How to Grow Your Instagram Following in 2019

Welcome, welcome, welcome, episode … “welpome”. Welpome, we’re gonna just leave it. Welpome.

Episode 442, off to a solid start. I’m super stoked today because we’re gonna talk a little bit about Instagram following and growing your following, and why you don’t necessarily need to worry about growing your following. But if you wanna grow your following, some ways to do it.

I wanna start by talking about the importance of being patient with this, and this being a metric that you are aware of, but you’re also aware of why you want it to grow. There are some really, really solid, valid, important reasons to grow your Instagram following.

If you wanna speak on stage, if you wanna get published by a traditional publisher, if you would like to look at some large-scale media opportunities, having a larger following can be helpful to get those opportunities and to make those things happen. It can be a powerful asset in negotiations when you walk into those conversations.

With that said, if your audience isn’t quality, it doesn’t really matter how big it is. And for a lot of people who listen to the show, and maybe it’s you, maybe it’s not, but for a lot of the people, I talk to they work with not a ton of people every year. They’re working with people at a pretty high level, and they’re working with 10, 15, 20, 25 people per year. And so having a following of 25,000 people or 50,000 people isn’t super necessary for their conversions.

If you’re somebody who is looking to sell a higher quantity at a lower price point, then yes, a larger audience can be really helpful. But again, it’s only really helpful if that larger audience is actually paying attention and buying the things you have for sale. So the integrity and the quality of that audience is what’s most important, oversize.

So everything we talk about today, I want you to keep that in the back of your mind because it’s going to take time to build a quality audience. But what you’ll see is, when you’re doing some of the things that we’re gonna talk about today consistently, you will, in not a crazy long amount of time …

Granted, it will feel longer than you would like it to, because, I’m assuming here, big assumptions, that you’re similar to me and once you’ve decided you want something it should have just already happened. If I’m aware of my desire to have something, I should clearly already have it, it should have shown up yesterday, right? That’s how most of us are in the entrepreneur space, I think. So maybe you feel me there.

But I want you to think about the fact that you’re building relationships with these people, and a relationship takes time. Think about your Instagram time and your Instagram following as getting really well tied in with a group of friends.

When you go to a new school, start a new job, meet a new group of people, you don’t immediately become best friends with the whole group, right? You probably start sort of an entry-level relationship with a couple people in the group, and you’re kind of an acquaintance of everybody else. But over time, more and more people from that group become a good friend of yours, and you build stronger and stronger relationships with more and more people, and so your circle grows. But that happens over time.

So the same thing is true of Instagram, okay? You’re really well loved by your initial tight-knit little group, and as your influence with the group grows, and your time investment with the group is there over and over and over and over again, that relationship extends, and more and more people join that circle. Make sense?

It’s going to take time to build a quality audience.

But here are some of the things that I wanna make sure we’re doing as we’re moving through this time so that A, we’re not tied to our phones 25 hours a day, but also so that we’re building a really quality relationship with the people who we’re talking to.

The number one thing is I want you to pay attention to where your audience is, and not where your peers are.

This is something that is rampant in the online marketing space, this idea that you need to connect with two or three influencers, and one of them will notice you, and then suddenly your whole life will be different. I don’t know why people are perpetuating this myth, but they are.

Instead of entering the circle and saying, “Okay, I’m here now, you’re all gonna like me, I’m all set now,” I want you to pay attention to where your customers are. Now, that’s probably gonna be easiest to do based on hashtags. I really love going in and restructuring clients’ hashtags because one of the things that we do way too often is we concern ourselves with our peers, or other people in our industry, competition, colleagues, whatever you wanna call them. And we know they’re smart, so we want them to think we’re smart, so we use the hashtags that they’re using that are all just being looked at by us, not our audience.

Digital marketers are really, really terrible about this. They like to use #digitalmarketing, #facebookads, #Instagramtraining, those kinds of hashtags when they’re trying to teach executive coaches how to market better online. Business coaches, also terrible about this. They’ll use #businesscoach, #executivecoach, #leadershipcoach. But they’re not talking to other business coaches, they wanna pull people out of corporate.

Now, occasionally using some of these hashtags so that you appear there if someone is searching for that is killer. But the bulk of your hashtags should actually be the places your clients are spending time. I work with a lot of business coaches, leadership coaches, executive coaches, health coaches, wellness coaches, creative coaches, speaker coaches. So these are the hashtags I use because this is where they’re spending time.

