Sometime last week, amidst the site relaunch and all my birthday celebrations, surprises, and slaycationing, I crossed the 100,000 follower mark on Instagram! I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago who asked me how I felt to be close to 100K, and at first, I said I didn’t care, because I want to believe that I live a life where numbers don’t matter. But since blogging and influencing is my main source of income, it actually does matter. Plus I have put in the work and dedication to grow an authentic, engaged, and supportive audience over the past several years, so I should be proud of myself! Here’s what I’ve learned on the way to 100,000 Instagram followers.
1. There are 3 ways to grow on IG
Although there’s a lot of advice on the Internet about how to grow an Instagram following, based on my observation and informal research, there are really only three ways to grow on social media. You can either be funny, be sexy, or be real. The first two are pretty straightforward, but people who have the most engaged audiences are the ones who feel like your friends. They are approachable, honest, and don’t appear to take themselves too seriously or put up any pretenses. So rather than putting all your energy into your photo editing or curating the perfect feed, if you’re trying to grow on Instagram, think about how you can present your most real and authentic self because that’s what people really want to see.
2. Money is not synonymous with your follower count
Although in the influencer space, income is somewhat tied to follower counts, it is definitely not the only, and not even the most important, metric that determines how much brands are willing to pay you. I made six figures from Instagram long before I had 100,000 followers, but I also know bloggers who have fewer than 100,000 followers who outearn me (Monroe is a great example!). If you are trying to pursue a full-time career or side hustle by monetizing your Instagram, don’t blame your follower count on the reason you’re not making money.
3. Instagram is simultaneously an exhausting and delightful place
For the most part, Instagram is a wonderful invention. I have made countless friends, some of which I have never met but whom I speak to regularly, on Instagram. It’s a great resource to discover new trends, styles, and find inspiration for every aspect of your life, from home decor to financial planning. However, Instagram can be both mentally and physically exhausting. As a woman, there is constant fielding of unwanted attention from men. There are Chinese virgin hair suppliers who illegally use my images to market their bundles. There are bots and trolls. And there is the emotional consequence of giving up a piece of yourself every time you post because every post is an invitation not only for connection and community but also for criticism.
4. Comparison is the thief of joy, at any follower count
Along those same lines, Instagram comparison is a very real threat to our mental health, and we need to be vigilant about how the app, despite its wonderful elements, makes us feel. Rather than immediately celebrating my accomplishment, one of the first things I did was compare myself to Mattie. Now let me be clear, I am very very happy for and proud of Mattie — you really should get your life and follow her if you’re not already because she works even harder than I do! — but the way my brain is wired, I thought, “yay Mattie did it too! But wait, why is she already at 101K?”. I’m sharing this specific example because I thought that once I hit the magical 100k follower count I’d leave the comparison game behind, but it’s unfortunately still part of how many of us experience the app.
5. Consistency is more likely to pay off than virality
And last but not least, the real key to Instagram growth and engagement is consistently creating quality content that attracts new people. I’ve been creating content for 10 YEARS, and I can count the number of weeks I’ve not posted a single piece of content in that time on 2 hands — a 4-week stretch was right when I started my PhD program, another week was during my honeymoon, and the most recent one was while I was finishing my dissertation. So many people post really bomb content a few times over the course of a year, then give up when their audience doesn’t grow the way they want them to. Others post regularly, but with content that doesn’t add value to anyone’s lives. Lastly, some people focus so much on hashtags, engagement pods, or giveaways that they grow in spurts, but don’t have a sustained growth trajectory. If you want to grow on Instagram, you simply have to do the work, be vulnerable, tell authentic stories, and do so regularly and consistently. That’s it. That’s the secret!