I can't believe it's only been 1 year since I started Barley & Sage and man, what a year it has been! I remember saying to Kyle that my goal was to gain 5,000 Instagram followers in my first year (and my secret goal that I didn't admit to anyone was 10,000 followers but I didn't think it would actually happen). So as I celebrate 1 year of blogging tomorrow, I'm still in shock that my Instagram account currently has more than 25,000 followers and a much higher than average engagement rate. Because of this, I constantly get questions about how to organically grow your Instagram account and what my secret is.
The majority of this growth came in the last 3 months of my first year. I started my blog in December of 2019 and didn't hit 5,000 followers until almost September of 2020. So in those last 3 months I gained over 20,000 followers. How? Let's get into it!
*Please note that I'm a food blogger so that is my area of expertise. While much of this information can be applied across different niches, some is food blog specific.
I'll walk you through what you should be focusing on in order to grow an authentic, engaged audience and also what not to do on Instagram. But first, there are a few important questions you need to ask yourself.
- Why do you want to grow on Instagram?
- What are your long-term goals for your business and how does Instagram factor into that plan?
- Do you actually want to be a business owner? Or do you just think that growing a large Instagram account is a way to make easy money? (Spoiler, it's not. There are very few successful bloggers that are doing this as just a hobby.)
If you want to be a influencer who makes money off of sponsored posts, or a food blogger who wants to drive more traffic to your website, then growing on Instagram is definitely a good goal. But keep in mind that it's very hard to just be an influencer. You need to have some other type of service or product that you offer to get people to engage with your content. The vast majority of food influencers (especially the successful ones) have several other pieces of their business that are not connected to Instagram (recipe blog, freelance photography, courses, products for sale, etc).
However, if you're a local bakery that doesn't ship nationwide, you want to focus more on growing a local audience. Instagram can definitely still be a great tool but gaining 10,000 followers that live all over the world doesn't really help you. Your time and energy is much better spent on local tools like Google Local or Yelp.
How to grow an engaged audience on Instagram
Like I said above, growing a large Instagram following is not paramount to running a successful business. But if you've decided it's an important part of your business plan, here's what you need to know!
First of all, it's important to understand that follower count is not the only metric that matters. Your engagement rate is just as (if not more) important! Your Instagram engagement rate is essentially just the average percentage of followers that engage (like, comment, share, save, etc.) with your content. There are a lot of free websites that will calculate your engagement rate for you. My favorite is Ninjalitics because it has tons of stats you can check out. So when you're thinking about growing on Instagram, remember that you want to grow an engaged audience, not just a large audience.
So what's a high engagement rate?
- 1,000 - 5,000 followers → 7-10%
- 5,000 - 10,000 followers → 4 -7%
- 10,000 - 100,000 followers → 3-5%
- 100,000+ followers → 1-3%
Content is King
Creating good content is hands-down the number one best possible way to grow your Instagram account. I've said it before and I'll say it until I'm blue in the face, if there is ONE thing you focus on, let it be your content.
This might seem obvious, but if you don't have good content you won't grow. I can't tell you how many messages I've gotten from people that have a page full of poorly lit, blurry, and just unappetizing food photos asking me how they can grow their IG account. And the answer is that with their current content....they can't. I know it sounds harsh to tell someone their content sucks, but the truth is it's hard work to create good content. And if you don't put in the work, you won't see results.
If after reading this post and implementing all of my strategies you still aren't seeing growth on Instagram, the problem is probably your content. I encourage you to really take a step back and evaluate your content from an objective point of view because there is always room for improvement. I reevaluate the quality of my content constantly and attribute that to the majority of my growth.
So what is good content?
When I create content, I try to make sure it fits into at least 3 (if not all) of these categories.
- Beautiful images of food that are pleasing to look at (duh)
- Content that solves a problem or answers a question for your readers
- Blogging tips
- Photography/styling tips
- Fun and engaging (I usually put this kind of content in my IG stories)
- My pup being cute
- Relatable memes
- Content that people will want to share!
A big problem for a lot of food bloggers is that they might have amazing and delicious recipes but their photos aren't very good and therefore, the food doesn't look very good. The reality is that we eat with our eyes especially before we decided to try out a new recipe. So beautiful food photography is extremely important to not only growing your food Instagram but also getting people to make your recipes!
