If you feel like your account growth on Instagram is “stuck,” I promise you it’s not the algorithm.
Being stagnant or “stuck” on Instagram is a sign that something needs to change.
The first thing most social media managers, influencers and businesses, in general, do when they get stuck is posting at a different time to see if that does anything.
Then they try using no hashtags, posting hashtags an hour after they share a photo, try taking a break for a few days and on and on.
Most of these examples might help in the short term, but these changes won’t fix the real barriers that make it hard to attract the right followers at a steady rate.
Even at 175k followers, I get stuck sometimes.
I have weeks where my growth levels off, or I get very little engagement. It probably happens every few months, and the first thing I do is audit my own account.
I ask myself: What’s types of content are performing well? (Lots of impressions, attracting new followers, lots of engagement).
What types of content are performing poorly? (Low impressions, not much engagement or likes).
You can easily see what’s working and what’s not if you check out your analytics.
If you’re reading this and you’re using your IG account for business or to grow a following, but don’t have analytics, turn on your business profile right now. I promise that it doesn’t negatively affect the reach of your content!
When you grow your account organically, getting stuck is going to happen no matter what. All you can do is be prepared and know what next steps to take.
1. Not using hashtags the right way (or not using them at all)
The right combination of hashtags helps you reach new people when you’re still growing.
Hashtags link your photo to targeted communities, niches and keywords that people search for like #healthybreakfastideas in my cooking niche. These communities, groups and people searching for content that’s relevant to them are less likely to see your posts without hashtags.
Picking them is the hard part. You’re allowed to use up to 30 hashtags, so you should be using all of them.
Most businesses and influencers screw up by picking hashtags that are way too “big,” meaning there are too many posts in them already and their content will get buried under everything else. No one will see it.
For example, #instagood has 875 million posts in it! It’s way too big to be seen by anyone you’re trying to target.
The other part of the hashtag game (and an easy place to screw up) is changing hashtags every time you post so they’re relevant to the photo. Unless you’re posting the same photo every day (which I hope you’re not!) your hashtags need to change with the content you share from day to day.
If you’ve tried to change your hashtags, but are sure you’ve been “shadowbanned” or that they just aren’t working — it just means you have to keep trying new combinations OR maybe the hashtags aren’t the issue.
How to fix hashtags:
Finding the right hashtags takes some legwork, and you need to find 40-60 to have an effective strategy.
Most of the businesses I work with are using hashtags that are too big. So that’s probably the main issue if you feel like your hashtags aren’t working. Look for hashtags that are popular, but not oversaturated with millions of posts.
Using the same block of 30 hashtags every day isn’t going to work either. At least three or four hashtags need to change every time you post, and it’s best to have different blocks for different types of content.
On top of that, you should update your hashtags at least twice a year to keep them fresh! You never know when a new trend or community will show up in your niche, and that’s something you have to capitalize on.
Some hashtags will always be better than zero hashtags when you’re growing your account.
2. Not using enough CTAs in the caption and bio
If you never tell your followers that there’s actually a business behind your Instagram account… how will they ever know?
You might think it’s obvious… but I promise it’s not.
You only have the attention of Instagram users for a couple seconds (even if your content really hooks them) and they see your content among dozens of other images in less than a minute.
A CTA (call to action) tells your followers what to do next. For businesses, that “next step” should be signing up for a newsletter, going to your website or buying your product/service.
Telling followers to like, comment, answer a question, tag a friend or share a post are also good CTAs, but they don’t necessarily have anything to do with your business.
The biggest mistake I see, however, is not using a CTA in the bio.
You have 150 characters for your bio on your Instagram profile (the text that appears under your profile picture when someone looks at your account). In 150 characters or less, you have to tell IG users what you do, what topics you focus on and why they should click on that link.
If you don’t give your followers a reason to click on that link, the chances they will on their own are slim to none.
Not only do you have to call out your link in your bio, but you also have to call it out in the captions of your posts and in stories. Again, if you don’t, your followers aren’t going to waste their time tapping away to learn all about your business. It’s on you to give them a reason.
How to fix it:
Look at your bio now.
- Does it let followers know what your business does?
- Does it let followers know what kind of content you’re offering on this profile?
- Does it give followers a compelling reason to click on that bio link?
If it doesn’t do the above, it’s time to redo your profile copy.
Here’s a great bio example from one of my clients, @1secondeveryday:
And think about your captions. When was the last time you promoted your bio link?
I suggest promoting it once a week at minimum. It might feel repetitive to you… but you have to remember that your content only reaches a limited percentage of your audience AND new people are coming to your profile/content every day. It’s not repetitive unless you use the same copy in the caption over and over.
3. Lack of context in the caption
Speaking of captions — this is the most important growth tool you have on IG.
No, not every IG user will read every word. But the ones that do are the ones you can really hook. If you consistently put good stuff in captions, more and more people will read them.
