15 Ways I Grew My Instagram by 515% in One Year. I’m sharing fifteen organic methods and strategies I used to grow my Instagram account to nearly 90k followers.

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15 Ways I Grew My Instagram by 515% in One Year

Instagram is my favorite place to hang out. In today’s lesson, I’m sharing the methods and strategies I used (and continue to use) to grow my Instagram to nearly 90k followers.

A Little Background Info on my IG Journey

  • Instagram is my favorite social media platform. In 2015, I made a business goal to focus on growing it. Setting goals is a crucial part of growing your business. I tracked my growth on the first of each month.
  • Why should you take my advice? In January of 2015, I had 2,405 followers. By December 2015, I had 16,439. That’s a 515% increase over the course of the year.
  • As of today, in April of 2018, I’m a bit shy of 90k followers.

Key Lesson Takeaways

  • Grow organically. Slow and steady wins the race. (Spammy growth tactics such as follow/unfollow and paying for followers=NO)
  • Do what works for you. I make decisions with my heart and based on what I think my followers enjoy. Going with your gut will rarely lead you wrong.
  • Don’t stress over Instagram. I enjoy the platform and use it as a place to create community. It is not a source of blog traffic nor shop income for me.
  • Last week, we talked about educating yourself on each platform you’re using. Check out this handy article with some current and exciting facts about Instagram.
  • Set up your Instagram as a business account.

Ok, let’s get into the good stuff!

15 Ways I Grew My Instagram by 515% in One Year. I'm sharing fifteen organic methods and strategies I used to grow my Instagram account to nearly 90k followers.
Photo: Annie Spratt via Unsplash.com

Tip One: Find your niche and stick to it

When I started to focus on growing my IG, I niched down. A lot.

Before 2015, I posted about a bit of everything. That’s fine for a personal Instagram account, but it’s not so great for growing a focused and engaged following.

Having very focused content means my followers are following me for a specific reason. By default, they are then more engaged in what I post.

Someone that follows me for my hand-lettering and art might unfollow if a random throw in an “outfit of the day” post or an out-of-the-blue shot of my kids in their feed because it catches them off-guard. Cute as my kids are, it’s not why they chose to follow me. They follow me for art and lettering, so that’s what I give them almost 100% of the time. (IG stories is a great place to get more personal, which I’ll touch on in Tip Twelve.)

I’m very consistent with what I post and rarely post something that is outside of my niche.

Tip Two: Don’t Mix Business and Pleasure

Since it’s so easy to switch between multiple IG accounts now, I suggest you keep a personal IG account and one (or more) for your blog/business. Why? Read Tip One again. 😜

My Instagram accounts are dedicated to my niche and growing my brand. I don’t even keep a personal IG account. I do all my personal stuff over on Facebook because even my 80-year-old grandparents are over there.

Tip Three: Focus on Creating Community

While I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself an Instagram expert, one thing I think I’ve done well is that I’ve created a sense of community and engaged followers. If you’d like to work with brands (get paid to post on Instagram), engagement is vital.

Getting your readers involved is essential to engagement. A few easy ways to do this:

  • Ask questions.
  • Teach them something (see post below).
  • Inspire them. Everyone loves some positivity or a great inspirational quote.
  • Humor.
  • Share a relatable real-life moment or life struggle. I do this in the caption of a photo to be sure I keep my feed photos in my niche.
  • Create a challenge.

In August of 2015, I started a monthly Art + Lettering Challenge on @ByDawnNicole. It went over so well that I continue to do it to this day.

When people participate in the challenges each day, they’re not only getting to be actively involved in the community by sharing their work; they are continually tagging my IG handle and using my hashtags. So they’re getting involved, and I’m getting a lot of exposure for my account, which equals community and growth for all of us. Win-win.

15 Ways I Grew My Instagram by 515% in One Year. I'm sharing fifteen organic methods and strategies I used to grow my Instagram account to nearly 90k followers.

Tip Four: Make it pretty.