Use your insights!
If you're still using a personal Instagram account, that's your first mistake. Business accounts come with analytics that are super helpful in determining what kind of content performs best for you and what your audience wants to see more of. I go through my top posts every month and look at all the similarities (type of food, styling, editing, lighting, hashtags, etc) and then I do the same with my worst performing posts. Then I adjust accordingly. For example, I love shooting more moody photos but apparently my audience hates them. So I still do moody photoshoots, I just don't post them on Instagram.
An interesting example is my blogging resources posts, like this one. My overall audience aren't really fans because they're here for the recipes. So my overall engagement on these posts is lower. However, some of the most highly engaged members of my audience are other food bloggers and they love these posts, so it's worth it to keep doing them (I also just love y'all).
Curate a cohesive & consistent Instagram feed
Do you need a perfectly clean and cohesive feed to grow? No, but it definitely helps! If someone clicks over to your profile, they usually decide within a couple of seconds if they want to follow you. So a cohesive, consistent feed is a very good indicator of what type of content they can expect to see and makes that decision much easier. A consistent feed is also important if you want get paid to work with brands! A brand is much more likely to hire you if they are confident that the content they are paying for will match your portfolio.
My Instagram feed has come a long way in the past year! You can see in the photo on the left that not only has my photography improved, but my photos have a much more cohesive and branded feel. The lighting, styling, editing, and white balance all match. It's immediately apparent what kind of content you can expect to see if you follow me.
There are several apps you can use to plan out your Instagram feed in advance so that you can test out different photos to make sure it looks cohesive. I don't like to schedule my photos, so I use a free app called The Grid that is literally just a grid you drag and drop photos into.
Find your niche
This is also a huge part of creating good content! It took me a while to figure this out because I love cooking EVERYTHING and I thought "food" was enough of a niche. Turns out, it's best to get more specific than that. Finding a specific niche helps people know exactly what kind of content they can expect from you and in turn is more likely to attract highly engaged followers.
Some people falsely think that niching down means you have to choose between some dichotomy like sweet and savory but that's absolutely not the case. You could focus on "easy weeknight meals" or "how to eat healthy on a college student budget." Some popular niches are vegan recipes or gluten-free recipes. The options are honestly endless so choose something that you love and are passionate about within the vast food world. And if you really don't know what to choose, there's no harm in starting out doing everything and then narrowing your focus based on what your audience responds to. Your Instagram analytics are a great way to figure out what type of content your audience prefers.
I've settled on "baked goods" because that's broader than just desserts but still very focused. So does that mean I only post baked goods? Of course not! It just means that baked goods are my main focus. On my blog I try to post 80% baked goods, 10% blogging resources, and 10% other recipes (which are usually savory dinner recipes).
Invest in yourself and your business
This is one of the most important lessons you can learn! If you want your food blog to be a business, you have to treat it like a business. If you want your Instagram account to grow, you have to treat it like part of your business too. I know it's a cliché to say that you have to spend money to make money, but it's true! A blog is a small business and you'd be hard pressed to find a small business than has zero startup costs.
I've spent close to $10,000 this year on investments like:
- Editing software
- Branded headshots
Not only has my blog and Instagram grown significantly as a direct result of those investments, but my business has become successful enough to pay me back for all of those investments (and then some).
Improving your content is the best way to grow you Instagram account and investing in education is the best way to improve your content!
Education doesn't always mean some big expensive course. It can be free YouTube videos about food photography (The Bite Shot is a great free resource) or books about business! What's important is that you never stop learning and trying to hone your craft.
Personally, the best investment I made in myself was Foodtography School! I even have a whole post all about it if you're interested in learning more. It's what really helped me take my photography to the next level, which in turn helped me skyrocket my Instagram growth and business as a whole.
I also recently invested in Artificial Light Academy which is another amazing course!
Some of the most helpful books I've read about photography, branding, business, and recipe development are:
- How to Style Your Brand
- Brand Brilliance
- How to Photograph Food
- The War of Art
- Zero to One
- The Flavor Thesaurus
Equipment & props
You absolutely do not need the most expensive equipment or props to be successful, but I do highly recommend shooting with a DSLR camera instead of your phone (especially if you want to do freelance photography for brands). I'm still using my starter camera and lens which only set me back about $400.
