Have you been struggling to grow your Instagram following? Or aren’t sure where to begin?
Whether you’re a blogger wanting to expand your reach, a small business looking to build up your customer base, or an entrepreneur hoping to get your work out into the world—I’m here to help!
I’ve shared countless blogging tips from my ultimate guide to starting a successful travel blog to how to run a blog while working full-time to tips for shooting stunning travel flat lays.
In each one of those guides, there is one common thread:
It takes work.
While some aspects of blogging and building an Instagram following are really fun (like exploring your creativity and photography), the key tools and strategies necessary to turn your account into something greater (like a business) require time and a lot of effort.
Disclosure: I’ve been on the platform for 8 years—while I have over half a million followers, I wouldn’t say I ever went viral or was an overnight success. It’s been a slow and steady growth with ups and downs.
From figuring out “why” to using Later.com to plan out content to photo strategy (and so much more!)…
Here are my key tips for growing your Instagram!
What is Your “Why?”
The idea behind Instagram is that it’s a community. It started off as a community platform to share photos and connect with others and it continues to operate as such.
I attribute my success to creating a community within the travel space and always having an open dialogue with my audience. Engaging with my community, answering comments and messages, and providing useful and/or inspiring information — that’s how I grew.
It wasn’t so much as being idolized for what I do, but rather being an expert in a particular niche, and sharing relatable content by being an open resource for other women in travel.
There are a lot of ways you can approach Instagram, and I would give the same advice for a blog:
Start with figuring out your “why?”
I’ve talked a lot about “What is your why?” and how this fundamental question impacts so much of what goes into creating a brand, and, in turn, an Instagram profile.
Pinpoint Your Passion
Before you get started, pinpoint your passion. There is a niche for everything. Solo female travel is what captured my heart but it could be something completely different for you. Whatever sparks your soul, I guarantee you that there are countless others out there that share the same fire.
Think about your motivation. Ask yourself a series of questions:
Why do you want to build an Instagram following?
What is your brand all about?
Why will someone else care about what you have to share?
If you’re looking to grow a following to get freebies or something like that, please dig deeper! That is such an easy way to burn out and also doesn’t fuel a deeper “why” when things get stagnant or challenging.
For me, I wanted to share my personal travels, give others insight into how to travel as a solo female, and connect with other women who shared that passion. As the years have gone on, that main “why” has stayed the same—and I’ve even expanded upon it!
Why is establishing a “why” important?
It’ll help you figure what to share. Begin shaping your content around that. I’m going to use travel as an example because that’s what I do, but this can apply to so many different industries and niches.
Sharing pretty travel photos is one thing but why will someone care to follow you over another travel account? Is it because your photos are pretty? Or because you are unique in the space and have an interesting story to tell?
Tips for Creating Quality Content
While Instagram is still all about community, it has changed in many ways. What used to be a platform for smartphone photos and candid daily life has become a sort of gallery of epic content — people have come to expect high-quality images from bloggers and brands.
The quality of images can be a reflection of the quality of the content a blogger creates or the products that a brand is selling.
Of course, there are exceptions, like celebrities or comedians, for example, that don’t need professional imagery because their audience follows them for different reasons.
The first thing to consider is that if you’re going to use Instagram to build a following, you need to focus on quality photos — an individual image needs to be engaging, informational, and/or entertaining.
Your overall feed is the second thing to consider here. When someone clicks to the main feed of your profile you want them to get an immediate feel for what to expect from you and what your account is all about — aesthetic and branding.
For a long time, I think creating an aesthetically pleasing and patterned feed was key to growth. There was a certain formula — a tight subject, a faraway subject, a tight subject, a faraway subject. Using similar colors and brightness or darkness. However, I don’t think that is as crucial anymore.
While curating a feed like this can certainly help, for me, it tends to stifle creativity. As much as it’s appealing for the user, it can often take away the fun of the experience or just creating for the sake of creating.
That said, if you have the energy to do this and create a gorgeous looking feed — it can’t hurt!
One of my favorite tools for creating beautiful Instagram feeds is Later.com.
