How to Grow Your Instagram Account – and Maintain It!

Last updated Jan 31, 2019 | Published on Jan 31, 2019 | Social Media, Tutorial

This is Part 5 of a 5 Part Series

The Series: Grow Your Instagram with 30 Tips & My Secret Weapon

Part 5 (final installment): How to Grow Your Instagram Account & Maintain it too!

Look for all the posts in this series

For info About the Overall Series, read Part 1 in the series.

How This Series of Tips May Help You

In this post I am sharing everything that I’ve learned about how to grow and maintain your Instagram account. There is so much that can be said on this topic that I have included a number of external sources below as well. And I’m betting I’ve only scratched the surface here. But I think this will at least get you started!

Hopefully you’ve already read through the first 4 posts (see links above) and you’re ready for these last few steps.

Let’s go!

How to Grow Your Instagram Account

24. Giveaways

This is the fastest way to grow followers is with a giveaway. That’s my opinion but also the opinion of a number of my friends.

You can:

  • Host a giveaway yourself.
  • Join with another account to jointly host a giveaway, or
  • Join a giveaway that someone else is hosting. The latter will cost you money to join (generally $20-$35).

How a Giveaway Works

  • The host sets up the giveaway, creating the photo and caption that will be used.
  • (optional) The host also is responsible for obtaining sponsors, people who will help in the cost and promotion of the giveaway.
  • All hosts and sponsors post the same photo and caption on their accounts at the same date and time.
  • People will see the giveaway post in their feed and engage with the post. If they wish to be eligible for the giveaway, they will need to adhere to whatever other rules have been set. Usually that is following the hosts and sponsors but could include additional activities.

So, if you are a host or sponsor, you will generally gain followers.

In the giveaways I have participated in (I’ve always joined a giveaway), I have gained anywhere from 200-500 followers. I have heard of others gaining a lot more (and a lot less).

The Challenge with Giveaways

You can lose a lot of the followers you gain once the giveaway is over.

Sometimes the people who do not win go back and unfollow everyone they followed when it’s over. So they’ll be ready for the next giveaway.

A way to minimize unfollowing is to only participate in giveaways that are in your niche and sponsored by accounts also in your niche. You also want to be sure that the account doing the giveaway is reputable.

Another problem with giveaways is that Instagram does not really like you participating in them or anything they consider spammy. Instagram likes to see you engaging with accounts naturally and giveaways don’t really promote natural engagement while they are happening. The advice I’ve received is to participate in giveaways very sparingly.

Looking for Giveaways to Join?

  • I have participated with a few giveaway accounts and I’ve been happy with them. If you are interested in their contact information, DM me @lovemyhouseblog on Instagram or send me a note here.
  • You can also ask around for suggestions from an Instagram friend in your niche.

Are you looking to host a giveaway?

Check out this article for additional information.

25. Promotions

You can also choose to spend some money by promoting a post, or running an ad.

You can run ads directly from the Instagram app. You can run ads for Stories or for posts on your feed. Once you’ve converted to a Business Profile, you can use the Promotions button from your profile to run them.

I have promoted a couple of posts and Stories just to get some additional exposure. I generally only run the ad for 1-2 days and $5-$10 per day. It does work, but again, it does cost some money.

For additional details: How to Run Ads from Instagram

26. Collaborate with Other Accounts

Join a Train

A train is a post sponsored by a number of accounts.

New trains pop up every day and you’ll usually find them if you just cruise your feed. A train post will invite you to join by following all the hosts on the account. The hosts will watch who engages with them and engage back with the accounts that interest them. In some cases, hosts showcase their favorite accounts in their Stories.

If you join a train, it’s best that it’s in your niche and sponsored and managed by accounts also in your niche. So you can find like-minded accounts.

If you host a train (which I have done a few times with friends), you are responsible for creating the post, engaging with other hosts and your readers and following up on any promises made as part of the post. Sometimes hosts will promise to have a favorite account guest host, sometimes there will be a giveaway. The good thing about starting one yourself is that you get to make the rules.

Join a Loop

A loop is similar to a train in that there will be a post sponsored by a number of accounts. And, you’ll also see these in your feed.

