To use Instagram effectively, you need to build a solid base of Instagram followers. But it can be tricky for brands to figure out exactly how to make that happen.
The days of shortcuts like buying followers or using bots are over. These tricks might boost your follower count for a short time, but they won’t do you any favors long-term.
That’s because the only truly valuable Instagram followers are real people who care about and engage with your brand. A false follower count might boost your ego, but it won’t help your Instagram strategy.
Click on any tip below to learn more, or keep scrolling for the complete list of ways to get followers on Instagram for free.
Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps a lifestyle photographer used to grow from 0 to 600,000 followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear.
How to get Instagram followers for free
1. Have a thoughtful Instagram strategy
To use any social network effectively, you need a clear plan.
Getting more Instagram followers is a great goal to start with. But followers alone won’t give you a successful Instagram account. Gaining followers needs to be part of a larger plan that connects to your business strategy and social marketing objectives.
Think about the reasons why you want more Instagram followers. What do you really hope to accomplish? Maybe you want to:
- increase brand awareness
- boost product sales
- drive traffic to your website.
Staying focused on these business-oriented goals will help keep your Instagram account consistent. It will help you tell a compelling brand story that appeals to new profile visitors and helps build (and keep) a loyal following.
2. Define your target audience
Ask yourself some questions about who you are trying to reach:
- How old are they?
- Where do they live?
- What do they do for work?
- When and how do they use Instagram?
- What are their pain points and challenges?
Answering these questions will help you craft the right kind of Instagram content to reach the people on Instagram who are most likely to give you a follow. It will also keep you focused on the needs of your target audience so you can consistently deliver content that makes them want to keep following you for the long term.
3. Create a consistent brand story and aesthetic
Maybe you want to satisfy curiosity by showing off how your product is made. Or share an employee’s perspective to humanize your brand. If you want to position your brand in an aspirational way, you could try showcasing the lifestyle or achievements of your customers.
No matter what you want to achieve, it’s important to maintain a consistent brand personality and look.
Your posts should be easily recognizable at a glance. Think of your Instagram grid as one cohesive unit. You can always use Instagram Stories to share content that doesn’t quite fit with the look and feel of your main feed.
Even if your products don’t all look the same, you can use consistent styling to give your grid a consistent look and feel, like @themillerswifecustomcookies does:
Source: @themillerswifecustomcookies on Instagram
4. Use keywords to appear in searches
Before people can follow you on Instagram, they have to find you. Not a lot of the text on Instagram is searchable. In fact, only two fields on Instagram contribute to search results: name and username.
Your username is your Instagram handle. It’s a good idea to make it consistent with the handle you use on other social networks, since this also makes it easier for people to find you. Use your brand name or a variation of your name that people are likely to use when searching for your brand.
Your name can be anything you like, up to 30 characters. Keyword stuffing is never a good idea, but it can be useful to include your most relevant keyword in the name field to improve discoverability based on search.
For example, travel writer Claudia Laroye (@thetravellingmom) includes the keyphrase “travel writer” in her Instagram name, upping the chance she’ll be discovered by those looking for travel content in general and travel writers in particular.
Source: @thetravellingmom on Instagram
We just said that the text of your Instagram posts isn’t searchable. But hashtags do appear in Instagram search. That means using hashtags thoughtfully can be a good way to get followers on Instagram for free.
Including relevant hashtags can help people find your content after a search, or after clicking on a hashtag from another relevant post. Instagram users can also follow hashtags, so your hashtagged content may appear in feeds of people who do not yet follow your account.
You can include up to 30 hashtags in an Instagram post, but hashtags are often more effective based on quality rather than quantity. Do some experimenting to learn how many hashtags work best for your particular account.
Avoid hashtag gimmicks such as #likeforlike, #tagsforlikes, or #followme. These may give you a temporary boost in followers. But they will likely be bots or people only interested in being followed back. And that won’t help you build a meaningful, engaged community on Instagram.
Instead, focus on using highly targeted hashtags specific to your photo, product, or business, like stylist Dee Campling does in this #wfh shot.
6. Craft a great bio and profile
Two-thirds of Instagram business profile visits are from non-followers. Those new visitors are all potential new free instagram followers—but only if your bio and profile convince them to click the follow button. They won’t do so if your profile is unclear, incomplete, or unappealing.
