is your instagram growth stunted?

Is your Instagram account stuck?

Have you spent months trying to grow your account only to see a handful of new followers come and drop off day after day?

I see dozens of people daily complain about how they're sick and tired of playing the "Instagram game" and threaten to abandon the site altogether, simply because they can't get more likes and more followers.

To this I can only say:

Instagram is simply not what you think it is.

Instagram is still a phenomenal platform to be discovered and to grow your brand, presence or audience. If you use it correctly, it can be leveraged as a launchpad.

It's a lot like everything else in life: it takes work. At the time of writing we're fast approaching a billion users on this platform. Posting a few photos a week to your couple-hundred followers is not going to get you discovered. Not unless you're the next proverbial Picasso!

To see big growth and become an "influencer", you'll need to set a plan and follow that plan. With pure content strategies these days you should be prepared to dedicate 12 months of your time, focused on one strategy, to "penetrate the noise". More on this later.

With so much clutter in an already over-manipulated news feed, users won't come to you immediately. You're going to need to go out and get them at first.

Treat your online presence like your real-world presence. Take it seriously and develop real relationships. If you want to grow, be proactive - get social, genuinely engage with people in your niche and you will be found over time.

You can't expect to beat the system overnight, unless you're capable of miraculous things. You can't automate your activity here and still expect big things to happen. If you want to crush it on Instagram, you need to be willing to put serious effort in, as with anything else.

Before ranting further, it's important to make a few clarifications early. These distinctions will help you manage your expectations for success on Instagram.

  1. Do it for the right reasons. 
  2. You won't grow without exposure.
  3. Without a strategy, you have limited potential.

You get out what you put in.

But the good news is, if you come at it from a strategic point of view, the upside potential on Instagram is unreal. One meaningful feature could easily send you 25,000 followers - in hours. I've seen it.

Can you imagine what that amount of attention could mean for your brand or business? Or what that could be leveraged into?

1| Do it for the right reasons

If you're here, grinding on Instagram, looking at all the top accounts on the platform trying to be famous, or looking at your competition in your niche, posting 6 times a day trying to get noticed - stop it. Give up now. You'll be so much happier.

If you're in it for the likes, you're going to have a bad time on Instagram.

Trying to be the "cool kid" was something that everyone did in high school, that's why it was such a miserable period of time for most people.

Life is not about getting attention. Those who live their life for the attention of their friends, the media, or whomever wind up imploding from the pressure. You cannot hope to please everyone all the time. The people that try to be cool and likable - they have no purpose, no meaning.

The simple truth is that if you spend all your time trying to be interesting to others, you're not really that interesting at all.

Interesting | adjective • arousing curiosity or imagination; catching and holding attention.

You know what's interesting? Something that's different or unusual, not something that's common or trendy.

The most successful people take one of two paths.

Passion. Passion is a powerful force. If you have a passion, pursue it with everything you've got. Passion is a fuel that will help you wake up and show up every single day.

You can see passionate people succeeding all over Instagram. I like to refer to passionate people as one of either the creators, makers, curators, or the educators.

No matter who they are, what they do, who they target or what their message, they show up everyday to work their trade or their craft. They are as consistent as the rising and setting of the sun.

Beyond consistency, they put their blood, sweat and tears into their work. Their heart and soul. When you put this kind of effort into your product, it becomes art.

Pain. Depending on your personality, depending on your history, you might very well be driven more by something negative than something positive. That's completely normal and in some cases, even better.

Does fear move you? Does it stir you inside and cause you to act? Fear of failure? Fear of loss? Fantastic. Act on it.

Alternatively, and importantly, some of the most profound innovations in the history of the world were driven by pain. They're called inventions, or disruptions (think technology; like, Taxi cabs vs. Lyft & Uber).

That is to say that entrepreneurs commonly succeed by solving problems - their own, their loved ones, or of their intended audience. Where there is a pain point, a problem, there is likely a market to be served.

There is no easier sale made than a good, unique, effective solution to the poor customer that has an urgent need for that solution.

You can't even consider that "being sold," that's being helped.

