A LOT has changed since I wrote my blog post about growing to 100k followers on my Workweek Lunch Instagram account.
What are those things? Well…
- I started offering a $7.99/month meal plan subscription that I promote every single day on Instagram
- I moved back to NYC and shacked up with my boyfriend, therefore accessing a new demographic in my audience
- Workweek Lunch became my full-time job, which means I can justify spending even more time on Instagram (If I want to — more on that later)
The cool thing about producing content for any platform online is that it can (and should) evolve with you. If your audience is invested and engaged, they’ll be grateful to be along for the ride.
I reached the 100k mark in early 2018, then grew to 200k by the end of the year. Now, in the middle of 2019, I’m at 300k+.
This was all done without putting any money toward growing my account. Yes, I started using Instagram Ads to sell my subscription product this past April, but that’s not the reason why my account continues to grow at a steady rate.
In this post, I’ll walk you through what I’ve learned from doubling my IG following in a year, as well as what I’m doing differently at 100k followers vs 300k followers.
Hopefully, you’ll be able to apply some of these insights to your IG account no matter what stage you are in growth.
Viral content is either extremely relatable or polarizing
A big part of growing organically on Instagram is creating (or reposting) viral content. The more people see a post, the more followers you’ll get from that post. It’s a simple, straightforward growth strategy that works on all platforms.
But the struggle is, how do you create viral content?
In the three years I’ve been on Instagram I’ve learned that content can go viral if…
- You do everything “right.” Meaning, post at the best time, the best day and with the best hashtags. All of these aspects vary between individual accounts (the best time of day for me to post is different than the best time of day for YOUR posts)
- Your content doesn’t need to rely on the caption to fully communicate the concept. The quicker users can get what you’re communicating in the post, the higher the chance it will go viral. Most people don’t read the caption (another important thing I’ve learned!)
- Your content is highly shareable and makes your followers want to show it off to their friends
- Your topic/message is relatable and/OR
- Your topic/message is polarizing (people either strongly agree or disagree)
Let’s take a look at some examples of viral content.
What makes this polarizing is that people have very, very different ideas when it comes to “bikini bodies” and what one should/shouldn’t eat to “get” one. Of course, my position on this is something along the lines of all bodies are bikini bodies, but I knew this post would blow up because it’s such a hot topic — especially in late spring when I shared it.
What makes this relatable (and so sharable) is that many people have experienced traveling with food, especially traveling on a plane with (or without) bringing their own food. This is my most popular post to date. Travel food content always does well for me.
No, you can’t count on a post going viral. There are just too many factors in the mix. But if you make a point to create relatable or polarizing content, you have a much higher chance of reaching more people organically (and gaining more followers).
What topics are super relatable to your audience? And what relevant topics do your audience members have strong opinions about? Those are good places to start brainstorming highly engaging content.
Your audience will not get turned off from daily sales pitches (with a few conditions)
If you’re reading this post, I hope that you plan on using Instagram as a platform for business. I hope that you’re NOT just here to grow your account just to have a lot of followers. Instagram doesn’t send you a check when you reach 100,000 followers, weirdly enough. Even if you don’t have something to sell yet, this is good to learn about ahead of time.
When I first started selling the Workweek Lunch Meal Prep Program, I was worried my audience would grow weary of DAILY sales content on my stories and frequent sales content on my feed.
I was scared they’d unfollow me. I didn’t want them to think I was sleazy or just on Instagram to make a buck.
Guess what? My fears never came true.
I’m sure that some people quietly unfollowed me as I started selling my subscription daily. But no one lashed out at me. No one called me out.
By the way, when I say selling daily, I mean that I talk about, promote and push my Program on stories with links all the time. In any 24-hour period, there’s a link to my Program available on my stories.
Selling my Program makes up 15-20% of my story content and I have a lot of different content formats for sales:
- testimonials from Instagram followers
- testimonials with photos from Facebook group members
- Talking about the new recipes I’m developing that only members get access to
- Sharing what’s on the new meal plan
- Talking about the main benefits of meal prep in general (then tying it back to my Program)
- Showing what the Program looks like once you buy it
- Sharing a link to the free trial (which leads into a sales sequence via email)
- Showing off my customers’ meal prep photos
I continue to find new ways to promote my Program to keep the content fresh.