In addition to the name and username fields mentioned above, your profile includes your website (a clickable link) and your bio.
Make the most of the 150 characters in your bio to convey your brand identity and show new visitors why they should follow you. What kind of content can they expect?
This bio from @abstractaerialart sums up the account’s purpose and promise in a quick, easy-to-digest way:
Source: @abstractaerialart on Instagram
If you have a professional account (business or creator), you can also include additional details in your profile, like your contact information, type of business, and location. Make use of all the fields that are relevant to your business to give new visitors all the information they need to decide to follow.
This might seem too obvious to mention, but it’s actually a critical point when thinking about how to get followers on Instagram. Every post on your Instagram grid needs to be of high quality and visually engaging.
When a new user visits your profile, the content should make them want to see more. It’s that wanting more that inspires a new visitor to click Follow.
Great content also encourages people to like, comment on, and share your posts. That engagement gives you an Instagram algorithm boost and helps you get more reach and new followers.
And, of course, consistently posting great content ensures that your Instagram followers stay followers.
Although Instagram is a visual platform, writing great Instagram captions plays a big role in helping you get more reach and engagement. And, as you’ve already seen, reach and engagement are key factors in attracting free instagram followers.
Here are some key strategies to keep in mind:
- Put the most important words up front. If the caption is more than 125 characters long, users will have to tap “more” to see the whole thing. Make the most of those first words to inspire that extra tap.
- Ask a question. This makes it easy for your audience to leave a comment. That engagement will help make your account visible to more people.
- Try emoji. Emoji can help draw the reader’s eye and are appropriate for most types of accounts on this visual social network.
- Try different caption lengths. Instagram allows long-form captions up to 2,200 characters, so you can test out some in-depth storytelling if your post warrants it. Ultra-short captions can also be very effective when the visuals speak for themselves.
Will Tang of Going Awesome Places posts great photos with detailed captions that tell the story behind the shot. Since his Insta bio describes him as a “creator of ridiculously detailed itineraries and guides,” this caption approach is very on-brand.
One of the newest Instagram features is the ability to pin up to three comments for each post.
Today we’re rolling out pinned comments everywhere. 📌
That means you can a pin a few comments to the top of your feed post and better manage the conversation. pic.twitter.com/iPCMJVLxMh
— Instagram (@instagram) July 7, 2020
There are a couple of ways you can use this new feature as part of your plan for how to get more followers on instagram.
One option is to use pinned comments to extend your caption beyond the maximum 2,200 characters by continuing the story in the comments. This lets you take on more detailed and in-depth storytelling, which may be a fit for some accounts.
Another option is to pin your favorite comments from other users, especially if they are creating a lot of engagement.
Whichever way you use this new feature, it can help you manage the conversation on your posts, creating more opportunities for engagement and connection.
10. Promote your Instagram account on other networks
The most important way to get followers on instagram for free is to make it easy for people to find you.
Your Instagram profile should be easily discoverable. If you’ve already built a following on another social network, let those fans know about your Instagram account.
Share a link to your Instagram profile and give your existing social followers a reason to check it out. (Like an Instagram-exclusive coupon code, event, or contest.)
When BlogHer hosted Jameela Jamil for an Instagram Live, they made sure to promote it on their Facebook Page as well.
If you’re just starting your Instagram account, make sure to post some content before you promote the account elsewhere. Aim for a minimum of 12 posts.
You could also highlight some of your best Instagram posts on your other social channels. Consider boosting these posts with paid advertising to ensure that more of your Facebook, Twitter, and other social followers find and follow you on Instagram.
11. Embed Instagram posts in your blog
You’ve already seen some embedded Instagram posts in this blog. Each embedded post is clickable, and allows users to head directly to the relevant post, or to the Instagram profile.
That makes embedding your own Instagram posts in your blog an easy way to showcase your Instagram content and drive traffic to your Instagram profile. And, as we’ve already discussed, every new visitor to your Instagram profile is a potential new Instagram follower.
So, for example, say this blog post was about LinkedIn demographics. (It’s not, but of course we do have a blog post on LinkedIn demographics.) We could include an infographic to share some of the most important demographic details.
Or, we would embed an Instagram post instead, like this:
Any time you’re sharing visual content like photos, charts, or infographics in your blog, there’s an opportunity to embed an Instagram post with that content instead.
While you’re thinking about content that might help illustrate your own blog posts, think about content that other people might like to share, too.
