This week I hit a HUGE milestone: 100k followers on Instagram.
It took me exactly 18 months, 654 posts… and HOURS of work.
For people that use Instagram personally, uploading takes less than five minutes. You pick a photo, crop it, throw a filter on it, a witty caption and boom – you’re done and you can move on with your life.
Do you know how long it takes me to post on Instagram?
Yup. It takes me 60 full minutes to just upload a post to Instagram.
And I’ll talk more about why later, but if there’s one thing you’re going to take away from this post, it’s this: growing a following on ANY platform is a commitment.
Anyone reading this who has thousands of YouTube subscribers, a responsive email list, an active Facebook group or a loyal Twitter following knows this.
What you read in this post can apply to ANY platform you’re looking to grow. So listen up.
I didn’t know or even think about the time commitment when I had just started my account in June 2016.
I had used Instagram casually for three years prior, and I expected it to be the same… until I realized my ideal audience was on the platform.
That’s when I decided to get serious.
I’m a really competitive person. I don’t half-ass things I’m determined to be good at.
There were several things I did in the early stages that set me up for success:
- I got rid of my old profile picture, which was just a regular selfie, and traded it in for a professionally-made logo. Do you know how many white women that cook on Instagram there are? Way too many. My logo set me apart.
- I started actually using my business account to see what posts my audience loved, and what they didn’t.
- I worked with a coach for a week or two to learn exactly how the platform worked. She gave me a checklist and I got to work. (the stuff she gave me wouldn’t work now, the platform has since changed)
- I did additional research on hashtags to learn about why they’re so important, then revamped my entire hashtag strategy.
- I became a LEADER instead of someone that simply shows off yummy food. I took my experience and channeled it into teaching and helping others. That made a huge difference.
Just want to point out, a lot of you will read those bullets and think: “oh, so this is what I have to do to grow.”
No. It’s not actually. This is the easy stuff that ANYONE can do.
Not everyone has the personality, the time, the niche, the patience and the drive to directly help other people. Honestly, most of the people I talk to (not companies) just want a social media following to get free shit.
If you don’t want to invest the time, go buy followers.
It’s faster and easier, but also a lot emptier because you’re basically being followed by a bunch of fake accounts.
Why is growing organically so important?
Real followers = real people = real eyeballs = real potential customers/real raving fans
Fake followers = lots of followers, very few real people who actually give a shit = very few potential customers/raving fans
Which wouldyou rather have?
Ok, here’s what REALLY went into growing an account to 100k – the stuff no one talks about.
Before you read this, know that even if you try all this stuff, it probably won’t work for you.
Four hours. That’s how long I spend on Instagram every day.
What am I doing on the platform for that long, you might ask?
- Research. I’m looking at what’s trending, what my competition is up to and getting recipe/food ideas.
- Answering comments. I do my very best to respond to every comment I get on photos. I even go back to older ones to see if people asked questions about meal prep and I answer them.
- Answering DMs. Depending on the day, I get anywhere from 75-200.
- Recording information from DMs for market research purposes.
- Commenting on photos from people in my Instagram pod (about 15 of them).
- Uploading and filming stories (I do at least 10 a day, sometimes 30).
- Looking at my analytics. I check them probably three times a day.
- Last but not least, uploading photos which as I said before, takes about an hour.
Could you do that every day?
It takes practice. I certainly didn’t START here. Also, I didn’t have lots of DMs and comments to answer until about a year in. I also didn’t have a pod until about 6 months ago.
And that doesn’t even count the amount of time I spend on content creation every week…
Here’s my process for content creation (and I’ve had this process for over six months now)
- Pick recipes to develop that my followers have requested, or ones I know they’d go nuts for. (But this starts in the DMs and polls I take via Stories)
- Brainstorm different concepts behind my content (posts, stories, videos) based on the theme of the month or an upcoming product launch.
- Spend four hours a week cooking. I do a three-hour session on Sundays and a one-hour session on Wednesdays. I try to film my cooking sessions for videos (more on that later)
- Spend two hours a week photographing. One hour after each session. I have to arrange my food in lots of different combinations and on different backgrounds to give myself lots of options during the week (and times when I’m traveling and taking a break from cooking)
- Spend two-three hours a week editing (cropping) the photographs, adding text and putting them on my phone, where they go through another round of edits via Snapseed.
- Spend one hour writing a recipe for each of my recipe posts, where I write them out in Canva and add them to Instagram. I post about two or three a week.
- Then I decide the order of the photos based on what topics I want to talk about and my visual “grid” (what you see when you look at my profile)
- Have you seen one of my 60-second cooking videos on Instagram? It takes me three hours to edit one depending on the meal or concept. (all my videos have text, music and other visually dynamic things going on)
- Throughout the entire week, I spend time on Instagram stories where I show how I cook, meal plan, grocery shop and store the food I make. I also do a weekly Instagram live for 30 minutes.
- My stories are not random, the topics and things I choose to show are very deliberate. Again, it goes back to my monthly theme, what my followers have been asking to see and constantly coming up with creative ways to keep them engaged.
- Rinse and repeat. Every week.
Could I calculate how many hours exactly I pour into the platform? Probably. But I don’t want to.
If any of my followers read the above, they’d get it. They KNOW I put a lot into my account, even if they don’t know the specifics.
See, the time I pour into this comes back to me in the form of love and words of appreciation via DM. I have hundreds of screenshots of DMs from my followers, telling me how I’ve impacted their lives in a positive way.
This wasn’t an accident… just read these four examples from different followers.
Those messages have nothing to do with hashtags.
So, why does it take me one hour to post a photo or video on Instagram?
Here’s my general process:
- Write a caption. My captions are ALWAYS freshly written. Most of the time I know the concept ahead of time, or if I need to promote something, or if the post is sponsored, but the actual words are written moments before hitting “share.”
- Do a last quick edit on my photo. In Instagram, I play with the brightness and I use a filter (but I tone it down) on most of my posts.
- Figure out my hashtags. I change my hashtags slightly every time I upload to make the tags as specific as possible. Sometimes this requires me to actually sit down and research new ones as if I were doing it for a client.
- Tag 20 relevant accounts. I can’t tag a bunch of accounts at once on a photo, so doing it one by one is probably the most tedious part of this process that I hate.
- Share the photo, add my hashtags in a comment, then immediately share a screenshot of the post to my Stories to tell people that a) I have a new post and b) why they should look at it/comment.
- At this point, the post is live, but I have to also inform my two comment pods that I have a new photo up. Before that, I have to make sure I’ve commented on their recent posts. So I catch up and then share that my new post is live.
- After that, I respond to any initial comments that came in while dealing with my pod. I hang out for about 10 minutes, answer comments. Sometimes they come in really fast, sometimes not. Either way, responding to them is a priority.
know. It’s a lot. But it’s a part of my life now.
It’s hard to teach other businesses and marketing people how to do this. So normally, I stick to the tactical stuff – which can help, but not all the way.
You know. Stuff like timing. Hashtags. Captions. Editing your bio. Reading analytics.
There’s a piece I can’t really teach though, and that’s the soul part.
It’s the same reason I tell the businesses I work with to avoid outsourcing social media.
Putting your soul into your social media accounts can manifest in different ways – that’s why I know what I do inside and outside of Instagram won’t work for you.
This process is mine.
I’ve developed and practiced it every day for 18 months.
Want to grow a following?
First, consider what you’re getting into.
Second, commit to yourself and to the humans that invest their time in what you have to say.
Third, do it… and be patient. This is a long game.
You get out what you put in.
If you have any more questions about how I grew my following from 0-100k in 18 months, just reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feature Image by Emily Shmutz