It’s a wonderful social media planning tool where you can drag and drop images and plan ahead to help curate your feed. You can easily shift things around to achieve those ~aesthetic goals~ and plan out your content well in advance.
Thirdly, you need to focus on your caption.
I began blogging in 2011 (before Instagram!) so the written word has always been my greatest medium for sharing travel experiences.
It’s important to me to continue the storytelling element from my blog on my Instagram, so I typically write longer captions to share experiences and tips, and ultimately to engage with my audience.
I believe it helps increase the engagement I receive on my posts, increasing the comments, and overall performing better with the Instagram algorithm.
Longer captions are something that my audience has become accustomed to. This could be a great strategy for your account as well if you want people to act, relate, and engage.
We will get more into captions and growth strategies below!
View this post on Instagram
What Kind of Content to Share
I personally find that because I share a lot of travel content, shots of travel landscapes are hugely successful (as long as I’m a small subject). A travel landscape without a subject? Not so much. A shot of me with little attention to where I am? Hit or miss.
My goal is to share travel experiences instead of me, me, me. Whereas with a fashion or lifestyle account, your aesthetic may not follow the same “rules” or suggestions.
The key here? Read the room! See what other folks are sharing and get a feel for what’s working for the successful accounts.
Again, this doesn’t mean that what works for some will work for you. You don’t need to change your brand, your aesthetic, or what you’re posting — but it is really helpful to keep a pulse on what works.
Then you can put your own creative spin on things!
Get Creative with What You Share
I’ve shared everything from videos to IG “Lives” to the new “Reels”—take advantage of what’s out there. Until you’ve established an audience, you really can’t say what works best and what doesn’t with the type of content you might be sharing.
So again, read the room.
Video did really well for me but it’s time-consuming and a LOT of work. So, now, I do it in moderation. But especially for travel, in my opinion, video is probably the best way to showcase a destination or experience.
Share Your Best Images
I personally like bright and colorful photos, not necessarily overly saturated, but I want my overall feed to feel energetic, fun, and friendly!
It’s a good practice to identify what aesthetic fits with your brand.
Whatever your vibe is, think about the feelings you want to evoke when people see your feed — go with that! Is it moody and earthy, or muted and cool? Maybe it’s loud, bright, and colorful!
This is all based on personal preference.
Pick three emotive adjectives and keep those in mind when editing your photos and deciding what to share.
While I don’t really plan out my personal @TheBlondeAbroad feed like I used to, I still edit my photos in a consistent manner using TBA Presets. Editing my photos within a certain aesthetic helps create that cohesiveness on my overall feed, even when I’m not curating a pattern.
How to Optimize Your Images for Instagram
- Editing on Mobile: Edit in the Adobe Lightroom App (or a mobile alternative like Snapseed and VSCO). I created my Mobile Lightroom Presets for use in LR Mobile!
- Editing on Desktop: I almost always prefer to edit on my Macbook. It’s quicker, I strain my eyes less, and I can edit RAW images so get the best results this way. I also have Desktop Lightroom Presets and a guide to shooting on Manual Mode if you’re new to photography!
- Optimum image size and resolution is AT LEAST 1080px wide for retina screens (however I always upload the highest resolution possible)
- Crop your photos tall (5×4) and use photography principles like the ‘rule of thirds.’ Taller images take up more “real estate” in peoples’ feeds so they’re bigger and easier to see.
When clicking on an account and viewing it for the first time, people usually decide whether they’re going to follow you or not in a matter of seconds. I would venture to say they decide within 3-5 seconds.
So, putting your best work out there, and keeping it cohesive and consistent is key.
This means consistency in when you post, the quality of the images you post, and how often you’re sharing updates on Instagram Stories.
Keep in mind that posting more than two Instagram images per day may decrease your engagement. A good rule of thumb is to stick to one Instagram post each day (or at least 5 posts per week).
However, don’t just post for the sake of posting.
I posted nearly EVERY DAY for 6 years… so now I give myself a break and post less often, but it was critical in growth.
It’s a LOT of work if you’re shooting high-quality images, but it’s how you feed the beast.