This is absolutely not necessary but I highly recommend it! Branded photos automatically add legitimacy to your account and make you look more professional! Plus you can use them everywhere! On your blog, your IG profile photo, in your media kit, in your email signature, etc.
I did this super fun photoshoot with a local Virginia photographer who specializes in branding shoots and it was such a great investment! Getting these photos done made me look and feel like a real food blogger for the first time (so cheesy, but it's true lol) and have made me much more confident when negotiating with brands simply because I look more legit.
Branding photoshoot tips:
- If you don't like your kitchen, rent an AirBnB for the day!
- Wear clothing with your brand colors (sage green is a way of life)
- Get action shots of you cooking and photographing
You are your brand!! Authenticity is an extremely important part of attracting an audience that supports you and wants to engage with your content.
If you try to just copy everything that other people do, you won't stand out and people will also see right through it. There are thousands of food bloggers and food photographers out there, but none of them are you! Your unique voice, style, and perspective are what will make you stand out from the crowd.
When I first started blogging, I wanted to take photos and edit exactly like Sarah from Broma Bakery. I thought that was the only path to success. But once I stopped trying to imitate her and found my own photography and editing style, my photos began to improve immensely and my Instagram account started growing much more quickly.
Part of being authentic is showing your face and trying to connect with your audience on a more intimate level. Personally, I feel most comfortable hiding behind my food. I much prefer being behind the camera rather than in front of it. I refused to show my face on Instagram stories and talk directly to my audience for the longest time because I was scared and self conscious. But once I did start getting on stories more my engagement rate really started to improve! Just talking to your audience on your stories is the best way to actually connect with people and show your personality. Not to mention, the people that watch your stories are always your most engaged followers. So cultivating those relationships is extremely important to keeping a highly engaged following as your account grows.
However, being authentic does not mean that you have to share a ton of personal details about your life if you don't want to because it's definitely important to be safe on the internet. It's okay to set boundaries and have certain topics that you don't discuss publicly, as long as you're willing to share something.
Engage with your current audience
Instead of spending time focusing on gaining new followers, focus on the followers you already have!! Instagram is a social media platform, aka it rewards you for being social. Spending time engaging with my current audience and fostering those relationships is how I've managed to keep my engagement rate so high even as my account has grown.
I get a ton of questions about which accounts to engage with, how often to engage, what kind of engagement is the most important, etc. And honestly, you're overthinking it!
The simplest ways to engage with your audience are:
- Reply to all your comments (this gets much harder as your account gets bigger, so I physically can't do this anymore but it's super important when your account is smaller)
- Reply to all your messages and message requests (unless it's spam or doesn't really merit a response)
- Like and comment on your followers posts
I try to get on Instagram and engage with other accounts for about 15 minutes before and after I post new content. Then throughout the day, I try to get on Instagram for about 10 minutes every hour or so and respond to comments on my posts, like and comment on my followers posts, and like and comment on posts on my homepage and explore page. I also try to follow a handful of new accounts that inspire me every week (I mostly find them via explore or suggested accounts).
That's honestly it! Engaging with other accounts is extremely important but it's not complicated!
Utilize Good hashtags
This is one of the things that I most often see people using incorrectly. Using effective, targeted hashtags can be amazing for your growth, but using the wrong ones will get you nowhere.
hashtag best practices
- Always put hashtags in the caption, not in the comments.
- You can use up to 30 hashtags, so use all 30.
- Use longtail keywords as your hashtags aka hashtags with between 10,00 and 500,000 posts per hashtag. You're much more likely to rank for the hashtag "darkchocolatecake" than "cake". This requires doing keyword research for hashtags which is time consuming but so worth it!
- Don't use the same set of hashtags everyday because Instagram views that as spam. It's okay to use 3-4 of the same ones everyday but no more than that.
- Use a few hashtags from different groups for each post. For example, a few related to the actual dish, a few related to the season, a few related to baking, a few related to photography.
Don't believe me? Below is a screenshot of my insights from a photo that was posted when I only had 5,000 followers. It's not even close to my best photo (the styling and lighting is subpar) but it got over 27,000 impressions from niched hashtags, which led to it also appearing on the explore page. This is one of my best performing posts of all time, simply because of hashtags.
consistency is queen
Good content is king, but posting that content extremely consistently is almost just as important! People constantly talk about how important consistency is and I didn't believe them for the longest time. But I'm here to tell you, it works!
