Instagram Tips

The Real Secret to Instagram Success

68 COMMENTS

Let’s just get something out of the way right now, before I launch into my tips and tricks for Instagram growth:

THERE IS NO SECRET.

I know, you hate me a little bit right now. You got all excited thinking I finally cracked the code to easy Instagram success and now you kind of want to bop me on the head. I get it. While there is no one, magical secret to Instagram growth, I do have some genuinely tried and true ways to increase your following on Instagram and create a vibrant, engaged community. Five, to be exact! So stick around and keep reading (it’ll be worth it, I promise).

Side note: I’m thinking about putting together a more comprehensive, step-by-step, nitty gritty guide to starting and running a successful Instagram account – if you’d be interested in something like that, please drop a comment below and let me know exactly what mystifies you the most (or what you’d like me to go more in depth on). Thanks in advance for your feedback!

Okay, but seriously though. On to the good stuff: here are 5 real ways you can actually grow your Instagram account and encourage positive community building online. Let’s hit it!

+ Authenticity +
I know this is a total buzz word and has kind of lost its meaning, but it’s still vital. Being honest and real with your Instagram community is so important. If you’re fake, petty or mean to others online, people will smell it from a mile away and steer clear of you. Also, who wants to be that girl? Certainly not me. Stay true to yourself (as hokey as that sounds), post content that you actually want to post, be real with your followers, and most importantly, be kind.

Kindness is free. Sprinkle that stuff everywhere.

*The original quote contains a curse word, which I so badly want to use because emphasis, but my Mom reads my blog (hi Mom) so I feel obligated to keep it kosher. You’re welcome.

+ Consistency +
Some people post every day (or aim to, *cough cough*). Others post once every two weeks. You don’t have to go crazy and post 5x a day (in fact, I’d caution you not to do that), but being able to count on consistent content from someone is a huge positive. My personal rule of thumb is to try and post once a day, usually around 12pm, which is the time my followers are the most active, according to the Wizard of Oz (aka Instagram Insights). If you’re staring at that last line, going “What the heck are Instagram Insights and why is she referencing the Wizard of Oz?!” then bear with me…Instagram Insights are the fun little data points that Instagram collects and displays as analytics for anyone with an Instagram Business account. These analytics tell you how your account is doing, what time your followers tend to be the most active, where they’re from, etc. I’ll talk about how to set up an Instagram Business account in another post very soon, I promise! I can also go more in depth about my personal posting schedule if that’s something you’d be interested in hearing more about – let me know in the comments!

+ Quality vs Quantity +
A note on the quality of your posts: Before you post anything, ask yourself, “Would I want to see this on Instagram? Would I double tap or scroll right past it? Would I follow this person?” If the answer to any of those questions is “no,” then do some re-evaluating and figure out if you can take your content in a different direction, approach things more uniquely, revamp your editing style, or try something else! More on some tangible ways to do this coming very soon.

So, the big question: quality or quantity? What’s more important? The answer is tricky, because in my opinion, it’s a little bit of both. Not every single photo you post has to be The Best Photo Ever (though if you somehow have a backlog of incredible photography waiting in the wings, you’re amazing, and we all bow down). However, you should take note of the types of photos you’re posting, try to keep it fresh and high quality, and not just post a photo for the sake of posting. If you find yourself without anything good to post, skip a few days and try to get out there and explore and create some new content! Not all of us are hopping planes to the Maldives every weekend (although if you’re some sort of Sugar Daddy who wants to finance this type of thing, feel free to get in touch). Most of us are at home, working our butts off, counting down the days ’til our next fun trip. Don’t be afraid to show your followers some reality (your morning coffee, your favorite street in town, whatever you can muster)! People enjoy peeking into your daily life – we’re all nosy little humans in the end.

Nutshell version: post as regularly as possible (2x a day maximum would be my recommendation, and preferably 3-5 times a week), but don’t post shoddy photos just to meet that quota. Find your balance and stick with it as consistently as you can in order to build trust with your followers.

+ Engagement +
Have you ever spent some time writing a really thoughtful comment on someone’s photo or gone through and liked a bunch of their content only to have them completely ignore you? (We all have. It’s inevitable.) However, I want to encourage you to not be that person. Not everyone can respond personally to all their comments, but most can. When someone leaves you a nice comment, respond back to them in a personal way! Check out their profile. Leave them some love. If you want engaged followers, you have to engage back. There are quite a few big accounts over 100k that I see still engaging with their followers on a regular basis, and it only makes me love them more. This all goes back to point #1, be authentic. When people sense authenticity and genuine reciprocation from you, they’ll be encouraged to engage with you even more frequently.