A loop post is a little different, though. If you see one of these posts in your feed, it will invite you to join by following all of the hosts. But you will also be directed to an hashtag where you can view all of the accounts that are participating in the loop. There, you can pick and choose the accounts that you wish to engage with.

The benefit to a loop is that there are a lot of accounts in one place, all with a similar niche. So if you are looking for fresh accounts to engage with, a loop is a great place to go.

There are a couple of very reputable loops that I followed for quite some time. If you are interested in joining and participating in the fun, either DM me @lovemyhouseblog on Instagram or send me a note here.

Challenges with both Loops and Trains

As with giveaways, Instagram does not really like you participating in Loops and Trains if it considers them to be too spammy. And supposedly, it does. Especially if you are commenting too quickly or not engaging ‘naturally.’

A good rule of thumb:

  • Participate in loops and trains carefully
  • If you see engagement on your posts and/or Stories slipping, refrain for a period of time or add other engagement activities to your day that do not look spammy to Instagram. This might include browsing your feed, the Explore page or a favorite hashtag and engaging with accounts you find there.

Join Engagement Accounts

These are accounts that you join only when you are looking for engagement on a post.

How this works

Groups are all different in how they set up their rules but in general:

  1. You navigate to the post that is offering engagement. Be sure to read the rules, they are always clearly marked somewhere.
  2. Make a comment on the post. This usually commits you to like and/or comment (depending on the group rules) on other accounts who also engage on the same post. And they are likewise committed to engage with you.

It’s a great way to only engage when you choose to.

There are a few engagement accounts that I use all the time. If you are interested in information on these accounts, either DM me @lovemyhouseblog on Instagram or send me a note here.

Follow-for-Follow Pods

If you are strictly looking for followers, there are a number of ‘follow-for-follow’ pods or groups.

How this works

You follow everyone in the group and they all follow you back. I know of one reputable group that I was involved with for a time. If you are interested in this information, either DM me @lovemyhouseblog on Instagram or send me a note here.

You can also ask around and I’ll bet other accounts have suggestions for other pods.

Cross-Post

You can cross-post from Instagram to your Facebook account by flipping a switch when you make your post.

Re-post

You can post another account’s content on your own feed or in your Stories. The ‘rules’ are that you should obtain permission from the account first and you should credit the other account in your caption.

For information on how to share other’s content in Instagram, see 4 Ways to Re-share Content from Other Users by HubSpot.

Collaborate on Posts

The following post on my Instagram was a collaboration with a number of other accounts. View this post.

Each of the accounts who participated created a post with a similar theme. In this case the theme was kitchen organization. Each of us used our own pictures, but the same intro paragraph in our caption and we posted at the same time.

We identified each other in the caption and encouraged readers to view all of our accounts.

This is an example of accounts working together to increase engagement.

User-Generated Content

The easiest way to think about user generated content is this: brands taking the best content from their users and featuring it on their own account.

The content can include sharing user’s photos, photo contests, product or company reviews, and more.

An example of user-generated content is Alex Tooby’s @menandcoffee. Alex doesn’t actually take the pictures you see on her feed, they are submitted by her readers. She selects the best of the best to display and gives credit to the submitters.

For additional information: How User Generated Content Grew our Instagram Account, by Buffer

27. Featured Hashtags

Often an account or set of accounts will create a hashtag and invite other accounts to ‘play along’ in a post.

The hashtag may be as specific as #showusyourholidaytieredtray or more general #hypedforhomedecor.

The post will outline the rules for playing along. Generally the way to play along is to follow the hashtag hosts and use the hashtag on one of your upcoming posts.

The benefit is that, usually (you hope), lots of other accounts are viewing the hashtag to see what is posted. Also, the hashtag hosts often identify their favorite account of the week and invite that account to guest host with them. That’s always a bonus, and it’s happened to me a few times. Kinda sweet when it happens.

You can also choose to start your own hashtag, usually with a group of accounts.

28. DM Groups & Engagement Pods

What They Are

Many DM groups and pods support each other by letting each other know when they post so they can like and comment on each others’ posts.

