Instagram on a Budget: 9 Tips for Frugally Building a Following

June 3, 2019

At an April 30 session at Social Media Week New York, Stephanie Meyers, the group director of digital growth at Fast Company and Inc., dicsussed “How Small Businesses, Solopreneurs and Other Extremely Busy People Can Win on Instagram (Without Spending a Ton).”

Here are her nine tips on for building a following on Instagram while on a budget:

1. Think physical.

A question to ask: What can customers create themselves? “Engage your customers in co-creation,” Meyers said.

Explore repeatable content that can help organically grow your following. Rather than just posting a selfie, use objects like books or a typewriter, or even the walls and space surrounding you.

2. Use quotes.

“They work. It’s not original, but it’s true. They perform well and serve as an inspiration,” she said, adding that quotes do two to four times as well as other posts on the magazine’s social accounts. (But Inc. has a rule about only posting their own material, rather than other quotes.)

Meyers said that Inc. followers seem to love any post that includes content or copy in a yellowish-orange color — “anything using this color always does the best,” she said, also recommending to follow Letterfolk, which posts a lot of word-driven, user-generated content on Instagram.

3. Be smart with Stories.

“How can they serve your customers?” Meyers said of Instagram Stories. List your hours if you’re in retail. Show images and video of new items that come into the store, for example. Perhaps it’s a series or a repeatable Story.

“Think from the perspective of the consumer,” she said, and utilize Stories in the way that you want to be watching them.

4. Take screenshots.

“Everyone loves a gift,” Meyers said. “Give them something to showcase their fandom. Think of screenshots as a function — like a bumper sticker.”

Provide strong images with beautiful text treatments — imagine that someone will use them as a phone background or desktop wallpaper. It could be something to color or a survey with blank lines that they can fill out and share to their own account. People can take a screenshot of the image, mark it up, make it their own or repurpose it.

“Be mindful of how people use screenshots and what you use them for,” she said. “Provide all the info users need in one image.”

5. Customize your hashtags.

Think of using hashtags as a way to “help them, help you and find them,” she said. “Search for the tag first and make sure no one else is using it.” You want to make it unique so that only your content shows up. Also look for the hashtag in other places besides Instagram before choosing it. If no one else is using it, then it will help you get more reach.

“Make the request and tell people to use it,” Meyers said.

6. Value values.

“Share what you care about,” she said. “People see you’re human and can see what you like beyond the brand face.”

If you showcase your values and passions upfront, it humanizes you. (She cited Hedley & Bennett, which sells aprons and chef gear, as a great account to follow that’s doing it all right.)

7. Have a buddy system.

“Partnerships come in all shapes and sizes,” Meyers said. “You can benefit from each other and everyone wins.”

People look at the size of an audience to find influencers, but don’t limit yourself. If an account has a small following, but it’s niche, they may be experts on the topic, more passionate and dedicated. 

8. Inspire tagging.

“Friends tag friends,” Meyers said, adding to take a look at Refinery29’s Instagram account. “It gives people a sense of identity.”

Encourage people to tag others. Think about how people might want to be tagged if they like something (pizza, Leos, weird socks), she said. Use the identity of your customer base. Also, giveaways that make you tag friends can also be really helpful to grow followers.

9. Be weird.

Respect bad puns, experiment, let people laugh and be relatable. “Channel your inner IRS,” Meyers said. (See their account for reference."

“Try new things and look at the data. Check data on a weekly and monthly basis. Let it go if it doesn’t work.”

5 More Instagram Tips

  • Make it easy for people to find you. Hashtag your posts. It’s OK to have 30-plus hashtags, Meyers said. Use vertical dots if you want to section off the copy or you’re afraid it will look cheesy. People need to find you, so use as many hashtags as necessary and try to think like the consumer and what they’re looking for. Also make sure there’s not an ellipsis cutting off the text of the title on your highlighted Story; use emojis here if needed.
  • Do a branding check. Put your IG account info everywhere. The top of your profile is like your homepage. Put all relevant contact information here and any important items that people will need to reference.
  • Mind the mix. Have a consistent look and feel to your Instagram page, but make sure it’s not really repetitive content, she said.
  • Give your photos a boost. It’s easier than you think to step up your game, Meyers said. Use a cutting board, craft paper, textiles or cool wallpaper in the background of the item you’re photographing. Learn how to take good pictures with an iPhone.
  • Be social. Everyone else wants some love too. Use tags and search. Like, follow along, comment, respond to messages and be part of the conversation. Hashtag all of your posts and think about how users are searching.
Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


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