One of the most significant milestones an online business can achieve is reaching one million followers. It comes with myriad benefits: The most obvious is the more people that pay attention to you, the more potential you have to influence your field. Having a large online following is an important measure of success for businesses — not just influencers.
Instagram is now one of the key platforms for engaging with your audience, whether you’re marketing a product, a business or your own online persona. Platforms like YouTube and Facebook still dominate, while Twitter, LinkedIn and TikTok cater to more niche audiences.
It took me just under three years to reach one million followers across YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and TikTok. Having worked with many well known influencers, public figures and major brands, I realized early on the seven-figure count will put you on the virtual map and give you a well-sized platform on which to continue growing your presence and authority.
But how do you reach that first, magical million? Luckily enough, with the right strategy, mindset and consistent work ethic, a million followers is achievable for just about anyone.
1. Use the right hashtags
This is by far the most important element to get right if you want to start building a serious online following. Be it on Instagram, Twitter, or another platform, hashtags are the primary way in which potential new followers can find your content. But what’s meant by the right hashtags?
The hashtags need to meet two requirements: First, be relevant to your content and second, belong in the “trending,” or popular category. Creating regular topical posts is one way to get this right – commenting on current hot topics or posting images in line with current trends. By looking at up-to-date online analytics, you can find out what the trending hashtags are at the moment and try to get your content to match those topics.
However, one behavior to avoid is using irrelevant hashtags just because they’re trending. Hashtags need to match your content. Otherwise, you’ll end up disappointing and confusing your audience and missing out on potential follows.
2. Follow and engage with other users in your niche
Even as you’re working on building your own follower base, you should also follow other people with similar interests, content and target audiences. This makes you a part of a community and makes it easier for your target audience to find you.
If you’re serious about getting a large following on social media, you’re bound to have done your research on your direct competitors – or at least profiles and pages most similar to yours, if competition is not a factor. Engage with the community as much as possible to get your name out there and generate interest around your account. Commenting on your direct competitors’ posts and images is one of the best ways to drive traffic to your own profile. Eventually, new visitors will come to you, and if your content is engaging enough, at least some of them will turn into followers.
3. Post regular, high-quality content
As long as you’re not spamming your own timeline or others’ comment sections, you should be as active as possible. To show your potential followers that you have a lot of original, high-quality content to share, your posts should be regular and consistently engaging.
Sure, there’s an element of hit-and-miss in the early stages of experimenting with what works for you and your target audience, but once you have this worked out, try to keep a consistent style and format.
4. Post your content at the right time
There’s general information available online on the overall “best” times for posting, and these guides can certainly be helpful when starting out. However, once you start generating followers and engagement, it’s better to look at the data from your own posts and profiles. Your target audience might have slightly different habits and preferences than a typical account.
Analytics tools such as Instagram Analytics for Business, which you can find on Instagram under the Followers section, can give you insights into engagement with your posts. One of the most helpful is a timeline that tells you when your followers engage most on Instagram. From there, you can work out when is the best time to post your content, both in terms of time of day and day of the week.
5. Follow your competitors’ followers
Let’s say you’re in the Instagram niche of artsy, black and white urban photography. If you haven’t done so already, find profiles most similar to yours with lots of followers – their followers are clearly interested in black and white urban photography, or they wouldn’t be following a profile in that niche. Now, follow those followers.
By doing so, you’re directly reaching out to your prospective target audience and indirectly inviting them to check out your profile. Chances are at least some of these accounts will follow you back.
6. Drive traffic from other platforms
This isn’t an innovative technique, but people often forget to take advantage of it. Even if you’re primarily active on one platform, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use other outlets to drive traffic to your main profile.
Let’s say your primary platform is Instagram. Links to your Instagram page need to be everywhere possible. This includes your other social media – like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and even LinkedIn if that’s how you roll – as well as your website, if you have one (and you should have one).
Then, although you’re spending most of your time and effort on marketing yourself on Instagram, you should still carve out some time for some other social media promotion. Pinterest, which is visually driven like Instagram, is particularly useful for marketing images and videos.
7. Market your hashtag
Hopefully, you’ve done the hard work of creating a unique, relevant, and interesting personal hashtag. Now, make it into a brand! Of course, you should be sharing it on your other social media (see above), but remember you can also take your hashtag marketing offline. This is particularly useful if you’re running a small business. Include your hashtag on all promotional materials – from posters to business cards.
If you’re an aspiring influencer without an existing business, you can still make this work, though, with a bit of creativity. For example, get some well-designed, intriguing business cards or leaflets printed – featuring your hashtag, of course – and make sure they’re accessible to people who might take an interest in your content. For instance, if your niche is exercise and healthy living, ask whether you can leave your materials at a few local gyms and sports stores.
8. Use pro insights and analytics tools to your advantage
One of the key elements of a successful social media strategy is taking the guesswork out of the process. Luckily, there are useful tools and resources that can help you get reliable insights on your target audience, competition and the performance of your posts and engagements. Most of these platforms require a paid subscription for pro users, but getting the right data analysis can do wonders for boosting your follower count. Take advantage of free trials to experiment with different platforms before committing to a subscription.