Tom & Mike have experimented with various social media platforms over the course of their entrepreneurial journey, but Instagram has always been a hot topic for their audience. With tons of information out there, it can get overwhelming to decide which strategies to use to grow your creative business on Instagram. With a combined audience of over 200,000 followers, Tom & Mike share their insights, experiences and the 8 top ways in which you can grow on the platform.
- Try new ideas & experiment with your content
- Be social on social media
- Comment on relevant posts
- Be your authentic self
- Don’t buy followers
- Don’t be a troll
- Be consistent
- Spring clean your Instagram
For all the juicy stories that Tom and Mike have never shared before, click on the topics above or keep scrolling.
Tom & Mike’s Instagram Journey
Tom’s reason for creating a personal brand on Instagram was two-fold. First: Even before he began posting content on Instagram, he was formulating how he would go about creating a personal brand. He knew that it would impact his business and overall career positively. Second: he was coaching people and realised that he lacked credibility because while he was giving people advice on social media marketing, he wasn’t making use of his own advice. His aim through Instagram was to build an active, engaged community online because he learnt over the years that high revenues and successful businesses were often a result of customer engagement.
For example: Tom is inspired by AppSumo’s Noah Kagan who talks about active audiences and how it was going to be the most widely discussed metric of 2020. An active audience can be categorised as people who actually see and engage with your content. How many people actually comment on your posts? How many people actually open your emails? Those are the numbers that really matter.
An overview of Tom’s Instagram: At the moment, Tom has over 46,000 followers. The number of comments he receives on each of his posts is much higher in comparison to people who have 80,000 or 100,000 followers. This indicates a loyal, active audience which has a lot more value than an inactive audience.
Mike spoke at a digital conference in Moscow about maximising micro-moments. He talked about how we could take long-form content and distil it down to short-form or micro-content. He presented the audience with factual and educational information because he was doing social media management at his agency. Many people began following him but he felt like an imposter because while he was giving people advice about social media, he wasn’t putting his own advice to use. So after his conference, he decided to practice what he preached and went all-in on Instagram to build an audience. He started sharing carousels of short-form content from his book ‘Burn Your Portfolio.’
An overview of Mike’s Instagram: Tom describes Mike’s journey as that of a dog with a bone. It’s a lesson in the power of consistency and hard work. He responds to each person who comments on his posts or sends him a direct message, builds fantastic relationships by putting out positive vibes and releases high-quality content and he mixes up and experiments with his content every day. His intention is not to extract money from his audience but to create a community with deeper relationships.
Mike always makes it a point to reply to DMs and to people who respond to his Instagram stories. He strives to make real friends and have a genuine relationship with them where he can support, provide knowledge and uplift them. And in turn, they extend their gratitude, support and motivation to him.
Why Mike follows someone on Instagram: If someone interacts with him, Mike checks out their profile. If he likes their content or their brand, he follows them back. If a friend follows him, he follows them back. So the takeaway here is, you have two choices: make killer content, or become friends with the person whom you wish to follow. And if you do both, you will grow immensely.
Both Tom & Mike share a large number of followers, but they aren’t an empty number. They are real people who have a real context to who they are as individuals.
8 Tips to Grow on Instagram
Try new ideas & experiment with your content
Avoid posting the same thing repeatedly. If the quality doesn’t dip, the engagement might because after a while your content might feel stagnant or stale. Although it might sound exhausting, try to constantly reinvent and try new things. The most effective way of doing this is by constantly auditing what kind of content is performing well. Ask yourself: Is it engaging your audience? How is it performing? Is the response good or average? Maybe you try something and it fails or maybe it works like magic.
Take away what isn’t working and double down on what’s working well, but continuously add new types of content that you can try and test.
Be social on social media
It’s called social media for a reason. Engage with the people on your platform, reply to comments and DMs and try to forge genuine friendships and relationships. This is the ultimate growth hack because it’s the real followers and relationships that will add value to your business.
Tom is a huge fan of both audio and video responses. Initially, he started doing this to add a human touch to his responses, but he soon realised that this was also a huge time-saver because if he were to get back to a hundred-plus people every day, his thumbs would have fallen off. He sent one of his followers a video message and he instantly became Tom’s fan for life. So if you’re trying to engage and build your community, don’t do what everyone else does. Be brave and send personal audio or video reply.
Comment on relevant posts
If you are trying to grow on Instagram, a tremendously effective thing to do is going to the relevant hashtags around your niche or subject matter, find 50 people who share your interests and comment on their posts in a non-spammy, insightful, value-adding way.
For example: One of Tom’s coaching students engages with hundred new accounts a day and she roughly gets 30 followers back every day as a result. She had 270 followers when she began, and now she has over a thousand followers due to this tactic. She leaves friendly comments behind and the number of relationships she has built because of it is staggering.
If you see someone’s name over and over again in the comments, you begin to associate their name with someone who is very active within their community and contribute to the dialogue. This serves as a tremendous brand-builder. Don’t underestimate the power and impact of being consistent.
