Grow Your Following On Instagram Organically

Instagram is undoubtedly one of the most popular online social networks with over 1.1 Billion (yes, with a B) monthly users. Better yet, Instagrams age demographic is extremely diverse. Making it a great place for countless online businesses to thrive:

instagram infographic demographic and social stats 2019

With over a billion people actively using instagram, it’s easy to see why it has transformed into a valuable and marketable tool. There are thousands of influencers and businesses alike all working to promote new content, brand deals, and build their online presence.  Instagram is the perfect platform to do that.

instagram stats infographic

Unfortunately over the past year instagram has made things a little bit more challenging. With several algorithm changes to the platform, it has completely altered the user experience. New content is heavily filtered to the point that not all new posts may appear in your followers feeds. To many this was detrimental to their brands growth rate. So what can you do to overcome these new hurdles? Is it time to give up on Instagram?

Absolutely not! Instagram is still one of the most valuable tools to online marketers. Whether you have less than 1000 followers or 100,000+, there are similar tactics you can use to overcome these algorithm changes. The key is actively utilizing these tools to leverage organic growth on the platform.

Understanding Your Niche and Quality Control

Instagram is not as simple as just posting photo’s and calling it a day. There’s a little more behind the scenes work involved in creating a great, well formatted, instagram post. 

The most important thing when creating an instagram profile is to stick in a niche. A niche is simply a category of content that you create. For example, if you were in the food niche, you would only post food images or perhaps some great restaurants you’ve been to. If you’re in the outdoor lifestyle niche you would stick to content around outdoor activity and having fun outdoors. I think you get the idea.

Regardless what your niche may be, stick to it! It’s hard to build an audience around a profile that posts food images one day, and skiing photography the next. To build a loyal and engaged audience, the first step is ensuring they know what they’re ‘signing up’ for when they hit that follow button.

The next key to better engagement is quality. You can go through the steps outlined in this article, but will find little success if your content lacks quality. If you’re posting blurry photos with your finger in the shot, you probably won’t be getting the response you hoped for. Sorry to break it to you, but no amount of hashtags in the world are going to help you with that one!


Quality Check List

It doesn’t matter what camera you take the photo with, just go through this small checklist to see if your photo has a good quality rating:

  1. Is it sharp and in focus?
  2. Is it over or under exposed? (AKA too bright or too dark)
  3. Does this image relate to my niche?
  4. Are the colours pleasing and eye catching?

If your image is in focus, nicely exposed, related to your profiles niche, and has some great colours or eye catching components, it sounds to me like you have a great quality post!

Okay, you understand the importance of sticking to your niche and quality control. Now let’s dive into the nitty gritty of building your engagement.

Optimizing Instagram Posts For Best Engagement

You have gone through the quality checklist and you are feeling good! Time to post the photo and see that engagement roll in… well not quite.

Not all posts are valued equal, and no I’m not talking about the quality of a photo. On Instagram you have the option to post with landscape, square, or vertical crops. If you have all these options, might as well just post in whatever format best suits your photo right? Well the answer isn’t what it may seem.

Consider this. Although you can post in whichever orientation looks best to you, it’s a simple fact that vertical posts do significantly better than landscape or square crops. If you want to leverage the most engagement possible, you are going to want to post a vertical image.


Here’s why: The simple reasoning the vertical crop outperforms is due to how much real estate it takes up on a feed. Let’s compare the size of each crop side by side in a standard instagram feed:

instagram crop example michael clark photo

instagram crop example jessica kobeissi

Pretty clear to see the difference when side by side. By utilizing the maximum screen space possible your post is far more likely to catch the attention of your followers. So how can you start formatting your photos to fit the vertical 4:5 Instagram crop?

How To Optimize Instagram Photos With 4:5 Crop

Obviously not all of your photos are taken vertically. Should you be changing your shooting style to only accommodate vertical images? Well you could for the name of engagement… but that would be a little drastic. Behold the beauty of photo editing!

There are several mobile apps out there that allow you to re-crop images in a 4:5 crop ratio but the one I prefer is Adobe Photoshop. Since the vast majority of photographers use Adobe Lightroom to edit images, they also have access to Photoshop with the Creative Cloud Photography Plan. This makes it easy to quickly jump into Photoshop and create an extra export of your photo for Instagram.

