How to Build a Huge Following on Instagram in 3 Comprehensive Steps

How to Build a Huge Following on Instagram in 3 Comprehensive Steps

The number one questions I receive when talking about Instagram is "How do I build a huge following like you?" and I usually laugh and reply "I honestly have no idea." Though this is true in some sense, there must something attracting these people to follow me by the masses. Whether that be by liking, commenting or even reaching out to collaborate it's still a bit of a mystery to me. Beginning today I am going to break down the various ways to use Instagram for business but first I want to give you all 3 comprehensive steps to building a huge following.

People might say finding a consistent style or niche in the photography world might be the way to capture peoples attention and to get recognized the most, though this is not true in my case. I have over 70,000 followers on Instagram and my feed is filled with everything from portraits to architecture and everything in between, it's simply a diary of my life in photos. I honestly have no idea how I've captured so many peoples attention over the last couple years but it's what keeps me motivated to post every single day to the social platform and continue pushing my photography while using nothing more than my iPhone. Below is a bit of the story behind my growth and how you can follow in my footsteps. 

1. Engage with the Community

I can't stress enough how important the Instagram community is and how grateful I am for it essentially launching my photography career and my overall interest in photography to something even greater. Just a few years ago I had no idea how to use a camera or what all the buttons did on the back of my Canon 60D I had just purchased. With a few tips from friends and various articles on Fstoppers, I was able to hone my skills online. It wasn't until late 2012 that I took my first paid gig as a photographer and the rest was history, been grinding it out ever since. Instagram plays a huge role as it was a simple platform I was able to really push my skills daily and post to a group of supportive friends and peers that saw my work publicly.

Pro Tip:

Below are a few simple tips that I used early on that helped build a small community around my person account and the local scene in Indianapolis. Simply follow a user, like one or more of their photos and then comment. That basic tactic brought my name to their news feed while also creating relationships with people from my own community and across the world. 

  • Follow a user
  • Like a photo
  • Comment on a photo

2. Knowing When to Post (Statistics)

Tracking statistics is the second biggest thing I receive questions about when consulting a client with an Instagram account. They always want to know how much data they can extract from the social platform while working together. As an experiment I used a small instameet at a local museum where we were given behind-the-scenes access to the full hidden museum collections and then tracked the data. The meetup brought on 10 photographers who generated 80 photos, thousands of likes and hundreds of comments. This meetup generated a couple hundred followers to the brands account giving me plenty of push to come back again with another pitch. Using a control is a great way to test your own ideas and also add up the stats on your own to bring to the next client when bidding for a job. 

Another big stat was my posting schedule which never really mattered to me starting out but over time I was always intrigued by the idea that people in China could see my photos so quickly. Researching other time zones I was able to hone in a time frame of posts that best fit reaching folks on the west coast as well as in Australia.  

Pro Tip:

In the chart below which is from one of my go to statistic tracking sites for Instagram you can see when you post and engage with your audience while also seeing when they engage back. It's a simple chart and one of the best ways to find times of day for posting to reach the largest audience. As you can see I like to post between 8 and 10 AM as to reach my own community locally as well as hitting that early morning risers on the west coast. 

3. Bring on the Collaboration (Including Paid Gigs)

About 2 years ago I began to see big cities host things called instameets or photo walks with various people on Instagram that shared the same interest as I did. As mentioned before, my first sponsored meetup was with the museum that I used as a control. Soon after hosting my first open instameet, which you can find at #circlecitysesh01, I saw the passion and motivation in more people here in my own city just like I had starting out. Since then a few others along with myself have hosted a free meetup every single month through the app and also created our own group account @igersindy which is a basic feature account where we find and repost the best shots from our own hashtag we created #igersindy. 

I then began to reach out to a handful of companies here locally like museums and hotels to gage interest in hosting an instameet or to have their hotel be photographed and featured on my account, which at the time only had about 2,000 followers. Not small but big enough for a brand to see the value in good photography and a medium to share and get more exposure. Over time I was able to build relationships with these companies and even bring in some paid gigs at some of the most expensive locations in the city. The real value for myself here was when when getting my work featured on their Instagram accounts with a mention back to my page. This simple collaboration with brands help my work be seen by other brands in the same network extending the work I did with them to even more people. 
 
In the end, you never know where your next photography gig is going to come from and I can't recommend Instagram enough to photographers whether just starting out or full time... If you have any more questions on how you can maximize on Instagram for your photography business sound off in the comments below or check out my groups page here.
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21 Comments

Chris Adval's picture

I have a seen a disadvantage where those with tons of followers just simply show women nearly or actually naked, which is great just those who don't are behind 10x and have to wait 10x longer to meet the other person's follower level. Best I can do is post at peak times, and post a boat load of tags.