Be your authentic self
Be real and uplifting. Don’t steal other people’s content, don’t steal posts or ideas. Instead, be unique and proprietary. Share something from the heart, your own experiences, or lessons learnt from your own life. Mike believes that being authentic and sharing thoughts and ideas that were uniquely his is what helped build his community. He talked about his own systems and processes, and things he had learnt from running his own agency.
But remember, sharing advice or suggestions as gospel can be very dangerous. Your audience will always be a lot more receptive to something that has been battle-tested in real life: you went and tried something, and it gave you actual results. This is what can differentiate you from everyone else.
Many of Tom’s most popular posts have been about something he’s helped his coaching students with and the success they’ve had. One of his posts was about how he asked one of his students to DM all her followers. She reached out to all her followers and as a result received a lot of commissioned projects. It helped her re-engage with her audience and build personal relationships that felt warm and positive.
Don’t buy followers
Tom did a post on Instagram that happens to be one of Mike’s favourites: It was a pie chart that said ‘Should you buy followers on Instagram?’ 95% said no, then there was a sliver in yellow of 5% who also said no. He got great engagement on that post because it was simple, easy to understand and design. Tom later confessed that the design wasn’t his original idea. He had seen this kind of meme concept on many other websites like funnyordie and collegehumour. However, this is a great way to get fresh ideas and content. Take something from a different industry and adapt it to your specific content on Instagram. Since it has already been validated by someone else, it will be a success. This is the idea behind the law of abstraction: when you abstract an idea down to a more simplified version.
Followers don’t count for anything unless they care. You will feel worse than you do now realising now you have a bigger audience, but very little engagement and lack of an actual business. Focus on getting to know your actual follower instead.
Don’t be a troll
Don’t be a troll, it’s counterproductive to your growth. If you are in a negative space, trolling people’s posts, posting negative comments and inciting arguments will only slow down your own growth. To build a tight-knit community you must be loving and supportive. This will result in a community of people who care about each other, are genuinely interested in your life and career and are uplifting and supportive.
If you disagree with someone’s post, move past it. Don’t write to them, complain or contest. It’s okay to offer an alternative point of view, but do it in a tactful and respectful manner. Let’s all support and uplift each other.
Tom is a huge fan of consistency and a lot of this centres around what he’s trying to teach in terms of niching and focus because it’s so hard to grow. If you’re bouncing around all over the place and your posts don’t relate, this could be whether you’re providing educational content or posting art, illustration, or other kinds of creative content, no one is going to want to follow you. In his opinion, this is the single biggest thing that holds people back from growing because often people have the talent but lack focus.
He tends to follow accounts that have a level of consistency. If he loved the last 12 posts they put out, he will follow them. But being consistent doesn’t have to be boring. Create a focus and structure and get creative.
The frustration with not growing often comes from the stagnation of not seeing positive results from the work you put out. If you feel too boxed in, create multiple channels. Don’t complicate one channel with different kinds of content that aren’t connected to each other.
Mike’s experiments with content: Mike tries to constantly evolve and mix it up within the structure he’s created. He does videos, memes and carousels with funny, wacky ideas or serious, heartfelt ideas. There are a billion ways to be creative and it becomes less limiting when you have multiple channels.
Spring clean your Instagram
Spring clean and tidy up your Instagram profile because even if your posts have great content, if someone goes to your profile and it doesn’t look appealing, they’re not going to want to follow you.
Put up a friendly, engaging profile picture: Don’t put up a fuzzy, badly-lit photograph of yourself because it can come across as super unprofessional. Make it a sharp, high-quality headshot that is representative of your character and personality.
Make your username memorable: Avoid using a lot of underscores, dashes and symbols. Think of a short name that speaks about your topic or brand. If you’re going to choose a username for Instagram, check Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as well to make sure that you can own it on these other platforms before you go all-in on using it on Instagram only.
Write an insightful description: Your description is your value proposition. Make sure your description isn’t ambiguous. Spell out whatever you do or what your brand is. If you want to have fun with it, use emojis to add visual interest, and try using line breaks so it’s not a big muddy paragraph. Don’t bombard people with hashtags and links.
Use consistent visual and wording for your story highlights: This can make your page look active, attractive and less confusing.
This little exercise of doing 4-5 things is the ultimate spring clean. And when you’re layering that on top of valuable and focussed content, you stand more of a chance than someone whose page is a mess.
Finally, educate, entertain and inform.
Ask yourself how you can bring value to someone’s life. Growing on Instagram is directly proportionate to how nice you are as a person, how you build relationships, how you market and distribute your content and how focussed your content is. When a piece of content is good, it blows up no matter how many followers you have. If your content is below average, it will get lost no matter how much you try to promote it. Use these tips and start implementing them week by week. It will add up and be a catalyst to your growth.
Pay attention to your percentage growth and not your numeric growth. People get too caught up with the idea of having more followers. If you have 200 followers and every week you get 20 new followers, your growth is 10% per week.
In part two of ‘How to Grow on Instagram,’ Tom and Mike share more actionable strategies for a meteoric growth on Instagram.