10 ways to grow your instagram following: these are the exact FREE and easy strategies I used to grow from 0 to 15,000 followers this year! A must-read for small business owners who want to grow their instagram following.

I manage a number of instagram accounts aside from my own (which actually gets the least amount of love these days). The various accounts range from 1,000+ to 100,000+ followers, but the one that’s most fascinating to me is my dog Mochi’s account. I originally started her account just so my own account wouldn’t be completely filled with photos of her – but within a couple of months, her account following surpassed mine and then grew from to 15,000+ followers this year!

Update: read THIS POST for an update on how I doubled her following from 15,000 to 30,000 in just 2 months and THIS POST for an update at 50,000 followers! 

Why This Matters

I’ve mentioned before that growing Mochi’s instagram account is about more than just getting likes and followers. If you’re using instagram for your business, you want to grow your following (yes, numbers matter!) but you also want to stay true to your brand and attract an audience of potential clients/customers. Otherwise, what’s the point?

10 Ways To Grow Your Instagram Following

Last month I shared these 5 ways to make your instagram account more attractive (to potential followers), but just looking good (even really good) doesn’t guarantee that you will grow your following. These are 10 actionable strategies I’ve used to organically grow Mochi’s account from 0 – 15,000+ followers this year!

Share good photos

This should go without saying – though I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again because it’s really important. Share good photos. Don’t share the bad ones. Most of Mochi’s photos are taken with a Canon 6D  though some were just snapped with an iPhone. In general, I pay attention to lighting, clarity (blurry = BAD), and how good Mochi’s hair looks. #girlproblems

Seriously though, no one wants to follow an account with bad photos. And often sometimes it might take 50 bad photos to get 1 good one – but it’s worth it.

Post consistently

I post at least once a day but sometimes twice. We take a lot of photos of Mochi (she’s so damn cute), but sometimes there aren’t any that are “shareworthy” – so I won’t post until we can take another. If Mochi’s not in the mood to pose for photos, we don’t make her. It’s easier to take photos in batches when she is being playful or particularly cute.

Consistency matters for a few reasons – to stay relevant to your audience, you need to regularly show up in their feed. Also, the chance of new followers finding your account is more likely when you post a new photo – as people engage with it, their activity shows up in their followers’ activity feeds. Plus, if you’re using hashtags (which you should be), each time you post a photo you have the opportunity to get more eyes on your account.

Post content targeted to your niche

The majority of Mochi’s followers are not just people who like dogs. They are not just people who like small dogs. They are people who like small, fluffy dogs, Mean Girls, napping, fashion, carbs, wine, and Taylor Swift. I keep this in mind especially when coming up with captions. The more specific you can be when defining your niche / target audience, the better. You should have already done this for your brand, but for your instagram account, you can get even more specific and define the types of photos that would specifically attract your target audience – then only post those types photos!

Just because other people are posting certain types of photos does not mean that you should – for example, most popular lifestyle bloggers post #OOTD photos and photos of their food (because OMG cupcakes! and avocado toast! and latte art!). I post none of these things. When I was (primarily) a beauty blogger, my instagram feed was 90% photos of makeup/ skincare. Mochi’s audience just wants to see Mochi. They don’t even really like seeing Mochi with humans or with other dogs!


Make friends within your niche

Instagram is a social network – so be social! When I first started Mochi’s account, I spent hours liking / commenting / following other accounts of other small, fluffy dogs as well as dogs in NYC in general. A lot of these dogs (or really their humans!) not only followed her back, but they have become real life friends and advocates of Mochi. Please don’t just leave spammy comments or ask people to follow you back (seriously, just don’t) – leaving genuine comments will lead to actual friendships and more engaged followers. #promise 

Use hashtags

I touched on this earlier, but seriously – use hashtags. But not just any hashtags, use hashtags that are targeted to your ideal audience. Using hashtags like #followme or #tagsforlikes will only get you spammy likes/follows/comments, and using generic hashtags like #love or #pretty aren’t specific enough. I use a mix of hashtags that are targeted but have varying degrees of popularity – for example, #maltipoo has 470,000+ posts while #dogsofnewyork has 36,000+ posts – but both are specific to Mochi as she is a maltipoo dog in New York.  I typically prefer to add hashtags in a separate comment rather than in the main caption to prevent the feed from looking cluttered. You can use up to 30 hashtags per photo, but even using a handful can make a huge difference in how many people see your posts!

growthovertimeUsing iconosquare to track instagram analytics - tips for growing your instagram following including 10 specific ways I grew an account from 0-15,000 followers organically.