2| You won't grow without exposure

You can post to your account all day long, but in a vacuum, your content will not be seen.

Without some outbound legwork, or "offensive" tactics, your profile simply will not be seen by anyone other than your mother or roommates who follow you out of love or who simply want to see what you're posting so they can poke fun of your "silly dream".

Zoom out for a second and think about how right now there are nearly 1.25 billion websites on the internet, worldwide. Websites. Right now, you may be on Facebook or, but importantly, you're really only on one page of that respective website.

In total, there are close to 5 billion web pages indexed on the internet in total. That does not include sites that block Google or other search engines, or members-only pages that are otherwise private from the outside world.  That is to say, you have enormous competition online these days.

Instagram is gaining on a billion monthly active users. Do you know how many new posts they see every day?

If you build it, they probably won't see it, let alone come to visit. 

There is so much content and so much noise out there in the world that it simply takes time to be discovered. It takes time for you to be found. You need to be patient and you need to be consistent. It also helps to be prolific (creating new work all the time). Especially with Instagram's feed-algorithm update, which shows your content to only 10% of your audience, roughly (more on this later).

Put simply, when you begin your journey with Instagram, with growing your audience, with building your business; with anything, you need to be prepared to dedicate 180 days at least - ideally, 12 months.

You need to develop a plan and follow that plan - it's very important to be consistent. Publishing your work during this initial phase should be only about being the most creative and genuine version of you possible, all the while improving upon yourself, daily.

Beyond "creating your art" or otherwise posting "your best content" there is still a fair amount of work to be done to make sure that you reach your audience online. The good news is however that are many ways to "get exposure" - to "hack" the system and get people to notice you.

There is always some new gimmick that you can exploit, and sometimes, they're very useful, but often they're somewhat questionable, fall into a gray area, or even break the rules altogether.

That said, there are also honest, reliable, long-term strategies that have long since stood the test of time. More on this in a later post.

Importantly, one recent "hack" that has emerged is called "Engagement Pods" or perhaps now the obsolete term "Comment Pods".

A "Pod" is a group of people who have set out to game the new algorithm that Instagram uses to regulate the content which is shown to you in your feed and on the "explore" page.

In this "pod" you'd have a group of people that are in a common "niche" that mutually follow one another and agree to "like and comment" on each others' posts immediately after each post is published.

This immediate and simultaneous activity descending upon your post signals to Instagram that it is a valid piece of content to be served your post into the "explore page".

To "reach the explore page" is a crucial milestone to achieve.

At its finest, on the this page you'll find content which Instagram's (separate) machine learning algorithms have discovered to be within categories that you have previously shown interest.

If you like cats, design or maybe jewelry - Instagram knows this. Based on the makeup of the photo itself, the hashtags, and the caption, the comments - everything. Instagram knows what the photos are about, and it tags them to their respective topics.

That's how you are programmatically served relevant images in the explore page. What's more is that you will occasionally see photos liked by friends you are active with, even if the photos they have liked are not precisely aligned with your direct liking or browsing activity on Instagram.

You can see how powerful a "pod" could potentially be for your exposure. You will know when you hit the "explore page" because your post will have 20 times the engagement that you have in followers. Yes, you read that correctly.

Imagine posting a video to your 3,000 followers and getting 60k, 70k or even, 500k views? It's not crazy - it happens all the time. And you don't necessarily even need to manipulate the algorithm with a "pod" to do it.

The "pod" has been around for about a year. It's a gimmick for sure, and it feels a lot like how high school cliques went. If you're lucky enough to be accepted into one, you need to perform up to the standards of said group. You need to jump when they say jump. If not, you're booted. Sure, one could make the argument that "pods" are all about supporting each other.

But that's bullshit. You know there are factions and jealousy and even sub-cliques within every clique. These people showed up because Instagram has basically devolved into a social leaderboard fueled by a race of cutthroat pandemonium. "Pod" members probably don't really care about supporting each other, deep down they most likely just care about growing and monetizing their audience.

Because anyone who's truly savvy knows that if you play the game well, you can make millions off Instagram.

