Instagram has become one of the most important social networks around. Models have launched careers, and companies have built huge customer bases thanks to the image social network.

Can you do the same? Of course you can, and we’ve got the perfect case study to prove it.

Nathan Chan launched Foundr Magazine in 2013 as a side project. Twelve months later, he’d built an Instagram following of over 500,000 users. That number is now over 1.2 million, and this attention has led to more than 230,000 email subscribers.

In the process, Foundr made a name for itself as a serious entrepreneurial magazine.

Foundr Magazine gained huge numbers of Instagram followers using these tactics

Nathan joined us to break down his Instagram strategy. He gave us his 5-step plan to get more Instagram followers, which we’ll go over below. Then, we’ll give some more that we’ve learned from our own research.

Now, let’s get to steppin’.

For Nathan’s complete Instagram master class, watch the webinar here.

1. Utilize your bio

When you first get started, you’ll need to set up your account and bio.

You’ll want to make sure you’re using your bio link correctly. Since Instagram only gives you one clickable link, it’s precious real estate.

You may be tempted to send Instagram users straight to your website’s homepage, but you’d be missing out on opportunities to gather information and create longer-lasting relationships.

Build a landing page with an offer for your Instagram followers. This could be a free ebook, a video you know they’ll love, or the opportunity to subscribe to your newsletter. It could also be a special discount – 10% off your best-selling product, for example.

Now, you’re using the extra attention from Instagram to drive conversions.

Foundr changes its bio link constantly, but always with the same goal: to add to its email list.
Foundr uses high-performing landing pages to convert Instagram followers

Note: Since Instagram is a mobile-first social platform, these landing pages need to be mobile-friendly. Nathan has tested this extensively, and finds that short content and an easy opt-in are essential.

Once you’ve optimized your bio link, it’s time to start posting.

Update: If not a landing page, include clear contact details

As of 2018, Foundr has an email link and physical directions in its profile:

foundr-instagram-profile-followers

And you can still see that link to its Startup Guide, so this plan is still intact!

 

Update #2: Check out Highlights too

Another new way to spice up your Instagram profile is with Stories Highlights. These let you save the best bits from your stories to appear in curated channels on your home page.

instagram-stories-highlights

If you want to segment your content into different streams, this is a great way to do it. And it gives your followers a reason to return to your profile over and over, and see your links over and over.

2. Have a solid content strategy

If you’re going to succeed on Instagram, you need to know what to post. Foundr has some basic rules for content creation:

  • Be consistent
  • Have a theme for your account
  • Aesthetic is everything
  • Use video

Here’s how you can use these ideas in your own content.

Be consistent

Have a consistent message, and post a lot. In 18 months, Foundr only missed one day of posting on Instagram. They’re very proud of that fact.

Nathan describes Instagram as having a snowball effect. “The more you post, the faster you grow.” He posts between six and eight times every day, as well as responding to comments and interacting with other users.

The reward is a very high engagement rate. Their posts often receive over 30,000 likes, and are shared all over the platform. This hands-on marketing has been hugely successful.

And it really is hands-on. Unlike other social networks, you have to send Instagram posts manually. There’s still no way to schedule Instagram updates – the platform doesn’t allow it.

However, there are tools like Later and Curalate which let you plan posts and remind you when it’s time to hit send.

Update: You can now automate Instagram posts

Instagram has opened up its API to let tools like Later, Buffer, and HubSpot post for you at the times you choose. This makes it far easier to plan your content ahead of time.

As we’ve seen, posting often is an important way to increase engagement, which means more followers, and eventually more customers.

Have a theme for your account

Companies also need to be consistent in their message. Whatever your industry, your account needs to match the interests of your target audience. According to Nathan, your theme should look like what your customers aspire to.

Foundr is a magazine for young entrepreneurs. For them, engaging content includes quotes and motivational images that “trigger some form of emotion.” They post ideas from famous business people, quotes from film and television characters, and prompt a response from their audience.

