How to get more real followers on Instagram – Organic growth

How to get more real followers on Instagram – Organic growth

Last updated on April 4th, 2018 at 12:48 pm

In the last year my Instagram followers went from a thousand to almost 40K. Am I happy? Yes, I am because I can show my photography work to more people. It’s also an injection of self confidence in what I love to do, which is making photos around the world.

Does it mean that you need a high number of followers on Instagram, not really. You may have Instagram because you want to share the photos with your friends and that’s it, or your family or a group of people.

My niece told me once that I was an important person because I have many followers, she was just pulling my leg obviously. She asked me if they were all real followers. I could only reply saying that I really hope so otherwise I am showing my work to myself basically, not really productive I must say.

I would like to share with you some of the effective ways of growing the Instagram following based on my past year experience,

Instagram content is very important

Content is important for any social environment, this may be Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or any other one. Content is important if you run a blog or website. In saying that it’s a starting point, not the final goal.

Let me explain better

To increase your followers base you need first to attract them to your account (more on that later).

The second step is to show your work to them. If they like it they will most probably follow you. That is why content is so important.

If you have an Instagram account about travel photography, as I do, you need to be ready with some great shots that can create a dream . If you are into cats, you probably need funny photos about cats, not just simple portraits. If you have a love for trains, I would probably suggest some photos of train spaced out with close up on details. I hope it all makes sense

Good content helps to get more real followers on Instagram

Good content helps to get more real followers on Instagram

The idea is to have a content that stands out

All right, easy. Now an important question.

Is my photography work better than somebody else because I have more followers?

No, I do not believe so.

It just means that I worked harder on getting more real followers on Instagram.

I give you a great example. I just had an interview with Benjamin Earl Traylor, a photographer from Alaska. I love his work and I really suggest you to follow him on Instagram. His follow up, in Instagram numbers, is not that high however I consider his work at the same level or probably better than mine actually.

Use smart hashtags on Instagram photo

The hashtags are the easiest way to spread your message around. There is no magic formula here. The most important thing is to use hashtag that do match with the photo content, in a smart way though.

This is where I forged this new type:

Smart hashtags

What does it mean?

When I post a photo I use around 10-15 hashtags. Two or three of them are smart hashtags. These are hashtag related to a business or association that may be interested to report my work.

I do travel photography and my smart hashtags are usually the tourism boards. They have already a great follow up and people interested to my subject, travelling. They also continuously look around and they are happy to repost your work, if they like it. That’s their best way to show how beautiful is the area.

Use smart hashtags to spread your Instagram photo

Use smart hashtags to spread your Instagram photo

Does it work?

It works great. As an example I had few repost from the Amazing Thailand Tourism board that generated lots of interest and followers

Believe it or not, it does not matter in what industry you are, there are always smart hashtags to use. If you are into cats, for example, you could use smart hashtags created by cat food producers. They usually have a great follow up built through advertisement and they always look for content around to repost.

It also helps to create a connection that may go behind Instagram.

Other smart hashtags can be related to big websites, magazines or newspapers that run a re-post program

I talked about using 10-15 hashtags of which 2-3 smart hashtags. What are the remaining 12-13 hashtags? Have a read to the Top travel hashtags to use on Instagram. Some great suggestions there that can be applied to any Instagram subject

Stay within your subject

The content you have, beside being great, should be also consistent.

Attention span is down to single digit seconds in the internet world. You just have few seconds to convince, with your work, someone to follow you.

In my case, it all becomes quite messy if I start alternating private photos of the dog, my new bike and my travel photography. The feed is not any more able to capture that attention. It may be interesting for people that already follow me and I have created a connection with (more on this later) but it has the drawback to deteriorate the consistency of my feed

In this photo I am included to give a sense of dimension

In this photo I am included to give a sense of dimension

If you do it on a rare occasion I believe it is fine. But on a regular basis it could actually bore some of the followers that may be not interested to your private life. The last thing you want is to loose followers

Obviously the Hollywood stars are there to share the own life but that’s another kind of feeds all together. There are also social sensations that share the own private life and if you are into this kind of feeds this suggestion does not obviously apply

Plan ahead to grow you Instagram community

Getting more real followers on Instagram does not come overnight. Planning is part of the time you need to invest.

There are few reasons why you want to plan your work.

You want to be consistent with your daily posting. I would personally avoid any burst posting (7 posts today and none for a week)

You may want to be consistent with the timing. If your Instagram community is mostly in one country, or within 1 or 2 timezone it may be worth to plan you posts when there is more exposure.