However much content you can handle sharing, be sure that the photos you’re posting are your BEST work — whether they’re beautiful, engaging, or entertaining. You’ll soon learn what your audience likes best!
Treat your Instagram profile as a gallery of your best work.
Use Later to Plan Ahead
I mentioned above that I like to use Later.com to curate the feeds for @TBAEscapes + @TBAPresets. In addition to that, I use Later to plan out my upcoming posts and draft captions in advance to make sure I stay on top of things — it helps with consistency.
There are times where I’m feeling really inspired and can write several captions about my travel experiences, and then there are others where I’m just…blank.
I like to capitalize on my creative days and schedule out some of my Instagram posts for the future so I’m never drowning in responsibility to make it happen.
I love being able to preview and plan out my photos in Later before posting so that I can make sure everything looks inline with my aesthetic goals! I can also use the analytics to figure out when the best time to post for my audience is.
You can even schedule stories! (But more on that later)
As the #1 visual marketing platform, Later helps me to simplify my Instagram marketing and strategy through their scheduling platform, and the analytics available on their desktop platform.
Whether you’re an individual or a business — Later helps keeps things streamlined!
While not all folks have multiple Instagram accounts to manage, I really like the ease of switching between @TheBlondeAbroad, @TBAEscapes, and @TBAPresets on the Later platform. It makes it super easy for me to stay on top of everything in one place!
New users can get 1 month free of Later Premium with the promo code:
**The promo code is case sensitive and includes $20 off for new customers only.
When It Comes to Captions
As I said earlier, most of the time, I share very long captions. I try to engage my audience both with the photo and what I have to say about that photo — but sometimes a photo can’t speak for itself!
I’ve tried to be thorough with my captions from the very beginning of creating my account back in 2012, so my audience is used to reading and engaging with my captions — they know what to expect from me!
Again, consistency is key.
A lot of folks who share beautiful photos don’t always put the same effort into their captions or creating something that people can engage with. For these accounts, it can be difficult to capture followers, get their audience’s attention, or get them to click through to other content.
For anyone looking to turn their Instagram account into a business, your captions are going to be the MOST important piece of the puzzle.
Some Strategies for the Captions
- Give some background as to why you’re posting the photo
- Prompt a story or post with something thoughtful or engaging
- End with a question or call to action! Something like, “share in the comments how you feel about this,” or “I’d love to know what you think” can give your audience something to act on. This typically will generate more meaningful comments and conversations, rather than things like an emoji, or “super pretty.”
- If you’re comfortable getting very personal, many accounts have grown a massive following over their transparency and authenticity. I’m personal, but I don’t share every single aspect of my life. I’ve seen and even follow some very personal accounts and love the candid and highly relatable content they share.
Geotagging and Hashtags
I want to preface this section by saying that the Instagram algorithm has changed a lot over the years, and there’s never been one right way to grow your audience on this platform.
In fact, I would say that most big accounts all have taken a different approach, and that’s what is cool about the platform.
In recent years, Instagram introduced “similar” accounts that are recommended when a user follows an account. This can be a great tool for users to find your account — Later has a full article on it here.
Geotagging is great for accounts that are creating travel content and for finding content from around the world.
You can also get featured within geotags and hashtags — so if your photo is engaging and ranks as one of the top posts, it has the potential to be seen by more eyes.
If your goal is to capture a more local audience, then geotagging your city or a local landmark can give you more exposure to people around you!
Hashtags used to be super crucial, but I’ve personally never really searched a hashtag…unless it was for a brand or a feature account. So, it’s up to you to trial and error and see what works for you!
My current strategy with hashtags is using them when I know another account pulls from a hashtag to re-gram other people’s photos.
We’ll talk about getting featured next!
Once you’ve done the research about which hashtags are best to use for what you’re wanting to achieve — you can actually save those hashtags on Later to use for future posts!
If your Instagram is more of a community page or a brand, using your own community or branded hashtag can be a fun tool to use!
With my all-female tours, we encourage our attendees and any women who are traveling solo or with their friends to share with the #TBAEscapes hashtag to get featured on the account.
This worked great in the beginning when we were trying to build out the account, and now we mostly share photos from the tours, which encourages the gals who come on the tours to share via the hashtag for a feature.