Aesthetic is everything

Instagram is a visual platform. To get noticed, you need attractive content. The best accounts have a clear color scheme and consistent topics.

[Tweet “You want your social followers to recognize you before they even see your user name.” – @NathanHChan]

But what if you don’t take great photos? Not everyone can be Annie Leibovitz. Foundr doesn’t even have a full time graphic designer on staff, so they use very few original photos.

Instead, they use tools like Wordswag, Phonto, and Typorama to create quote images. These tools make it easy to create the kinds of content that Instagram users love. With a bit of text and a few mouse-clicks, you can easily turn words into images:

A few examples of Foundr's Magazine's hugely popular Instagram content

Use video

Nathan strongly suggests getting into video marketing. Video made up 55% of mobile traffic in 2015. That number will be 75% by 2020.

Foundr uses video to promote their other (non-Instagram) content. They also share inspirational clips from movies and fun animations. This way, they have a variety of content types, and a more interesting feed. Now the next step requires taking a very personal approach to communicating on Instagram.

Update: Get into Instagram Stories

Stories are an incredibly popular feature launched by Instagram in 2016. Since your Stories disappear within 24 hours, they don’t seem like the ideal format for marketing.

Don’t be limited by this logic. For one, Stories sit at the very top of users’ feeds. So whereas your posts may not appear for lots of followers, your Stories have a great chance.

(Psst, there are ways to perform better in Instagram’s algorithm.)

Plus, business users can include links in their Stories, which is an added bonus. And as described above, you can save your best Stories to your highlights.

Finally, they give you a chance to take a few risks and experiment with different content, without everything needing to be perfect. For brands wanting to have fun and not seem too corporate, Stories are ideal.

3. Do things that don’t scale

While your account is still growing, do things that can’t be automated – and do them yourself. Especially when you’re starting out, a personal touch gives a voice to your profile. Some tactics include:

  • Explore hashtags to see what people are discussing
  • Engage directly with other users with comments
  • Use your name in comments to let people know who they’re talking to
  • Join conversations on competitor pages
  • Do your best to respond to every comment while your account is still small

As a related example, Foundr recently launched a Snapchat account. While it’s growing, Nathan personally responds to every message they receive. In his words, “when you treat your community like gold, it comes back in droves.”

Another of Nathan’s favorite tactics is working with influencers. While there are lots of great tools to find influencers automatically, outreach doesn’t scale.

You need to build personal relationships. That means sending emails, contacting social media VIPs directly, and meeting people face to face.

4. Use shoutouts

During the webinar, Nathan was emphatic: building partnerships is crucial to growing your brand. This is true on social media, where a post from someone important can reach thousands of new users. So how do you make connections?

Pay for a shoutout

If you have the budget, consider paying to work with influencers. For those interested, Nathan shared a slide showing the rates for some Instagram influencers:

The going rates for some big name Instagram influencers

You could approach influencers directly. Create an outreach list, make offers, and be ready to negotiate.

There are also agencies and apps popping up everywhere to serve as go-betweens. They pair paying brands with willing influencers, based on relevance. Tribe, The Shelf, and Forbes all provide this service.

You could also try the app Influential, which lets you create paid influencer campaigns from your phone. Offers are sent to social media influencers, who prepare a campaign and request approval.

Here’s everything you need to build a winning influencer marketing strategy.

Ask for a “share for share”

This is Nathan’s favorite free method for working with influencers. Offer to share another Instagram user’s content, in exchange for them sharing yours. This puts your content in front of a whole new audience.

When doing this, be realistic.

Don’t approach accounts with hundred of thousands of followers, unless you have hundreds of thousands yourself. Work with users who have the same or slightly more followers than you so you’re both getting a fair deal.

Offer free stuff

If you sell a product or service, you can also woo influencers with free swag. Nathan gave the example of Morris Motley, a high-end men’s hairdressing studio in Melbourne. They offered well-known fashion influencer Nick Wooster a free haircut, in exchange for an Instagram post.