I see more success in posting around 6-7pm local time, which makes somehow sense. People are going back home on tram and trains and they scroll through the own Instagram feed


New Instagram rules have been introduced and it’s better if you space out great content with good content.

What does it mean?

The Instagram new rules are quite similar to the Facebook original ones. If you are not familiar with them, this is how it works

Before the new rules, the feed of any person was sorted based on published time.

As an example, there is John that follows both me and you. If I publish a picture at 6pm and you do it at 7pm than John’s feed at 7:05pm will have your photo before mine. You may think it is not a big deal, however, if John follows 400 or more Instagram accounts, his feed moves quite quickly and your photo may not be seen at all by John.

Instagram had a democratic approach, first one first served, ops I mean posted, that’s it

Now Instagram is different . The first 10 minutes when you publish your photo are super important. If the engagement is high (likes and comments) it will stay on top of the feed of John for a while, it does not matter when the photo was posted.

If the engagement is high it will stay on top of most of your followers feed, which is great

If you have only great material to post, that’s awesome. But honestly, if I see myself, I have some photos which I think they are great and others that I am not really convinced of. It’s honestly hard to have only great material, we need to be realistic here.

My suggestion is not to post great material in a burst. Space out great material with good/average content.

What is the problem?

If you post great material in a burst you will be most probably on the top of the feed of your followers for a while but than comes the boost of average content and you will most likely disappear from any feed for a while.

Engage with your Instagram followers

I like to engage with people and that comes quite natural to me. In saying that I did few experiments and that’s what I found out.

First of all, what do I consider to be engagement?

Posting a great photo is awesome however adding a story, maybe a funny one as well, is paramount. It’s a clear signal to anyone visiting your feed that you have created a nice group. People are more likely to follow an engaged group than a feed that publishes images in a row.

I was pretty satisfied by the engagement of this photo, a good indication

I was pretty satisfied by the engagement of this photo, a good indication

Reply to your feedbacks on a regular basis. I personally also visit the feed of the person that post the comment to see his/her work and check his/her name. My reply, where I can, always includes the name of the person. It creates more of human interaction, I believe.

What did I do in my experiment?

For four weeks I spaced out days when I engaged with days when I did not. The difference in new followers was between 20% and 30% more during my engaging days.

That was enough to me to prove the engagement factor

Engage with any Instagram person

I was not sure if I should have added this point and I keep it short

I like photography and I like travelling. I use Instagram to check around, to see other people work and I leave comments, feedbacks and sometime direct messages.

It seems pretty normal to me. Of course this kind of engagement may influence someone to visit my feed and follow me.

Do I do it on purpose?

No, I do not add any kind of pressure in any comment, never. I am not a fan of “I follow you if you follow me”

It’s just that people may spend time on YouTube, or Facebook, or Twitter or TV watching. My spare time is more on Instagram feeds, that’s it really.

If it does not come natural to you, than I would not really suggest it. It may not suit you


Bring followers from other platforms

Worthless to say that you need to sponsor your Instagram account on any platform that you have already.

Adding the link on your website or blog is the first step

If you have already another social platform with a good following you should link it to Instagram and talk about it. I do it with my Twitter community.

And it’s not like having duplicates. What I post on Instagram is completely different to what I post on Twitter

Work with social peers

This is another potential snowball. I still need to experiment that in a bigger scale and once done I will update this post with more info.

How does it work?

In the simple form, it’s a 2 steps process

  1. contact other Instagram users that are in your niche and have a similar following community
  2. provided you need to like his/her content propose to repost his/her photos within your feed. In exchange, he/she will do the same on his/her feed

Very easy.

Does it work?

In my opinion, to make it working, you need to find peers that have good material, like yours, and a similar number of followers. If you think that the other Instagrammer content is not great, than probably I would not risk it as it can upset the own followers.

I would love to say it works, or it doesn’t, but I like to have a 1-2 months test period

I usually post once a day, with the repost I would have double content, mine and the repost

External tools I use with Instagram

Instagram is a fantastic app, however it lacks in few things.

As a consequence I adopted few tools to help me in the organic growth of my Instagram community

  • Snapseed : Instagram is ok for some basic photo editing however it lacks lots of features. Snapseed is, in my opinion, the best app around. You can download the Android app or the Apple App
  • Later (formally : I use this website and app for my planning. It now posts photos automatically. With Later you have 30 free posts per month (payment required if you exceed this limit), however if you click on this Lategram link you will get another 10 free on top (and I will too ?)Lategram
  • : you can use Instagram to sync your photo with Twitter and Facebook or What you gain with the latest is that the photo is posted in full format (Twitter does post only a link otherwise) and with a link back to Instagram, something that both FB and TW remove. Moreover Appaction sends a daily email (if you select so) with the account stats, which is great
  • IconSquare : a great website for your analytic. What is working and what is not. Take under control your Instagram growth

Buy followers on Instagram

I do not find very useful to buy followers. Many reasons for that. Most probably they are not interested to my work, just to my $$.