Most accounts lose at least a few followers every single day (totally normal), but gain followers every time they post (if it's good content). So if you're only posting 3 times per week, you're probably only gaining a significant amount of followers 3 days a week yet you're still losing followers 7 days a week. This scenario can make you plateau and wonder why your account isn't growing.
So it's ideal to post content every single day and at roughly the same time every day. You can choose the best time to post for you account based on your insights. The time of day in my insights was pretty varied, so I just chose an average.
When I say post content every day, it doesn't have to be brand new content! My typical posting schedule is:
- 3-4 new recipes per week (posts with new photos)
- 1-2 reels per week
- 2-3 old recipes per week (I try to use new photos if I have them but sometimes it's old photos)
- 5-10 IG story frames per day (definitely does not always happen)
Being consistent is so simple but yields massive results!! In August 2020 I had about 5,000 followers. I was posting good content with good hashtags about 4 days a week and I was growing extremely slowly. In mid August, the only thing I changed about my Instagram strategy was posting consistently. I started posting every single day at the same time everyday and after about a month my growth started to absolutely skyrocket! Being super consistent on it's own is not enough, but when coupled with high quality content and good hashtags, it's a game changer.
What if I don't have enough content to post everyday?
Oh I've been there and it sucks but this is where that hard work comes in. For several months, I would wake up at 6am on Saturday and Sunday and I wouldn't leave the kitchen until almost midnight. Producing a large volume of high quality content is a full time job that requires full time hours. I'm finally at the point where I have my content planned out about a week in advance, so I can relax a little bit. But I still devote every second of my free time to this blog.
If you absolutely cannot post every day, then choose a schedule and make sure you stick to it! If you can only post 3 days a week, then post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and don't deviate from that schedule. No one truly understands the almighty algorithm, but we do know that it favors consistency in terms of days and times.
Then start working on producing more content so that you can eventually post every day. Within each shoot, make sure you get multiple angles and setups so that you have a ton of different photos to choose from!
Utilize all of Instagram's features
One of Instagram's goals is to keep you on their app! Which means they reward you when you use all of their features. When a new feature is released, jump on it!! For example, I started making reels on literally day 1 and I've had several with over 200,000 views!
This is the main way you should be publishing your content. Aim for 5-7 static posts per week with engaging captions.
I aim for 5-10 story frames per day and I try to make sure there's always something on my story.
Some people have told me they have no idea what kind of content to put in their stories and I totally feel that. My biggest advice is to use your stories for content that is less curated and allows you to connect with your audience. I do things like behind the scenes set-ups, random shots of me testing recipes, videos of my pup (very popular), blogging tips (and rants about why you should never work for free), etc.
Whether you love them or hate them, you can't deny that reels have a ton of growth potential! The more you do them, the more IG will show them. I recommend trying to do 1-2 per week (if you post every day, a reel can take the place of a static post). As for what kind of reels to post, try out different types of content and see what your audience responds to! Creating shareable content is especially important for reels!
Spend time in your DM's! Not only is responding to messages great for engagement, but you can also make some friends! I try to respond to all of my messages within 24 hours (but as my account has grown, that doesn't always happen).
IGTV & IG Live
These are the only features I don't really use. IG Live's feel super awkward to me and I don't really make recipe videos which is the only thing IGTV seems good for. But you should try to also use these features on occasion (so do as I say and not as I do lol).
Fill out your Bio with relevant information
I've noticed that a lot of people don't utilize the space in their bio effectively. Like I said before, when people click over to your profile, they typically decide in a few seconds if they want to follow you or not. So it's important to have a clear bio that explains exactly who you are and what you do. You should include:
- Your first name
- What you do (i.e. recipe developer, food photographer, food blogger, home-baker, etc.)
- A short blurb about your blog
- Link to your landing page
- Email button (I can't even tell you how many brands reach out to me via this button)
Tag your location
This is something that seemed obvious to me, but I've realized a lot of people don't do this. Tag every single one of your photos with the city you live in (or the largest city near you) and also include that location in your bio! This is just another way for people to find your content and it's also a great way for local companies to find you! Similarly, location specific hashtags can be a great way for you to grow a local audience.