Below is an example of a horizontal image in Photoshop I re-cropped for Instagram. I created a 4000×5000 pixel project, then re-scaled my image into the desired position. This trick just takes a couple of seconds to help your photos get better engagement!

Engaging With Your Audience

A massive misunderstanding among creators is what “engaging” means. Engaging with your audience doesn’t just start and end within the comment section of a recent post. Yes, it’s important to reply to comments but engaging your audience goes far beyond that.

Engagement isn’t a one way street. Try to check out a few of your followers profiles, leave a nice and genuine comment. These little actions go a long ways, and may mean a lot to some of your biggest fans.

Besides spreading the love, these little ‘acts of kindness’ make you feel more personable and real. People are far more likely to have an invested interest in your content if you make them feel included and noticed. Especially when you’re one of their biggest role models!

Engaging Beyond Your Reach

Engagement isn’t going to just show up.  You have to go out and get it! Interact with other users in your niche and start to network.

On the explore page in Instagram you can browse hashtags and see what types of posts are being added to them. Try going through some relative hashtags in your niche and engage with posts you like.

When you engage with posts in hashtags, leave a comment. A comment is by far the best way to get noticed by another user. If you look at many photos on Instagram they will have over 100 likes, but less than 10 comments. Just by taking the time to write a comment your chances at being noticed by another user go from 1 in 100 to 1 in 10.

Now those are some more appealing odds!

how to boost instagram engagement

Be Genuine When Exploring Other’s Content

With all that being said I cannot stress this one thing enough:  Be Genuine. I see people writing spammy comments on my posts all the time. “Great stuff, check out my profile”, “Wow, I love your feed, I think you’d like mine too”. These comments are not genuine and are a disrespectful attempt at gaining attention.

If someone is going to check out your profile, they will because they want to; not because you ask. Your job is to simply give them that option of looking further by putting your thoughtful comment in front of them.

I will admit it may seem a bit tricky to write a genuine comment to someone you have never even met. Luckily, there are a few easy tricks to make coming up with thoughtful comments much easier:

1. Comment on something you like in their photo

Does their photo have an adorable dog or maybe your favourite type of flower? Let them know! Commenting about something that is actually in the photo fares far better than something generic like, “wow great photo”.

2. Respond to someones caption directly

A lot of Instagram users will include a personal story, a question, or something about the area in the photo. Reply to what they say! This is complete common sense but many people simply skip the reading and blast off to the next post.

Since there are so few comments directly related to a caption, commenting your thoughts instantly makes you stand apart. It makes you appear like a real person by:

1: proving you read what was written

2: offered genuine insight on what you thought about their story/question/location info and so on!

Try to portray yourself as a real life human, not some online robot. It’s called social media for a reason; be personable!

3. Share a personal story related to their post

Was the photo taken somewhere you have been before? Try commenting about your experience in that same area and how much you loved it too! It’s easy to connect with someone over similar experiences.

By deploying any of these 3 tactics you are far more likely to appear like a real human on the other end of their screen. Ultimately people like to connect with other people, not ‘robots’.

You will be amazed by how many people return the favour and leave similarly thoughtful comments on your own photos. Heck, they might even give you a follow. It’s these little interactions that build up to real, authentic engagement on Instagram.

Adding Location Tags


Posts with location tags can get up to 79% more engagement.

How crazy is that?!

Whenever you make a new post, be sure to add the images location tag. This tag helps your image to appear in searches of the same area by other users.

Have a photo of the grand canyon? Location tag the grand canyon so other people searching for photos of the area can find you.

A quick and easy way to get some boosted engagement.

Tag Feature Pages In Your Photos

Every niche has feature pages. Feature pages are accounts dedicated to reposting other users content. Getting your image reposted by one of these accounts can be a huge boost in traffic since they will credit you in the caption.

Sometimes these pages are hard to get the attention of, so try to tag them in your post. You can tag up to 20 pages in a single post so be sure to tag wisely. Only tag the feature pages that seem to have relative content to you.

Do they repost similar looking images in the same niche that you’re in?

Perfect, hit ’em with the tag.

Features like this have been a huge part of helping my growth and are cause for many others ‘overnight’ growth.

Write Thoughtful Captions

Nobody likes a boring caption. Try to write something about what was going on when you took the photo, perhaps there was something crazy going on behind the scenes. This is the type of thing that your audience will love to hear about.

The more personal the better!

Use Better Hashtags

Back to feature pages, these are the accounts you want to be noticed by. So use their hashtags!


