14 ways to get more followers on Instagram

Candid shots, guest Instagrammers, pictures from fans and more can help you boost your numbers.

(Editor’s note: This was one of the top viewed stories of 2014. We’re rerunning it as part of a look back at the articles that captivated our readers the most.)

I’m giving up tips for getting more followers and likes on Instagram. Let’s get straight to it:

1. Post at the right time.

Before you post your photo to Instagram, there are two things to keep in mind: your audience’s time zone and what time your audience checks Instagram.

Most Instagram users login in the morning and evening on their way home from work or school. According to Simply Measured, the best time to post is on Wednesdays between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

For brands, the least favorable time to post is in the middle of the night. An Instagram photo typically only has around four hours before it gets buried in the news feed.

Post when you assume your followers have down time and can check their accounts. For example, if your company targets high school students, post your photos in the afternoon when the students are on their lunch breaks.

Or, if you’re a business with a lot of followers in New York City or London, post during rush hour when you know folks are stuck on trains or busses and have nothing to do but check their phones.

2. Use popular hashtags.

Depending on your industry, there are popular hashtags you can use to get more visibility for your photos. The best way to discover popular hashtags for your industry is to use a simple Google search.

Some of the trendiest Instagram hashtags include: #tbt (throwback Thursday), #instadaily, #photooftheday and #instagood.

But don’t go nuts with your hashtags. A hashtag paragraph, as I like to call it, at the bottom of a photo is not savvy. It can look overzealous and cluttered. Instead, stick to one to three relevant hashtags per photo.

3. Ask questions in photo captions.

One of the best ways to get more likes on your photos is to ask a question in your photo’s caption. This is a great way to drive not only likes, but comments.

4. Host a contest.

Hosting a contest is often the most effective way to boost engagement and get new followers on any social network. Since Instagram has grown in popularity, it’s one of the best social media platforms on which to run a contest. Test a tool like Statigram to create and run a challenge on Instagram.

Here are some best practices and tips for hosting a successful Instagram photo contest.

5. Share teasers.

For product-based businesses, upload photos that feature teasers of soon-to-be-released products or an exciting event that’s around the corner. Teaser photos are great for catching users’ interest and driving photo likes.

Check out this great example from The Hundreds, a California-based clothing company:

6. Share candid shots.

Think of your brand’s Instagram account as your followers’ backstage pass or behind-the-scenes look at the inner-workings of your company. People don’t want to see the same polished images you use in advertisements; they want to see images that are more relatable.

Your Instagram account should strive to highlight your employees and the work they do. Even if your business employs hundreds of people, featuring just a few of the faces behind the brand allows your company to appear much more transparent.

Remember, the content you post on Instagram doesn’t always have to be marketing based—it can be just for fun. After all, candid photos often get the best engagement. Stop thinking so much about how to get your branding message across and focus on the essence of the platform, which is human-centric and playful.

7. Use apps.

Use photo-editing apps to enhance your photos before you post them on Instagram. There are a lot of easy-to-use photo-editing apps on the market. Below are a few of the best, along with short descriptions of what they do:

Instaframe: Instaframe is a free app that allows you to create photo collages. There are lots of photo collage apps available, but this one is by far my favorite. Check out Uber SF’s cool photo college that it posted for an ice cream event:

Squaready-Instagram Layouter: When you upload a photo to Instagram from your phone’s photo library, Instagram will make you crop it into a square. If you want to feature an entire photo without cropping it, Squaready allows you to do this. Bonus: It’s free.

Picfx: If you want to pump up the look of your photo with filters, Picfx ($1.99) is your go-to app. It has 100-plus effects, textures and frames to choose from, and will automatically format your photo into a square for easy Instagram uploading.

Camera+: Camera+ ($1.99) is one of the most popular photo-editing apps available. Use Camera+ to adjust the lighting, brightness, contrast and clarity of your photos. It’s also a handy app for shooting, as it allows you to zoom more tightly and improve your lighting on the spot.

8. Ask your users for help.

If your brand’s goal is to get on Instagram’s “explore” page and you have enough followers to do so, don’t be afraid to ask in the photo caption section of your next uploaded photo.

9. Use Instagram Video.

Instagram Video is the latest way for businesses to engage with fans.

Brands that use Instagram Video should do the following: spotlight products, tell a story, entertain and provide value. Learn more about how your brand can use Instagram Video the right way.

10. Welcome a guest Instagrammer.

There are a lot of Instagram celebrities—Instagram users who have massive followings. These people have influence. In a matter of minutes, a photo they post can get thousands of likes and hundreds of comments.

If you’re a brand, team up with an Instagram celebrity. Have the celebrity take over your account for a day or during a major event. This is one way to introduce the celebrity’s large following to your brand.

Juicy Couture recently did this. Kelly Framel, the popular blogger of The Glamourai, took over Juicy Couture’s account to post behind-the-scenes photos of a photo shoot for an upcoming campaign:

Fashion blogger Chriselle Lim of The Chriselle Factor took over Nordstrom’s Instagram account:

11. Ask for shout-outs or features.

Reach out to Instagram celebrities and ask if they will mention your Instagram account or feature your product in one of their photos.

Or, better yet, if one of these influencers mentions your brand without you asking, reach out to him and say thanks. This will help your brand develop a relationship with people who have online influence. The backing of a major Instagram influencer could potentially drive hundreds of new followers to your brand.

12. Show love to your followers.

One brand that exemplifies how to show love to your followers is Rebecca Minkoff. It often shares fan-snapped photos that feature its products.

By posting fan photos, you encourage other followers to tag their photos with your brand’s hashtag or mention your account name in the hopes of being the next fan photo you feature.

13. Take advantage of your bio.

Don’t neglect your Instagram bio. Use this space to feature a call-to-action, branded hashtags and Web links.

For Instagram users who are new to your brand, this section is important. It often plays a hand in a user’s decision to follow your business.

14. Find suggested users.

If you’re just starting out on the platform and aren’t sure who to follow, use Instagram’s suggested users setting. This option will help you find users who have similar interests. These users will often return the favor and follow you back if they like your photos.

Open Instagram and go into your settings by clicking on the bottom right icon. Next, click the gear icon in the top right of your Instagram profile. Select “find and invite friends.” You’ll find “suggested users” at the bottom.

Chelsea Hejny is a member of the content strategy and PR team at ShortStack, a self-service custom app design tool used to create Facebook apps for Facebook Pages, websites and mobile.

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