position completely dedicated to this.
The person on Tyler's team is part-time and also manages his podcast, email, bookings, PR, and all sorts of other things. Even someone who's dedicated to this for just an hour a day can really help grow your Instagram account. By doing this, you don't have to focus on something that may not be the best use of your time in your business.
The process for hashtag and location audiences is similar. Look for the content directly in the hashtag or the location and do the same thing. Just like what they shared there, maybe leave a comment, follow that person back, and like and engage with what they're doing on their own account.
Tyler has been doing this strategy for himself for about 5 years. He used this for clients when he ran his agency and has taught it to thousands of entrepreneurs who are all getting great results. He has clients in his membership community who have used this strategy, and in a year, they've gone from 80 followers to 10,000 followers.
Additionally, many of Tyler's clients have grown their revenue solely from Instagram through leveraging Stories. They're mastering direct messages because selling in the DMs is an art form.
Tyler tells folks all the time, “If you're not using direct messages in your business right now, you're not even turning the money-printing machine on because you're missing out on so much opportunity to sell in the DMs.” Because of this, they're getting incredible results and this strategy is a big part of that financial success.
Social media isn't a replacement for networking, word-of-mouth marketing, or referrals. It's simply a megaphone for those things. However, by growing your Instagram following, you have the opportunity to do those things on a grander scale.
Key Takeaways From This Episode:
- Find out more about Tyler on his website.
- Follow Tyler on Instagram.
- Listen to The Online Business Show podcast.
- Join the Follower to Fan Society.
- Sign up for the Instagram Marketing Summit.
- Download the Social Media Marketing Industry Report.
- Watch exclusive content and original videos from Social Media Examiner on YouTube.
- Watch our weekly Social Media Marketing Talk Show on Fridays at 10 AM Pacific on YouTube.
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What do you think? What are your thoughts on how to find and engage with the right people on Instagram? Please share your comments below.
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