+ Be A Turtle +
I know, now I’ve really lost you. “Be a flipping TURTLE? I just want to get more Instagram followers.” Bear with me. You know the old adage, “slow and steady wins the race?” Well, guess what? It’s still true. At least in my book. Be a turtle. Be patient. Go slow, don’t rush and try to find shortcuts (like buying followers or using automated bots to leave lame, generic comments for you). Short-term success = long term failure. Some people get away with being shady and buying their way to the top, but in my opinion, it’s just not worth it. Take your time, put in the effort, and do the work. It will pay off eventually. If you haven’t hit your stride yet, don’t despair. Instagram can become all-consuming if you let it. But guess what? If you’re always on your phone, stressing and trying to hustle your way to the top, you’re probably A) going to lose all your friends (and possibly your mind, and B) you’ll never be happy, no matter what your follower count may be. Also: it’s just Instagram, y’all. Don’t let an app run your life. Take it easy and enjoy the process as much as possible. It will be so much more satisfying when you succeed (which you will, if you stick with it!)

As always, you can find me on Instagram @passportvoyager. I’d love to connect with you there and see what you’re up to. And let me know your thoughts in the comments below (or tweet me if you want to chat more!) I’d love to hear your reaction to this post, thoughts on Instagram in general, or take requests for future blog posts.

Lastly, do let me know if you’d like to see a a more comprehensive, step-by-step, nitty gritty guide to starting and running a successful Instagram account. I’d be happy to put one together and share more of what I’ve learned so far. I’m no pro, but I’ve been around long enough to learn a thing or two, and I’d love to help you navigate this craziness so it’s not so overwhelming!

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68 Comments

  • Reply
    Marissa Writes
    May 24, 2017 at 10:51 AM

    I completely agree with the engagement part of this… I get tired of instagram accounts that “follow” just to “unfollow” as soon as you follow back… as a result, I only follow those accounts that engage with me… and I have made some marvelous friends and my account is growing steadily in a very specific audience.

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 24, 2017 at 2:37 PM

      I know it’s a tricky landscape to navigate, and never fun feeling like you’re being used. I definitely get it. I’ve made an amazing group of friends through Instagram too, and I’m so thankful for that! So glad your account is moving in an upward direction, keep it up Marissa!

  • Reply
    Danielle Fairhurst
    May 23, 2017 at 3:47 PM

    Really useful post and I’ve noted down some great tips! Plus who doesn’t love pineapples?!

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 24, 2017 at 2:36 PM

      Amen! Pineapples for the win! (I just accidentally typed “pineapples for the wine,” which also sounds delicious…hmmm!) Thanks for reading, Danielle 🙂

  • Reply
    Dee
    May 23, 2017 at 10:40 AM

    I totally agree with “be a turtle.” You do have to be patient and if you want real, authentic followers you do have to give it time and be consistent. Great post!

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 24, 2017 at 2:34 PM

      It’s the most boring path to take, I suppose, but it does genuinely reward you in the end, right? Glad to hear it resonated, Dee. Thanks for reading!

  • Reply
    Trina
    May 22, 2017 at 10:37 PM

    Love this breakdown. I appreciate the honesty and the simplicity of the advice. Keep it up!

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 24, 2017 at 2:34 PM

      So happy to hear that Trina! Thanks for reading 🙂

  • Reply
    Bruce Schinkel
    May 14, 2017 at 10:57 AM

    Really fun breakdown in this post! Thanks so much for your detailed explanation of each point rather than just giving quick overviews! Very valuable 🙂

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 16, 2017 at 7:51 PM

      I’m so happy to hear that it was valuable Bruce! Thanks for taking the time to read 🙂

  • Reply
    Riely
    May 14, 2017 at 8:55 AM

    All very true and applicable for us instagrammers. I like your advise on being a “turtle” and taking it slow. That also ties back with being authentic and true to yourself. If you are buying your following you aren’ going to have an organic following who are actually engaged honestly with your content. Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 16, 2017 at 7:50 PM

      It sounds like silly advise, but it’s a good reminder, right? In a time where it seems like everyone is trying to take the quick and easy path to success, it can feel depressing when it seems like things are moving so slowly in your own journey. But it’s all worth it in the end! Glad you enjoyed – thanks for reading Riely!

  • Reply
    neha
    May 14, 2017 at 1:11 AM

    These are very valid points. In fact some of these will be applicable across social media networks. Particularly consistency and engaging actively with others is so important.

