30 Free Ways to Grow Your Instagram Followers / by Allan Hinton



Growing a following on Instagram is not an easy task and over the years Instagram has evolved and changed so it can be hard to keep up with the latest strategies on how to grow your followers. Are you interested in learning ways to increase your following for free? Well, read on!

I hope by sharing some advice I can help part with some knowledge I have gained over the years. It is of course just based on my own opinions but hopefully here I carry some credibility here. If you have come across this post and don't know who I am. Here is a bit of information about me. Otherwise feel free to scroll down to the start of the list!

  • I've been using Instagram for 5+ years
  • I've worked on 10s of Instagram based campaigns and even begun to do some consulting for some well known brands
  • I gained a BA(hons) degree in Marketing and then worked in Digital Marketing for 6 years before becoming a "full time Instagrammer"
  • I have a decent and organic engagement ratio on Instagram and have gained over 165k+ followers over the years
  • I've not cheated or use "bots" ;)

So here goes... 3... 2.. 1... 


1) Engage engage engage! Growing your Instagram following is not an easy task. Its a full time job in itself. You have to be prepared to be active and comment and like often.

2) Think about the relevancy of a person you are engaging with. Engage with people who's content you have a genuine interest in and ones with similar interests to you. For example if you take nature photos you're more likely to be followed by other people who take an interest in that area.

3) Try to reply to everyone that comments on your picture. Even if its just a little thank you. It doesn't take long and it will be appreciated and that person is more likely to form a bong with you and again.

4) Press the "heart button" that sits next to each comment. I do this to every single comment as a minimum. It's a way of tracking who I have replied too and of course you may not feel the need to make a full reply to someone who just leaves you an emoji type comment - at least with this feature you can still show some form of gratitude.

5) Make the effort to go to a users personal page and like and comment some of their photos. I try to do this at least for every person that has themselves been kind enough and made the effort to of left a comment on one of my own photos.

6) Think about writing thoughtful comments on peoples photos. It has become more rare these days that you get comments of such nature so you will stand out from the crowd if you show you're being observant to the picture or the picture text.

7) When you post a photo think about asking questions and give call to actions inviting people to leave a comment.

8) Think about the time that you post. For me the best time is around 2pm GMT as most of my audience is Europe and USA based and by this time West Coast USA has just woken up.

Now that algorithms are in place I find if I post first thing in the morning (9a.m. GMT) that works well too. If the post is a decent one I still find that within the first 24 hours the post gets decent traction.

I also never post on a Friday afternoon. This is the worst time for me. Most of Europe is gearing up for the weekend, they're finally away from their desks, they've put their phones down and they're winding down after a long working week.

9) Use (relevant) hashtags. The great thing with the new explore page on Instagram is that your photo can appear in the "top nine" and be shown to anyone who searches for that tag over the next 12-72 hours (depending on how popular hashtag is and how well your photo is performing)

Don't forget you also only get a set number of hashtags so you should use your choices wisely! Using a popular hashtag such as #wow may get you a couple of additional eyeballs to your page but it will be minimal as the your photo will get pushed down the hashtag search page and out of sight very quickly.

I suggest relevancy as you want your hashtag to target accounts who take an interest in the content you are sharing.

10) Think about using less popular tags using long tail keywords. This could be effective for small and medium accounts who cannot compete with people using the popular hashtags.

11) Target the huge "conglomerate" accounts. The accounts that don't share unique content but share other peoples photo. Accounts such as @beautifuldesitinations who now have over 8 million followers. If these guys share your photos its an incredible way to get your photo and account shown to a huge audience. 

Once one of these big accounts shares your photo other "conglomerate" accounts will be made aware of your content and its highly like these accounts will share your photo and give you credit. Its such a great way to get traffic and eyeballs onto your account.

12) Think about your bio, or your story. You don't get many words here so use them wisely but these words will be one of the first things people see when they land on your page. This is your chance to stand out from the competition or to add that added bit of intrigue that will give people a reason to follow you.

I will always remember landing on @zachpassport's page and really falling for his story:- "I am the son of a wanderlust mother & a travel-writing father who met on a bus in Guatemala". I landed on his page whilst he was in the process of exploring the world himself and it helped me to get excited about following his own adventures.

13) Think about having a decent profile picture or even logo. This could make you look more professional, distinguishable or it could portray a part of your personality that would make someone want to follow you.

Be consistent with your photo across all social media accounts. This will help with people who may have stumbled across your work, maybe even a few times, on other social platforms to recognise you when they land on your Instagram page. 

14) Quality vs. quantity. That good old argument that you've heard before. The higher the quality of your work the better engagement the piece will get. 

