I recently read an article entitled “Confessions of an Instagram Influencer.” The link was a bit click bait because the beginning sentence read that he “used to post cat photos, now he uses a marketing agency.” The article went on to explain that becoming “famous” on Instagram, means that you have to do what everyone else likes, instead of posting what you like. While I think that's totally wrong, and I'll use myself to prove it, I know that many feel this is the case. The only photos that get likes are ones that seem perfect or beautiful. But in this post I hope to show you how to grow your Instagram the right way, without having to post like everyone else.

When I first started to really grow my brand on Instagram, I decided I needed to be picture perfect and essentially match everyone else. My photos were all white backdrops and I spent hours taking photos of my “flatlays.” I can actually remember my trip to Asia and I was worried I wouldn't have enough white in my pictures. Can you believe this?! Instead of me posting about my great trip, I was trying to fit inside the square box Instagram put me in!

Then it all changed. I realized I couldn't be like anyone else, I had to create content that came from me. I wasn't sure if I would lose followers or not, but I couldn't just post like everyone else. It wasn't working. I spent tons of time, research, and man hours working on what I wanted to show on Instagram. The result? My Instagram (at least to me) exploded. I have just shy of 40,000 Instagram followers on @heleneinbetween. And everyday I post pics that I love that actually represent me. I've helped 1,000s of others do the same (I actually run a course called Instagram for Success) and today I want to share some of my insight with you.

One of the main points I learned is that Instagram, and really any social media platform, is about two things: being relatable or admirable and telling a story. Relatable, meaning other people might say, yeah I totally feel like this too! This is why so many “meme” accounts like @thefatjewish or @daddyissues_ are so popular. We look at them and relate.

Admirable is we aspire to be like. This works for those luxury accounts or crazy travel instagrammers or someone that wears expensive clothes. We look at their lifestyle and think, I want that too. The second, and most integral part is to tell a story. If your account has no meaning then there's really no point. ANYONE can post pretty pictures. There are people all over the world that are professional photographers. What sets you apart if your unique story.

So, instead of trying to be an Instagram influencer, be a creator. Click To Tweet

So, instead of trying to be an Instagram influencer, be a creator. Influence others in your own unique way. Now, to me, that means you still need to post regularly and share quality content. I know this intro was a bit long, but lets get into how to grow your Instagram the right way.

1. What's Your Purpose?

You might have noticed that this blog post title is “How to Grow Your Instagram the Right Way” the reason being is because SO many strategies are all about gaining followers. While that's fine, that shouldn't be your point. You know those accounts with 100,000 followers and barely even 500 likes? Or maybe they have tons of likes but maybe just a few spammy comments? They got their followers the wrong way. Their followers don't care or aren't engaged with what they have to say. While they might *look* cool with so many followers, it doesn't really matter because it isn't helping their bottom line. If your followers are engaged it makes all the difference. I would much rather have 1,000 engaged fans then 10,000 unengaged.

So in order to do that, we need to know our purpose. Maybe you have a story to tell or something inspiring to share. Whatever it is, find your why. Really, the same can be said of a blog or any other social media channel. We have to give people a reason to follow us.

Too often everyone’s chasing the perfect ‘gram, when they forget themselves! Think about the people you love to follow on Instagram. Chances are they have a story you crave to learn more about.

Read More: Why buying followers (and doing “like for likes”) hurts your engagement.

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The Ultimate Instagram Checklist

A free 12 step guide to ensure you succeed with Instagram every time you post.

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2. Be Active on the Platform

The way the algorithm works is that when you post, people see your posts and engage. If you leave long gaps of not posting, people will see your posts less. There’s of course more to it than that, but the bottom line is to post regularly to really get more engagement. Also, you’ll be more top of mind! I know it's not always easy to come up with new content, so my suggestion is to have some photos that are ready to go. I always have “notes” section on my phone with some caption and picture ideas. When I keep it organized, I'm not stressed or thinking about what I need to post. I like to keep content fresh – meaning I enjoy taking pictures of what happened that day, but it's not always the case. So I keep those photos in my back pocket, ready to go. The great part about Instagram is that it allows you to save your drafts. So you can upload, edit and even have a caption, then click save, and it's all there for you!

*I know there's a spelling error in the caption, this was just a draft! So it's easy to fix and make changes, without it going live.

The next step in being active on the platform, is of course, to interact. Like, comment, and interact with others on Instagram! I often work one on one with people who are looking to grow their following. I spoke with a girl recently who said she has a good follower base but gets hardly any comments. I asked her… well are you commenting on others? Her answer was no, and as soon as she did, the comments came. Don't forget to also respond to comments on your Instagram too.

*170 comments on this post

If you need some extra ideas, here are 14 photo ideas for your Instagram (one of the post pinned posts on this blog!)

3. Post at the Right Time

There’s a lot of debate on the best time to post to Instagram. This really depends on YOUR followers and when they are active on the platform. I currently live in Germany, but my base of followers is 90% USA based, so I try to not post until 1pm (or 7am central time). If I want engagement with my posts (likes, comments, follows) then I need to be cognizant of when to post. I have a whole post on the best time to post to Instagram, but using apps like Iconosquare and Instagram analytics itself will help you narrow it down.

This doesn't have to be a science, but it does help to post at the best times.

4. Use Instagram as a tool

The way the social media app is set up is to help you grow, but you need to follow the rules a bit. That means filling out your profile, having a clear profile picture, including your bio (bonus points for having a call to action that includes a link!), and making your username easy to find. On your pictures, don't forget to add geotags, that means tagging the location, and also using hashtags. Doing all of these things will not only make you look more legitimate, it will help you be found on Instagram.

As for hashtags, these can be game changers for interaction and growing your presence. Here are my top picks for hashtags that will help you grow. Remember, you can vary up your hashtags depending on what you post. I might post different hashtags depending on what my picture is. Here's my free guide on all things hashtags!

5. Tell YOUR Story

We all have a unique story and a unique following. No one's Instagram account is identical, so share your story in your own words with your voice. I think when we embark on growing our social media platforms we get a little lost along the way. We feel like we need to fit the mold and do what's popular. But really, if you aren't being yourself, then I truly believe you'll become uninterested and dispassionate. Not to mention that your followers will see through it and peace out.

I do believe in creating an Instagram theme, but I believe that can mean a lot of different things. It DOES NOT mean every picture needs to look a certain way. What needs to be clear is the message that you're trying to get across. Like I've said above, you need to give people a reason why to follow you. The answer to that question doesn't need to come over night, Give yourself time to think about what you're passionate about, plus what your followers might find interesting as well. I know what my audience like and I know what I like to post, when I combine that I'm able to really see a difference with my account.

Bottom line, don't forget why you like using Instagram. You shouldn't feel like you have to do what everyone else does. Post what you want and use Instagram s a tool to help YOU grow!

The Ultimate Instagram Checklist

A free 12 step guide to ensure you succeed with Instagram every time you post.

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