Just thought I give an honest account on how my Instagram finally blew up after being in the dark for half a decade. To justify my findings, I have to admit that I have knowledge of web development, SEO and the growth of  a social media account. However, knowing and achieving results are 2 different matters. I still remember talking to a friend who kept pulling out names of huge accounts and I got seriously irritated. I shot her a question, “Yes they have millions of followers but they all start from the  300 followers. My question is not what I should be doing when I have millions of followers but how do I get from 300 to a million followers?”

Obviously, there was no answer and I took it upon myself to figure out the strategy. This happened November 2016.

I am a pure autodidact and learn geeky stuff on my own. So here’s my understanding of how it works. It may help you if you are trying to grow your account organically but I don’t give specific steps or answers. Most of the strategy have to be figured out by you.

0-1000 followers, average likes 15-120

Your account is new, your followers are your immediate family, work associates and friends. You post photos of your life, i.e.-food, parties, friends, selfies, gears, ootds, work and well.. your life. You find that certain posts have few likes while others have more. Instagram is a social tool, the more likes and comments you give the more you receive in return.

What’s important to note is that your content shouldn’t be valued at the amount of likes it received because Instagram is ultimately a social app. It is not an accurate representation of how good your content is.


1000-3000 followers, average likes 30-300

You meet friends along the way and your followers increase as your followings increased. Your followers are still very much friend-based instead of fan-based. The less attention you pay to your feed, the more your own feed suffers.

Some accounts are stuck are a lower follower count because of a few reasons : you meet less people or you are not willing to follow just anybody. I mean, it’s your feed it should be of good content right?

To grow in this stage here’s what you need to do:

1. Focus on certain content. If your food photos are not getting engagements, stop posting them. Keep posting what your audience like. Or if you prefer, train your audience to like certain content. One thing is for sure, keep your content specific and consistent. People have a hard time associating all sorts of different topics to your account. If you post mainly cat photos and suddenly plug in a car photo, you can bet the car photo is going to have less engagement. Exceptions- your wedding, new bf or new baby.

2. Plan the look and curation. Instagram works in rows of 3s. Alternate between close ups and wide shots to give a variation. Post photos with same color theme in batches. It’s difficult but the effort pays off.

3. Hashtags are your friend. Google popular hashtags and tags your photo appropriately. Make sure to tag immediately right after you post.

4. Photo quality. The phone matters because the quality of the photo depends on the camera your phone has equipped on it. Most of my photos are taken with another camera, edited with more than 4 apps and sometimes in Photoshop before I post it.


3000-10000 followers, average likes 60-500

This has the steepest growth difficulty as you transition from a friend-based account to a fan-based account. Content curation needs to be on point as your further narrow down the content you post and get better at the photography. You need to constantly resist the urge to post some random photos of your cat or your mom.

‘Here are some tips separated into 2 groups.

Group 1 – Organically your account

1. Driven traffic. Instagram is a sub-social media account that needs to leverage on big accounts driving followers to it. For example, your YouTube channel, blog, website, Etsy or Facebook. It’s difficult to grow the account on its own without support. This fact works true for any social media account you want to grow. Driven traffic is always a big factor when it comes to growing a fan base. Celebrities have their press coverage, movies, albums and billboards to drive traffic to their social media app.

In short, if you don’t have them you create them. It takes 4 years or so to grow and account if you do things right and it’s a worthwhile experience if you are serious enough about this. AT the end of the day it doesn’t matter if Instagram closes down and another app comes up, you would already be able to drive traffic to the new app when it happens.

IG @hazelong

2. Getting featured. There are many curation accounts in Instagram that curates your type of content. For example, an account that curates just flat lay food photos, travel photos, macro photos, hot chicks selfies, chicks with abs, art work etc. Your content needs to be featured on these accounts and your follower counts will increase leaps and bounds.