It didn't start like this however. Instagram gimmicks have evolved over the years. Instagram launched in the first week of October, 2010, but it would be several years before the startup gained momentum and reached critical mass.

Instagram's History

and Recent Problems

In 2012 and 2013 bot farms started to emerge and a year or so later, similar tools became available to consumers.

Instagram Monthly Active Users
Instagram Monthly Active Users (credit: Techcrunch)

 2014 and 2015

These were the years of fake Instagram followers, fake engagement such as fake likes, comments and even fake video views. They're still going strong, but you can't legitimately build an audience this way. Plus people have caught on.

Playing this game requires you to pay for the fake numbers every single time, it's exhausting and it gets expensive. Further, Instagram has dropped the hammer on the fake account activity. So it's not long after your content starts to accumulate the fake engagement or your account's followers jump, that Instagram essentially removes it.

This paints a pretty weird picture for your real followers.

They'll notice when 500 or 2,000 followers disappear from your account overnight. Not to mention if you try to "sell" these services to an unsuspecting client or if you act as an "Instagram Influencer" and take payment to promote something. Yeah, don't do that. It's also illegal.

The worst part about the fake engagement and fake followers is that you still have not developed any brand equity.

If you're still focused on duping people into thinking you're some type of Instagram celebrity, you have absolutely not gotten anyone to know, like, or even remotely trust you.

2015 and 2016

This was the time of automated engagement on Instagram. Automated engagement seemed like a miracle at first, but it quickly became an ugly monster. Automated engagement was driven by "bots".

A bot is basically a service you paid for, to whom you would provide your login credentials (yikes), and a "computer program" would do the work of engaging for you.

In more technical terms, a bot is a script that would open a web browser or log into Instagram via an Android cloud machine (basically a virtual version of a mobile device) and perform specific actions that you would set in your dashboard. For example, a common automation scenario would go as follows:

The "bot" would find followers of similar large accounts in your niche (that you would specify), then it would follow them, like and comment on the posts of these folks. Naturally, these users would engage with you, often following you back.

Believe me, it worked. It worked well!

We grew accounts to 10k, 40k, even 60k followers in only a couple months. Some only in weeks - on almost full autopilot.
(Truth be told however, this all came at a cost. More on this in another post.)

Eventually the bots started to become popular and everyone was doing it. It didn't seem to really become a problem until the most unscrupulous of bot-users would carelessly set their bots to comment on what would seem like anything, and the bots listened.

When you have bots running rampant and commenting on things like "lol so pretty <3" or "Omg i luv this! 😉" on posts of strangers mourning the recently deceased (!?) ... you're going to have some serious problems.

This all lasted a couple years and the major bots grew into secretive, but booming businesses but Instagram eventually shut them down. The largest notable bots: Instagress, Archie, Massplanner, FanHarvest, InstaPlus, PeerBoost, and others. It was a bittersweet day to see them go, but Instagram is definitely better for it.

3| Without a strategy, your upside is limited.

An "Instagram growth strategy" may sound a little bit like a ridiculous infomercial scam from the year 2020 but it's not a joke.

There is a absolutely a reason that there are some users who have amassed tens of millions of followers.

Your strategy may vary widely depending upon what your niche is, but hands-down the best way to grow is to be featured by a household name brand, a celebrity, or just a bigger account in your space.

We will cover this more in an upcoming post, but there are countless ways to make this happen. The most creative minds are always coming up with new ways.

In our experience, the surest of ways to get your work featured is commonly the least favorite way. That's why we see so few massive accounts.

Why is it unpopular? Because you have to do work for free.

Become a member of our community today at no cost to learn more about this tactic. It's simply too valuable to share it here where everyone can see it. As a member of our community, you will get access to case studies and success stories. You'll learn more about how two talented creative types built their Instagram accounts to over 435,000 and 530,000 followers respectively.

If you want more tangible help, our growth marketplace offers several done-for-you services using proven growth and engagement methods.

We can handle the growth and engagement pieces of your social presence, or we can take over your social management altogether, including these aforementioned parts AND curating highly relevant and shareable content. Whichever you believe is a better fit - we're here for you!

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