10k followers in 6 months: How I grew my Instagram fast

September 16, 2019

I started my bookstagram account stackedshelves in February 2019 and grew to 10k followers in just over 6 months. More than 50% of this growth took place in the last 6 weeks, from the beginning of August. My posts now get an average of 2-4k likes.  I get questions daily about how my account has grown so quickly, and even accusations of buying likes and followers, which is hilarious. I’m far too broke for that.

All jokes aside, the Instagram algorithm can be a bit tricky, so I’ve come up with 10 top tips for working your way around it to maximise the reach of your individual posts and grow your following in a short space of time. If they worked for me, there’s no reason why they can’t work for you too.

Find your niche


This has above all been the key to growing my account. When I first made stackedshelves, I was posting the usual flat-lays/close-ups/side-ons of books that you see all over bookstagram. The problem here is that the market for this kind of content is completely oversaturated. It’s therefore important to make yourself stand out somehow. I grew to around 2.5k followers posting flatlay pictures, and then one day I randomly decided to take a picture of myself holding a book, and it blew up far more than any of my other posts. That was back in July, and since then I have made my brand out of pairing books with my outfits.

        
An example of one of my old posts 
The first post of mine that really took off!



Finding a niche is easier said than done. I found mine entirely by accident, after 5 months of bookstagramming. But really, all it takes is some experiment. Switch up your content, try out different styles, and don’t just copy someone else’s feed – that goes entirely against the point of making yourself stand out! There are so many ways you can carve out a niche for yourself. Some great accounts that I know of have a certain colour that they bring through in all of their posts, or distinctive props. Some are bright and cheerful; others are dark and moody.  Make content that you enjoy creating, and don’t be afraid to try new things. Eventually, you’ll figure out what kind of content you should focus on, and it’ll be onwards and upwards.  


Nail your editing style

Along with developing certain types of photos for your feed, you need to create a distinctive aesthetic to tie your posts together. This is determined by the lighting and editing of your pictures.  I’ll be publishing another post soon on the exact details of how I take/edit my photos, which I get a lot of questions about. But for now, my advice is to play around with many of the great free editing apps out there – VSCO, Lightroom, Snapseed, etc., are all very popular. I exclusively use VSCO for all my edits, and I don’t even pay for membership. Try taking your pictures in the sun – if you don’t like this, take them when it’s cloudy instead. Try out different filters; mess round with exposure and contrast. Figure out if you prefer warm or cool toned pictures by changing the white balance.
All of this is quite fun, making it relatively easy to find your groove with the editing process. Apart from the first month or so of bookstagramming, I haven’t really switched up my editing after finding the aesthetic that I like.

              
Before
After


Post everyday

Posting consistently is important for a) filling out your feed/attracting new followers and b) delivering content for the followers you already have. I very rarely follow new accounts which have only a handful of posts; I can’t gauge their vibe/aesthetic from three or four pictures. My recommendation is to fill out your feed quickly at the start, even posting multiple times a day to get into your stride with bookstagram – this will also help you with steps 1 and 2. After building a good number of posts (I’d say around 30), posting once a day is perfectly sufficient.

But NOT at the exact same time

Insights are a great feature of upgrading your account from a Personal to a Business/Creator account (which you should definitely do when you first start out). They tell you about the demographic of your audience, including when your followers are most active. However,  I fell into the trap of seeing that 6pm was my best time for engagement and then posting at 6pm on the dot, every day, for months.


Insights tell me that the window 3pm-9pm is my best time for posting


I cannot stress enough how much my reach and engagement from my followers improved when I started posting at different times every day. Obviously, there’s no point posting at a time when your Insights show you have the least engagement (for example, between 12am and 12pm the number of my active followers is lowest). Now, I post from anywhere between 3:30 pm in the afternoon to 9 pm at night, making sure to switch it up every day. I’m not sure about the Instagram science behind this (and obviously very little about the algorithm is actually confirmed by Instagram), but I have definitely found that posting at the same time for days in a row reduces engagement and reach.

Use 30 hashtags on every post


I quite often see bookstagram accounts using only around 10 hashtags on their posts. Why?! Instagram allows you to use 30, so use them all. On nearly all of my posts, my hashtags are the highest source of engagement, and thus the primary route through which I gain new followers. If your post has a good level of engagement, it’ll often be featured in the ‘Top’ section of some of the individual hashtags you’ve used. This means that one post can keep gaining you new likes and followers for days on end, because anyone who navigates to that particular hashtag will see your post featured.