People love to share a good infographic, so that could be a good option. If someone embeds your Instagram posts in their blog, you’re exposed to a whole new audience of potential followers.
Also think about creating content that people will want to re-share in their Instagram Stories. Anyone can reshare your main feed posts in a Story. Again, this is clickable, so anyone who wants to know more can click through to your original post. It’s another easy way to expand your reach to new audiences and potential new followers.
For example, here’s how that same Hootsuite post about LinkedIn demographics looks when shared to my Instagram Story.
Think beyond your social channels when sharing your Instagram account.
Make sure to link to your Instagram account on your website, in your email signature, and in your online newsletters. The link doesn’t have to be big: you can use a small Instagram icon.
If you’re promoting a new Instagram account, a quick email blast highlighting some gorgeous posts is a great way to get some free Instagram followers fast.
And don’t forget about your offline materials. Coasters, posters, packing slips, business cards, and packaging are all potential places to share your Instagram handle, a simple way to drive more free Instagram followers to your account.
14. Use the Instagram nametag
Your Instagram nametag is a scannable code that allows Instagram users to follow you instantly. We said earlier that even offline communications materials offer a chance to promote your Instagram account. The Instagram nametag is an easy and effective way to promote your account on offline materials like packing slips, signage, and product packaging.
Your nametag is also a great way to get new followers in real time at networking events and conferences. People you connect with in person can scan your code to follow you without having to type out your handle. Try printing it out and tucking it into your namebadge holder for easy access.
Find your Instagram nametag by tapping on the three lines icon at the top right of your Instagram profile and selecting Nametag.
15. Aim to get featured
Feature accounts are simply Instagram accounts that curate and reshare other users’ content based on a hashtag or tagging. Some of these accounts have a huge following, and having them share one of your posts (along with your handle) can send a new stream of Instagram followers your way.
There’s a feature account for just about every niche and interest on Instagram. You’ll start to uncover them as you do your hashtag research, as recommended in Tip 5. Some of them can get pretty specific.
For example, @damngoodstitch features posts of embroidery. The account has more than 145,000 followers.
16. Aim for the Explore tab
The Explore tab is what you see when you click on the magnifying glass icon at the bottom of the Instagram app. According to Instagram itself, this is where “you can find photos and videos that you might like from accounts you don’t yet follow.”
The Explore tab features Instagram posts, Stories, and IGTV. Users first see a grid of content chosen by the algorithm. They then have the option to choose to dive deeper into specific content subjects using the topic channels at the top of the screen.
Half of Instagram accounts visit Explore every month. That’s a huge opportunity for brands looking to grow their audience.
So, how can you get your content to appear on the Explore tab? It’s not easy. Luckily, we’ve got an entire article dedicated to helping you figure it out.
You can also pay to get into the Explore feed by selecting Explore as an ad placement.
17. Tag your location
Any time there’s a clear location element in your post or Story, it’s worth adding a location tag. It’s one more easy way for people to find your content on Instagram.
If your business has a physical location, make sure to tag it and encourage customers to do the same. Users can then click on that location and see all photos and Stories posted from your store, restaurant, or office. This can help expose your brand (and Instagram account) to more people.
For example, here’s what you get when you search for the location of Van Wonderen Stroopwafels in Amsterdam:
If you’re posting from a conference or event, adding your location can help you connect with other attendees, exposing your account to a highly targeted group of new potential Instagram followers.
18. Tag relevant users
You can tag Instagram users featured in your photos with an @-mention in your caption or by using Instagram’s tagging functionality within the post. Either way, they’ll receive a notification when you do so.
Tagging someone encourages them to engage with the post and share it with their own following. Your post will also appear on the Tagged in tab of their Instagram profile.
You can also tag relevant users in your Instagram Stories. Then, they can re-share the content to their own Story with just a couple of taps. If they do so, everyone who views their Story sees your username and can click through to your account.
You’ll notice we’ve said you should only tag relevant users. Tagging someone just to get their attention is not a great idea. Only tag those who are featured in your photo or are relevant to the content of your post.
Some potentially relevant users to tag might include:
- Other relevant businesses
- Colleagues or employees
- Someone who taught you a skill or told you about something you share in the post
- Anyone who appears in the photo
19. Encourage others to tag you
Another way to introduce your Instagram account to a new audience is to ask other Instagram users to tag you. When they tag you in a post, their audience sees your handle and can click on it if they want to learn more.