Very rarely you’ll see me add digital marketing or Facebook training, because oftentimes VAs or social media managers who wanna stay up to date with what’s happening in social, or what’s happening in the digital marketing landscape, will check out those hashtags, and they’re perfect candidates for Hit the Mic Backstage, where we’re doing these trainings, where I’m sharing the latest in news and updates that are happening in this space.

So make sure, as you’re paying attention to these things, that you are utilizing the hashtags your audience is going to check, and occasionally peppering in your industry hashtags. But that’s not your primary focus, because we are not concerned with meeting more “us”es. We’re concerned with meeting more of the people who are actually gonna be impacted by our work. So we wanna make sure we’re spending the time where they’re spending the time.

Now, the second part of that is it’s not just the hashtags that we are using under our posts.

This is where too often the hashtag strategy falls off. We wanna also be spending a certain amount of time each day, I’m not gonna tell you what that number is, you’re a full-grown person, I believe in your ability to manage your time, I use 15-30 minutes per day … That honestly goes up depending on how aggressive I am being with growing my following. And I go in and I engage with these hashtags

Now, here’s where you’re gonna have to use some judgment. You’re gonna have to use your own knowledge center. When I’m going in and I’m looking at these hashtags, I’m not going to where it says top. I’m going to where it says recent, and I’m going to where there are posts actually worth me spending some time with.

I’m gonna hop into #businesspodcast, as I’m recording this, this is what I’m doing. There’s top and there’s recent, and the top all have a ton of engagement because that’s how they ended up in top. But what I wanna do is I wanna go to recent, and here’s where I want you to use your judgment. The first post here is a very generic quote. Not gonna say what it is, it’s just a very generic, completely BS quote. There’s nothing, absolutely nothing, worth engaging with here.

But if I keep scrolling, I see more quotes, I see more quotes. I start to see some things worth paying attention to. Where there’s places where I can engage, I’ll go in and engage. I’ll go in and actually comment, again, I’m spending my time talking to the people who are posting something worth responding to.

This is why our next thing is about having content that starts a conversation. Because for this part to work, more of us have to be creating our posts in the idea that we are starting a conversation, and not in the idea that we are having a whole conversation all by ourselves. Because that’s what’s happening right now, too many people are posting the whole conversation and giving no space for someone to talk back to them.

Let’s take it back to the offline space, let’s take it back to meeting a group of people. We show up, we meet this group of people, what happens when I show up and I introduce myself and I share my thoughts on something, and then I just stop? The conversation ends. There is no next step.

However, if I go and I introduce myself and I share my thoughts on something, maybe they were all talking about something before I showed up, or whatever, and then I say, “What do you think about blahblahblah?” Or, “How do you utilize dadadada?” Or, “What’s your favorite blahblahblah?” Now I’ve given them a place to respond, now we’re volleying back and forth. This is how conversation works. That same thing needs to happen on Instagram.

And so when more of us do this, more of us have quality spaces to engage with each other, and this is how we start building relationships that actually mean something instead of the circle of nonsense, the funnel cloud of BS, that happens when we just post Instagram … quotes, inspirational nonsense. So I want you to go in and engage with those hashtags, but I also want you to be starting conversations with your content. I want you to be creating a space where they can respond.

This is something I think I talked about in a previous episode, and I know I’ve talked about it in stories. I don’t consider social, or email, or this podcast, or any other part of my marketing a broadcast. Not one single thing I do is broadcasting. What I do is I start conversations.

I want you to respond to me. This episode is created to start a conversation. So you can head over to Instagram and DM me and say, “Stacey, full of it. I love talking to my peers on Instagram, so I make sure half my content speaks to them. This is why that’s valuable to me because they’re good referral sources, blahblahblah.” Or, “Stacey, I really loved how you talked about blahblahblah. That was fantastic. This is how I’m gonna use that.”

That’s what this space is for. But that can happen because I started the conversation instead of us all just standing in a room staring at each other. Taking this back to that in-person thing, what immediately comes to mind for me is the seventh-grade dance where the boys were on one side of the room and the girls were on the other side of the room. Never the two shall meet, right? We all sort of awkwardly hung out with our friend circle and did not talk to anyone outside of our friend circle for fear of looking ridiculous. Right?

That’s not what I want you to do. I want you to go and run the risk of looking a little ridiculous. Because you know what? If you think back now, the person who stepped up and went out there and started dancing, or went across the room and started talking to somebody, or who brought two groups of friend circles together and started talking, they were always the most fun person at dances. Or, as you got older, the most fun person at parties. Or, as you get a little older to be the age I am now, the most fun person to have dinner with, or in my opinion travel with, because I’m always managing to get into something when I hang out with these people in my life.

