Dress: Red Dress Boutique c/o  | Bag: Kate Spade | Earrings: J.Crew | Heels: Forever 21 | Sunglasses: Karen Walker

Instagram is constantly evolving and constantly bringing stress to influencers and users alike. The minute you think you have Instagram figured out, Zuckerburg goes and changes the algorithm or the API security and we’re back at square one. To add insult to injury, it’s reported that only 10% of your followers are even seeing your posts. So if you are feeling frustrated on the pathway to Instagram growth, know that you are not alone.

Instagram has seriously leveled the playing field recently and we’ve all thought about throwing our phone out the window or even throwing in the towel. Unfortunately, complaining isn’t going to get us anywhere, so we must adapt.

Now, if you have come here for a quick fix, this is the wrong post for you. This is tough love for anyone trying to make it in the influencer industry that is so new, yet constantly in flux. We didn’t get a guide book or college courses – all we got was trial and error. So if you’re dipping your toe in, know that this industry comes with a lot of hard work and sacrifice.

Life is too short to follow sucky accounts.

Or to be a sucky account, honestly. I am a firm believer in “if you build it, they will come”. If you consistently create quality content, there is an audience for you. The last thing I am going to convince you to do is a loop giveaway, engagement pod, shout out, etc. And I’m certainly going to discourage you from cheating in any way! What I’m going to do instead is take a deep dive into the algorithm and share all the ways to make it work to your advantage. I’m no overnight success, but I feel like I’ve cultivated a group of women with shared interests whom I feel extremely bonded to. And at the end of the day, that’s success in my book. So read on for what my own trials and a lengthy list of errors have taught me.

Consistency is Key (and so is Quality)

If you are determined to grow, it’s going to take fierce dedication.

Have you noticed that successful influencers always show up at the top of your feed, while you rarely ever see a post from your coworkers or high school friends? Thanks to Instagram’s algorithm update, your timeline is FAR from chronological. It is sorted by a number of factors including engagement, timeliness of the post, and your followers’ relationship with you. So let’s chat time and engagement and we’ll get to relationships later…

POST 1-3 TIMES A DAY: Come up with a posting schedule that you feel comfortable sticking with, but aim to be posting every day. Not only do your followers come to count on your content, decreases in daily engagement can negatively effect where you appear in users’ feeds.

FIND A TIME THAT WORKS BEST FOR YOU: It is extremely important to figure out when your followers are most active and always strive to post within that window. How quickly users interact with your photo is important to the algorithm, so you want to get the most bang for your buck.

UTILIZE INSTAGRAM STORIES: Did you know that Instagram Stories have 300 million daily users? That is double Snapchat! How likely your Stories are to appear high in people’s feeds is based on the same algorithm as your posts are. This is GREAT news because it is easier to get your followers to interact with your stories than your posts. Simply include polls and swipe-ups to increase Story engagement. Instagram interprets this the same way as comments and likes and will, in turn, boost your Stories and posts. Once you’ve established some Story engagement, space out your Stories so as to continue to appear higher in the feed.

While quantity is important, quality is VITAL. Never post for posting’s sake. This is where things get a little pricey. If you are wanting to get serious about your content, I would suggest investing in a DSLR and a good lens (I use a Nikon D750 and a Sigma 35mm 1.4 lens), Photoshop, and Lightroom. If you’re creating lack luster or low resolution content, it doesn’t matter if you follow every tip in this post – it won’t work. So make sure to go the extra mile in each of your posts.

No one is following you to do you a favor… besides maybe your mom.

Brand Yourself

Setting a theme for your feed is a sure-fire way to convert casual browsers into followers.

Take a gander at a few of the most successful accounts and you’ll quickly see that these have a clear brand, color scheme, style, and maybe even a rhythm. Yes, it is easier said than done to create a cohesive feed, but let’s break it down into manageable parts.

BRAINSTORM: Take some time to think hard about your brand and come up with three words you would use to describe it. For me, I would say feminine, southern, and affordable. It crystallized for me after continuously describing my style as “Easter Sunday, everyday”. Use these key words to shape all of the content you publish.

SHOOT FOR YOUR STYLE: Once you are clear on your brand, shoot for this style. Using myself as an example again, I only shoot on pastel or brightly colored backgrounds wearing light-colored clothing. Take a few hours to explore your community and keep a list of no-fail shooting locations. Take advantage of the blooms in Spring, the leaves in the Fall and the snow in the Winter. Maybe even carve out an hour on vacation to take advantage of something scenic. Whatever you do, don’t bounce around dramatically when it comes to your shooting style.

EDIT YOUR PHOTOS: If I could stress one thing in this post it would be to bite the bullet and purchase Lightroom. It is worth every penny and is seriously a game changer. Find or create a preset and stick with it. Every one of my photos for Instagram or this blog go through Lightroom first and what a world of difference it makes. I am currently working on some of my own presets but in the meantime, I highly recommend THESE. When each of your photos is edited the same way, a cohesive feed is a breeze!