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 16, 2017 at 7:48 PM

      Thanks so much for reading Neha! I’m glad they resonated with you too 🙂

  • Reply
    One Tech Traveller
    May 13, 2017 at 2:18 PM

    Thanks for the tips! It’s a combination of everyone – content is king, consistency and patience

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 16, 2017 at 7:48 PM

      I totally agree! Consistency and patience will get you far, in Instagram and life, right?

  • Reply
    Leslie
    May 13, 2017 at 10:09 AM

    I agree with you slowly you will gain a following. As an artist I don’t want people that don’t like art or my art to follow me. That means they will not engage.

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 13, 2017 at 12:51 PM

      Exactly! I don’t ever want to be followed by (or follow!) people that I don’t genuinely enjoy. I’ve learned that the hard way! Authentic engagement can’t be bought or forced. That’s for sure.

  • Reply
    Iza c/o Fill My Passport
    May 13, 2017 at 8:19 AM

    I still believe in ‘slow and steady wins the race’. There is no better way to achieve something without putting all the hard work. I want to build my Instagram account too. I also agree with you in putting quality photos. The competitive accounts have really excellent photos. People are more inclined to like and follow that. I’d love to connect with you and learn more about your tips.

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 13, 2017 at 12:53 PM

      Amen to that, Iza! High quality photos definitely make a huge difference. I’m always shocked by the amount of huge accounts with crappy quality photos. I just assume they’re either buying likes or using bots or something, ha! Thanks for taking the time to read through – would love to chat anytime about all of this! Easiest place to do that is probably Twitter I think! Maybe I should start up a weekly Instagram/blogging chat session? Hmmm…

  • Reply
    divsi
    May 12, 2017 at 11:27 AM

    Just one word: Fabulous. Being a turtle is the one I agree with most. With so many people buying followers and gaining thousands a day, I feel just so good that I am slow but my followers are genuine. Authenticity and consistency are equally important. Honestly authenticity is so rare that it makes you stand out instantly!

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 13, 2017 at 12:50 PM

      Thank you so much! Really appreciate your feedback (seriously). You never know if a post is truly resonating until people respond, and it’s great to know that we’re all on the same page here! It’s easy to get bummed out by the scammy folks clawing their way to the top, but definitely important to remember that slow, steady, genuine growth is ALWAYS going to win out in the end. I completely agree with you!

  • Reply
    Anna
    May 12, 2017 at 5:26 AM

    I can totally relate to “Be a Turtle”. Nothing great happens overnight. would be great to read comprehensive, step-by-step guide from you as well.

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 13, 2017 at 12:48 PM

      Such a silly little way to remind yourself, but it’s important, right? Slow and steady wins the race. I’m definitely working on a more comprehensive guide to Instagram, so it’s great to hear you’d be interested in reading through that! Awesome. Thanks for your feedback, Anna!

  • Reply
    Only By Land
    May 12, 2017 at 1:20 AM

    This is a very useful post for those starting out with an Instagram account. I always try to post when quick likes comes up in the TravelGram Posse which helps get my photo onto the discovery page and generates more likes. I always panic when someone writes ‘Closed, like all pictures in the next 10 minutes to avoid a strike’. I completely agree that all pictures must be original (not stolen) and they should be clear images too. Going through and liking other peoples photos is very important, you don’t want to become a ghost!

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 13, 2017 at 12:47 PM

      YES! So important to engage back with people and do your best to respond personally and meaningfully. It can feel tough to keep up with sometimes, but with a good routine, it’s not as overwhelming. Happy to see another TGP-er here, yay! Engagement groups are something I’m going to be writing about very soon, so stay tuned for more!

  • Reply
    Ariel
    May 11, 2017 at 10:44 AM

    A lot of these points apply to more than Instagram; other social media networks and even running a blog have pretty much the same guidelines for success. No “get rich quick” scams here!

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 13, 2017 at 12:45 PM

      I completely agree – these are good things to remember across the board! Hey, if there WERE a way to get rich quick, we’d all know about it by now, right? Ha! Thanks for reading, Ariel!

  • Reply
    jordan @ dancing for donuts
    May 10, 2017 at 12:20 PM

    couldn’t agree with all of these more!!!! love that authenticity is at the top – i totally agree. and i absolutely believe in the consistency thing, but i feel that authenticity trumps that sometimes…so like, if i want to post a photo with my mom and dad even though i don’t ordinarily post that, family is super important to me so i’ll do it anyway! thanks for sharing your tips 🙂

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 10, 2017 at 2:36 PM

      Authenticity totally trumps consistency, I completely agree! It’s so important – your audience will connect on a much deeper level with you and be able to forge a real relationship. Thanks for taking the time to read, Jordan!