If you’re growing your IG as a blog/business, you need a professional looking feed. Some people will say that edited and planned content is unauthentic, but I strongly disagree. People like a pretty Instagram feed. People don’t want to see blurry pics, what you’re eating for breakfast (unless you’re a food blogger), or every moment of your day. A platform like Facebook is better suited for sharing a ton of photos or in the moment pictures.

Here are a few things that will help you achieve a cohesive and aesthetically pleasing feed:

  • Make a plan: Look at your overall feed. When people browse your main Instagram feed, they decide in a split second whether or not to follow you. If you’ve got a pretty feed, they are much more likely to click “follow.” For my @bydawnnicole feed, I make a checkerboard pattern (Shown above). A colorful photo, alternated with a white photo. For my @dawnnicoleco feed, I do three white photos and then three more colorful photos. Having a pattern is optional, but I find it easier to keep a pretty feed when I use a pattern.
  • Brush up on your photography skills. Take well-lit photos that are bright and in focus. No one wants to see a blurry or dark pic on Instagram! Check out my Photography Tips for Lettering Artists.
  • Edit your images. Is this more work, yes? But it goes back to having a feed that is fun and pretty for people to look at. If you genuinely want to grow your Instagram and your brand, it’s worth the effort. I use the A Color Story App for editing my photos and videos.
  • Look for popular feeds in your niche for ideas on what kind of a feed you’d like to design for yourself. Again, don’t be a copycat, but do actively seek out inspiration!
  • Connect with readers via your captions. If you browse either of my Instagram feeds, you can see how often I share a quote or relatable life tidbit in my photo captions. You CAN be real with a pretty feed. You simply have to get creative about how you do it!

Tip Five: Be an original

Be original. No one likes a copycat.

At the time I started my challenges, I didn’t know anyone else that was doing a monthly challenge that is a combo lettering and art, and I think that’s a big part of why it worked so well for me. (So many people do them now, I’ve changed how I run mine, but that would take up a whole new post.)

There are some great challenges out there now, but if you copy one, people are less likely to follow you because yours isn’t unique. You need a spin that makes it an original idea…something they can’t get elsewhere, or it won’t work very well to bring in new followers!

In the book “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert, there’s an excellent part in which she personifies ideas. This explains why we see things pop up in our social media feed that we planned to create, already did create, or had an idea for. If you don’t take ownership of an idea when it comes to you, Gilbert says that it bounces around and finds someone else who will. Kind of a neat way to think of ideas, right?

How do I avoid being a copycat? It’s pretty simple. I “keep my eyes on my own page” and don’t worry too much about what anyone else is doing. And if I do create something inspired by someone else, I am sure to give credit where credit is due.

Tip Six: Follow Instagram etiquette

When you re-gram or share someone else’s work/photo:

  • Credit people in the caption. Just tagging them in the photo is NOT sufficient.
  • Do not alter their photo without their permission (no cropping, filters, etc.).
  • Don’t use other people’s photos to promote your business. It is my pet peeve when big companies use my photos to promote their brands and shops without my permission. Take your own photos, yo!

You can see in the screenshot below when I shared lettering by Karin at @ipadlettering, I tagged her in the photo, credited her in the caption and encouraged people to follow her. That is how you correctly featured someone else’s photo or work.

It’s always ideal to get permission first when you’re operating as a business, just to cover all your bases. You can do this by asking them or by creating a hashtag people can use to permit you to feature them. I find that easier, so I created a hashtag and terms for my Get Featured! Program.

15 Ways I Grew My Instagram by 515% in One Year. I'm sharing fifteen organic methods and strategies I used to grow my Instagram account to nearly 90k followers.

Tip Seven: Be consistent

Consistency is key. You can’t grow without it. You have to show up and be consistent, so your readers know what to expect. For the past few years, I’d usually post once a day. Now, I’m finding I get the most likes and engagement when I only post once a week.