The captions are your chance to connect with your followers on an emotional level, or at least give them more information about WHY you’re sharing specific images.
Too many times, I see business accounts post images without explaining anything. They’ll share a location, maybe a time of day or a humorous comment… but there’s so much left to be desired.
The issue with this is, without context, we (the audience) have nothing to hook onto.
We need to be invested in your content on an emotional level to become engaged. I don’t mean that you need to share a sob story or be “vulnerable” in every post; you have to add copy to captions that speak to the desires, fears and barriers of your audience or copy that sparks an emotional reaction.
You can’t post amazing photos with boring captions every day and expect to grow.
How to fix it:
My following grew quickly when I used my captions to show more authority. Instead of just sharing the ingredients of the meal in the photo, or why I enjoyed it, I talked more about the philosophy behind my cooking and why meal prep is the best system if you want to save time and money on food.
You have to treat every single post like everyone looking at it has no idea who you are or what your business is all about.
Give us the details. Give us the good stuff.
Here’s an excellent example from one of my clients @theessentialman.
It’s actionable, relevant to his audience, easy to read and packed with encouraging tips and information.
Not sure where to start with captions? Here are some question to get you going:
Where was the photo taken? What’s the significance of this moment/event/object/quote? Why should we (the audience) care about it, or how does it relate to us? What is the teachable moment behind this piece of content? What is the story?
And don’t forget to include a call to action. Always. Even if it’s just a simple “what do you think?” at the end of your caption.
4. Not having a strategy or plan for Instagram
Unfortunately, Instagram doesn’t send you a check after growing to 100k followers and beyond.
It’s up to you to come up with a strategy or plan for Instagram that makes sense with your business model.
Not all businesses belong on Instagram. But if you can think of a way having a big Instagram following helps you, whether that means more leads, being able to work with brands or just credibility, then you’re off to a good start.
When I work clients 1:1, the business-related “why” behind their accounts is something we talk about a lot. If there’s no clear direction or strategy, that bleeds into the content and everything else on the profile.
Not sure what I mean by strategy for Instagram? Here’s an example:
Right now, my entire account is dedicated to getting my followers to sign up for my meal plan subscription product. I know it takes a few weeks (and sometimes months) of following me for them to actually convert into customers. So I aim to accomplish three things with my content:
- Familiarizing new followers with me, my brand, my approach to food and building awareness of the program
- Providing lots of free, high-quality actionable content to make them want more from me (not just on IG)
- Directly promoting the meal plans, allowing followers to purchase
Knowing what my account is all about (and how it directly supports the growth of my business) helps keep my account focused, which makes it easier for people to follow me. They know what to expect.
Without a strategy or plan for your content, there’s no reason to be on Instagram.
How to fix it:
Decide the main goal for your Instagram and how that goal directly supports the growth of your business.
Will you use Instagram for ads? Will it be the hub for your community? Are you growing a following to attract brands? Will you be mostly promoting your products or email list? Or will you use it to send traffic to your website?
Like I said before, this is something that requires extra thought, and sometimes guidance.
5. Your content is stale
Continuing to post the same old stuff that lacks a real message or opinion is probably the most common reason why accounts get “stuck” and stop growing.
If you’re just starting out, by the way, this likely isn’t the issue because you probably don’t have enough content for it to be stale yet! But you’re better off being aware that this could happen down the line.
Stale content might be visually flat, have no real substance or value, or it may provide value that doesn’t really align with the audience’s interests!
If your content doesn’t resonate or connect with your current followers, if it doesn’t make them stop scrolling, they won’t engage and your post won’t reach new people.
Not sure if your content is stale? Compare how many organic comments and likes you’re getting compared to previous posts. Consider how many DMs you’re getting now compared to a few weeks ago. Is it more? Less? The same?
How to fix it:
The first step is asking your audience: how can we help? What do you want to see from us? What are you struggling with in terms of (your topic) right now?
When your content aligns with what they care about, you’re on the right track to creating more relevant posts for them.
Another way to fix it is to be more opinionated in posts. It’s so much easier to follow someone or a business that actually stands for something openly. New IG users will see those posts and instantly be able to decide if they do (or don’t) like what you have to say. Show off what you know and back it up in the captions of your posts.
While some businesses and influencers struggle because they don’t yet have the resources to create fresher content with stronger visuals, that doesn’t mean they can’t at least step it up in the caption.
I suggest refreshing your content once a quarter. Start with an audit, figure out what’s working , what’s not and brainstorm new content ideas with your team (or get them from your audience).
At the end of the day, when you feel stuck, DO NOT blame the algorithm.
It’s easy to point to the one big thing on IG we can’t really control as the reason why your account isn’t growing.
It might seem easier to find a way to beat the algorithm, but focusing on your content, hashtags, captions, strategy and where you put your energy on the platform will help you in the long run.