Your bio is a great place to ask people to tag you on Instagram.
For example, Visit the USA asks Instagrammers to tag them for a chance to be featured on their account.
Source: @visittheusa on Instagram
20. Follow relevant accounts
You should only tag people in an Instagram post when the content is directly relevant to them. But you can follow anyone you like. And when you follow a user on Instagram, there’s a good chance they will check out your feed.
If your feed is full of compelling content that’s relevant to their interests, they’re likely to return the favor.
Social listening is a great way to find conversations relevant to your brand. And from there you can easily identify influential users (a.k.a. influencers) to follow. It’s a great idea to follow those top users’ followers, too.
Instagram’s “Suggested For You” section is also a great resource for finding relevant accounts to follow. This appears in your feed between posts, or on the right side of the screen on a computer.
You can also access Instagram’s suggestions by going to your profile, then clicking the three bars in the top right and clicking Discover People. Here you’ll also find a list of popular Instagram accounts selected for you based on the algorithm.
But keep in mind that you shouldn’t follow too many other accounts too fast. Your follower ratio is important for credibility. Your follower ratio is the number of people who follow you compared to the number of people you follow.
And don’t play the game where you follow people just to get their attention, then unfollow after they follow you back. This is not good for your Instagram reputation, as it’s really a jerk move.
21. Engage with existing communities
Like all social media networks, Instagram is about the communities built within it. You want to engage with those communities.
Get involved by liking, commenting on, and sharing content from other credible users in your community. Avoid generic comments (like “Awesome post!”) that look like they come from bots.
This helps draw attention (and potential new followers) in two ways:
- People get notifications when you like and comment on their posts and may check out your profile to return the favor.
- Other people will see your comments and may check out your profile if they find them thoughtful or intriguing.
22. Work with influencers in your niche
Here’s an important stat for anyone thinking about how to get more followers on Instagram: 60% of consumers say they’d follow a brand on Instagram after seeing it promoted by an influencer they trust.
We’ve got a whole guide on Influencer marketing to help you out.
23. Collaborate with other brands
Don’t be afraid to reach out to other brands to see if there’s a way that you can work together on Instagram. The right kind of collaboration could help everyone involved get more Instagram followers.
Think about brands or other businesses you already collaborate with in other ways, like in a local business improvement association or shopping area. How could you work together on Instagram?
One common option is to host a contest featuring products from multiple companies, like Rocky Mountain Soap Company did with Annika Mang of @borntobeadventurous.
24. Embrace Instagram Stories
We’ve mentioned Stories in several of the tips already, but it’s worth calling this feature out specifically. Simply put, if you want more Instagram followers, you need to use Instagram Stories. Half a billion Instagram accounts use Stories every day, and 45% of the most-viewed stories are from businesses
People who use Stories are highly engaged. According to Instagram, one in three stories results in a direct message.
Use the hashtag and location features in your stories to expose them to people who do not already follow you. This is still an underused way to get followers on Instagram for free.
Learn more in our complete guide to using Instagram Stories.
25. Use interactivity features
Instagram Stories offer plenty of interactive features to get users engaged, like poll, question, and chat stickers.
Polling stickers increased three-second video views in 90% of Instagram’s beta campaigns for this feature.
If users come across your Story from a hashtag or location page, that immediate opportunity to engage is a great way to make them want to learn more about your brand by giving you a follow.
26. Make the most of Stories highlights
Stories highlights give you an opportunity to introduce your brand to people who visit your profile. Pack those highlights with loads of great info and content to show new visitors exactly why they should click Follow.
Make great use of the cover photos on your highlights, too. Porter Airlines does a great job with custom icons featuring their cute mascot.
Source: @porterairlines on Instagram
27. Try an Instagram Live collaboration
Instagram is the perfect place to take advantage of live video, a trend that is continuing to grow on social media. Through interactive features like questions and comments, you can engage with viewers in real time, creating more of that precious engagement that can help boost your reach.
Live videos appear within your brand’s Story. When the live video ends, you can let it disappear, choose to make it available for replay on your Story for 24 hours, or add it to IGTV. Users are notified when an account they follow starts broadcasting live, so a live video really grabs attention.