Other arguments I have

They may be not real, just accounts created to follow you and other buyers. No real people on the back, just bots

Instagram from time to time does a bit of house keeping. Last one was in November I think. Even some personalities got followers deleted. There was even a guy that went from 80,000 followers to less than 1,000.

In saying that if you want to have lots of followers, buying them is an option, however most probably they are not real Instagram followers.

My strategy on Instagram

When I started my account on Instagram my first question was: why do I want to do that?

The answer was that I wanted to give more visibility to my work. If this was not the case obviously I would have not been interested to increase the number of Instagram followers.


In saying that I built a strategy which I summarize here below in few points

  1. I started populating the feed with a good sample of images I liked (around 20). No much point to attract visitor to an empy house
  2. Engaged with other feeds on my niche. This has few advantages. I started new Internet relationships. I got my name around. I learnt from other people feeds
  3. Started using Smart Hashtags. I wish I did that before
  4. Consistent Daily Posts
  5. Improved my hashtag process as I explained in the the Top travel hashtags to use on Instagram.
  6. Inspected Analytics and back to point 2 with improved tecnique I explained in this post

And that is it for the moment. Please feel free to leave any comment and let me know what you think. If you have any suggestion which I have not covered, please add it in the comment section

Happy Instagram to everyone and remember to follow my Instagram feed 😉

Travel Photography Stefano FerroStef Ferro is the founder and editor of MEL365, a travel & photography website made to enhance the travelling experience and improve the photography work.

Stef is a professional travel photographer with past experience in the cycling and film industry. 

Stef runs travel photography workshops in Melbourne and around the world. 


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Stefano Ferro
Stef Ferro is the founder and editor of MEL365, a travel & photography website made to enhance the travelling experience and improve the photography work.
Stef is a professional travel photographer with past experience in the cycling and film industry. 

Stef runs travel photography workshops in Melbourne and around the world.
    • steve carter
    • November 19, 2018

    Hi! Your article is great.This is a Helpful Tips for Grow Instagram Followers.

    • Roman00 - Hashtag generators
    • November 15, 2018

    In today’s world, people have a lot of things to do, they don’t have enough time to do everything. This happens in all areas. blogging or business is now the same thing. You should have time to do everything at once. I have my own manicure studio. I understood that I could not conduct Instagram personally. Without hesitation, I used the functions of instagram hashtags generators. They work great

    • Mark Weins
    • October 1, 2018

    I loved your article on Instagram and I must say that everything is well structured and explained. You went through all the important things straight-forward and it is really important for the people who just made up their Instagram accounts. When I started, I had a hard time going over all of those steps alone, but I must admit that it was not an easy task at all. It took me a lot of time and effort and in the end
    Thank you for your time

  1. Reply

    Nice article ! Anyway Instagram has announced that they will punish the people who always use the same hashtags, so be careful and don’t use too much hashtags for the same post. To get more followers on instagram I’m also using Rocket Social, a cheap social media agency who does things well ! 😉

    • Reply

      Thanks Valentina. I guess you are talking about the shadowban. I believe it is mostly used to deter users from toxic behavior. In saying that Instagram has also mentioned that using the same hashtags should not be done, although this comment was about using hashtags that are dodgy, commercial clearly spammy or sex related etc. Thanks for highlighting RS. For a business it may be a solution, as many other social marketing companies available (I prefer not to suggest any and be impartial). Always keep in mind that you leave your account, and possibly your main source of income, in someone else hands. I do not know RS however I still have to find one that would pay a compensation (I mean real $$) in case the account is banned or shadowban

  2. Reply

    Everyone should go for active and organic instagram followers marketing. One fake follower is better that one thousand fake followers.

    • Reply

      Indeed Organic is better. I guess you meant to say that 1 organic is better than 1000 fake 😉

  3. Reply

    Thank you for this post! It’s incredibly helpful and practical

  4. Reply

    Hi! Your article is great. So great that I keep it close to me to read again to implement all your advices – I like the smart hashtag one.
    I am a bit embarrassed to implement the part where you go to other Instagramers to “exchange” content. To me it looks like “i follow you you follow me”. But it must work since it is not the first time I see this advice to increase Instagram followers.

    • Reply

      So glad you have liked the post. Awesome.