  • Reply
    msmamabean
    May 10, 2017 at 7:10 AM

    Nothing is better than being a turtle and I never thought about changing my Instagram to a business account, I always see it popping up – now I see the value in that and probably is the time to take the plunge! thank you.

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 10, 2017 at 2:35 PM

      Turtles are kinda cute, right? 😉 I definitely recommend the business account switch! Some people have mentioned that there may be some downsides to it (perhaps that Instagram might sort of throttle your visibility if you’re a larger business account in order to force you to pay for advertising – eye roll – but I still think it’s worth it!)

  • Reply
    Mary
    May 10, 2017 at 2:27 AM

    Totally agree with all of your tips for Instagram success, especially consistency and authenticity. I’ve found that those two really help my engagement go up and when it comes to getting new followers. Great post!

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 10, 2017 at 2:28 PM

      Thanks for taking the time to read, Mary! Glad to hear those two things have really helped you grow your following too – it’s always great to know what works for everyone, right? I think those two are the most important out of all of them.

  • Reply
    Miranda N Hassen
    May 9, 2017 at 1:54 PM

    This was a great post! I have not changed my Instagram account to a business account yet, but clearly I need to!

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 9, 2017 at 8:27 PM

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read it, Miranda! I definitely recommend switching to a business account for the analytics alone. So helpful to be able to see those and figure out who your audience really is and when you should be posting!

  • Reply
    Marianne Sophia
    May 9, 2017 at 1:43 PM

    Loved this post, all very true points. You have a beautiful insta account!

    Much love,
    Marianne x http://www.beautiful-in-essence.blogspot.com

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 9, 2017 at 8:28 PM

      Thanks so much Marianne! So glad you found it helpful. And thank you for the kind words on my IG!

  • Reply
    Joline
    May 9, 2017 at 12:20 PM

    Love that – be a turtle 🙂 It’s so true though. If you grow your followers organically they are most likely to stick and be the most engaged. I must say though, IG has been more frustrating that normal these days with all the secret changes they’re making.

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 9, 2017 at 9:04 PM

      I totally agree – it’s been so challenging to stick with it day after day when it feels like IG is working against all of us, isn’t it? Gotta stick together and make authentic connections the top priority in the meantime. That’s my goal at least. Tough but important!

  • Reply
    Dani
    May 9, 2017 at 11:20 AM

    Love this post and completely agree with everything you’ve said. I’ve been so lazy with my Instagram account, I really need to start putting some care, attention and effort in. I think branding is going to be the starting point.

    Pinning this for later too

    Dani x | http://www.flourishingfreelancer.com

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 9, 2017 at 9:11 PM

      So glad it was helpful and encouraging, Dani. It can seriously feel like a full-time job, right? I need to get in a groove and routine so I don’t feel like I’m spending my entire life on social media! I absolutely love your beautiful blog logo – off to check out your resource library and poke around!

  • Reply
    April Kitchens
    May 9, 2017 at 6:46 AM

    Slow and steady definitely wins the IG follower race. I’ve been slowly but steadily growing for a while now, followers who actually engage!

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 9, 2017 at 9:19 PM

      Woohoo! That’s wonderful to hear – wishing you so much continued success on this crazy IG journey!

  • Reply
    Bhusha
    May 8, 2017 at 10:56 PM

    Great tips! Guess what? Most of the ppl who like my posts are online at 3AM of the timezone I’m in right now! Earlier it was just before I get to bed in the timezone I was at! That sucks now!!! I started to get active on insta only a few months back still with the change in timezone I’m kinda lost right now!!! Let’s see!!!

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 9, 2017 at 9:17 PM

      Oh no! That’s not helpful, is it? Ha! 3AM is a bit crazy to be up posting on Instagram, yeesh. Where are your followers mostly located?

  • Reply
    Mini
    May 8, 2017 at 10:52 PM

    Amazing article. I am a newbie on instagram and am always looking for some tips for improving my instagram following. This article helped a lot. Thanks

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 9, 2017 at 9:12 PM

      Welcome to Instagram, Mini! What’s your handle? Would love to check you out and leave some IG love! I’m so happy to hear this post was helpful for you! Keep at it 🙂

  • Reply
    Rita
    May 8, 2017 at 7:06 PM

    I couldn’t agree more with each of your 5 points. I am off to “be a turtle” hahaha. Thanks for a great post 🙂

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 8, 2017 at 7:19 PM

      Ha! You go be the best patient little turtle you can be 😉 Thanks for taking the time to read, Rita! Glad it resonated with you!