Tailwind tells me the best time to post for maximum engagement, so I usually just let it pick the post time! (I’ll be sharing more on how I use Tailwind for Instagram in Tip Fifteen).

Commit to posting consistently, no matter how many times or week or day that may be.

Tip Eight: Treat IG like a mini-blog

Because it doesn’t allow for clickable links in the captions of photos, Instagram is not a great social media platform for driving traffic to your site. That’s my goal with Pinterest, SEO, and email.

You’ll see a lot of bloggers that do nothing on Instagram but post a pic and caption it with “Pop over to my blog for this tutorial. Link in profile.” I do that from time to time, but because Instagram doesn’t have clickable links, it’s inconvenient for people to leave Instagram to get to your blog.

See how it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the goal of your Instagram account to be to drive traffic to your site? I have to reeeeally want to see something to leave Instagram to go to the person’s blog. And when that happens, I usually just screenshot their IG post to look it up later.

Key Points:

  • Treat Instagram as a mini blog. The goal is to give your readers value-added content about art and lettering (or whatever your niche is).
  • Be generous with your talent and your knowledge.
  • Focus on creating mini-tutorials and content just for your Instagram followers.
  • Why? If you have Instagram-only content that your readers can’t get elsewhere, they’ll follow you there to be sure they get those exclusive tidbits of info and education.

Tip Nine: Tag Brands!

This tip might seem obvious, but a lot of people don’t do it. If you love a product and use it, tag the brand and let them know.

I still do this to this day, but my example is from a few years ago. I bought some Oh Joy! Band-Aids at Target and used them for some creative lettering. (You can see it here.) I tagged her and then she re-grammed my photo, with credit, to her well over 200k followers. Many brands will do the same and to get featured like that is an excellent way to gain new followers!

Bonus Tip: Maximize the Link in your Profile

While IG isn’t super link-friendly, services like LinkTree make it easier for readers to get to your content from IG.

I use the free version of LinkTree. The paid one has a few nifty features, but my bank kept flagging the charge since it’s via Australia, so I downgraded it to free for now. If they start taking PayPal, I will consider the paid version again. It’s only $6/month.

When people click the LinkTree link in my profile, a whole menu pops up for them to choose from (shown below). I can easily edit the menu as needed from the LinkTree website.

How I Grew my Email List by 11K in One Month. I sat down to analyze why this month was such a successful one for email signups, and I'm sharing all my tips with you!

Tip Ten: Be intentional with your content

I primarily treat Instagram as an online portfolio-at-a-glance of my work. If you want to work with brands, they are going to want to see your work on your social media.

A curated Instagram feed can be great, but you need to produce more original content than curated content if you want to grow your brand.

Along the same lines, don’t keep re-posting the same exact content over and over. I follow a few people who post variations of the same exact project over and over. It’s boring to see the same thing repeatedly, and it will probably bring you more unfollows than follows. It also comes across a bit lazy. Take the time to create fresh content…or skip posting that day!

A note on sponsored posts

You want sponsored work to fit your feed seamlessly and create engagement.

If you can do that, you’re golden!

You don’t want an ad to stick out like a sore thumb.

Create an image that fits your feed and promotes the brand organically.

You can see examples of the sponsored posts I’ve done for Skillshare here and here.

Tip Eleven: Use hashtags wisely

Sure, using a ton of hashtags can grow your account, but I also think it’s spammy looking. And it’s probably not bringing in the kind of engaged followers you want to have. As I’ve mentioned a few times, brands want to see that engagement if they are going to be paying you to post on Instagram.

Create a few hashtags for your brand, use a funny or witty hashtag, and sprinkle in a few for growth, but don’t go overboard. And don’t abuse popular hashtags that don’t fit your post. I see this done all the time and it’s a tactic that’s just plain not cool.