So I want you to bring a little bit of that to your social time, to your stories, to your Instagram grid. And I know we’re talking about Instagram today but to your content. Because this is the person that just magnetizes people to them, and that’s how your following grows. Because you’re the person that everybody wants to talk to.

And this is how we grow an engaged following that actually buys stuff because now they’re building a relationship with you. But they can do that because you’re talking with them and not at them. I hope that makes sense. If it doesn’t make sense, send me a DM and we’ll talk about it. You see what I did there, did you see it? That’s what happened.

All right, the third thing, pay to play.

Sometimes you’ve got to pay to play. And this is one of those things I really love if … And full transparency, this is something we’re rolling out in Q2 because my Instagram growth has stalled a little bit. It’s just not … I have some very specific goals that I wanna reach in the next couple of years, and to do that I wanna have a certain following. Total transparency here, guys.

I have done a lot in the last three to six months where I’m coming into these masterminds and I’m hosting workshops and things like that, and I absolutely love speaking that way. So I, A, need to grow my network, and B, I need to very specifically grow my audience so that there is an initial credibility marker when I get there so that I can get into some of these larger high-end masterminds.

One of my goals is to be doing that more consistently throughout the year, and pre-booking stuff for not just 2019 but into 2020 as we move through this year. So I’ve got a pretty aggressive goal that I wanna do growth-wise for my following, specifically on Instagram.

Because I’m finding, and here’s the next step to this that I really wanna make sure I share, it’s because a lot of the relationships I’ve built already, where I’ve done this already in the last three to six months, where I’ve gotten these gigs where I’m coming and talking to a mastermind, maybe it’s virtual and I’m hosting a workshop with them, has been through building relationships on Instagram with these people. So I know that’s where these relationships are for me. So pay attention to that, those little nuggets of information.

I know I wanna grow my Instagram following. I’ve got a really aggressive goal. So guess what? I’m gonna do all those organic things that I always do, but I’m gonna double down on them. It’s gonna be a little more time than it normally does on my schedule when I’m just kinda coasting through. But I’m also going to invest in this goal, and I can invest in this goal because I know exactly why I want to achieve it and I know exactly where there’s ROI on the back side. Does that make sense? I hope it does.

As I’m moving through this, I’m going to be paying to play. Now, with Instagram, there is not an option to just run an ad for more followers, which is fine with me because I don’t ever utilize that when I’m trying to grow a Facebook page either. I find that it ends up with a not great quality of growth.

Where I do get good quality is when I run an ad to an audience that’s never heard of me that’s completely engagement focused. So I’m not running you to a website, I’m not running you to a landing page, I’m not running you to a messenger bot, I’m literally sending an ad to a cold audience that is purely engagement.

So it could be, “What is your favorite social media marketing tool?” It could be, “What is your favorite morning ritual? What is your must-have paper and pen? What do you start every day with?” Whatever is industry-wise or topic-wise appropriate for you, I want you to run an ad to your people who just don’t know you yet, and I want you to utilize that to grow your following.

I don’t run these at a super high budget. If you’ve never, ever run them before and you don’t have a huge budget, start at $5 a day. That’s not gonna net you a ton of people, but it’s a good place to start. I love these because I start conversations, I start getting to talk to people, but I also grow my following.

So this time, when we’re running it in Q2, and I’m gonna come back and I’ll tell you how this goes towards the end of the year, maybe as we get into Q3 I’ll talk to you about it, but we’re gonna for the first time ever test this in two ways. We’re gonna test it with stories and grid posts so that we can see, because I know …

Again, using information I already have, I know my stories get me better engagement than my grid does. I know that. That’s why we’re using more and more of my stories to create grid posts. Because I’m getting engagement in front, or in the story, so I can duplicate that engagement in the grid.

So I know I’m getting engagement there. Can I turn that engagement that I’m already getting to a cold audience, get some engagement, and increase the following through there? That’s what we’re testing. Again, I don’t usually share this stuff with you guys when we’re still in testing, but I’m really excited about this, I’m excited to test it, and I will come back after we run this test throughout Q2 and Q3, and I’ll tell you how it goes. But it’s hands-down my favorite way to expedite this kind of growth, is paying to play.

Now, this is vastly different than buying followers because I’m not guaranteeing myself followers. I am just making sure that my content gets in front of people who are not yet following me. There’s a very important difference there. This is how we make sure it’s quality, this is how we make sure it’s legit, and this is how we make sure that this audience is relevant to us. So I want you to pay attention to that because it’s a really important nuance that needs to be there.