      The smart hashtags are the ones that brought me the most of the followers I must say. As an example, I was featured by a an important feed in Indonesia and from one day to the next I had a huge increase of followers. Being featured tends to be more and more competitive as Instagram is growing to a level completely unexpected only few years ago.

      The “exchange content” may work as well. I do not see it as a follow-per-follow stuff. There is not much point to gain 1 or 2 follows, if you are after growing your feed to an higher number.
      This is how I see it as a photographer. My feed is like an exhibition of my work. I post photos and people may like or comment based on their feeling. In another city there is an exhibition of another photographer that has photos similar to mine, but with a different twist. I leave him/her using my exhibition (feed) in the morning so that his/her work is shown to the people visiting my exhibition (feed). In this way she/he will have a possibility to be seen by a different audience and create new contacts.
      I will do the same on his/her exhibition (feed).
      It’s basically just a way to show your work to a wider audience, like when you are featured on a big Instagram feed.
      However it must be said that you need to do it carefully. Featuring someone on your feed can be dangerous too if he/she has a completely different style. You may loose followers as you feed can be suddenly seen as a spam . The same can be said if you do it too frequently.

      I hope it helps
      Cheers and happy Instagram

    • Tchykae
    • December 12, 2016

    Always a great Read Stefano, smart hashtags is game changer, if you get it right, you’ll see followers flood in for a few minutes right after the post then it becomes a trickle. Two additions I can make are (1) You should try “If this then that” IFTTT, it helps you post Instagram photos as native Twitter photos when a predefined hashtag is included in the caption, you can set up #travelphotography to be your trigger since it’s a constantly used hastag. (2) This one is a little tricky, you can pick your competitor or some one in your niche, a classic example would be @traylor_photo to initiate interactions with the followers of @stef_travelphotography(who by virtue of following @stef_travelphotography, should be interested in his work too since they are into the same topic with about the same level of quality), this could be his comments on @stef_travelphotography pictures or even following them without any pressure to follow back, this can yield lot of followers with the possible drawback of following lots of people which you can unfollow after a while if you have an issue with following lots of people

    • Reply

      Thanks Tchykae for the IFTTT tips. I will definitely investigate on it.

    • JB
    • December 2, 2016

    Excellent tips Stefano. I’m getting the hang of Facebook and Twitter but Instagram seems to be a different animal. Bookmarking this.

    • Reply

      Cheers JB, indeed Instagram is quite different and that’s probably why it is so popular with the young generation. At the moment it is my favourite social environment…but difficult to say what will happen in the next 12-18months…maybe a new social will arrive

  5. Reply

    Just starting on Instagram… thanks for the useful tips… very helpful. Will have to read some more on smart hashtags, as I’m not exactly sure which ones to use yet, so I’m just trying out now.

    • Reply

      Good day Yvonne,
      no worries at all. I have found that smart hashtags have helped me a lot to grow.
      Instagram is now such an important social environment to have for a travel blog and it absolutely make sense. Photos can say more than a 1000 words.
      Happy travelling 😀

  6. Reply

    Thanks, I’m trying to grow my IG feed and these tips are very useful, I must start using more Smart hashtags and those that might get my work shared.

    I’ve also set alarms twice a day for times to post – Consistency 🙂

    • Reply

      Thanks Ashley,
      indeed that smart hashtags helped me a lot to grow my follow up, still using them.
      Another tip I can give is to try to post on different times of the day and see if you notice any change. As an example, I used to post once a day around 7pm local time. Just because I was busy on a couple of consecutive days I posted at 11pm and I noticed a 20% increase in my engagement and more new followers than usual. Unexpected…but guess what time I am posting now 😉

  7. Reply

    Great tips Stef (fast learner , ain’t I 😉 ). I am new to blogging (6 months now) and don’t have Instagram yet. Was planning on getting started on it soon. Loved your tips and bookmarking it for a good read later

    • Reply

      Hi Swati. So glad you find the post useful.
      Instagram is becoming the most powerful branding social network, really a must have. Try to open one account as soon as you can and work on it as much as you do with your blog.
      Happy travelling!!!

  8. Reply

    I love organic growth and your article is really useful! It makes great sense to me. Thank for the tips. I’ll implement more smart hashtags. 🙂

    • Reply

      Thanks MinhTu. The smart hashtags helped me a lot I must say. , probably the best advise of this post 😉
      Have a great trip in Viet Nam

  9. Reply

    Very insightful, will try out what you call smart hashtags.

      • Stef
      • May 8, 2016

      Thanks JayZee, the smart hashtags have been the most successful way to spread out the word in my case. Highly suggested
      Good luck. Cheers

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