The Bad (maybe)

There is a lot of discussion out there about whether Instagram penalizes accounts for participating in a DM group or engagement pod of any kind. It’s clear that they know when this activity is going on. I’ve seen reports that indicate this on my own account (see the  Influencer Marketing Hub’s  free reports).

What is known

  • Instagram frowns on ‘spammy’ or ‘unnatural’ behavior. So if you are copying and pasting, commenting too fast or typing the same thing over and over that’s a no no.
  • Instagram does like it when you engage naturally
  • Instagram also likes it when you make full use of all their tools – Stories, Lives, Posts, IG TV, etc.

What is Unknown

(and if anyone has actual proof of any of this I’d love to know)

If Instagram does or does not like:

  • Use of the the word ‘post’ in a DM group.
  • Use of emoji’s only in a DM group (to let the group know you have posted).
  • When you go to a post (to engage with it) directly from a DM group.
  • The use of short links vs. long links when linking to a post from outside Instagram.

Most of us suspect that Instagram does not like all of these things, so we err on the side of caution. Here are some of the things engagement groups do to ‘stay safe.’

  • Do not use DM groups to communicate. A number of them use external groups, such as Facebook groups and the Telegram app.
  • Create a joint hashtag. All of the members use that hashtag on their posts and everyone follows the hashtag to find and engage with new posts.
  • Are careful how they tell each other that they have posted. They avoid use of the word ‘posted’ in a dm and use conversational language when informing others of their posts.

For Influencers (and Future Influencers)

Vendors who are looking for Influencers for sponsorships have all kinds of tools at their disposals to investigate potential accounts.

These tools can tell a lot about anyone’s Instagram engagement. Vendors are generally looking for accounts with a good number of followers and with excellent engagement. If you get engagement from pods, I promise the reports they use will tell them. And it’s frowned upon in this case.

  • If you are looking to become an influencer you may want to minimize how much you do with engagement groups.
  • If that is not your interest, though, engagement groups are a good way to boost your posts as long as you engage with them ‘naturally’ – at a good pace without being spammy.

The Good

Personally, I have found that engagement pods have been critical to growing my account and maintaining my engagement.

I have established great relationships with the folks in my groups. We have each others’ backs and support each other every day by answering questions, informing each other when stuff happens and helping each other with engagement. I’ve made some amazing friends, which may be the single best part of my Instagram experience!

How to Find a Pod or DM Group

I belong to a number of DM groups and pods. I did not seek any of them out, I pretty much fell into all of them either because I reached out to an account for something and found common ground, or someone reached out to me.

If you are interested in joining one, reach out to accounts that you admire or that you feel a kinship with and ask.

29. Collaborating with Vendors & Affiliates

This is where you start to monetize your Instagram account. There are a number of ways you can do this.

Here are a few

  1. Become a brand rep for a vendor. It can be a small vendor or a very large vendor. You might pursue the vendor or the vendor may find you and ask to collaborate.
    • Jord Watch is an example. They partner with a large number of Instagram accounts. The accounts create a post requesting that readers enter their Jord Watch contest (sponsored by the vendor) by clicking a link in their bio. Jord Watch gets lots of exposure, the account sponsoring the post gets a free watch and readers get a chance to win a free watch. It’s a win/win all around.
    • I have partnered with a number of vendors to receive goods from them for free or a reduced price in exchange for making a post with their product included in it. When I receive the goods I make a post showcasing the product and I include a link to the vendor in my caption. Again, the vendor gets exposure and I get free or reduced price goods.
  2. Always tag your posts with any vendors whose products happen to be in your picture. Vendors who are supportive will often re-post in their own, larger accounts which can drive traffic to yours.
  3. Partner with an affiliate marketing group
    • There are lots of groups. I have recently partnered with 3 groups: RewardStyle, ShopStyle and ShopYourLikes. In all 3 cases you need to apply and some of them are more selective than others (they are usually looking for accounts with a following). Honestly I have only recently signed on with all 3 and I’m still learning the ropes. I’m in serious learning mode about this topic and hope to have lots more to share in a future post.

Additional Resources

30. Formal Learning & Hired Resources

Spend a little money and you can shorten your Instagram learning and/or engagement curve.

