Beginner’s Guide: How to Build a Killer Instagram Following and Increase Your Sales


With over 2 billion active users worldwide, social media has become a terrific channel for businesses to connect with their customers, build brand awareness, and improve their marketing strategy.

And, if your target audience loves visuals, then you cannot afford to ignore the platform that sees 70 million photo updates everyday…


In particular, businesses belonging to the fashion, travel or food industry have a terrific opportunity to engage with their audience on the app you can download for free -Instagram.

Yet, only 30% of businesses are active on social media have an Instagram account. You might think that low business adoption rate will mean that you’ll face lower competition and see higher social engagement and more free Instagram followers.

Want to increase your sales for free on Instagram? Then download this how to guide to learn how to gain followers on the mobile app.

And that’s partially correct – Forrester, in its 2015 analysis of top 50 global brands, found that the social media channel of Instagram remains the undisputed king of per-follower interaction rate. Getting Instagram likes and and more free Instagram followers is a sure fire way to success with your social media marketing plan.


The bad news is that this interaction has fallen to half of its 2014 per-follower engagement rate of 4.213%. This signals that many brands have joined the visual platform for promoting their businesses and are regularly posting updates, new profile pics, popular hashtags and high quality images.  More content means a lower engagement rate.

With the increase in frequency of updates on the Instagram feed, a free Instagram follower misses 70% of posts from the accounts they follow.

To solve the issue, Instagram recently announced that they’ll use an algorithm to show users the posts that interest them. They’ll also use your “relationship with the person and the timeliness of the post” for filling your free Instagram feed.

Deja vu?

Yep, Instagram is following Facebook’s suite.

This means that you can’t simply rely on real-time industry updates or increase your Instagram photo or posting frequency to get real estate in more of your follower feeds. You’ve got to focus more on your free Instagram followers preferences and use innovative techniques to engage with them.

I’ve put together 5 tips to help you gain more free followers on Instagram, increase your engagement rate with your target audience and drive sales via better brand awareness. 

Let’s jump to number 1. 

1. Load up your updates with relevant hashtags

You might already know the effectiveness of popular hashtags in reaching a targeted audience on Twitter.


But, how important are they on the Instagram website?

I would say they are more important than all other social media accounts and platforms. Popular hashtags are the language in which free Instagram followers speak. A power user can be found loading even up to 30 hashtags in their update – the hashtag limit per post.


You won’t need to worry about hashtag fatigue on Instagram. Rather, more popular hashtags equates to more likes on your Instagram photos.


TrackMaven found that posts with 11+ hashtags get the maximum engagement from a free Instagram follower.


So, how do you find relevant and popular hashtags to add to every Instagram photo?

The process is similar to performing keyword research – Record relevant hashtags that your competitors and brand advocates are using in their updates and use this knowledge to gain followers.

You can also scroll through the 100 most popular hashtags compiled by Webstagram here. I’ve included the top 20 in the screenshot below.


Adding popular hashtags will expand your post’s reach, but make sure that you use only the ones that are relevant to your products and suit your brand personality.

Otherwise, you’ll only see a short-term increase in your engagement, but your new free Instagram followers won’t convert into additional sales.

Moreover, if you integrate less popular hashtags in your posts, then you’ll appear at the top of the search feeds for them. Scout low-competition Instagram hashtags (much like targeting long-tail keywords in your blog posts).

Insellycom uses a variety of Instagram hashtags in their updates, including popular ones (like #fashion), moderately popular ones (like #fashiondaily) and less popular ones (like #fashiontrend).


You can also scout for relevant popular hashtags by your product and brand categories and then group them in Evernote. Richard runs an eCommerce business and he uses this technique to efficiently derive more engagement from the free Instagram platform.


Pro Tip: Have you not been previously using relevant Instagram hashtags in your posts?

No worries.

Revisit your older updates and add relevant hashtags in the comments. Your post will start showing up in the Instagram feed for your added hashtags. You’ll see a bump in your engagement as well as plenty more free Instagram followers rolling in.