So why hasn’t my audience ditched me yet? A few reasons.
The Workweek Lunch Meal Prep Program is something I truly believe in. I’ve put so much work into making it great and that comes across on social media. My followers have LOVED seeing the journey, even if only a small percentage of them actually use the product.
Instagram users can spot fake-ness and inauthenticity from miles away. If I didn’t believe in the product I was selling, or if it wasn’t a great product, that would be easy to spot from my followers’ point of view. They’d definitely drop me.
The product is relevant.
My Program solves the core problems I talk about daily on Instagram and my blog for my audience. It’s not a “stretch,” it’s something they’ll find extremely helpful if they want to meal prep!
For example, If I tried to sell a fitness product/program, I wouldn’t have had as much success with keeping my audience with me because it’s only slightly relevant to the core topics of my Instagram account.
Individual Instagram stories are quickly forgotten.
At the end of the day, no one watches Instagram stories without tapping the right side of the screen, flipping through each one until they see something they want to go back and look at.
My sales stories don’t get tiring because I’m .3 seconds in someone’s day. Plus, I’m sure that many of my viewers don’t tune in every day so they probably miss a lot of the sales stories regardless. On the other hand, new people tune in all the time, so the repetition is necessary.
You can’t talk about something once on Instagram and expect your entire audience to consume that. With any given piece of content, you’re only reaching a very small segment of your audience. That’s why volume (posting every single day consistently) is your friend!
Here are some of my top-performing sales stories from the last 2 weeks. Note that I actually convert more Instagram followers from my bio link than IG stories.
The platform will change (and you just have to deal with it)
We can’t control what happens behind the scenes on Instagram. When our growth slows down and when we start getting less engagement on posts, that’s when we typically point fingers at the algorithm.
People LOVE complaining about the algorithm, but Instagram doesn’t really publish changes to it. It probably changes way more than we notice.
Regardless of whether or not algorithm changes cause follower growth to slow down or engagement to drop, there’s nothing we can do about that except keep going.
My account, like all accounts, goes through fluctuations in growth. Sometimes I gain at least 5,000 new followers per week, and some weeks I only gain 750 new followers.
It sucks when, for whatever reason, growth slows down. It’s frustrating to the point where you might want to drop Instagram altogether.
But all we can do is continue to show up for the followers we do have and ride it out.
Maybe the algorithm causes stagnating growth, maybe it doesn’t. All you CAN control is your content.
When my following gets “stuck” I use that as an opportunity to revamp my content strategy and try new formats, topics, hashtags and more (all the while focusing on what I CAN control to grow organically).
What I still do at 300,000 followers (and what I’ve stopped doing) on Instagram
Here’s what my profile looked like in June 2019 vs July 2019:
When I hit 100k, I wrote in extreme detail about my daily, weekly and monthly Instagram tasks to get to that level.
Now, at 300k, I do things a little differently.
What I still do to keep growing and keep my audience engaged daily:
- Answering comments. I make a point of going back to older posts shared within the last 7 days to answer lingering comments too.
- Uploading and filming stories. There’s always something relevant to watch, learn or engage with that has to do with meal prep, intuitive eating, cooking, grocery shopping, planning etc.
- Looking at analytics. I keep tabs on what content performs well and what doesn’t. This helps me make much better choices for future content.
- Uploading photos to my feed, including writing a fresh caption the day I post, using hashtags and sharing the post to my stories.
And here’s what I no longer do:
- I left my Instagram pods (too time-consuming and I didn’t enjoy the content of my pod members anymore)
- I turned off DMs from stories and don’t answer them daily (this is a more recent change because I need to focus on my business more)
- Tagging other meal prep accounts is not part of my growth strategy anymore because I get reposted so often by other accounts without having to do this
- I don’t pay as much attention to changing my hashtags
All of this will probably change again next year, when I have half a million followers and a bigger team to help me manage it. By next year, I might not be doing any of this myself.
I think it’s really important to let the way you use Instagram evolve with your business. It’s crucial to test out different strategies, content schedules and content formats over time. This keeps your account fresh and aligned with your business goals, which will shift with growth. Those who will find success on Instagram are in it for the LONG GAME and know the platform is just one small part of the big picture.
Got questions? Want to chat about Instagram more? Reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org.