Set goals

If you haven’t figured it out already, I’m a BIG fan of goal setting. I went from a career in goal-based financial planning to goal-based marketing strategy and yes, I even set annual goals for my dog. If you set goals, you are more likely to achieve them. Period. Last December I gchatted my husband to tell him that one of Mochi’s goals for 2015 was 10,000 instagram followers. Obviously we’ve passed that, so now my goal is 25,000. With 10 weeks left in the year (craaaaazy), she needs to average 1,000 net new followers/ week which is reasonable given her current growth rate. Goal setting helps you to break things down into actionable, trackable bits – whether your goals are growing to a certain # of followers by a particular date or by a certain percentage each month – but you actually have to set goals, to be able to work toward them!

I included a screenshot of her growth chart so you can see that her account growth was pretty consistent through August of this year, and then the growth curve steepens. It took approximately 50 weeks to grow from 0 – 10,000 (mainly because I did not really put effort into growing it), but only 8 weeks to grow from 10,000 – 15,000. This is mainly due to refining her strategy and increasing the number of daily posts from 1 to 2 – which (in Mochi’s case) has proven to be a successful method for increasing net new followers at a faster rate! The other chart shows her total likes per month as well as average likes per photo on a monthly basis. Currently she’s averaging around 1,240 likes + 45 comments per photo which is over 8% engagement. This is important because as we post more often, I want to make sure her engagement does not decline significantly. Many sources will tell you 3-6% engagement (meaning your average likes + comments per photo) on instagram is good, but if you’re just starting to grow your account your engagement should probably be even higher!

Engagement   BestTimeToPost

Give the people what they want, when they want it

In addition to goal setting, my other obsession is analytics. I’m a total data nerd (see also: I went to math camp and majored in finance). I use Iconosquare daily to track various instagram statistics as well as analyze what’s working (and what’s not). Iconosquare can help you determine everything from what the best times of day to post on instagram are (for your specific account!) to which photos get the most likes/comments to how your account is growing over time. Based on Mochi’s post analytics, people tend to prefer close up photos of her in our apartment. Even though I might love photos taken from further away (when she looks really tiny!) or photos of her out and about in the city – these photos get lower engagement, so we try to keep them to a minimum! As you can see from the charts above, Mochi consistently posts photos between 8:30-9:30pm, and when I can, I also post between 1-2pm. I’ve experimented with a few other time frames, but these seem to be peak times for engaging her followers.

Have a “thing” or theme

And by “thing” I mean a gimmick (hate that word) or a theme or just a some “thing” that makes your account stand out from all the other ones. See this post for tips on making your Instagram account stand out visually from other accounts! 

Tag brands / people / places (when they are in your photos)

I always tag brands and people (other dogs) when they are in Mochi’s instagram photos – whether it’s the brand of clothing she is wearing or the brand of the couch she is sitting on or the other dogs she is with at an event. Both brands and people have re-posted her photos on their own accounts, and she has gained hundreds (if not thousands) of followers because of this! It helps when brands have more followers than she does, but even having photos re-posted by smaller accounts can bring in new followers! Also, geotagging (adding a location) to your photos can be a great way for people to find you. Most of Mochi’s photos are taken in our apartment (which I don’t geotag, because that’s creepy), but whenever we post photos from events around the city I add a location. For example, last weekend we went to the Tompkins Square Park Halloween Dog Parade so I geotagged Tompkins Square Park as the location for this photo. If you look through the Tompkins Square Park location tag, you’ll see tons of photos from the parade including several of Mochi that other people took!

Promote your instagram account other places

Whenever people “meet” Mochi on the street / at the park / in an elevator and comment that she’s cute or try to pet her, I shamelessly give them her business card and tell them to follow her on Instagrambecause who doesn’t like cute puppies. I wouldn’t recommend doing that for yourself or your business (unless you are a dog?), but don’t assume that your “real life” friends are all following you already. You can promote your instagram account on your website, on your other social media channels, in your emails, or in person – but give people a REAL reason to follow you on instagram (versus anywhere else). For example – maybe you share a tip of the day, behind the scenes sneak peeks, or “secret” sales only for your followers.


So that’s it.

Those are the 10 FREE and easy strategies I used to grow Mochi’s instagram following from 0 to 15,000.

Update: read THIS POST for an update on how I doubled her following from 15,000 to 30,000 in just 2 months and THIS POST for an update at 50,000 followers! 

It’s worth noting that I didn’t use strategies like loop giveaways or any sort of paid promotions / mentions. While these types of strategies can be helpful in growing your following, you definitely don’t have to spend money to get followers!

What strategies have you used to grow your instagram following?




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