Anonymous's picture

What's the disadvantage to you? You also want to pay attention to quality vs. quantity. If we're talking about using a following for business marketing purposes, a bunch of guys pulling their puds to square photos on their phones value is far less than someone who's going to hire you or buy your photos.

Merv Mason's picture

I still remember that instameet like it was yesterday! Lol I was the working officer at the IWM. If I didn't meet you all that day I would have never got back into photography! Thank you!

Andrew Griswold's picture

Dude! Of course I remember meeting you. That was so long ago man. I've spotted you in and around the local group getting epic shots in and portraits here and there. Had no idea that was you. So glad you're part of the community now and so happy you found photography! Let's meet up soon!!

Bert McLendon's picture

Tip number 4- Post your instagram link in the comments section below any article related to growing your instagram followers. For example-
instagram.com/mclendonphotography
=P

I would add two more.
"4. Have fun with the WHP!" Many typical users of Instagram don't know about the Weekend Hashtag Project. Not only is it a great way to find new people to follow and followers, it's a fun weekly challenge. I've been featured eight times between the WHP and the weekly roundup, a good portion of my following came from those features.

"5. Post original and quality photos!" So many people think the secret to success on Instagram is getting as many followers as possible, WRONG. It's putting out quality content that you created, and seeing a following slowly build from that. Reposting images and memes with a zillion "follow me" hashtags is not the algorithm for success; showing your unique perspective on the world and engaging with other IGers doing the same is. The first rule of Instagram is "post your own photos" afterall.

I've had brands ask me to post images they've created and I politely decline, it's not genuine nor does it fit into my feed. I'd rather work with companies that see my creative eye as an asset to market their product instead of seeing me for my numbers alone. I could write an entire article on "brand ambassador etiquette."

Just my two cents.

Merv Mason's picture

Funny thing, I just discovered the WHP and I love it!

Andrew Griswold's picture

Great additions! Though for this article I felt it would be beneficial and great to see a different answer than "take great photos" and follow what Instagram does. Using the community around you to build friendships has yielded the best results in my professional and personal life. Great add though!! The WHP is one I never see in my feed and miss out on unless I remember to check their page. They should have those forced to the top of the feed. I've seen maybe 3 come to my feed in the time I've been on IG.

Nowadays many Instagramers have been cutting on the interaction and buying followers and likes from websites that offer that kind of services. I have around 10k real followers and never felt the need of purchasing any, but i guess its also a valid strategy if you are starting out or just want to boost your profile as fast as possible, there are some websites like http://instagramfollowers.website/ that seem to offer that kind of services.

Andrew Griswold's picture

True. I have had the luck of getting featured on Instagrams Suggrsted user list but it doesn't change the fact these 3 steps have helped me beyond that to build connections and relationships outside of the obvious buying followers. Sucks to see so many folks with bought followers. It's obvious when you see 20k and 15 likes per image. Haha!

Andrew Griswold's picture

Who is Gina?

Andrew Griswold's picture

Hahahaha! So good.

Paul Papanek's picture

Andy - Are you generally posting only photos taken with a smartphone, a DSLR, or a mix?

Andrew Griswold's picture

I would say 98% of all my shots on IG are iPhone and the rest are DSLR.

Brian Dowling's picture

Andrew,

You have a lot of followers, but most are not active. I know most clients won't notice, but to me that looks just as bad as having a much smaller follower count. Just some quick math and your followers are 5 times less active than mine. Not trying to attack you, but just saying being active with a community of 5k can be just as good as 70k with mostly ghost followers.

Andrew Griswold's picture

Correct, I have a lot of followers. With many social influencers a return of 1% is average and not uncommon for even the biggest names on Instagram (outside of celebrities). One of the downfalls to having been featured on Instagram's Suggest User list is also the benefit of it all, the onslaught of followers in mass amounts so quickly. The mass of followers, as you might know, are all new users that are being suggested to follow me when they first open the app. It took me a few months before I started to take part in posting weekly or even daily and I dont expect these followers to start posting hourly or engage so quickly. Though with some basic stat tracking and some more advanced paid tracking I have been able to find that not all the same people like the same style of photos I post, like they most likely do on your page while my engagement in comments, likes and connections with clients have continued to go up. Take that however you want but in the end go follow me @the_gris. Thanks!

Also, I am not quite sure how this comment wouldn't be taken as a direct attack so I will end my reply with #Follow4Follow

Brian Carpenter's picture

Interesting tips. Here is something cool, go to tip #2, re-size your browser window to the same size as the image and scroll up and down REALLY fast back and forth... be prepared to throw up. HAHA! Don't know why, but I got massive motion sickness from doing this. Oh and while I'm here, check my instagram out @bcarpenterphotos

Kate Fox's picture

Great tips, thanks!

If you've got a young enough Instagram profile, then zen-promo.com will be very useful tool for you. It will find followers, who are interested in the subject of your posts, so you will get active and constant followers.