2. Host a photo contest to engage your followers and expand your brand’s reach

Broadly there are 3 kinds of Instagram contests. “Like to win” and “email gated” are less participative. I recommend that you to launch the third type, a hashtag UGC (user-generated content) contest.

Inviting your Instagram community and encouraging them to create visual user generated content will deepen your relationship with them, besides significantly increase your brand visibility and gain more followers in the long run.

Deftones conducted a photo contest that resulted in 20,000 new Instagram followers and 1,300 new Instagram posts tagged #deftones within 3 months. People love adding profile pics as it ups their engagement with their own Instagram community – so give them a reason to do this. 

So, how do you launch your first contest?

Pick a goal and define the metrics for evaluation of your contest’s performance. It can read like “increasing my free Instagram follower count by 25%” or “create 300 posts with @YourInstagramHandle”.

You can conveniently collect relevant posts around a theme, by requesting submissions with a contest-specific hashtag. Esprit launched this type of photo and profile pic contest, asking their customers to upload their submissions with #everydayamazing.


Next, pick a subject that will indulge your audience and create a shareable experience for them. For instance, Franworks restaurants launched the ‘Movember’ Mustache campaign for their Instagram account.

They provided mustache coasters and asked each and every free Instagram follower to share their mustache pic with the restaurant’s tags (#statestache, #joesmos, #castlestache).  They offered trips and restaurant gift cards as prizes, which is a great incentive to increase participation across the Instagram community.


It’s fun to participate in the contest for the Instagram follower and it promotes Franworks in an authentic way.

If you want, you can check out the previous contests launched by your competitors at Iconosquare. Search for popular hashtags like #contest and #photocontest.


Once you’ve finalized the contest details, take ample time to promote it on your social networks. Start with a Facebook event like Buffalo Wings does below.


You can also pitch guest posts, send email announcements and use Facebook Ads to create a buzz, you can even change your Facebook profile pic to the contest ad to garner more interest.

Once the contest ends, you should announce the winners across your social networks like your Facebook page or in a blog post.

If you’re launching a contest on a large scale, then apps like Wishpond can help you with easy contest management.

3. Express yourself with the fastest growing language in UK history…

This language can help you in humanizing your communications, thereby increasing your email open rates, social network engagement and conversions, and to gain followers. And, it has seen an unprecedented adoption in UK.

I am talking about emoticons.


With the launch of the emoji keyboard on iOS, emoji use has exploded on Instagram.


Nearly 50% of all captions and comments on Instagram have at least one emoji. So, it’s a no-brainer to integrate them in your updates to express yourself.

So,what are the emojis that free Instagram followers like the most?

Simply Measured, in its analysis of 2500 Instagram posts, found that “love hearts” receive the maximum engagement per post. “Sparkles” and “artist palette” are the next two most engaging emojis on the list.

Here is the graph with analysis of the top 10 emojis vs. the engagement they get. If you want more followers then turn to emojis and other growing social network trends.


While these emojis should be in your Instagram vocabulary, you should first understand how your audience communicates with them. Even different colored hearts have different meanings.


If you’re a newbie to emoticons, HubSpot’s Emoji Guide is a good place to start so you can implement them in your Instagram business without standing out for the wrong reasons.

Once you’re familiar, here are 3 tips to extract maximum value from emojis and increase your free Instagram follower numbers.

1. Sue Zimmerman has used emoticons to increase her retail sales by 40%. She suggests using emoticons in 3 locations on your Instagram account, for getting a massive boost in your engagement.


Here is a video tutorial she has created to help you in strategically using emojis on Instagram to help your media marketing.

2. On April 27, 2015 Instagram began allowing its users to hashtag emojis. This means that you can now search for emoticons on the explore page and tap them in your photo captions.


And, do free Instagram followers like this feature?

You bet.

Research by Curalate found that single-use emojis were hashtagged 6.4 million times within a month of their launch.