It’s a win-win as it generates community engagement and those that are using the hashtag feel a little extra love when we feature their photo.
I love using Instagram Stories to share snippets of my daily life as well as push through new content on that I share on my blog.
A lot of people do real-time stories or a day in the life, but I typically only post every day when I’m traveling. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m personal! But I also like living some aspects of my life offline.
I will say that anytime I post on Stories with my daily life or make sure that I always have some Stories live, they perform really well.
However, I have to create a work/life balance, so I typically put my phone down when it’s home and family time.
I also think that Instagram Stories can reach a portion of your audience that in-feed posts may not — with the algorithm, getting your posts to be seen every time can prove difficult. But sharing your posts to Stories can help gain more exposure when a post might get hidden.
My team helps me design my Stories with my branding with templates that we created in Photoshop. It makes it fairly easy to share blog content and other interesting content in a cohesive way.
Later is great for scheduling out Stories if you want to plan ahead!
It also allows you to visually plan and storyboard your stories — which is super helpful if you’re sharing multiple videos about a travel experience, or if you’re an online boutique and sharing new products in your shop.
Later also helps you resize your photos for Instagram Stories, plus you can choose from different fonts and add text to stylize them.
Anytime I share a blog post on my website, I’ll feature it on my IG Stories with a “Swipe Up” to read more!
TIP: Note that you DO need 10,000 followers to get the “Swipe Up” feature to easily direct people to an outside website. I recommend customizing the link in your bio with Linktree or Taplink to create multiple features for your audience. Just say “Link in Bio” when you need to direct someone and be sure to keep that link updated!
Building an Audience
Engagement is key. I’m not a believer in going and following thousands of accounts for the sake of it unless you’re going to consistently engage with them.
Whatever you do, don’t use bots! It is NOT worth it.
If you really want to go into Instagram with the intention of creating a business out of it, treat it like a business.
It will require you to invest a lot of time and you won’t see a return on it for a while — that’s just the reality of it. There’s no quick or easy way of building an audience online.
Engage with Your Audience
Follow the accounts you truly love and engage with those accounts. Like them, comment on them all the time, set aside thirty minutes a day to strategically engage with the accounts you love as well as your audience.
For the people who are following you — it doesn’t mean you need to follow them back, but go onto their account, like their photos, leave a genuine comment or two.
Obviously, once you have a large following, it becomes difficult to do that with everyone. A follow for a follow might not be the most genuine way to use Instagram and is usually quite a short-sided strategy.
I still have followers who have been with me from the very beginning because I nurtured those relationships even if I didn’t follow them back.
Reply to every comment on your posts! Set aside thirty minutes after you post to engage with followers. I still do this to this day.
Having a hard time replying and tracking all comments on your phone? Later’s desktop platform has a “Conversations” section that helps you to never miss an Instagram comment again!
You can manage your Instagram comments faster and with more ease.
The tool allows you to keep track of all your comments and responses, which makes staying engaged with your audience easier. I know I can type much quicker on my computer than my phone, so this is an awesome tool!
How Do You Get “Seen”?
One of my key strategies for growth is getting featured on Instagram accounts with larger followings. From the get-go, understand that you do not need to adapt your style to be featured on other accounts nor change your brand. But it’s helpful to keep a pulse on what others are doing and what is working for them.
For example, GoPro has been an amazing account that helped me grow through features, and now, I’m proud to be a long-time ambassador of their cameras.
In the early days, traveling with a GoPro was a no brainer and it made shooting content while traveling solo a lot easier. Naturally, it made sense for me to share a lot of GoPro photos and videos and use all of their branded hashtags.
Whenever I get featured on their account it puts me in front of their millions of followers.
I’ve always aimed for travel-focused brands as that’s what my account revolves around. But, there are so many other brands and accounts out there that repost user-based content and are great to get other eyes on your work (MEANING: you don’t need to target GoPro).
While getting featured isn’t imperative — it has helped me a lot of the years. However, I wouldn’t recommend changing your style or what you’re doing just to get a feature.
But why? Wouldn’t you want an account to share your content as much as possible? What if I knew I had photos they would love?
