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Fan Base! Building a Following on Instagram Requires Daily Cultivation

Updated: Jun 23, 2020

Whether we’re launching a client’s Instagram presence, or taking on an account that isn’t performing well, the first question we’re asked is always about the number of followers. Clients want their social accounts to grow quickly into an enormous fan and follower base, because, to them, it’s the clearest measurement of social media success.

I used to believe that the number of fans was a vanity metric, because it didn’t tell the whole story. If you have 10,000 followers on Twitter, but zero retweets or mentions, and nobody ever clicks through to your website, what’s the value? If you have 110,000 Facebook fans, but your post visibility is low, your post engagement (likes, comments, shares) is sub-par, and referring website clicks are minimal, then what’s the point? Measuring real outcomes — clicks and conversions (or donations), on-page engagement, retweets and shares and comments— tells you much more about your social media effectiveness than the mere number of followers on your account.

But after a decade of building communities, I now understand that’s only part of the story.

Because, if you’re a financial services company, or selling a product, or vying for donations to your nonprofit, the credibility of your brand is essential to your success. People need to trust that you’re the real deal before they’ll agree to spend real money on you. And if your Facebook account has 129 fans, that doesn’t communicate authority or longevity in your industry. (This is definitely an area of opportunity for the team when it comes to our own social presence. We’re so intent on building effective social media outreach and engagement for our clients, our internal efforts sometimes suffer.)

So, yes, your fan and follower numbers matter — they imply a level of authority or credibility, and a larger base means a bigger audience to engage.

Although we understand a simple solution to grow your followers may be to purchase them, we never recommend doing so, because it tends to be sketchy. You may get a ton of followers for a little bit of money, but they’re not in your target audience, they’re not going to engage with your brand, and they may not even be legitimate profiles — which means you’ll be penalized when those accounts get suspended by the platform. Why pay for a bunch of off-shore fake accounts, if your true goal is to create value for your target audiences?

Paid advertising on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can be a smart way to build your base, because they all allow for highly targeted campaigns. We’ve found that we can get new Facebook fans at a range of 30 cents to $1 cost-per-fan, but have sometimes seen that cost go up to $5 or more depending on how granular and specific our targeting is. Instagram, at least so far, tends to be a bit pricey when it comes to cost-per-fan.

But if you don’t have a giant budget to run fan campaigns on a monthly basis, how can you build an Instagram following that matters?


It’s hard work, it takes time, and it requires focus, but cultivation of your fan base on Instagram (and on Twitter, too!) can lead to stronger relationships with your followers and better results when tying your efforts to business goals.

What’s cultivation? community managers spend time every day on clients’ Instagram accounts. Not only are they posting new photos and using hashtag strategies to build visibility, but they’re also making a conscious effort to engage other Instagram users.

1. Be a follower

One of the strongest ways to build a following is to follow others. Reciprocal following isn’t guaranteed, and shouldn’t be expected. But the more people you follow, the more followers you’ll get. That said, don’t follow just anyone. Be strategic. Follow Instagram users in your target audience, influencers (bloggers, artists, experts, journalists) who are posting on relevant subjects to your brand, and celebrities (both real and Insta-famous) who might find your brand worth engaging with.

2. Like and comment

Get all up in Instagram and be ready to put positivity out there. Search relevant hashtags and like and comment on posts that fit your brand aesthetic, concept, or values. Be authentic with your compliments (and don’t promote your brand – that’s spammy). Share your true delight, or commiseration, or hopeful message.

3. Regram when appropriate

If someone posts a photo of your product or cause, regram it. If a local resident posts an awesome boomerang in the vicinity of your company or community, regram it. If a customer posts an image that’s relevant to your target audiences, regram it. We use the “Repost” app to make sure we’re providing proper credit to the original user — don’t regram without tagging and thanking the account that posted the original photo.

This is probably the stickiest part of cultivation, because it’s essential to be careful in how you co-opt someone else’s creative work. The more generous you are in giving props, the better. community managers are tasked with this kind of daily, real-time, intentional engagement, because it drives strong results. Not only do we build fans and followers this way, we create relationships with influencers, potential customers, and the media that can lead to powerful results for our clients’ brands. It’s time-intensive and requires a deep knowledge of our clients’ priorities, voice, and brand values.

And it’s totally worth it.

Eric Elkins is CEO and Chief Strategist at Eric brings nearly two decades of experience to our clients. In his other life, he’s a single dad, an avid eater, and a bourbon aficionado.

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