Instagram for Authors: Finding Followers Authentically

When it comes to any social media channel, the number one question I’m asked in my day-job as a social media professor is, “How do I find more followers?” Sometimes this is followed up with another question: “Is it bad to buy followers?” Let’s unpack both of those questions. 

First, let’s address buying followers. There are many services out there where you can buy 1,000 followers for as little as $10 US dollars. But should you pay up? The answer to that is no. Never. Don’t do it. One reason is that Instagram may ban you if it discovers you’ve paid for followers. 

But the biggest reason you shouldn’t pay for a service like this is that the followers you’re paying for are usually fake. Sure, having a lot of followers may sound great and give you social clout, but purchased followers are likely bots or inactive accounts, so they won’t engage with your posts. The Instagram algorithm prioritizes engagement when it comes to deciding how much to promote your content in the feed of those who follow you and on pages for hashtags and search. If your followers are mostly fake, and they don’t engage, it means your posts won’t show up on Instagram’s Explore Pages, or on your real audience’s newsfeeds. It will also make it hard to measure metrics.

So what about those services that you can pay to follow other accounts on your behalf based on your preferences (location, hashtag usage, account type, and gender)? They sound great, if, ideally, those followed accounts will follow you back.

And sure, they might be real people, but engagement is still unlikely. Since you can't even guarantee these accounts will follow you back, it’s a risky investment. Most accounts won’t follow you back, and even if they do, they probably aren’t going to be long-term, loyal, or active followers.

So what can you do to bring in followers?

First, make sure your profile is optimized. Make sure your account name is search-friendly and that your call-to-action (this could be a link to buy your book, or to your blog, or website) is very clear. 

Next, make sure to post at the right time to boost engagement (which boosts your chance of being shown to new people in search and browsing). That means you need to have a good idea of when your audience is online. If you haven’t switched to a business profile yet (and if you are a serious author, you know you are also a business of one), it’s a good time to do so, because you can use Instagram Insights to determine this and regularly keep an eye on when engagement is highest. If you’re just starting out, CoSchedule made a general determination that you can use to get going, marking Mondays and Thursdays as the best days to post, between 8–9AM. Avoid between 3–4PM. Posting content more during off-work hours tends to receive higher engagement in general. 

It’s also useful for you to engage with other accounts that have a similar audience that you are trying to attract. When you comment, be real and authentic, with real heart behind your words. This will get you the attention of the person whose post you are commenting on, but also others who are viewing it and find your commentary interesting. Focus on posting comments that are relevant to your audience, that will entertain them or give them additional value. That doesn’t mean a comment that directs people to buy your book. No one likes a salesperson all over their feed.

You also want to make sure that your Instagram content doesn’t look or sound like an ad. If a user comes to your profile but sees too much text that screams BUY MY BOOK PLEASE, you’ll lose that potential fan in a heartbeat. Your content should be visually interesting, valuable to your audience, and should blend in seamlessly with the content they’re consuming. Instagrammers have a very low tolerance for spammy content. 

User-generated content is a great way to help extend your reach into a wider fan base. As your audience proliferates content, tagging your account or using a specific hashtag, it helps you gain wider visibility. Be a promoter of other people’s content, be that other authors or the cool things your fans are doing. Interacting with your audience helps bring people back to your profile and posts, which in turn drives engagement that you need to have in order for the Instagram algorithm to boost your posts. You can use third party tools to easily share (and give credit) to other people’s content. 

Make sure you’re using the right hashtags. Use a good mix of a dedicated brand hashtag, trending hashtags, and niche hashtags.There are a number of services that can help you generate and analyze hashtags or find the top trending hashtags on the service. 

With those hashtags, you also want to think about content you can quickly create that you can insert into trending conversations. Look for internet holidays where you can insert links to your site or book into the broader discussion. For example, on the side, I’m an author who writes fiction about food. When #NationalFrenchToastDay comes up, I can be ready with an image that will make the correlation with the book. 

Internet entrepreneur Richard Lazazzera, recommends that you steal from your competition. He ran a test and followed 100 of his competitors’ followers. Later, he followed another 100,  but this time he hit the “Like” button on the photos. Then he followed a third group of 100 and liked as well as commented on one photo from each account. Here’s what he found:

  • The accounts he only followed, he had 14% followback.
  • Those that he followed and liked, he had 22% followback.
  • And those that he followed, liked, and commented, he had a 34% followback. 

This sort of follow strategy isn’t easy, and it will take time to put into effect. Instagram has following limits that you need to be aware of. Those limits aren’t publicly stated, and they change regularly. It’s been put to the test by a number of people, and the amounts aren’t high, in the range of being able to follow 50–100 people a day before you receive a block by Instagram. Accounts that have been around for a long time and that have high follower counts already are likely able to follow many more. There are a number of paid apps out there that can follow and unfollow accounts, but we recommend caution with these apps as they can get your account blocked, or your content may be deprioritized. 

And finally, promote your Instagram outside of Instagram. Add it to your email signatures, ask people to follow you from Facebook or Twitter, and add easy clickthroughs on your website. You can even include a custom hashtag in outdoor advertising.

Unfortunately, there is no get-followers-fast scheme if you want to attract an authentic audience who is going to respond to your content and potentially buy your books. The big takeaway in all these tactics is that you need to ENGAGE. It’s simply the best way to attract and keep your followers. 

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About the Author

Crystal King is a 25-year marketing, social media and communications veteran, freelance writer and Pushcart-nominated poet. She is the author of the FEAST OF SORROW, about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius, and the forthcoming THE CHEF'S SECRET (February 12, 2019, Touchstone Books) about the famous Renaissance chef Bartolomeo Scappi. Currently Crystal works as a social media professor for HubSpot, a leading provider of Inbound marketing software. Crystal has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, UMass Boston and GrubStreet writing center. A former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in Critical and Creative Thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in media res. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or at her website: crystalking.com

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