Further, half of the top 20 most hashtagged emojis are smileys. This brings us to the inherent trait of all social networking- positive emotion is more contagious than negative. Here are the top 10 emoticons, as per Curalate.


Using emoji in your messages and even your Instagram bio will help you express yourself without many words. You can leverage this universal language to connect deeper with your fans.

3. You can always post a normal comment or caption to appreciate cute pictures and profile pics – “A really cute baby”.

But, if you want to grab attention, entertain your audience and keep them coming back for more, then you’ll need to get creative. And, emojis are a terrific visual way of doing that.

You can follow the lead of ps.ny, in Sue’s post below. Her comment reads “How ador:)ble and aw:)some!!!”


Similarly, ArnoldGrape used emoji creatively, in a comment on the crushsocial post below. Instead of the vanilla “awesome”, his comment reads “keep [emoji]’n in the [emoji] [emoji]”.


You can get more tips from Anthony Thompson for tripling your Instagram engagement and getting more followers with emoji Instagram comments here.

4. Use the right filters and post high-quality content regularly

With algorithmic changes hitting Instagram feeds, posting quality images and profile pics has become even more important. Indeed, Instagram accounts that post superior graphics have been found to get away with higher frequency.


Moreover, Instagram web users respond favorably to a select few filters. As per research done at Georgia Tech and Yahoo Labs, filtered photos are 21% more likely to get viewed and 45% more likely to get comments.

So, which filters work the best?

Track Maven found that using “no filter” and “Inkwell” in your photos will drive the most interaction.


While the above filters are good starting points for experimentation, your audience might have a different favorite filter. You need to dig into your own account’s performance, using a tool like Iconosquare.

Once you get your own graphs correlating engagement with filters, you’ll be able to judge your audience preferences.  If you are just starting out with Instagram and don’t have a large following, study your competitors to see what’s working for them.


Pro Tip: Do you know that Instagram also allows users to post up to 15 seconds of video content? But, as per April 2015 research by Locowise, only 10.81% of Instagram posts are in video format.  Yet, they get 17.51% of all comments.

This is an untapped opportunity for you to increase engagement by using your Instagram account well. Get started with Instagram video here.

5. Shell out some dollars on Instagram celebrities for getting sponsored placements

Traditional advertising on Instagram is lucrative, but it will have a learning curve. That’s why I want to introduce you to an unconventional Instagram marketing strategy that has helped me generate $332,640 in 3 months.

The method involves reaching out to free Instagram users with a large following (20k – 200k) and requesting that they promote your product.

There are two strategies for doing this.

1. You pay them upwards of $20 per sponsored post (cost is dependent on the influencer’s size of following). Look at how Maxim model Ashley Sky promotes Your Tea in the post below and it gets incredible engagement from her followers.


2. The more natural (non-salesy) way is sending your product to the user and asking them to review it. Remember authenticity helps in increasing engagement and is more likely to render a positive result when it comes to your follow and unfollow numbers. 

I managed to get 2,570 email optins by spending $75,000 on such Instagram placements.


Men’s fashion startup, Bachelr paid $50 per image to tastefully promote their products through large men’s fashion Instagram accounts.


The result?

A flood of traffic that crashed their servers.


So, how do you find Instagram celebrities with a massive following?

Take out your list of popular industry hashtags (that you created in strategy 1) and search for them in Webstagram. You’ll find the top Instagram users that feature these keywords.

This strategy is not dependent on a big budget.  You can look lower on the celebrity list and find the ones that might have a smaller following, but are still within your budget to help you gain followers.


Among all social media platforms, Instagram still generates the highest user engagement for brands. It is fertile for building deep relationships with your customers and generating sales.

The five strategies I shared in the article are proven to increase your engagement and help you gain followers. I would like to wrap up with this brilliant infographic by Made Freshly that summarizes a perfect Instagram post.


Are there any other strategies you’ve used to get a higher Instagram follower numbers?