So I technically live about 30 minutes outside of DC in Virginia, but I tag all of my photos with Washington, D.C. However, if I'm travelling and something about my photo or caption is specific to where I am, I'll tag that location instead.
Give it time
It's not enough to implement some of these changes and then be super consistent for a week (or even a month) and then complain that you're still not growing. Instagram growth is a long game! Yes, I gained 20,000 followers in 3 months, but I worked my butt off and set myself up for success for close to a year prior to that!
What you don't see on Instagram is the months of barely sleeping and working 16 hour days, 7 days a week to turn this dream into a reality. I truly believe that anyone can do this with hard work, consistency, and time.
This might sound counterintuitive, but it's actually so important. If your account has a lot of spam followers (bots/mass followers) then your engagement rate will tank! Like I said before, engagement rate is even more important than follower count. So it's much better to have a smaller account with a higher engagement rate, than vise versa.
Every few days, I just quickly scroll through my recent followers and look for a few obvious signs of fake followers.
- strange or nonsensical handle
- no profile picture
- no posts
- no bio
- no followers (or just a few)
- following a LOT of accounts (or a massive disparity between followers/following aka 20 followers and following 5,000)
Here are a few examples. The first and third accounts are very obviously fake. The second account is a little trickier. It's very possibly a real person, but you can tell by the fact that they have 0 posts and almost 5,000 followers that even if it is a real person, it won't be someone who actively engages with your account.
TLDR; if it looks like a fake account, it probably is. If it looks like an account that won't ever engage with your content, it probably won't. So you're better off without those followers because they will just hurt your engagement rate in the long run.
I highly recommend doing a full audit of your followers and deleting any that seem fake! If you have a small account but have a lot of fake followers, it totally sucks to have to delete several hundred followers. But your engagement rate will shoot up and it will benefit your account in the long run!
What not to do on Instagram
Knowing what not to do on Instagram is just as important as knowing what to do! Long story short, "growth hacks" don't work!
Instagram’s goal is to create the best user experience possible. They even state that their goal is to “Foster meaningful and genuine interactions. Help us stay spam-free by not artificially collecting likes, followers or shares…” So what does that mean?
You might gain a few authentic followers from these growth hack tactics, but not enough to make it worth the time they require. Your time will always be better spent focusing on creating good content and engaging with your current followers.
So let's break down a few popular hacks and why they don't work.
Paying for followers
This should be an obvious no. It completely goes against Instagram's policies and will artificially inflate your numbers with accounts that do not engage with you. Aka your engagement rate will be terrible. Never ever ever do this.
Follow for Follow
This is honestly the most annoying and least effective growth hack you can take part in if you're trying to grow an authentic and engaged following. It does technically work if your only goal is gaining a ton of followers.
Follow for follow is inauthentic and doesn't foster a real community. People aren't stupid and they can tell when your intentions aren't genuine. When I get a message that says, "I love your content! Please follow me back so we can support each other!" I read it as, "I literally don't care about you or your content, I'm just trying to gain as many followers as possible and I clearly don't understand how Instagram works. If you follow me back I'll probably never engage with your content because I spend all my time sending messages like this to people." I'm sorry if that sounds harsh, but it's the truth. Follow for follow requests are some of the only messages I don't respond to. I just immediately delete them.
I want followers that actually want to follow me because they enjoy my content. And I follow people whose content I enjoy. Because that's the point of Instagram.
Even when this method does work, the results are temporary. If people are only following you because you followed them and not because they actually enjoy your content, chances are they'll eventually unfollow you. And either way, they probably won't be an engaged follower.
Putting all of that aside, it takes a ton of time to send hundreds of messages out to people asking them to follow you. But you could instead be spending all of that time working on improving your content or creating new content so that you don't have to beg for followers.
If you don't know, a follow loop is where someone sends you a message that says something along the lines of "follow the 5 accounts below, then add your name to the top and delete the bottom name. Then send to 10 people. You'll get hundreds of new followers!!" This is really just a "follow for follow" by a different name.
These don't work for a couple reasons. One, they're spammy, annoying, and inauthentic. But two, people are often sending these messages to people they're already following (which makes no sense) so you won't actually gain hundreds of new followers (at best a couple dozen). It's honestly just a massive waste of time.