15) That leads me on to saying that you should think about your feed layout. Once someone lands on your page you may only get one chance to get them to follow before they leave. Your last 9 photos, the photos people see before scrolling down, are important. "You're only as good as your last photo", or something like that. In short a beautifully layout and designed feed can really help entice someone in! 

I know one mega Instagram star who follows this rule religiously and her attention to detail on this has meant that her whole feed layout looks stunning no matter how far you scroll down. It looks so good you don't even feel the need to click on individual image thumbnails to make a judgement or not on whether you'd like to follow her.

16) Set up a photo album on your iPhone and replicate your feed layout. This way you can see how future posts will look. Its possible to press on a photo and move it around and change the order.

17) Posting often vs just posting one per day. I personally just post one photo per day. Due to the new algorithms this photo has a chance to be shown to a wide audience. However if I post another I find there is a chance one photo would be given priority over the other.

However I know a couple of big accounts who post three to four per day and they have seen phenomenal growth. There account is getting so much engagement. Here though I would state that these guys are at the top of their game and the quality of their work is pretty great. 

18) Be consistent with content. Consider using apps such vsco to use a similar edit or filter to each post.

19) Geotag your pictures. This will mean your photo can be found when other people search or click through to a particular tag. Just like with normal hash tagging there is a chance to be placed in the top nine of the search grid.

I recommend thinking about when to post using popular hashtags vs. niche ones. For example when I am at a tourist site in London I may want to tag the photo London rather than using the site itself. The London hashtag is more popular so I have more of a chance to be discovered.

20) Promote your Instagram posts on your other social channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Use your other channels to and funnel traffic into your Instagram. 

One of my Jordan photos on Pinterest also gained over 10'000 "re-pins" and was on the first page for any search related to Petra.

21) Consider having your Instagram url as your main address used on your other social channels. You only get one link on your Twitter and Pinterest profile and I decided to priorities showing my Instagram link rather than my website. Instagram is my main channel of focus and due to the following I have its the most credible and a place I also want brands and potential future employers to see.

22) Tag other Instagram accounts/friends. This photo will show up in their "photos of" section. If tagging a brand it will be an extra way to draw attention to the photo and they may end up sharing it for you.

23) Get tagged in someone else's photo/Instagram StoriesThis is a pretty old school way of getting your account some publicity. I like to think its all part of #communityfirst to tag people that are in your photo and to tag people, even if they are not within the shot, that were part of a particular adventure.

24) Enter Instagrams Weekend Hashtag Project. If Instagram pics one of your pictures it is being promoted to over 200 million people. That kind of "free media" is priceless. I think over the years of all the "shout outs" I have got the biggest influx of followers I gained was from being selected for the hashtag project.

25) Use Instagram Stories. Instagram now shows Instagram Stories of people you are not following on the explore page. So simply by using Stories you have a great chance to be shown to a new audience.

Also Stories is a great way to get personality across and to increase loyalty as people begin to feel like they are getting to know you better. I have been so pleasantly surprised, and thrilled, with the engagement from followers after I have shared that extra insight and behind the scenes footage.

26) Reply to peoples Stories posts. Getting a message from someone in your direct mailbox feels so much more personal. I always check out the page of someone who has written a nice reply to one of my stories. Even if I don't follow that person back its likely I will engage in their photos in one way or another.

27) Create and share video content. It feels as those videos don't get the same amount of likes as a photo but I am under the impression Instragram will more likely promote your post on the explore page if you post an interesting video. I've come across small accounts where one of their videos has over a million views - when normally they get 100 or so - all because Instagram picked their video to be put out there on the explore pages of millions of people.

Also most videos on the explore page are the size of 6 photos so it really helps for it to stand out.

28) On that note use the explore page to find new users and accounts that share the same interests that you do. Remember that phase were Instagram only showed pictures based on popularity (which were mainly Celebrity accounts) well those days are over! The explore page is sophisticated and always getting better.

29) Practice photography and have fun. Instagram is an image based platform and your popularity can be based on the quality of your work. The more you practice the better you will get. Don't be afraid to make mistakes and have fun. (I will make a post on photography tips shortly - subscribe to my mailing list below to be ready to read once it goes live!)

Instagram might be very competitive right now but if you have a creative and unique talent there is a chance you can grow quickly. I know accounts that a year ago had 50k followers, and less than myself, but they are now sitting with a following of 350k. This is not possibly by everyone but if you've something special there is a chance you will go far if you work hard.

30) Consider running Instagram competitions and contests. This could be away to get followers to make posts promoting your account or by getting your followers to tag their followers on your photos.


If you'd like to hear more about social media strategies like the below please do sign up to my mailing list here! I'll be trying to get at least one social media strategy post out per month.

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