This isn’t a revolutionary concept.

Provide something of value – time, shares, product, or money – and add influencer marketing to your arsenal.

For more ways to work with social media influencers, get our free guide.

5. Embrace analytics

analytics to track what works for you and to find out where you’re falling short.

In particular, the magazine tracks their follower growth, return on investment of their influencer campaigns, and who’s sharing their Instagram content.

To do this, they use the following tools:

SocialBlade

SocialBlade helps them track their account growth. It tracks data from Instagram, YouTube, and Twitch, and puts it into neat graphs. It’s also free.

SocialRank

SocialRank shows them who their top-ranked Instagram followers are. This lets them find influencers who already know them, making it easy to choose the right partners.

Iconosquare

The magazine uses Iconosquare to find the best times to post on Instagram. The tools also tells you how your content is performing, and your overall engagement rates.

Minter

Minter gives them detailed demographic information about their followers. It tells them their followers’ gender and geographic locations, and which content performs best on Instagram.

Bonus tips to get Instagram followers

That was Nathan’s killer gameplan. It’s what got Foundr to more than a million followers in a few short years.

But in case you’re hungry for more, here are a few more delicious suggestions.

6. Seriously, double down on Instagram Stories

We mentioned above that Stories appear in the top of your followers feeds. But good Stories can also be found easily by users not following you yet.

That’s because those location tags that you use in Stories – as well as hashtags – can actually be used to search for content. Meaning your Stories can end up featured in the Explore sections of the platform.

instagram-location-stories-feature

7. Avoid the shadow ban

This is more of a what not to do tip. In case you’re not aware, Instagram keeps an updating list of banned hashtags.

When you use one of these in your content, your post won’t appear in searches. Which makes using those 30 tags over and over again preeeeetttttty risky.

Besides, we’ve shown that hashtags aren’t a great way to increase engagement anyway:

It still makes sense to use relevant, targeted hashtags in your content. But use them sparingly (30 per post is just silly), and aim for tags that actually fit your content.

Learn more about the shadow ban here.

8. Keep working on your off-Insta game

This one comes from Taylor Loren of Later:

“Instead of trying to test all the little ways to hack the algorithm and optimize your content, spend some time trying to promote your Instagram account in other places online.”

What Taylor’s talking about it a little old fashioned PR work. You need to get your brand name out there however you can, and not just on Instagram.

“If you get asked to do an interview or give a quote for an article, always say yes! Especially if it’s a small publication; they potentially have a much more engaged audience, and you never know who is reading or listening.”

And once you’ve taken that chance, make sure you mention your Instagram account. That’s the secret!

9. Run a contest or two

Here’s another one that we didn’t talk about in the Masterclass. For many businesses, social media contests are a great way to increase engagement and get new followers for your account.

The simplest option is to offer prizes to users who share and invite their friends to join. This brings new followers your way, and doesn’t have to cost a whole lot.

10. Use the full range of Instagram features

This one comes from our recent webinar with Later, all about killer Instagram hacks. Taylor told us that the Instagram algorithm actually recognizes those accounts that use all of the features in the platform.

instagram-get-more-followers

Yep, it’s a clever little robot. So if you want more people to see your content in their feeds, you need to work with a range of different features.

That means using Stories, Highlights, video and carousel posts – basically all the stuff we talked about above. The more variety you use, the better your content will perform in the algorithm.

And that’s it! Five Ten simple steps to build a powerful Instagram profile. With this guide and a little hustle, you’ll see your following grow in a hurry.

instagram marketing

Patrick Whatman is a content marketer for Spendesk, Mention, and other growing businesses. He lives in Paris, loves music, and writes his own brand of cultural criticism for fun. Tweet him @mrwhatman where he mainly talks digital marketing, American sports and New Zealand trivia.