This method is even worse than follow for follow because it's just rude. On top of everything else I said about follow for follow.
Also, most apps that people use to track/calculate engagement now flag you for participating in follow/unfollow activity. Aka brands will be able to see that and it's an immediate red flag.
General Spammy Behavior
This can be soooo many things but I'll name a few of the worst offenders.
- Sending your posts to random people (why? please stop. I get enough messages as it is)
- Commenting things like "please follow me" on people's photos (or in question boxes, other people's comments, etc.)
- Tagging random accounts in your photos (To clarify, tagging large repost accounts like The Feed Feed or Foodtography School or tagging brands whose products you used is okay. And if you've made someone's recipe/been inspired by them, definitely tag them!! But don't just randomly tag larger accounts in every single photo you post. It's SO annoying.)
TLDR; just don't be annoying or inauthentic. Not only will you not gain followers this way, you'll probably lose some.
Too many giveaways/high value giveaways
Giveaways definitely work, but they're an artificial growth strategy. They motivate people to follow you with the hope of winning something, not because they actually care about your content. If you do a lot of giveaways it can also come across as inauthentic and like you're just trying to get more followers.
The worst kind of giveaways (for you) are high value giveaways. These include things like big ticket items (an iPad or a kitchen appliance worth several hundred dollars), cash prizes, and gift cards. These giveaways will attract a LOT of people so they seem super successful! But the problem is that often these new followers aren't really interested in you or your content. They'll either end up unfollowing you a few weeks later or they'll become "ghost followers" (aka they're real followers, but they never engage with your content and drive down your engagement rate). So doing a ton of high value giveaways might gain you a ton of followers, but it will absolutely tank your engagement rate in the long run. And that is really hard to recover from.
However, this doesn't mean all giveaways are bad! If you do giveaways, do them infrequently (definitely not more than once a month) and make sure they are small-ish prizes geared towards your current followers in your niche. An example would be doing a giveaway around Christmas time to say thank you to all of my followers. So since I'm a baking blogger who has been posting a lot of cookie recipes lately, I would get together about $40 worth of my favorite cookie baking tools (cookie sheet, parchment sheets, cookie scoop, etc) and make the caption all about how much I appreciate my followers. Don't ask people to tag 10 friends (keep it to 1 or 2) or require that they share the giveaway to their stories.
Giveaways like this will not attract nearly as many new followers, but they seem more genuine and show appreciation to the followers you do have. Plus any followers you gain from a smaller giveaway are more likely to stick around and engage with your content because they're actually interested in your niche.
Trying to do sponsored posts too soon
This might be controversial so hear me out. First of all, it's important to understand the difference between "sponsored work" and "freelance work." Sponsored work is when a company is paying you to post about their product on your Instagram feed aka they're paying for access to your audience. In this scenario, your follower count and engagement rate are super important and directly impact how much money you can make. Freelance work however, is when you're creating content for a company that they can use on their social channels or website. The content does not go on your Instagram feed, so your Instagram following and engagement literally do not matter at all.
You can absolutely get sponsored work when you have a small account but it shouldn't be your main focus because most brands won't be willing to pay you enough to make it worth your time. If you want to work with brands as a small account, market yourself as a freelance photographer because then your following doesn't matter and you can charge a much fairer rate!
Sponsored work takes a TON of time, so your pricing should reflect that! Between developing recipes, testing recipes, cooking, photographing, editing, etc. I can easily spend 10+ hours on a single sponsored post. Then I factor in what I've invested in my education and equipment to become a photographer and the fact that the government takes about 30% in taxes. So at the end of the day, if you're only charging like $100 for a sponsored post....you're literally losing money. Not to mention, when a lot of people start undercharging it devalues the work of all photographers and hurts this industry as a whole.
I never did a single sponsored post before I had 10,000 followers. Why? Because brands weren't willing to pay me enough to make it worth my time. I decided to focus all my time and energy on improving my content and growing my account. And it has paid off big time!!
Doing too many sponsored posts
This is similar to do doing too many giveaways. If almost everything on your feed is sponsored, it starts to feel super inauthentic and eventually your engagement will start to decline. Again, Instagram is trying to maximize their user experience and a flood of sponsored posts doesn't do that.
