I wanted to see how easy it was for small businesses to grow followers on Instagram without the input of a marketing resource. Aside from my role at Infotex I am a digital artist, I sell limited edition prints and commissions so for this experiment I featured my Instagram around my small business as an artist.


I already had an account with around 29 followers (pretty meagre). But if you haven’t you need to download the app onto your phone and set up an account. To aid being found I recommend both your username (known as a handle with the @ sign) and your name having reference to what you do in it. For example I set my name as Abstract Landscape Artist. You are then more likely to come up in a search of your your specialism.

Write your biography wisely and link to a relevant page on your website in the URL (web address) field. This is the only small area you have to promote what you do and direct people away from Instagram.


Then choose the amount of times you think you can feasibly post each day and get started. I went with one but three is optimal.


Your pictures need to be good. Look around, there is a very ‘glossy’ magazine feel to Instagram. It is also starting to be more common to see the animated gifs or video loop images offered by new smart phones.


Friendly and kind. This is not twitter.
People are more reserved about who they follow than on other social platforms, they are much more likely to ‘like’ than give you a full resounding follow.

Etiquette seems to suggest you should have more followers than be following.


Make sure you use the hashtag (#) in each post.
The only way for you to reach those outside your own following is including a hashtag they may be interested in. Think clearly about what subjects your audience would look at and make sure that your hashtag includes:

  • About the subject
  • About the object
  • About the audience
  • About the business
  • About the location

Six hash tags is about right. if you want to set your hashtags away from your post text, you will often see people use ‘–’

For example;
This is the text for my insta-post

#hashtags #subject #location #etc


You can indeed increase your following by good old fashioned hard work.


Quite excited I surfed around on Instagram looking at people trending on hashtags similar to the ones I was using. I commented on their pictures and in return got some nice comments back, a few likes and some thank yous but not really any follows.


I checked out the ‘settings’ tab on my instagram and under ‘Find & Invite Friends’ trawled my contacts stalking anyone I had ever known – and followed – with not that much response.

Then I looked at ‘Suggested Users’ and, being a little more sensitive here, I liked or commented on their images and then followed. The response was good, better than my real friends! I got quite a few follows back and increasing likes.


So I now knew that if I made the effort to look, comment and then follow I was more likely to get people taking the time to look at me and follow, but more often it started in lots of likes. I found if I checked the ‘grammers’ that had left likes (but no follow) commented or posted on their feed, then followed them I was getting a higher rate of follow returns.

I also noticed that my activity and engagement was snowballing I was reaching wider and growing likes, comments and follows.


Next I checked how my time of day was affecting numbers.
Currently I was posting at 9pm  so I tried at 7am and 12pm. The numbers were considerable; midday doubling and early morning tripling so I moved my daily post to 7am.

Small trick – I also learned to cull dead followees, those I was following who were not attentive to my path to greatness.


I did some real world research.
I went about my day asking anyone I could what they thought of Instagram and how it worked for them – there are definitely industries that thrive on Instagram and I found many people and small businesses for whom Instagram is a brilliant marketing tool bringing them many sales. These industries are generally fashion, food, lifestyle and outdoor adventure.

So what if you aren’t in one of those industries?


In one word….Keywords.
#Hashtags are key but tagging just for ‘your’ industry is not a way to approach a wider audience so I started #ing the industries that worked. Adding #interiors #interiordesign #womensfitness #wheretonext and apparently blueberries and donuts do wonders for likes too, but no, even I had a limit to how low I would stoop. That said using the hashtags from popular industries definately increased likes which in turn after I had engaged, cultivated follows.

You can see a few popular hashtags in this article; www.postplanner.com/best-instagram-hashtags


So numbers were growing, this was great wasn’t it?
Now I just focused on those liking my posts. I checked them out, liked, commented and followed. This showing of interest in them over just following increased my follows, but as this grew as did my time responding and although I discovered new, nice and interesting stuff it was taking up my time which should have been spent doing actual work.

‘I wasn’t doing this out of enjoyment but for the benefit of my business’

Unlike pinterest where I surf just to find ephemera and inspiration I wasn’t doing this out of enjoyment but for the benefit of my business, this is very different from using a social platform for social or personal purposes. So was the return on investment enough for the time (and therefore money) I was spending?


I was pleased, I had more than tripled my following and it was easy to see that this was a snowballing effect. As I continued posting and tagging once a day, my numbers were growing at a much quicker rate than the virtually ‘zero’ movement before this experiment.

There is no doubt that Instagram, and all the other social media platforms help build very successful businesses, however choose wisely, test, decide, create a strategy and importantly –  stick to it. Even those that have millions of followers all say it is hard work, and just posting with the odd hashtag and sitting back and waiting will not bring you riches.

With 300 million active daily users on instagram yes that means you have a far reaching pool but it also means you have a big ocean to navigate through, with your lone voice needing to rise above other – dare I say – natives, and many millions of those are of course not interested in your line of business.


Yes and no. Social media is not a magic wand but if you choose your social media platform carefully, have a strategy and a campaign – and stick to it – it is likely to work. But sporadic posting across random platforms is less likely to help your business and more likely waste you time.

Stats on conversion rates seem to vary considerably but most say social platforms are around or below 1% with newsletters being much higher than that so finding the right platform and finding the right person (not everyone has the knack) is an expense that needs to be factored in. In the end, social marketing is no different from traditional marketing, find what suites you and stick to it, routinely making sure the return is worth the outlay.

You can find a large selection of stats here if you want to know more: www.expandedramblings.com/

And finally, if any of these alarm bells have rung for you and finding the right marketing avenue to turn down is on your mind why not give us a call.
All our advice is born out of hands on experience and delivered with unbiased recommendation.

Author: Abi Fawcus

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