Have you ever looked at another profile, and thought, “How do they have so many more Instagram followers than I do??!?” I’d say that I’m a pretty secure Instagram user (and you can totes follow me via @studio.cotton for loads of small business advice), and 95% of the time I know that the metrics of follows, likes, comments and shares is kinda meaningless...
Every now and then I’ll spot the account of a stranger or a friend, a collaborator or a competitor, a peer or a competitor, and see that they have 10, 20, or even 100x more followers than me – and immediately feel a pang of insecurity, envy and inadequacy.
A couple of hours or a few days will pass, and I’ll remember that there are literally dozens of reasons why they might have bigger numbers than me. Reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with how baller I am.
So here’s 8 of the simple and boring reasons why your competitor (or anyone) has more followers than you do.
1. They’ve been on Instagram longer
The longer you’ve been active on Instagram, the more opportunities you’ve had to share content and gain followers.
At the time of writing, it’s 28 February 2021. According to my account, I set up the Studio Cotton Instagram account on 31 October 2016 – which according to a free calculator thingy I Googled, means it’s taken me 1,581 days to gain 11,758 Instagram followers. That’s just shy of 7.5 new followers a day.
Thing is, I gained about 3,000 of those followers just in the last few weeks after a highly unexpected viral Instagram post (which I also wrote about in my recent blog, 7 (plus 3) smart & easy things to do *after* your Instagram post goes viral). Until that point, my average around 4-5 people per day, over four-and-a-half years.
2. They share new Instagram content more frequently
I want to be totally up front and say that posting twice as much on Instagram will not equal twice as many followers. Post frequency is just one small factor that can impact on follower growth.
After all, two blurry pics with uninspiring captions is no more engaging than one blurry, uninspiring post.
Every post, Story, IGTV or Reel is an opportunity to reach more people, including followers and non-followers. Someone who posts twice as much as you, has twice the chance to gain a new follower when they create and share quality and engaging content.
3. They ran Facebook ads and/or promoted Instagram posts
You shouldn’t buy Instagram followers, but you can totally buy reach. Your competition may have paid for pairs of eyes on their content, which will have introduced their brand to new followers.
Promoting Instagram posts and paying for Facebook ads on Instagram are solid, prevalent strategies for increasing the size of a social media presence, and recruiting for services, and selling products. It’s incredibly difficult (or virtually impossible) to tell if an account has paid for reach, or how much they have spent on social media advertising.
4. The ‘right’ person shared their brand or content
A mention by the right person at the right time in the right place can generate an influx of lovely new Instagram followers – in fact, a few months ago I shared a list of all the people and profiles that caused new spikes in my Instagram followers.
These spotlights can be a result of paid influencer marketing, a favour from a friend, or an Instagram post resonating at the perfect frequency. Again, this is totally impossible to track down, especially if that right person shared their shoutout in an Instagram Story that disappeared into the aether after 24 hours.
5. The invested in their Instagram hashtag game
Depending on your subject matter and industry, Instagram hashtags can have a massive difference on a posts’ reach. Personally, I don’t see much of an impact on reach from hashtags for my marketing advice content (which makes up 95% of my Instagram posts). Our office interior decor posts though – dayyyuuuummmmmm.
View this post on Instagram
Over 3,000 views of the Instagram post about came from hashtags, and 57% were not followers of Studio Cotton.
6. They gained Instagram followers chasing freebies
Instagram-based competitions were previously a great tool for boosting that follower count, especially when the prize is super tempting. One of the most common types of Instagram competition were the tag-a-friend prize draws, where following and account @ing a friend in the Instagram post comments would count as an entry.
These competitions are a little less powerful than they used to be, probably due in part to fatigue from the collective Instagram community. There are also rumours that Instagram is actively stunting the reach of giveaways, plus competitions have always had a habit of attracting low-engagement Instagram followers who only care about free stuff – like this blog via Combin explains nicely.
7. They used bots and shortcuts to gain Instagram followers
There are heaps of tricks and tools that have been used to boost that pesky Instagram follower number over the years. Auto-commenters could leave generic comments on hundreds or thousands of Instagram posts to get the sharer’s attention.
Follow-unfollow bots would follow targeted profiles (because let’s be honest, who doesn’t have a quick peeksie at their new Instagram followers’ accounts) and then automatically unfollow.
Both are tactics that are very much against the Instagram Community Guidelines under Foster meaningful and genuine interactions,
Help us stay spam-free by not artificially collecting likes, followers, or shares, posting repetitive comments or content, or repeatedly contacting people for commercial purposes without their consent.
It’s also incredibly easy to buy Instagram ‘followers’ – in the past, these purchased followers have been found to be bot accounts, Russian Troll Farms, or teenagers mass following for pocket money (I love how this agent continually labels their service as “not a scam”).
Instagram bots and purchased Instagram followers are so prevalent that I’ve even written a blog on how to tell if someone is using bots on Instagram.
8. Luck, chance and a dollop of flukes
I started this blog by mentioning my recent viral Instagram post. I’d been steadily growing my Instagram post for years, and was on the cusp of the 10,000 Instagram followers milestone (in fact, I had a proper petty battle with my bezzie & client Emma from Stitching Me Softly on who would get their swipe-up creds first) – when I shared what I thought was a pretty average piece of content for Studio Cotton.
View this post on Instagram
And it went batpish cray. Yes – it was helpful and well laid out, but so were most of my previous Instagram posts. I made this particular guide post in response to some incredibly bogus and misleading “hack the algorithm” advice – and it happened that the collective Instagram content creator zeitgeist was perfectly aligned for a viral storm unlike anything my lil account had seen before.
And my story isn’t unique. These bizarre instances happen all the time, and sometimes it’s pure luck, complete chance, or an unexpected but pleasantly received fluke.
So how do you get more Instagram followers?
Mate that is way too big a question to answer in the conclusion of this lil blog. There are certainly plenty of tips and tricks that will help any small business or content creator to make their content more engaging – but there is no secret or ‘hack’ for increasing your Instagram follower count.
And you’re proper gonna hate me – but the biggest factor you can control is the quality and quantity of your content. It takes time and creativity to produce high quality posts that attract your audience and your audience’s influencers.
Or, you can spend a tidy wad of dough on ads.
Please just don’t buy Instagram followers. That would be a terrible idea.