  • Reply
    Riann
    May 8, 2017 at 5:02 PM

    this is so true, I’m working on my Insta now, I’m new but am spending a lot of time looking at other accounts to get a feel for what I like and what I don’t. A few things leap out at me – branding consistency and integrity – that’s what I want to emulate. great article – thank you

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 8, 2017 at 5:59 PM

      That’s a really great idea, Riann! Consistency within branding and being able to sense the integrity of that person’s brand (or business) is what’s so attractive to me too – makes me want to stick around and see what else they have to offer, and helps me trust them more. Thanks for taking the time to read, so glad you found it helpful!

  • Reply
    Kimberly
    May 8, 2017 at 4:49 PM

    yes yes yes! This is actually a great post and no I was not mad at the first line lol 🙂 I believe people think there is some magical code but there isn’t! It’s about being yourself, being true to yourself and showing what you love.

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 8, 2017 at 5:58 PM

      Phew – glad I didn’t tick anybody off with the moment of truth at the beginning 😉 I wish there were some magical secret, but that would take away half the fun, right? I totally agree with your last sentence – that’s what it’s all about! Thanks for reading Kimberly!

  • Reply
    Elizabeth
    May 8, 2017 at 4:15 PM

    I love these tips! Sometimes you just gotta show you are a real person just like everyone else on Instagram. Put yourself in the followers shoes and figure out what they’d like to see and what interests them. Thanks

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 8, 2017 at 5:57 PM

      Exactly! You got it. I think that so often, we’re so concerned about what we’re projecting and how others are perceiving us that we don’t even stop to think about whether or not what we’re posting has actual value or meaning to those viewing it. So important!

  • Reply
    Bee
    May 7, 2017 at 10:45 PM

    cool one!

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 8, 2017 at 9:16 AM

      Thanks for reading Bee!

  • Reply
    Denise Livingston
    May 7, 2017 at 10:27 PM

    Be a turtle! Love it and the great advice. Thank you for sharing with this IG newbie.

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 8, 2017 at 9:15 AM

      Glad you found it helpful Denise! I’ll definitely be sharing more IG tips and tricks soon so stay tuned, and welcome to the Instagram community 🙂

  • Reply
    Nina
    May 7, 2017 at 5:48 AM

    This is good and so true! Especially the first one. If you post things that are not you, even if you get new followers they will be following something that you will not be able to deliver on a continuous basis.

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 7, 2017 at 6:20 PM

      You hit the nail right on the head Nina! It’s impossible to sustain something that doesn’t come from a genuine place (and people will figure you out anyways, so what’s the point of being inauthentic?)

  • Reply
    Richard
    May 7, 2017 at 5:18 AM

    This is actually really helpful, I’m trying to start my own instagram following and I think I may be failing with the authenticity side of things. Thanks for the info 😁

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 7, 2017 at 6:19 PM

      I’m so glad it was helpful Richard! Lots more tangible Instagram tips coming soon – I’m happy people are finding these recommendations useful. It can be tough to find your groove on Instagram and figure out exactly who and what you want to project to your audience. Keep at it! My biggest suggestion for your feed would be to find and follow other people who inspire you or people you want to emulate. Engage with them, build community, and you’ll be shocked at how rewarding it is!

  • Reply
    Jess
    May 6, 2017 at 9:53 PM

    Yes yes yes!! This is so encouraging and helpful. I’m just at the very start of my Instagram journey and I’m all ears Sierra! Please do share all you want to share! I’m in 😉

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 6, 2017 at 11:45 PM

      I’m so so happy to hear that it was helpful, lady! I have so much more to share, and hopefully it can help some newbies avoid the struggle of figuring it all out on their own. More coming soon, for sure. Also, you’re doing fantastic! Keep it up. It’s only a matter of time…xox

  • Reply
    Natalie Anastasia
    May 6, 2017 at 8:48 PM

    I absolutely love this, Sierra, and completely agree with all of your points! I also really love when I see big accounts still engaging with their followers – I seriously believe that is what makes an account special. Being a turtle is an amazing tip, too. Even though the process can feel slow sometimes, slow and organic growth sure beats fast and fake. I totally encourage you to continue writing these types of posts – I think you are a great teacher!

    • Reply
      Sierra
      May 6, 2017 at 11:43 PM

      It makes my little heart so warm when I see “big” influencers and people who don’t technically need to engage still doing it. Like, truly. It’s awesome. Thank you for taking the time to read Nat! We are 100% on the same page! Organic growth FTW (I’m bringing FTW back, apparently). xo

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