To get your Live video in front of a whole new audience, use the “Go live with a friend” option to co-host a live video with someone else in your industry. Ask the other person to host a Live video, then invite you as a guest. The two of you will appear in a split screen, introducing you to all of their followers.
In the era of COVID-19, Instagrammers have been using this feature creatively to host mini-talkshows. For example, Design Emergency hosts a weekly Instagram Live in which they use Go live with a friend to interview key figures in the design world, and Wine Spectator is hosting a series featuring winemakers.
28. Try an IGTV series
While both of the series mentioned in the previous tip are presented on Instagram Live, they are also posted to IGTV after the live conversation ends.
IGTV videos can be up to an hour long, allowing you to explore topics in-depth. You can also create an IGTV series, which encourages viewers to follow your account rather than simply watching a video and moving on.
IGTV posts appear four times larger than photos on the Explore tab, making new potential followers more likely to click on your content.
29. Create an AR filter
AR filters for Instagram Stories are photo effects Instagrammers can use to modify photos taken through their mobile phone’s front and back cameras. Those posts with puppy ears? Those are done with an AR (Augmented Reality) filter. Those “which [vegetable/pizza/emoji/etc.] are you?” posts? Those use AR filters too.
Any Instagram user can now create an AR filter. The filters that you create will live in a section of your Instagram profile marked by a face icon. If your filter is not promotional or branded, it will also appear in the Instagram Stories effects gallery, where any Instagrammer can find it.
How does creating an AR filter help you get more Instagram followers? Whenever anyone uses your AR filter, your account name appears in the top left corner. It’s clickable, and can drive more new visitors to your profile.
Source: @gucci on Instagram
30. Post consistently
Your existing followers want to see content from you. That’s why they followed you in the first place.
As we’ve already mentioned, when users interact with your posts, the increased engagement gives you some good algorithm love. So giving your existing followers something great to interact with can help bring in new Instagram followers too.
How often should you post? An analysis by Tailwind found that daily posting will “grow followers four times faster than posting less than once a week.”
31. Post at the right time
Yes, Instagram uses an algorithm rather than a chronological feed. However, timing is still important, as it’s one of the signals the algorithm considers.
Hootsuite worked with Unmetric to determine the best time to post on Instagram based on your industry. To figure out the best time to post for your own brand, consider your audience. What does their typical day look like? When are they most active on Instagram?
Start testing various times and measuring results. If you’re a retail brand, for example, you might want to test posting during lunch times.
32. Schedule your posts and stories
Is the best time to post not a convenient time to be on Instagram? Use a social media management tool like Hootsuite to schedule and publish directly to Instagram.
Scheduling your posts in advance allows you to plan a cohesive Instagram grid that tells an overarching story. It also allows you to dedicate time to creating excellent captions, rather than trying to come up with something witty on the fly.
You can now also use Hootsuite to schedule Instagram Stories.
33. Run contests
Contests on Instagram can help you get more followers if your entry process involves asking people to follow you and comment on one of your photos by tagging a friend.
The tagged friends will also see your post and may choose to follow your account as well.
Encouraging user-generated content as part of your contest can also help you reach more people. People will learn about your contest from posts their friends create. This is an effective way to build trust with new followers, and get more eyeballs to your page.
34. Consider advertising on Instagram
Okay, this isn’t exactly a way to get free Instagram followers. But Instagram ads can be a powerful way to reach new followers, fast, by getting your content in front of people who would otherwise not see it.
And unlike buying followers, using Instagram ads is a totally legitimate and effective way to get more Instagram followers quickly with a small investment.
Target your audience by location, demographics, and even key behaviors and interests. You can also create a lookalike audience based on the people who already interact with your business.
Besides the feed, you can advertise in Instagram Stories and the Explore feed. For all the details of how to create and post an Instagram ad campaign, check out our detailed Instagram ads guide.
35. Learn from Instagram Insights
Instagram analytics tools will give you data on impressions for each post, along with reach, engagement, top posts, and more. You can also find demographic information about your followers, including gender, age, and location.
Reviewing this data on a regular basis can help you identify areas where you can adjust your strategy to help you get more followers.
One of the key things to keep an eye on is what time of day your followers use Instagram, so you can post when people are most likely to see and engage with your content.
Use Hootsuite to save time on social media. Schedule posts, engage followers, track results, and more—all from a single, easy-to-use dashboard. Try it for free.