Liking, following, commenting, tagging—these are all actions that can attract followers on Instagram, but building up an Instagram fanbase requires more than just these cursory steps. Instagram can be an intimidating social platform to build a brand on. With everyone from famous celebrities to huge companies with carefully curated Instagram accounts and millions of followers, building up followers on Instagram might seem like a Sisyphean task. However, these six tips can help you cultivate a strategy to make your follower count grow.

Have a plan of attack

Like any marketing venture, increasing your Instagram follower count requires a plan, and one of the most important steps of this plan is to decide upon a target audience. As Instagram is an international platform that anyone with internet can access, an Instagram audience exists for just about every possible theme. These can range from fitness to cuisine to fashion to travelling. Users do not have to limit themselves to one theme only, nor do they have to limit themselves to one target audience. Target audiences often have multiple interests, and a single theme can draw multiple audience demographics. However, concentrating on a few themes can allow you to create a coherent narrative to your Instagram. Choose your themes so that they complement each other and so your Instagram account presents a cohesive collection. For an influencer-to-be with an audience of mostly young women, lifestyle themes such as fashion, cosmetics and nature are often popular. For a travel blogger with an international audience, travel themes like landscapes, street food and cultural landmarks resonate well.

If you run into trouble picking themes for your content, begin by researching your target audience. Use successful Instagram accounts with similar target audiences as examples. What kind of content do they post? What words would you associate with their branding? What stories do they tell?

Tell a genuine story

Instagram users are often drawn to accounts that seem genuine and to other users whom they feel a sincere connection with. Influencers are more influential with their individual followers when they seem to present themselves earnestly, interact more with their follower base, and seem closer to their followers. While focusing on tailoring your content to a target audience, keep in mind that followers respond better when they feel that they know you and know your story through the content you post.

Self-promote

Sure, you might have a great plan, a genuine story and a chosen target audience, but how do you get that target audience to see your content? Successful Instagram users study Instagram’s mechanics to effectively self-promote. Hashtags are amongst the most powerful ways to get your posts out there to the public. They act as content filters, as anyone searching for a specific hashtag can find all the posts that use that hashtag. Social media experts recommend using around 30 relevant hashtags for each post, to cast the widest net of potential viewers of your post. Relevance is the key in tagging posts—irrelevant tags on your posts are likely to just irritate viewers searching for that tag. Research the tags successful Instagram accounts use on posts with similar content to yours.

You can also tag the location of your picture or video. This allows anyone searching for a specific location to see your post. This feature is particularly helpful when looking to build a following with a target audience of travel enthusiasts.

Another method of self-promotion is utilizing your other social media presences to promote your Instagram account. Post the link of your Instagram account on your other social media accounts or websites, embed your Instagram posts on your blog and share your Instagram content on your Facebook. This can lead your followers elsewhere to follow you on Instagram.

Lastly, posting events like giveaways on your Instagram account can really increase the amount of likes and comments on your posts and can heighten the visibility of your content. The chance to win small prizes—for example, promotional items from your brand—draws high engagement from the Instagram community. Combined with hashtags that mention a prize, giveaways can be great tools of promotion.

Interact with the community

How do you make yourself known in the Instagram community? The same way you make yourself known in the real world: by talking to others. Or, in this case, liking, commenting and tagging other users. Find users in your target audience and reach out to them by liking and commenting on their posts. The more you engage with members of the community, the more they are likely to follow you in return. Try to leave original, genuine comments. Again, the more genuine you seem, the more influence you have over your followers.

When reaching out to other members of the community, try to collaborate with similar Instagram users and tag their usernames in your posts. Posts that name other users garner an average of 37 percent more likes and comments than those that do not.

Lastly, utilize Instagram’s Stories function to engage with both your followers and the Instagram community at large. Instagram Stories, inspired by Snapchat, allows users to post daily, temporary content, and it is often used for more informal content on Instagram. This helps you form a more genuine, personal brand.

Work, work, work

Nothing great comes without toil, and an Instagram following is no exception—a major attribute of successful Instagram accounts is their consistency. Most influencers upload at minimum one post a day, and these posts are uploaded strategically. Research your target audience to tell at what time in the day they are most active, study what times your uploaded posts receive the most feedback and keep the time zones of your audiences in mind.

In engaging with other members of the Instagram community, try to regularly comment on the posts of 10-20 accounts with similar content to yours. Experts recommend spending up to an hour each day engaging with similar Instagram users.

Marketing, not money, is everything

Of course, you can always pay for the services of websites, programs and apps and “buy” likes and followers for your Instagram account. However, purchased followers are fake accounts set up by computer scripts, and as you can have no influence on a fake user, buying followers is not a sound way to build your account. Buying fake followers can also force Instagram to penalize you and possibly ban your account, so it can be as dangerous as it is useless.

Instead, if you want to invest your money on Instagram for professional purposes, invest it on Instagram’s business tools, which can promote your content. But spending your time building your Instagram account is often a more worthwhile choice than spending your money. Keep these tips in mind, plan your content, reach out to the community and use Instagram to tell a story.

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