I completely get that rational, but here are my thoughts on that: If I had a killer surfing photo of a wave—it might seamlessly blend into their feed. For the brand, that’s great. Will I gain a ton of followers? Probably not.
The type of photo getting shared is super important if you’re banking on growth through account features.
If your photo is super similar to their other content or could be considered “filler content,” it likely won’t generate as many clicks or follows from their fanbase.
My most successful photos with GoPro have been shots that are on-brand with what I normally share, but are unique and engaging to the GoPro account. AKA, most of the shots have me in them.
Getting myself featured (literally) has been the best method of getting more people to pop over to my account and follow.
I still want to stand out and be myself while using their product.
Some of the big accounts that I’ve been featured on that have been really great for me are:
- L*Space Swimwear (this ended up growing into a co-branded swimwear collaboration)
- Pura Vida (we also launched a bracelet pack together)
- PADI (I’m now one of their Ambassadivers)
- DJI (I love shooting drone content!)
My focus has always been on brands I already use and love—because I could create a lot with what I had, and they love getting content they can share.
Understand When You’re Missing the Mark
A lot of my content is bright, colorful, and friendly. It’s not necessarily high fashion or as lifestyle-focused as some accounts.
So, I don’t ever expect to be featured on certain accounts.
For example, I love Free People’s clothing (literally most of my wardrobe is from them) and I travel and have a lot of photos in their clothing. However, my photo style doesn’t really mesh with what they typically share—meaning I don’t shoot content that fits their feed.
And that’s okay! I genuinely like and am proud of what I post, and that’s what matters most to me.
That goes back to not changing your style just for a feature.
One additional tip is that you don’t have to always post content that you think would work well as a feature on another account.
If I ever did shoot content that had a strong “Free People” vibe that fit their IG style but didn’t really mesh with my Instagram feed, I might reach out to them directly via DM or email to share the photos and see if they might be interested in using them.
It’s worth a shot!
Tip: Don’t Mass Message Instagram Accounts
Now that I am where I am, I get DMs all. the. time. requesting me to feature their account. You know those “check out my account” or “I just started a travel blog and I’d love for you to check it out and give me a follow” type messages.
Please don’t do this — it comes off as a one-sided ask and a generic spam message because it’s not customized whatsoever. There is nothing wrong with reaching out with genuine praise or a personal comment followed by a small introduction to what you do. But don’t be selfish.
The same goes for brands!
Brands get so many Instagram messages and comments per day about features, collaborations, etc. Not only are these hard to keep track of, but for the person behind the screen or computer—this isn’t helpful!
If you’re going to approach a brand, do it personally and professionally.
Do Your Research
- Spell their name correctly (it’s the least you can do)
- Explain why you love the brand and what they mean to you
- Share some examples of what you do and the photos you’ve shared
- You can say something along the lines of, “I’m such a huge fan of your brand/products and I use it all the time/take it everywhere I go. I’m always happy to share my love for my favorite brands. I would love to send you some of the content I’ve created using your product that I think your audience would love and that would benefit your feed. Feel free to share!” (send photo examples) Personalize this to the brand — do not just copy and paste!
Going that step above and beyond is really meaningful and marketing and PR contacts are looking for that kind of thing — it makes their job easier if you give them what they’re looking for.
Adapting to the environment is key. What worked 8 years ago when I signed up for Instagram is not what works best today.
Always evaluate what your audience likes. Nothing is forever and I think having that understanding will help you in the long run.
Everything evolves in social media and that’s something to keep in mind. Don’t get comfortable with what works one day and expect that to keep working forever, you’ve got to adapt.
Think back to what most editing styles looked like on Instagram back when it was first starting out compared to now. YIKES!
It’s all about adapting!
It’s important to remember that there is no secret sauce for mastering Instagram.
The algorithm is always changing so there’s never a way to crack it—but you can ensure that you’re putting your best foot forward and work hard to build an engaged audience.
And there you have it! Those are my tips for growing your Instagram following. Do you have any tips that work for you? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!
This post was written in partnership with Later. As always, thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely my own and based on my own experiences.