My account jumped from 8k to 14k in just a day because I was featured in more than 3 huge accounts. I wanted to target curation accounts that share photos of artists working in studio. So I set up my photography in such a way and it worked. For the first time I wasn’t happy when people share my photos because they are doing it to grow their account. The benefits reversed and I was overjoyed(thoroughly conflicted of course). It came with it own set of problems, it seemed that i must post a combo of me+artwork. Either one solo doesn’t work, I wasn’t sure I am flattered or insulted. When I say doesn’t work, I mean I am losing followers. After an additional 1k followers, I could freely post my content while still being mindful of my own curation.

To do this is simple, first you create the content that is relevant to the curation account. Look through the photos in the account and figure out content that can land you there. Once the idea is there, do it and when you post, tag up to 20 accounts that might feature your content. Pray and hope for the best. It’s not instant but all you need is one hit out of many tries.

3. Friend features. If you know friends who have big accounts and have relevant content similar to yours, asking for a share wouldn’t be too difficult.


Group 2 – Technically growing your account 

You can do this manually or get an automation tool to do this. This method is slow and steady. You won’t get jumps in follower counts unless you go to the dark side and purchase followers  I do not recommend that as the followers are most likely fake or spam accounts.

1. Follow others. Formula – out of 10 accounts you follow 6 will follow you back. The strategy is to follow accounts and slowly unfollow them after a week or 2. There’s no difference if you purchase followers if you blindly follow accounts. You should follow accounts that is relevant to your content, accounts that might buy your products or might be your fans.

Pro- it’s the fastest way of growth.

‘Problem – Instagram has a follow limit of 7500. You can’t follow anymore after that.

Problem – Instagram are sensitive when you unfollow people. If you follow and unfollow right after, you might get banned. You need to pace your unfollowing so you still have capacity to follow accounts while not get banned doing unfollowing. There’s also the problem of people unfollowing you once you unfollow them. So there’s that.

Problem – it’s darn obvious. If you come across accounts with followers and followings number close to each other, this is the technique they use. And these accounts are definitely not influencers that can help your business. A strong account has fans, not subscribers. There’s a difference.


2. Like photos.  Formula – every 10 accounts you like, 2 will follow you back. The strategy is the same. Go to revelant accounts, like their latest 2 photos. It has to be 2.

Problem – slow and time consuming.  No one said it would be easy.

Problem – It’s not that obvious but still traceable. If you look under your news feed > following, you can see activities of people you follow. You can even see what photos people like. However, the feed updates quickly and accounts are shuffled so the chances of people stumbling on your account and finding out that you been liking too many photos are slim.


10k onwards. 

At this point, you know how to play the game. The leaps in follower counts come fastest from getting featured (in instagram or elsewhere)and as long as you focus on creating content that gets you that, your account should grow quickly. But if you start posting random bad quality photos again don’t be surprised if your follower count drop.

‘At this point you should be thinking of ways to constantly create content that can get you huge increases of followers at a REASONABLE COST and EFFORT. Hiring a full time photographer/videographer is too much if you just want to grow accounts. I know a friend who have so many props for food styling it takes up an entire kitchen cabinet. *Cough.

If the growth in account results in product sales conversions and could justify the means, all is good. But if all you get are event invitations and pro-bono advertorials what’s the point? Remember your account is growing and you have the choice to direct the traffic to product sales, charity cause or your inflated ego.

Another fun formula I’ve discovered – 40k followers, average 1500 likes account runs an auction for a product it’s selling. It resulted in 12 bids. Just an estimate on when you can start monetising your account.

Caution should be taken when it comes to monetising for products or advertorials. Imagine your account now is valued at 50k followers, let’s put it a 50k dollars worthy account. Each time you sell something, promote something that is not truly relevant to your cause your account’s value drops. The more you do it the more it drops. Ultimately, people don’t like to have ads shoved in their face and if they want to watch advertisements, they could buy a magazine or watch the TV.

Remember the value of your account and cherish it by constantly creating good content. Find the ultimate balance of 80% grear content that can be created with the least resources and 20% monetising content that brings in big bucks.