Tip Twelve: IG stories

Instagram stories is a great place to share off-niche things, and share peeks into your personal life with your readers. Three ways I use IG stories:

  • Stories are the most link-friendly place on IG. You can add a link to IG stories (shown below) and instruct your readers to “Swipe up” to instantly access what you’ve linked. When this feature went live, it was only available to business accounts with 10K+ followers. This is likely still the case because I only have this feature on my @bydawnnicole account.
  • I set up IG stories highlights on my profile.
  • I use them for sponsored work (be sure to disclose with #ad on any sponsored IG stories).

15 Ways I Grew My Instagram by 515% in One Year. I'm sharing fifteen organic methods and strategies I used to grow my Instagram account to nearly 90k followers.

Tip Thirteen: Be smart about giveaways

I’m not big on giveaways on Instagram. I find the Round-Robin style giveaways especially meh. To me, they feel kinda spammy, they’re often insanely lengthy, and I found they didn’t bring engaged followers. So I don’t do them.

When it comes to growing your account, you want quality followers over quantity of followers…or you’ll be sacrificing engagement.

Giveaways can be a great way to grow when done right. When I do giveaways, I host them on my blog using a Rafflecopter entry widget. This is the easiest way to keep track of who enters and to be able to contact the winner. You can see an example giveaway on my blog. One of the several entry methods is to follow me on IG.

⚠ If you do giveaways, be sure you’re doing them legally. I’ve consulted with a lawyer who specializes in working with bloggers. Because every country has their own giveaway laws, it’s pretty much impossible for a small company to run an international or worldwide giveaway legally. I hate disappointing my international readers, but I don’t make the laws…I just have to follow them!

Tip Fourteen: Think outside the Instagram box

Use your other social media and email to grow your Instagram! I do this in five ways:

  • Facebook Group: I started The Art of Hand-Lettering Facebook group which is an extension of my lettering challenges. It’s a free community of lettering artists of all skill levels. I post daily challenge prompt share threads so people can share their work. It’s a bit easier for all of us to interact over than it is on IG. I started it in September of 2015 group currently has nearly 70k members, and many people find me on IG because of they first discovered the FB Group.
  • Blog: I post my lettering challenge prompts and Instagram features on my blog and then promote those blog posts via my social channels and emails. I also have links to my social account in every blog post signature and along the top and/or bottom of my blog.
  • Pinterest: I created Pinnable graphics that link directly to my Instagram account and pin them to applicable boards. Here’s an example of one of those pins. If you click it, you go right to my Instagram account! How to upload a pinnable image like this on Pinterest:
    1. To save an image from your computer:
    2. Click the + at the top right corner of Pinterest and click Upload a Pin
    3. Click Upload Image and find the file on your computer
    4. Add the destination URL
    5. Pick a board for your Pin and add a description
    6. Click Save
  • Google-Friendly Pop-up: I use the MiloTree pop up (shown in the photo below). You can use it to grow multiple accounts, and it alternates which account it shows. I caught a screenshot of my pop-up when it was showing my Facebook page, but I have it set to grow my Instagram, Pinterest, and Email accounts. You can control what it shows and how often it shows so it doesn’t pop up every single time a reader goes to your blog.
  • Email: Set up an email signature that links to all your social media. On occasion, I’ll highlight one of my platforms and ask if they’re following me there and place a big “Follow me on Instagram!” button to make it easy on them.

15 Ways I Grew My Instagram by 515% in One Year. I'm sharing fifteen organic methods and strategies I used to grow my Instagram account to nearly 90k followers.

Tip Fifteen: Plan Ahead

Planning ahead goes back to tip number seven about being consistent. Since having a life outside of social media is ideal, it’s a good idea to plan IG content ahead of time and schedule posts so you can take time off.

I use Tailwind to schedule my IG posts. It even has a hashtag tool that rocks!

With social media accounts for both my sites, the Tailwind dashboard allows me to flip between my various Pinterest and Instagram accounts easily. Plus, just look at all that valuable data!

15 Ways I Grew My Instagram by 515% in One Year. I'm sharing fifteen organic methods and strategies I used to grow my Instagram account to nearly 90k followers.

I’ll show you how it works in the video below.