This example shows how important hashtags are for making impressions and
gaining new followers from every post.
I know that some people think using 30 hashtags every day can impact negatively on the performance of posts, but I have never found this to be the case. Look at the hashtags other bookstagrammers use in their bios/comment section, and create a list of 30 hashtags for your post. I would avoid using basic hashtags like #bookstagram and #bookstagrammer because they each have millions of posts – your post is going to be swallowed up by hundreds of people using this hashtag every day. Use some smaller hashtags instead, like #bookislife, which only has 168k posts. Your post will be more visible to anyone perusing the hashtag, and is more likely to get featured.  


SWITCH UP your hashtags

This one is very important, and something I only learned very recently! Using the exact same hashtags every single day will reduce the reach of your posts. I’ve done this myself – I had one post take off with a certain set of hashtags, and then I copied and pasted the exact same hashtags into every subsequent post. For the next few posts, I still had good reach, and then I had ZERO reach from the same hashtags a few days later (screenshot evidencing this below). Again, I have no idea of the Instagram science behind this, but it’s probably to do with bots using the same hashtags over and over. I have a list of around 50 hashtags in the Notes on my phone, which I now keep in rotation to stop this from happening again.

I used the hashtags from the post above too many days
in a row, and Instagram blocked this post from
achieving any reach from hashtags. Keep your hashtags in
rotation to prevent this from happening!

 
Engage! Engage! Engage!




The next few points are all about engaging with other bookstagrammers. This is so important for embedding yourself into the community, and it’s also the nicest thing about being a part of bookstagram. Follow accounts you like, and be an ACTIVE follower. Like their posts, and leave meaningful comments. Not just ‘love this photo’ or a heart emoji, but a response to the question they’ve asked, or a line which shows you’ve really taken the time to engage with their content. I find new people to follow from the comments they leave on my pictures all the time, and if someone takes the time out of their day to leave an extended response to one of my posts, I’ll usually have a look at their profile at the very least.

Join/make Comment Pods


Comment Pods are a hotly debated topic on Instagram. Some think there is evidence that Instagram see them as spam and that they therefore have a negative impact upon engagement. Personally, I’ve never found this to be the case. I’m in around five or six Comment Pods, which are groups of other bookstagrammers. The idea is that you notify the group when you’ve posted, and they like and comment on your new post to drive up engagement and beat the algorithm. You in turn do the same for them. I’ve always found Comment Pods to be a really good way to achieve a high level of engagement quickly, which is important for promoting your post into the ‘Top’ section of certain hashtags, or on the Explore page. Sure, the engagement Comment Pods provide is inorganic, but they’ve always worked for me, and it’s so easy to message a few bookstagram friends and set one up.

Participate in SFS sessions


SFS sessions are shout-out for shout-out sessions that are usually hosted by a group of bookstagrammers. The idea is that an account gives you a shout-out in their stories, and then you return the shout-out, and everyone gains followers. They’re a really good way of achieving growth quickly, once your feed and aesthetic are established. If you engage with other bookstagrammers, you’ll often get asked to participate in these sessions, or alternatively, you can message people and ask them to do one with you. I would be careful to not do too many of these sessions as your account gets bigger – the endless reams of shoutout returns in your story are annoying and can cause people to unfollow you (I know this from personal experience!).

Utilise your stories


Speaking of which, utilising your stories is another great way to keep your engagement levels high. Ask questions in your story, show your followers what you’re doing/reading, and give them an insight into your life and personality that they may not get from your posts. Why? Because it’s interesting. When you follow someone, it’s natural to want to see ‘behind the camera’ and know a bit more about them. I often do Q&A’s in my stories for this reason.
On a more technical note, posting consistently on your stories will also bring your icon back to the forefront of the list of stories every user has at the top of their homepage. This will direct more of your followers to your profile, and increase your engagement levels.

Some final parting points:

  • The most important thing is to not give up. Social media is always up and down.
  • Be patient! These things take time, so don’t expect to see results overnight.
  • Enjoy it! There’s no point trying to grow your bookstagram if you don’t love what you’re doing. It’s only Instagram, after all. 

I hope that these tips gave you an insight into how I have grown my bookstagram at such a rate over the last few months. I’m no expert, and this list is certainly not exhaustive, but I’m sure that if you follow these tips you’ll see an improvement in your reach and growth in no time. It may seem like a lot of effort, but it’s all great fun and will be worth it in the end.


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