The last piece that I wanna make sure we talk about today is how we then engage with these new followers because we wanna make sure they stay.

Because one of the tricks that we’re seeing a lot of people use to grow their following is this idea that, “I’ll go follow a bunch of people, wait for them to follow me back or not follow me back, and then I’ll unfollow them in three days, and then I’ll follow a bunch of new people, and so on and so forth, and I will just get these people to keep following me and then I will unfollow them, and my following will keep growing …” and it’s ridiculous.

And then what I see this paired with a lot is when you follow them back, and they’ll send you a DM that says, “Oh, thanks for following me, here’s how you sign up for my whatever, here’s how you buy my whatever,” and they go straight into an everloving promo, and it kills me every time. It drives me crazy. It’s a really great way to get me to go to your profile and unfollow you immediately.

We saw this happen with Twitter. Let’s leave that mistake in the past, let’s not bring this to Instagram. Because it drives me batty, and it drives lots of people crazy. Years and years and years and years and years ago I did a podcast, it might even have been a blog post, it might have been before this podcast existed, we did about pet peeves. And this was the number one pet peeve, was automated direct messages on Twitter, and it’s starting on Instagram, and it’s terrible. So don’t do that, unfollow people who do it.

But what I do love is when somebody follows you, or you follow somebody, send them a little DM. I spend a couple of minutes every day sending new followers DMs because, A, there’s nothing more gratifying than being seen, right? There’s nothing more gratifying than being like, “Oh hey, they noticed I followed them. That’s kind of cool.”

But also, I immediately start a conversation. I immediately take somebody from being a passive follower to an engaged follower. Because I prompted talking to them. Find something cool on their profile, choose one of their images and be like, “I loved this, this was so cool. Thanks for sharing it.” And then move forward with the conversation.

I had one not too long ago, it was a podcast, I can’t remember for the life of me now what the name of the podcast was, I’m gonna feel so bad … But they were talking about something fun, like wine or something, and I was like, “Oh my god, a podcast about X, Y, Z, I’m so in, I can’t wait to listen.” I jumped right in, “I loved episode blahblahblah.” It was such a fun way to start a conversation, be super complimentary, and I just started talking to them like they were a person. I know, it’s a crazy thing, but it will change the way you spend time.

And for anyone who hates Instagram, because they’re like, “No one talks to me,” start talking to people, start the conversation. You cannot be mad that nobody at the party is talking to you if you’re not talking to anybody at the party. Those are the rules, okay?

Soapbox away, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about today. Again, it’s gotta be about conversation, it’s gotta be about quality growth, and if you wanna expedite that growth, pay to play. I will report back with how our testing goes as we get further in the year, but this is something I’m really stoked to test, we’re actually gonna start the ads the second week of April. So stay tuned.

I’m assuming you already follow me on Instagram, so you won’t see these ads, but if you don’t follow me on Instagram let’s just fix that right now. Come on over, @Staceyharris, I would love to chat with you. And send me a DM, and say hello. Sound good? All right, it’s a deal.

If you would like to do more of this work for yourself, you wanna go into Q2 with a real plan for what’s happening, you wanna have a real understanding of where you’re showing up, where your focus is, and really why you’re doing any of this stuff online, make sure you join us for Backstage Live. We have a couple of seats left for our virtual event on April 18th, we have a few seats left for our live and in-person event here in southern California on May 2nd.

I’m super stoked to be bringing together both the virtual and in-person rooms in Q2. Join us now to take advantage of the bonus one-on-one call for anybody who pays in full, and I will see you there, either on May 2nd here in southern California or on April 18th virtually. It’ll be a good time.

If you love this show, if this show is helpful, head on over to Instagram and leave a review. In addition to our growth goals around the Instagram following, I’d really love to up our reviews here on the show. We have a ton of amazing listeners, and I know because you guys send me messages and emails, and I see our download numbers, but our reviews do not reflect that, and I would really like to see that change so that we can allow this show to have an even bigger impact. Because not everyone realizes that we can talk about this stuff the way we talk about this stuff here.

So I would really appreciate your reviews and ratings and all of those things over on iTunes, so if you could take a second and do that I would genuinely, greatly … That all tried to come out as one word … appreciate it. As my friend Tara Newman over at The Bold Leadership Revolution says, she considers podcast reviews podcast currency, and I totally agree. I love that way of talking about it.

If you have reviewed this show, find another podcast that you love and go leave them a review. I try to leave three reviews for podcasts every single week, because I’m always picking up new podcasts here and there, and I really love being able to support podcasters in our circle. So go leave some podcast reviews, all right? I will see you next week.

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