These are my personal results, but Tailwind also publishes the Typical Results of Tailwind for Instagram Members every year, so you can see exactly what the average growth rate looks like for their members.

The most challenging thing about social media is that there isn’t one tried and true formula that works for everyone. You have to do some trial and error to figure out what works best for you.

Educate yourself about Instagram, pay attention to what content your readers are most engaged with and/or are asking for, experiment with your content and post times, and then do what works best for you and your readers.

15 Ways I Grew My Instagram by 515% in One Year. I'm sharing fifteen organic methods and strategies I used to grow my Instagram account to nearly 90k followers.
Photo via Unsplash.com

Up Next: Show me the money!

The lesson you’ve been waiting for: How I Make Six-Figures blogging. I’ll talk about the various income streams that contribute to my overall revenue in next week’s lesson.

Go to the Course Homepage



With Heart + Hustle,

15 Comments on 15 Ways I Grew My Instagram by 515% in One Year

  1. Great tips. Although I’ve found it’s more difficult to grow Instagram now with all the algorithm changes and updates. Now, marketing and branding really have to be consistent for growth. The call to action tip, I love. How refined of a niche should the page be? Like (interior designer/interior design) or ( contemporary home interior design/designer) focus? I’ve been stuck at 9,000 for months. Creating original posts and getting okay engagement, but lose followers and gain followers. Doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, unless I pay for a shoutout from a bigger niche related account or run IG ads .

    • Hi Kenal!

      I think a lot depends on your goal(s) for Instagram. I use it to create a community and as a bit of an online portfolio more than anything. Artist Austin Kleon posted this in his IG caption this week and it was a great reminder: “YOU WANT HEARTS, NOT EYEBALLS. Stop worrying about how many people follow you online and start worrying about the quality of people who follow you.” I love that!

  2. Hey there Dawn,

    I help small business owners learn how to find their inner confidence while growing their online presence and I LOVE this post so much. There are SO many golden nuggets inside this post. It’s so easy to overcomplicate things on instagram but you are absolutely right that knowing what your audience wants and testing things is the way to go. It’s different for everyone! Pinning this to save and share! Thanks!


  3. This was an excellent read! Great, actionable tips. I have been putting off getting LinkTree, but I guess I will check it out now.

    Follow/unfollow is so vexing. I mean, I have about 130 followers…I’m going to notice if someone follow/unfollows me :/

    It’s worse when it’s someone with like 50k+ followers…stop stepping on us like bugs, big guys 😉

  4. Wow, Dawn, thanks for sharing all these tips!! I’m a blogger also (I blog about blogging let journal stuff mostly) but I struggle a bit with Instagram, so it’s great to hear all the detailed advice from someone who’s had success there.

  5. I’m a lifestyle blogger, designer, and stylist. I predominantly post about design, food, travel, and entertaining but motherhood and beauty tips every once in awhile. What would you recommend for someone like me that has less of a niche focus? I definitely feel like it’s harder to grow without a niche but I am a lifestyle blogger. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks!

    • Hi Kerri! I think this is when it’s a great idea to scope out popular Instagrammers in a similar situation and see what’s working for them to give yourself ideas and see what resonates with common readers you may have. Some of my faves to follow that may be in your niche: @jennakutcher, @hilaryrushford, @promisetangeman. All of these ladies mix lifestyle, travel, and design well while creating community via their captions and personalities! I think more and more people are looking to connect with the person behind the blog. That’s something I’d like to work on myself. Getting in front of the camera is not my favorite though! I’d rather be behind it. But as a reader, I connect more with the accounts that really let us get to know them so I’m working up the courage to do this myself. I figure even if I lose some followers with this change, it will be a good thing as it will ultimately create a more loyal and engaged following. Hope this helps a bit! 🙂

  6. I find all the follow/unfollow nonsense so frustrating! It is a bit of a fine line, because you want to be tactful and polite, so initially follow back. But once you see how many people drop you instantly, you soon learn! If people are interested in your content, they stick around. Simple.


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