Take a Paid Course or Join a Formal Teaching Group

If finances allow! I have subscribed or purchased all of these and highly recommend:

Hire a Social Media Manager

You can hire someone to manage your account for you. The benefit is that they know what they are doing and can grow your account faster (hopefully) than you can. The drawback is that there is a cost involved. You also need to find the right person for you.

I have never hired a social media manager so I don’t have suggestions other than ask your friends and any groups you belong to. You may also want to check out this article by SparkFlow: How to Hire a Social Media Manager.

BONUS – My Secret Weapon

It’s only a secret because I never hear (almost) anyone else ever talking about this app.

But, I absolutely love it.

Here it is: Likegrowers

Shhh, it’s an auto-liker.

What it’s not: it is NOT an auto-follower. It will NEVER follow accounts, it will only like posts on an account.

You tell the app what types of accounts you want to like in your setup.

You can use hashtags or account names. You also tell it how many likes you want it to make per hour. The app goes to work and likes 3 of the latest random (fairly recent) posts on accounts with your criteria.

Here’s the point: if you like 3 posts on an account at the same time, that account is going to notice. I know I do. As a result, the account that the app liked  for you may well visit your account and reciprocate. They may even follow you. And they will be accounts that you may very well be interested in, based on how you set things up.

Does it work: You bet, all the time and every day. Some accounts just engage by liking 3 photos (a good thing) and some both engage and follow me.

Is this cheating? Honestly I don’t think so. What it does is bring accounts to my attention that I may never have been able to find on my own.

What to watch for: the app suggests that you don’t like more than 60 posts per hour, though you can like up to 100. If Instagram finds you are using the app they could penalize your account or even delete it (ugh!). So this is a big warning!! I keep my account set at 50 or less per hour, I’ve had it for several months and have never had an issue.

There you have it, my secret weapon.

One Last Thing…

How to Maintain Your Instagram Account

Once you have everything set up there are some things that you’ll want to do on a regular basis to maintain your account. I’ve indicated the tool I use for each activity in parenthesis.

Daily

  • Respond to DM’s and any comments on your Stories or posts (Tool: Instagram)
  • Track accounts that have unfollowed you and make the decision to unfollow or not (Tool: Pro Analytics)
  • Complete any follow up activity that you may have on any pods, loops or trains that you currently belong to (Tool: Instagram; for some pods we use the Telegram app)
  • Create your upcoming posts & Stories in advance so you aren’t scrambling at the last minute.
  • Make any posts you plan to make, either on your feed or in Stories. (Tool: Instagram; sometimes I use the auto-scheduling process in Later)
  • Engage with current followers and find new accounts to engage with as well.

Weekly

  • Review the accounts you are following (take a batch weekly) and unfollow any that you no longer wish to follow (Tool: Pro Analytics)
  • Review the accounts you are following who are not engaging with you at all (Tool: Pro Analytics). In this case I always first try engaging with the account and if they still do not reciprocate I will unfollow.
  • Plan the pictures you will post to your feed 1-2 weeks in advance to be sure your squares are flowing together nicely (Tool: Planoly)

Monthly

  • Update your bio if necessary (Tool: Instagram)
  • Do an audit of your overall account (Tool: FREE Iconosquare Audit Tool)
  • Run the Fake Followers an Audience Credibility Checker and if it indicates you have ghost followers, get rid of them. See below.
  • Run or engage in a giveaway (sometimes I do this more often than once a month but never more than once a week) – tool: Instagram

Why would you ever want to get rid of followers?

They harm your engagement rate.

Honestly, I am just starting to look into this. You can look at your individual followers one by one in Instagram and get rid of them there but that’s a pretty cumbersome process.

I have come across a few apps that supposedly help but will report back once I’ve had the opportunity to test them. These are the apps but I have not personally used them yet:

You can choose to get rid of accounts manually. Here are some instructions.

Ta Da! You are Completely Done!

If you’ve gone through everything, yay you! I hope that this series of tutorials has helped you out with the mystery that is Instagram. Admittedly there are still mysteries but I hope this clears at least some of them up. And gives you a leg up on how to manage your Instagram journey in peace.

This ends the series. Thanks so much for stopping by!

If you are here please, please, please take a moment and drop a comment below! Thanks a million smile!

SUMMARY

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