If you post every single day, I wouldn't post more than 2 sponsored posts a week MAX. And if you're pricing your work appropriately, that shouldn't be a problem financially. An account with good photos, 10,000 followers, and a 5% engagement rate can charge at least $1,000 for a single sponsored post.
I asked you all on Instagram for questions about growth and engagement, so here are a few that I didn't address elsewhere in this post.
Are collabs helpful?
If you don't know, "collabs" are essentially when a bunch of bloggers get together and post about the same topic on a specific day. There's usually rules about engaging with all the other posts in the collab and/or sharing posts to your stories.
I've only ever participated in 1 collab so I can't really say if they're helpful or not. But my guess is not really. I don't think they hurt you at all, but I also don't think you should spend your time constantly trying to find new collabs to participate in all the time. If you happen to find one that interests you, go for it! But don't waste time trolling for new collabs that you could be spending on other things.
Do engagement pods/chat groups work?
The short answer, not really.
An engagement pod is basically where several bloggers start a group chat within Instagram messenger and send their most recent posts to everyone to engage with. There's usually a lot of rules about liking, commenting (with a specific number of words), sharing, and saving every single post. I'm not currently in any engagement pods but I have tried them out before and they honestly didn't make a single difference in my account's engagement rate. If anything, my engagement actually went down a little. So personally, I think they are just a waste of time.
However, I am in two different chat groups with other bloggers where we just discuss different things (like SEO for example), ask for advice, and share wins. There is no "fake engagement" requirement or anything like that. It's a great way to actually build a community and do the social part of social media. I've also "met" people that I consider actual friends through these chats!
Best way to convert Instagram likes/engagement into eyes on your blog without swipe up links?
Swipe up links are nice, but I get a ton of blog traffic from my Instagram bio link! I use Tap Bio and I love it, but there are tons of similar services out there. So at the bottom of each of my captions I just write "the recipe is linked in my bio" and that's a huge traffic driver for me.
Do you find it useful to use an app to track who unfollows you or who engages the most with your content?
I've never used one because it honestly sounds like a waste of time to me. I said above that I like to monitor any obviously fake accounts and delete those, but I don't have the time or energy to pay attention to who unfollows me. If you're not taking part in follow for follow activity, this shouldn't matter to you.
Now that my account is pretty large, I get 30-50 unfollows everyday (I don't know why and I don't really care). It's just part of the Instagram game. But I still gain several hundred followers everyday so my growth rate is still positive. If you start losing more followers than you're gaining, that's a big red flag to go back and reevaluate your content.
Does paying to promote posts help?
I've done a few experiments with Instagram ads to see how much it helps and I've gotten mixed results.
I've promoted posts 4 different times for about $15-$30 each time. I definitely gained followers (but not a ton) but most of those followers were not based in the US. It's great to have followers all over the world but if you want to do sponsored posts with US based brands, it's best to have a largely US based audience.
I think if you have the budget to spend a lot of money on IG ads, it might be worth it but overall I'm not sure that it is.
Do you need a blog to grow on Instagram?
Technically no, but I'd encourage you to have some kind of blog or website that's separate from Instagram for a number of reasons. First of all, you don't own your Instagram account, Mark Zuckerberg does. Instagram could shut down tomorrow and then you'd be completely out of luck. It's also never a good thing to put all of your eggs in one basket.
Having a blog allows you to reach a much wider audience! You can also then use Pinterest to drive traffic to your blog itself. I'd honestly recommend working more on growing your blog itself than on your IG account.
Blog content has a much longer lifespan than IG content. Typically an IG post only brings you traffic for 24-48 hours. But a blog post can bring you traffic for years (as can Pinterest pins)!
If you aren't a recipe developer, having a traditional "blog" might not make sense. But you could still have a portfolio website that showcases your work and your services.
need more help?
If you want some more individualized help with growing your Instagram account, feel free to shoot me an email at [email protected] or DM me on Instagram @barleyandsage and I'll get you scheduled for a one-on-one Instagram audit! Audits start at $100 and the price is determined by the size and age of your account. Please note that my area of expertise is food blogging so I only audit food related accounts.
As always, please feel free to leave a comment, email me directly, or DM me on Instagram with any questions or concerns that you have!
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