Instagram 2020 is very different from the Instagram of years past.
Specifically, everything is more challenging than it used to be. For many, organic reach is low, niches are saturated, and engagement has declined.
So is now still a good time to grow an account? The answer is yes.
If you create above-average content and are willing to learn new strategies, there’s no reason you can’t build a large following from scratch.
I started @goldenretrievers — currently sitting at 1.9 million followers — in 2016 when it was admittedly much easier to go viral.
But because I’ve stayed disciplined with my tactics, I’ve continued growing in 2020 while many accounts in the niche are starting to lose followers.
In this article, I’m going to show you how I built @goldenretrievers to where it is today, and how you can use my experience to take your own account to the next level.
@goldenretrievers is a curation account, which means it features other creators’ work (in this case, Golden Retriever videos). In return, featured creators get thousands of new followers.
When I started it in late 2016, the Instagram ecosystem was already mature. All the good, single-word usernames were taken, and big accounts had been established in every niche.
Even though the pet niche was fairly crowded, I decided to build a dog account when I realized I spent way too much free time watching dog videos.
After noticing Golden Retrievers were getting the highest engagement out of any breed, I cold messaged the owner of the inactive @goldenretrievers account to see if they’d let me have the username.
Through a series of carefully worded DMs, I convinced them I’d put it to good use.
Miraculously, they agreed to my request, and a brand was born.
From Zero to One Million
Here are the strategies I used to hit one million followers in about a year and a half.
- Targeted follow/unfollow :
This is how I got the first 10,000 followers.
First, I made sure the account had nine good posts so it looked active.
Next, I found other Golden Retriever curation accounts following more accounts than they had followers and followed their followers.
That sentence probably just made your head spin, so let me explain.
Let’s say you’re trying to grow a travel account.
To execute the targeted follow/unfollow strategy, look for other travel accounts like @cali.vibe1, which is currently following more accounts (4,527) than it has followers (1,658).
Then, scroll through their 1,658 followers and follow those accounts. If you’ve filled your account with good content, you can expect a follow-back rate as high as 50%.
This is an effective strategy because you know those 1,658 accounts are interested in travel. Following them puts you in their notifications and gets their attention.
Another reason it works is that it bypasses vanity metrics.
A lot of people on Instagram are obsessed with numbers and only follow accounts with high follower:following ratios.
But you know the 1,658 you’re targeting probably don’t care about that, since they’re following @cali.vibe1, which has a low follower:following ratio.
Does this work in 2020?
Yes, but not as efficiently as it used to since Instagram has cracked down on bot-like activity.
It‘s still a reliable method for building your first 10,000 followers, but don’t follow more than 60 accounts per hour, or you’ll risk getting banned for a week.
- Hashtag stacks
To amplify my reach, I created a list of 30 relevant hashtags for each post: ten small, ten medium, and ten large.
Small hashtags have 10K — 99K posts, ie. #goldenretriever360.
Medium hashtags have 100K — 999K posts, ie. #goldenretrieversworld.
Large hashtags have 1 million+ posts, ie. #goldenretriever.
If your post gets featured in one of the top nine slots on the hashtag page, you’ll get a bump in engagement on that post.
The strategy is to trend in a small hashtag, which is easiest, in hopes that the engagement bump will get your post trending in a medium hashtag.
If all goes well, you will eventually trend in a large hashtag, leading to massive engagement and lots of new followers.
- Post high-quality content three times a day
Good content was and always will be the only way to truly grow.
You can use every algorithm trick in the book, but if your content isn’t interesting or unique, you won’t get anywhere.
In the early days of @goldenretrievers, I capitalized on this by posting four times a day, two hours apart for each post.
I only featured videos that generated higher-than-average engagement on the original creator’s page, a strategy that allowed me to grow blisteringly fast.
Eventually, I scaled down to two posts a day in 2018 as people started suffering content fatigue from seeing so many dog videos.
- Use giveaways
Everyone likes free stuff — that hasn’t changed.
So giveaways are still one of the most effective ways to get followers fast.
In 2017, a swimsuit company used this tactic to grow their account by a whopping 750,000 followers in 24 hours. It was so successful, it crashed their supply chain.
- Build a community
This is the easiest strategy and yet often times the most overlooked.
Any time someone comments on your post, “like” their comment and leave a meaningful response.
This will make your followers feel like they’re interacting with a real person rather than a heartless digital profile, which increases fan loyalty.
While this doesn’t directly get you more followers, it’ll increase the likelihood one of your followers will recommend your account to a friend.
It also goes a long way in convincing visitors to follow your account, because they’ll see that you’re actively engaging with your community.
- Content, content, content
As mentioned earlier, everything ultimately comes back to good content.
This has always been true of any platform: if you want to get followers, you need to create at the highest level possible.
But in 2020, you need to really go the extra mile.
Think about it.
People have been consuming content on Instagram for almost a decade now. They’ve seen every dog vs. mirror video, “how-to” make up tutorial, and a stunning sunset picture at least 100 times.
If you want to make your account worth following, you need to come up with angles and ideas that haven’t been explored.
If you commit to executing each of these tactics every day, you’ll grow slowly but surely.
Don’t listen to anyone who says “Instagram is dead.”
If you’re passionate and ready to work, you can absolutely grow your Instagram in 2020.
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