When it comes to modern advertising and marketing, there’s no tool quite as powerful as social media. And as Instagram’s user base continues to grow and rival powerhouses like Facebook and Youtube, the app is proving itself to be one of the top platforms around. But if you want to use Instagram to share your message, build a fanbase, or sell your products, the first thing you need to do is gain followers. This will ensure your posts are seen by as many people as possible, and that these people care about the content you share. However, followers won’t just appear on their own. So where does that leave you? Fortunately, building an Instagram following for your personal brand or business is both easy and affordable. That is if you do it right. Building Your Social Media Presence Creating a profile and posting content isn’t enough to gain influence or brand recognition. Instead, you need to develop a semi-captive audience — in the form of followers — to get the most out of your social media usage. To create your semi-captive audience, you need to attract users to your profile and convince them to follow you for future content. While you’ll get a few followers without much effort, you probably won’t break the thousands (or even hundreds) without a little work. Yes, Instagram users can easily unfollow your account at any time. But keeping a follower is much easier than gaining one in the first place. Why does an Instagram account’s follower count matter? The importance of gaining Instagram followers depends on how you choose to use the platform. For instance, if you’re an influencer, then your number of followers is essential to landing sponsorships and other brand deals. As your content reaches more eyes, you gain more inherent influence. If you’re a business, then your number of followers adds credibility to your brand and shows new customers that you’re a popular choice within your industry. After all, why would someone trust a company with only a few measly followers on their official page? Because the number of followers is one of the first things you see on an Instagram profile, many individuals and businesses pay a pretty penny to keep their follower count high. However, this practice often does more harm than good. Is buying Instagram followers really worth the price? With an account’s follower account being so important, it’s no surprise that some users have turned to buying followers. Just do a quick search and you’ll find countless services offering to increase your follower count for a small fee. While using one of these services might seem like a quick way to boost your followers, they aren’t as effective as they seem. Yes, they’ll add to the number of followers on your profile. But usually, these new followers aren’t actually real people. Purchasing followers can actually hurt your engagement — or the number of users who like and comment on your posts versus those who follow you — because these fake accounts aren’t actively looking at and consuming your social media content. Plus, Instagram has grown wise to these fake follower services. If you ever notice a popular account lose thousands of followers in a single day, it’s probably Instagram clearing out fake profiles. Worst case scenario? If Instagram catches you buying followers repeatedly, you’re at risk of losing your account completely. How to Grow Your (Real) Instagram Followers Since buying followers isn’t an effective strategy for growth, how do you increase your Instagram follower count? It might actually be simpler than you think. Of course, gaining an organic Instagram following does take some time and effort. But by following one or all of the methods outlined below, you can fill your follower list with real people instead of automated bots. While some of these methods utilize paid services, they aren’t required. Either way, we promise you’ll see an increase in followers and engagement without breaking $100 per month: Post quality content The most straightforward method for gaining Instagram followers is to post content that users want to see. This might seem obvious, but it’s true. Not only does this content need to be interesting on its own, but it also needs to appeal to your target audience as a whole. You can’t post anything and everything, without any cohesive theme, and expect to see an increase in engagement. However, posting quality content doesn’t need to mean creating quality content. Plenty of popular Instagram accounts repost content from photographers, artists, and other creators that matches their own brand or aesthetic. Just make sure you credit the original creator, and you’re all good. Scope out the competition Keeping an eye on the competition is essential to success, no matter what you’re trying to achieve. In the Instagram world, this is especially true. By following, liking, and commenting on content from accounts similar to your own, you can actually draw followers to your own content. Followers of the account you interact with will see your profile in the list of likes and comments. If your account looks interesting, they’re likely to click over and follow your profile as well. The more engagement a competitor has, the more chances you have of sniping some of their followers. So it’s a good idea to stay up-to-date on popular accounts and hashtags. Too busy to keep an eye on the competition yourself? With a service like SocialSteeze, you can actually hire an account manager to access your account remotely and like, comment, and interact with other Instagram users and content. Depending on your budget and how quickly you want results, you can choose from packages for as low as $38/month and put your Instagram follower growth on auto-pilot. Unlike other services that automate your Instagram profile with generic comments, SocialSteeze is always handled by a real person. So if you’re on a budget and want to grow your Instagram followers (instead of buying fake bots), this can be a great option for time-strapped businesses and entrepreneurs. Research your hashtags Speaking of hashtags, an effective Instagram post wouldn’t be complete without one (or several). But there are good and bad ways to utilize hashtags in your content. For a hashtag to be effective, it must be both popular and relevant. Putting #graphicdesign on a vacation photo of someone skiing won’t draw in interested followers. Instead, think of hashtags like keywords. What would your intended audience search for to find the content you post? Choosing hashtags is just half the battle, though. If you really want to see the impact and develop an effective hashtag strategy for your content, you can invest in a monthly management service like Buffer for just $10 per month. On the other hand, hashtags can actually hurt your content. Instagram routinely monitors and bans seemingly harmless hashtags that are being used to post offensive content, such as #easter or #womancrushwednesday. If you inadvertently use one of these hashtags on your own content, you might find your posts aren’t reaching the audience you expect. Host giveaways or promos Creating a giveaway or promotion is an excellent way to increase both your follower count and engagement. If your Instagram profile represents a business, products or gift cards are great giveaway items that won’t break the bank. If your profile is focused on social media influencing, you can reach out to some of your favorite brands for a cross-promotion or purchase goods to giveaway using your own money. Either way, you’ll be surprised by how many people will follow and share your profile for a chance at a $20 gift card or small gift basket. Using Instagram as a Marketing Tool After Facebook acquired the image-sharing mobile app in 2012, Instagram quickly became one of the leading marketing platforms on the Internet. From sponsored influencer posts to official brand profiles, Instagram users are constantly inundated with advertisements. In many cases, they don’t even realize it. If you’re interested in using an Instagram Automation tool, I highly recommend Magic Social. With Magic Social, you can use things like locations and hashtags so that their Instagram automation service can get to work targeting the right kind of people who will be interested in your page. They also focus on your long-term goals as well – they’re not just here for a good time, they’re here for a long time. But that doesn’t mean that Instagram users are mindlessly scrolling through the mobile app or website, unaware that marketers are trying to target them. In fact, 53% of users reported following brands and using the social media platform to find new products. Who uses Instagram? When deciding to launch an Instagram marketing campaign for your business or personal brand, you first need to ask yourself: Is my target audience using Instagram? In most cases, the answer will be yes. After all, Instagram has racked up over 1 billion monthly users (500 million of which log on almost daily). By breaking up Instagram’s current users by age, it’s pretty clear that 18 to 34-year-olds make up the vast majority of accounts: Age Range % of Instagram Users 13 – 17 7% 18 – 24 32% 25 – 34 32% 35 – 44 15% 45 – 54 9% 55+ 5% And by looking at Instagram’s users by their reported annual income, we can see that many users make at or above the national average: Annual Income % of Instagram Users <$20k 5% $20k – $49k 32% $50k – $75k 32% $75k+ 31% What does this mean for influencers or marketers? It means that Instagram is an easy way to gain direct access to consumers within these demographics. And with targeted posts, you can ensure your content reaches the exact demographic of users for which you intend it.