How To Build An Instagram Following From Scratch

How To Build An Instagram Following From Scratch

Right before our eyes, Instagram is becoming a social media powerhouse.

It is penetrating more and more of the population every day, with over 400 million monthly active users.

It plays on the visual obsession of our minds, and taps into the short attention spans of a generation. A bit like a combination of Twitter and Pinterest.

Along with its rapid growth, comes a unique marketing opportunity for brands. And if you’re not ready to ride the wave, you are missing a big opportunity.

Now is the best time to get started with Instagram – it’s popular, fun, growing, and has huge engagement levels. Not to mention a LOT of brands aren’t making the most of it yet.

Whether you’re creating your personal profile or managing your company’s account, the following tactics will help you build an Instagram following from scratch.

1. Map out your strategy

Before anything else, you need to create a strategy for your Instagram activity.

Here are some questions to help you flesh out a plan:

  • What are you trying to do on Instagram?

You want to build a community that engages each other to create positive change; you want to drive followers to your website and convert them into paying customers.

  • How will Instagram grow your business?

Having a group of brand enthusiasts will spread your message large and wide and sell your products for you. Drive targeted traffic back to your website. Strengthen brand awareness and foster new partnerships.

  • What do your audience want on Instagram?

Instagrammers are in constant “scanning” mode – they either like something or they don’t. Instagram is about capturing real moments, so you need to talk to your audience in their language: be positive, be inspiring, be authentic. Nail down your client avatar and see where a bunch of them hang out.

What words, hashtags and filters do they use? Who do they follow? Check out the top 100 hashtags from Websta and search relevant keywords and discover popular accounts. 

Once you get the basics down, you can start building your Instagram following.

2. Create your profile

Setting up your Instagram profile is quite easy and you only have to add your information in a few sections:

  • Choose your profile image

It should be relevant to your business –your logo, or a photo of your product:

Starbucks profile - how to build an instagram following

  • Add your bio

When you’re not an uber popular brand, your bio has got to be more compelling. You can use up to 200 characters to create your bio and tell people why they should follow you and what’s in it for them.

You can spice it up with various symbols:

Symbols - how to build an instagram following

You can directly access your bio through this link and search for characters and symbols here.

Also, you can encourage followers to share images relevant to your business using your own hashtag.

  • Add your website URL

Adding a link to your Bio is easy and helps to put your followers down the path to purchase. Just make sure the link takes them to a mobile-friendly landing page.

Foundr Magazine - how to build an instagram following

3. Setup a content plan

First, set goals and KPIs (key performance indicators) so you know where you’re going. These terms are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference:

  • Goal: A desired outcome.
  • KPIs: Key metrics showing whether your performance is good enough to reach your outcome.

Here’s an example:

  • Goal: Have 1k followers .
  • KPIs: Number of likes, comments, shares, mentions, shoutouts.

Once you set your goals, create an editorial calendar to automate your input and make sure your goals become inevitable. Tools you can use: Iconosquare, ScheduGram or Simply Measured (or a good old spreadsheet).

Only share images that best illustrate the story your brand is trying to tell, and trigger emotions that make people feel part of your story. The anatomy of a successful Instagram post is beautiful imagery, compelling overlaying text, post descriptions, mentions, hashtags and emojis.

Here are the most effective types of posts:

  • Brand-related images

As humans, we’re wired to make judgments and attach emotionally to everything we see. Sharing beautiful images is a great way to communicate complex messages to your audience and make them feel certain ways: curios, excited, happy, proud, nostalgic, hopeful, etc.

The biggest names on Instagram are harnessing the real power of visual storytelling. So, whether you have images of your products or of results created by your products (e.g. happy clients), use Instagram to creatively communicate why your business matters.

Starbucks post example - how to build an instagram following

See how Starbucks uses creative images to communicate their message in a unique way. They focus on a powerful storytelling approach that includes their logo and feelings associated with their product.

  • Reactive storytelling

Reactive storytelling is a combination of a hot trend and a compelling marketing message. This method lets you leverage an everlasting truth, a timely event or idea to build an instant connection with your audience.

Big brands like Oreo are using reactive storytelling successfully to create viral content that generates buzz and immediate response from their followers.

Oreo - how to build an instagram following

  • Inspirational quotes

The ultimate recipe for viral, buzzy content is to trigger strong emotions. Inspirational quotes are a great way to get more shares, likes, comments with your brand. The stronger the emotion, the more likely people will react to your content.

Inspirational quotes - how to build an instagram following

If you’re starting from scratch, prepare 10 images and spread them throughout the next three days. In terms of engagement, a Track Maven report shows that big brands get an average of 37 likes and comments for every 1k followers. This means that if you’ve got 100 followers, you should expect to get 3.7 interactions (likes and comments) per post.

4. Build influencer relationships

Aside from growing your audience, you can reach out to influencers in your niche and build all sorts of partnerships, like Free offers for Shares or Paid Shoutouts. The easiest route is to network with Instagram Direct.

Just like Snapchat, Instagram Direct allows you to send photos and videos to others (privately) like a private message on Facebook. Only you and the recipient can see it. Use popular hashtags in your niche to spot the influencers and DM with an offer.

5. Manage your profile

Now that all the elements are put into place, you need to keep an eye on your feed, followers and niche. Iconosquare is a very easy to use tool that lets you view and browse Instagram from within their interface and offers a lot of data (e.g. growth charts, engagement rates, best times to post and more).

A web viewer for Instagram is Squarelovin.

Square lovin - how to build an instagram following

This tool lets you see how many photos you’ve shared, the total number of likes and comments you’ve got, how many accounts you’re following. You can also see followers based on their location, your follower growth rate, new and dropped followers and more.

Final words

Instagram is a pretty straightforward platform, no need to over-complicate it. Remain clear and creative in your communication and interact with your audience every day. Instagram is a mobile-based platform, so any URLs you share should lead people to mobile-friendly pages.

The amazing interest in visual content is only going to go up in the future, so there’s no better time to get started with Instagram than today. It’s the best platform to share your authentic brand message and develop a unique voice in your community.

But Instagram’s real value consists of seeing how people interact with your brand and how they’re spreading your message. Last but not least, make sure you integrate Instagram with other social outlets to increase your influence and reach to as many people as possible.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Instagram and see how it’s working for your business, so share your experience in the comments below.

Guest Author: Sarah Williams is a Berlin based entrepreneur and lifestyle blogger. On her blog Wingman Magazine she helps people to discover their true potential, have better relationships, boost careers and feel great in their own skin.


  • Aletta Arganaraz

    All these mention points very important for getting engagement on
    your posts.. Using hashtags and interact with other users content is
    more powerful points to getting attraction on your posts!!

  • Mark Thompson

    Nice post, I know i should be using instagram, I have an instagram account, I have content I could repurpose from twitter and pinterest but it seems a hell of a grind to post content to instagram compared to everywhere else. (maybe it’s a generational thing!)

    I have to get the content from my blog, or create it on my desktop onto my phone then upload it. I’d be allover it if I could just post from my twitter feed or blog directly!

  • Rebecca

    Good post, but I disagree with the advice to trigger emotions with instagrams of quotes. The starbucks example works well because it is over a photograph and short. The other example is spammy and generally isn’t going to get the same kind of reaction as a powerful photograph with a quote or message in the caption.. Instagram is meant for photographs, not graphics of long quotes.