6 ways to build a thriving Instagram following

Tired of getting just a handful of likes on each post? If you want your followers to comment on and share your photos, heed this advice.

What’s the secret of a flourishing Instagram community?

There isn’t an easy answer.

I’m sure you follow an Instagram account with thousands—if not millions—of followers who interact with its every post. How did that person or organization do it? Do they know something about Instagram marketing you don’t?

They probably do.

Many don’t realize how much work goes on behind the scenes of these major accounts.

I’ve worked with, and built accounts like this. Below are some of my favorite strategies for creating an engaged, growing Instagram community. Ready to learn some advanced tricks of the trade?

(If you’re new to Instagram, it might help to check out this deck first: “The Ultimate Guide To Instagram Marketing.”)

1. Use emotion to reach more people.

I know, you’ve read hundreds of blog posts about the power of emotion in content marketing. I’m not talking about making people feel good or angry, however. I’m talking about using that emotion to spread your message.

Studies show that we share content for five reasons:

  • To bring valuable and entertaining content to others
  • To define ourselves to others
  • To nurture existing relationships
  • To feel better about ourselves
  • To spread the word about something we believe in

Use these five forces to create Instagram content people pass along.

2. Tell people to double tap if ______.

People connect with content that makes them feel better about themselves, so create content that does this. A post like the one below attracts ambitious people who live interesting lives:

If you double tap this image, you say you feel inspired to live life to the fullest.

Here’s another example from Birchbox:

✨PJs all day✨ Double tap if you think a lazy Sunday sounds amazing… 😴✌️ (📷:@birchboxfr)

A photo posted by Birchbox UK (@birchboxuk) on Aug 2, 2015 at 12:53am PDT

It’s brilliant, right?

You can do the same regardless of your industry. Here are some examples:

  • Cleaning company: “Double tap if you hate cleaning on the weekends.”
  • Marketing company: “Double tap if you think drones are the next big thing.”
  • Local restaurant: “Double tap if you think you could eat this huge meal.”

3. Tell people to tag someone who ______.

This tactic gives you the opportunity to gain new followers. People want to provide value and nurture relationships. To take advantage of that, create posts that inspire people to share.


This post from General Electric features a quote from Marie Curie, a physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Because Curie’s legacy is so powerful, people started tagging their friends so they could see the quote and learn about Curie, too.

To help people nurture relationships, take a cue from the @Yoga account. It employs this insight by writing, “Tag someone you love,” or “Tag someone who inspires you every day,” at the end of its captions:

4. Use hashtags without looking spammy.

#We #All #Know #Someone #Who #Posts #Like #This.

Don’t be that person.

Hashtags are one of the best ways to quickly grow your following. They are also one of the fastest ways to make your followers hate you.

Here’s how to use hashtags successfully:

Don’t use irrelevant hashtags

Imagine you’re 40 pages into a novel that has you hanging on to every word. You’re deeply connected to the characters and itching to find out what happens next. To your surprise, when you flip the page, there’s an apple pie recipe.

How would you feel? Confused? Upset? Shocked?

That’s how people feel when brands use hashtags that don’t relate to the content with which they’re posted. Don’t use a hashtag on a post if the content isn’t similar to the rest of the posts in the stream. If you do, don’t be surprised if people leave negative comments or report you.

Put hashtags in your posts’ comments section

Instead of using hashtags in your posts’ captions, put them in a comment. Then hashtags won’t be the first thing people see when your content hits the stream. Hashtags in the comments make your content searchable without looking spammy. As more people engage, your comment with the hashtags will eventually be hidden.

Use hashtags to drive discovery

One of the best things about Instagram is its Discover and Follow Recommendations features.


On the left side of the image above, you can see Instagram’s Discover page, which is the default page when you click “Search.” On this page, Instagram makes recommendations about posts that its algorithm believes you’d enjoy. The recommendations are based on your likes, your followers’ likes, likes from the pages you follow, and other things such as the hashtags you use and accounts you mention.

If you use a handful of relevant hashtags, Instagram will start sharing your content with others who might be interested in those topics.

Instagram uses a similar algorithm for follow recommendations. If your followers are similar to those of another account, and if you engage and interact with that account and use similar hashtags, then Instagram will likely recommend you to that account’s followers.

You can see an example of this on the right side of the above image with the Oregon Ducks, Nike and SportsCenter.

5. Establish relationships with influencers.

Shout-outs are one of Instagram’s most powerful tactics. A shout-out is one Instagram account promoting another. Here’s an example:

Foundr Magazine has more than 450,000 followers, so the shout out is a big win for Hustle & Grind. It’s an opportunity for Hustle & Grind to get in front of a new audience and hopefully get traffic back to its account.

You open up these opportunities by having a quality product and by building a relationship with the person behind the accounts with which you’d like to collaborate. From there, you can establish a relationship in which you regularly share each other’s content.

Brands regularly use this tactic. They pay Instagram models and celebrities from $250 to $50,000 per post. My favorite shout-outs are those that happen organically, but sometimes you have to pay to increase reach. Companies like Dash Hudson make it easier for brands to hire Instagram influencers.

6. Use a call to action to drive people to your website.

If you want to drive traffic to your site, don’t put links in your captions. Instagram doesn’t enable clickable links anywhere other than in the bio section. I’ve tested this over and over, and it won’t get you far.

Instead of putting the link in a caption, put it in your bio. Then tell people the link is there, like this:

If someone really wants this Thanksgiving recipe, he’ll click the link in the bio.

For more tips on cultivating a thriving Instagram community, take a look at this Slidedeck: “How to Generate Your First 20,000 Followers on Instagram.”

Ross Simmonds is the CEO and co-founder of Crate, and the co-founder of Hustle & Grind. A version of this article originally appeared on Convince & Convert.

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