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.

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 Instagram.

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

Want to increase your sales through Instagram? Then download this how to guide to learn how to increase your followers in instagram.

And that’s partially correct – Forrester, in its 2015 analysis of top 50 global brands, found that Instagram remains the undisputed king of per-follower interaction rate.


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 post updates.  More content means a lower engagement rate.

With the increase in frequency of updates, an Instagram user 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 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 posting frequency to get real estate in more of your follower feeds. You’ve got to focus more on your audience preferences and use innovative techniques to engage with them.

I’ve put together 5 tips to help you amplify your Instagram following, increase your engagement rate with your target audience and drive sales.

Let’s jump to number 1. 

1. Load up your updates with relevant hashtags

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


But, how important are they on Instagram?

I would say they are more important than all other social media platforms. Hashtags are the language in which Instagram users 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 hashtags equates to more likes on your photos.


TrackMaven found that posts with 11+ hashtags get the maximum engagement.


So, how do you find relevant hashtags to add to every post?

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

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 Instagram engagement, but your new 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 hashtags (much like targeting long-tail keywords in your blog posts).

Insellycom uses a variety of 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 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 Instagram.


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

No worries.

Revisit your older updates and add relevant hashtags in the comments. Your post will start showing up in the search feed for your added hashtags. You’ll see a bump in your engagement as well as new 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 community and encouraging them to create visual content will deepen your relationship with them, besides significantly increase your brand visibility.

Deftones conducted a photo contest that resulted in 20,000 new followers and 1,300 new Instagram posts tagged #deftones within 3 months.

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 followers 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 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 on Instagram.

They provided mustache coasters and asked their customers 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.


It’s fun to participate in the contest for the users 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 hashtags like #contest and #photocontest.


Once you’ve finalized the contest details, take ample time to promote it. 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.

Once the contest ends, you should announce the winners on 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, engagement and conversions. 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 Instagram users 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.


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.

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

1. Sue Zimmerman has used emoticons to increase her retail sales by 40%. She suggests using emoticons in 3 locations on your Instagram profile, 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.

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 Instagram users 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 media – positive emotion is more contagious than negative. Here are the top 10 emoticons, as per Curalate.


Using emoji in your messages 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 – “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 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 has become even more important. Indeed, Instagram accounts that post superior graphics have been found to get away with higher frequency.


Moreover, Instagramers 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. 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 advertising strategy that has helped me generate $332,640 in 3 months.

The method involves reaching out to 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.

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.


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. 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 grow your Instagram following?