Most feature pages have hundreds of thousands of images in their hashtags that are actively culled through by other users in your niche. This means you will get your image seen by other users, and may just get a repost! It’s a win-win.

You can find these hashtags typically written in the bio of different feature pages. It takes some time to find a bunch of useful tags but it’s absolutely worth while. Nobody likes seeing that #like4like garbage anyways.

Another option to discover new hashtags is see what other people are using. People in your niche are likely using certain hashtags that would be perfect for your images too. Try out a few of their hashtags and see if you get any different results. Don’t be afraid to mix up your hashtag list!

Hashtags is a pretty massive topic to learn about. If you want more information, check it out here.

Adding Extra Value To Your Instagram Followers

I’m not talking about 80% off deals here. I’m talking about extra content forms that can engage audience beyond a single Instagram post.

There are countless ways to do this both on and off the platform. Informative Instagram stories, youtube videos, IGTV, a blog, you name it. Something that you can expand from your Instagram content and offer something more to your audience members.

People love two things in online content: educational info or entertainment. I personally am completely uninteresting and so I opt for the educational niche.

If you’re a little more rambunctious, then you could find some more interesting ways to entertain your audience that are unique to you!


Themed Instagram Stories

To start out, simply try creating regularly themed Instagram stories throughout the week. Stories that either give insight behind a recent post or teach viewers how to do something new.

This type of content will get eaten up by any audience. With a bit of proven consistency, they’ll be coming back for more again and again. You can even begin to ask the audience what type of thing they’d like to see you do or teach in the next story!

It’s important to open up a dialogue between you and your audience. Your audience always knows what’s best, they are who you are doing it for after all.

A couple common story themes:

Story Tutorial: No matter what your niche, there’s always something to learn about. Since you’re the expert, share something with your audience! Walk them through, step by step how you accomplished or created something.

Trip Report Story: If you are on a trip somewhere, keep your audience updated! What types of things are you seeing, where are you going, any wild misadventures? This stuff is pure gold when it comes to retaining your audiences attention.

Before and After Story: Everything and everyone has a transformation of some kind. Have a little fun with it and share some interesting or impressive before and afters. It could be of something you painted, built, or a photo edit. These are extra useful coupled with a Story Tutorial.

Show Your Face

It’s a simple fact that users are 38% more likely to engage with your content if there is your face, or someone else’s face in a post. Don’t worry though, this doesn’t mean that you have to post selfies to gain engagement.

Just try to show your face more often around your profile and in your Instagram stories. Include your face in your profile picture and talk directly to the camera during stories. Help people put a face to the username, it will make you seem a lot more personable!

Adding Value On Other Social Media Platforms

social media icons

Instagram is not the be all end all. It’s a singular tool in your arsenal of brand building tactics. Try pushing content on other platforms and build new audiences, linking back to your Instagram.

Here’s a personal example:

When I first started my Instagram account I wanted to create extra value for my audience. Since I am in the photography niche, I wanted to start making tutorials. It’s pretty hard to post full length tutorials on Instagram so I turned to Youtube.

At the beginning of every youtube tutorial I’d mention my Instagram with links to my Instagram and other social links in the descriptions.

After a while, my youtube subscriber count blew past my Instagram’s, but I was starting to see consistent traffic from Youtube, to my Instagram. My most interested youtube followers began to seek me out on Instagram which gradually bulked up my engagement.

The point of me saying this is that when it comes to building your brand, offer as much value as possible. Value beyond just a single platform like Instagram. It seems counter productive to put effort somewhere else in order to build engagement, but over time your varying platforms work together to promote one another.

social media platforms increase engagement

It Takes Time To Build An Engaged Audience

With all the ‘get followers fast‘ schemes and questionable ‘influencer‘ courses it’s easy to feel down on yourself about slow growth.

Apparently everyone online can get 100,000 followers in just 1 month so why can’t you? In reality it all just takes time and very consistent effort in your niche.

Creating content that is authentic to you is what’s most important. If you hate what you are creating, then it’s going to be near impossible for you to want to be consistent. Building an online presence can sometimes feel like fruitless labour but over time your dedication absolutely pays off.

If you stay consistent with creating great content with the outlined steps in this article, you are guaranteed to see big changes in engagement; in as little as a month.

Have you been putting these engagement building tactics to use? How have you been seeing improvements? Are there any other tips you feel I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy Grammin’