VISUALIZE YOUR FEED: Influencers who can just snap a picture and throw it onto Instagram are the bravest people I know 😉 I personally shoot and edit a number of looks ahead of time and then upload them into my ride-or-die app, Snug. With this amazing app, I can see how all of my upcoming photos will look in my feed and arrange and rearrange them until it’s perfectly to my liking. I also try to avoid posting similar colors or shots next to each other to add some interest to my feed as a whole.

 I would turn off or shock my followers if I suddenly wore something uber trendy, revealing, or dark. So always keep in mind why these people follow you, what they are looking to you for, and how to best achieve this.

The same applies to your Instagram Story highlight icons. Get creative and theme these bad boys! Or if you’re lazy, you can download my pre-made ones HERE.

Share Yourself

While you likely follow many accounts, I guarantee the ones that resonate most are the people you feel you’ve gotten to know. I’m sure a few influencers are coming to mind: that blogger who is hilarious, the one with the adorable kids, the one who took you through her weight loss journey, the one who opened up about singleness or about her faith.

If you are a fashion/beauty blogger, you don’t have to spend all of your time cramming products down your followers throats.

I get it, you need to make a living. But try incorporating your family, friends, your day, music, tutorials, workouts, even your frickin’ Starbucks order into your content.

Social media is unique because to be successful you don’t have to be the prettiest, the funniest, the smartest, or the fittest… you just need to provide value to your followers. Once you have developed trust with your followers, your value to brands increases. This trust comes from a close, personal relationship with them.

Interact With Your Community

Instagram isn’t a one-way posting platform. C’mon y’all! It’s called SOCIAL media for a reason. One quick way to lose your followers’ trust is to not respond to comments or DMs and one quick way to slow your growth is to not comment or DM accounts you love.

Quit posting and ghosting and get chatting.

ADD A CALL TO ACTION: Did you know that the algorithm takes into account how long a user views your post? Take major advantage of this with a clever caption or a call to action.

REPLY TO YOUR COMMENTS: Your comments should be a conversation. Instagram is actually boosting accounts that consistently reply to comments and do so quickly. Interact within the first hour of posting to increase visibility.

CROSS-PROMOTE WITH OTHER BLOGGERS/BRANDS: If you have created amazing content for a brand, make sure they see it! Tag them in the post or email them the high-res version and encourage them to share it with their followers. And collaborate with other bloggers on posts! That way each of y’all are exposed to the others’ following.

SHARE THE LOVE: Don’t go all spammy but if you genuinely like an influencer’s post, take a minute to let them know that. And please don’t make it a generic “Love your feed” or “Cute pic” – be sincere. Not only is it the nice thing to do, but the more you interact with your community, the more people will engage with your posts and the higher you will appear in people’s feeds.

Study Your Analytics

If you have a business account, your analytics need to become your top priority. (If you haven’t made the swap yet, HERE is an article on how to do so) Finding out what your followers convert highest on and what brings them to your website/affiliate links will save you a ton of time – something influencers have very little of.

Work smarter, not harder.

Did a particular post perform unusually well? That is your followers begging you for more of that. Duplicate your top-performing posts be it an outfit they loved, a type of post, or even a new vertical. Home and beauty verticals perform well for me when it comes to engagement, but not in terms of conversion, so this is something I consider when creating content.

Another factor to study is what time of day your posts perform the best at. This is likely the time that your followers are actively on the app. Once you’re equipped with this information, aim to post in these windows for maximum exposure.

Hashtags are important to dig deep into, as well. Did you know that you can actually see how many people discovered your post based on your hashtags? It’s right there in your analytics! So y’all, it is more important than ever to use relevant hashtags to get discovered. Be sure to use hashtags that uniquely describe your posts and account and mix them up on each post. Instagram could potentially penalize you for copying and pasting the same hashtags on every post or using particularly spammy ones like #likeforlike. So be intentional, but still try to use all 30 hashtags to increase your likelihood of discovery.

Bonus Tip: Utilize the Carousel

Y’all may not realize it but by utilizing the carousel feature (i.e. posting multiple photos in one Instagram post), you have a unique opportunity to get more eyes on your post. Once your followers scroll through their timeline once and see the first photo in the carousel, Instagram will likely key up the second photo for another timeline scroll. That means Instagram will force your followers to see your same post TWICE. Finally, this damn app is working for ME! This feature is especially important if you are working with brands. More eyes = more engagement + more VALUE.

Plus, as users scroll through your photos, they are spending more time on your post. Instagram rewards you for this!

If you have made it this far, congratulations! I hope this post was helpful to you. The algorithm is constantly in flux so there is no way to ever truly master Instagram. I just want y’all to know that you don’t have to cheat to grow, you can still grow organically if you are willing to put in the work. Ask my husband – I put so much more into this career than I ever did my 9-5 and while it is increasingly difficult to achieve success as an influencer, it is so rewarding and I can’t see myself working in any other industry.

So in Instagram as in life:

Be nice, work hard, and be authentic.

1 comment on “5 Tips for Growing an Engaged Instagram Audience”

  1. Love this post! Some really great tips I am going to utilize and I learned a lot! Not going to lie…I have been having the feeling of wanting to throw in the towel lately but I love creating content so much I can’t see myself doing anything else. Thanks for this!!

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