Growing your Instagram followers

November 12, 2020

Growing an organic following on Instagram is one of the focal points of many brands. Whilst we know that it starts with having great content and optimising our posts for engagement, social media marketers can also use the tactic of outbound engagement to rapidly grow your instagram followers. In this blog, we’re going to take you through how to grow your Instagram following organically, using outbound engagement. We’ll cover:

  • The what, why and how of outbound engagement
  • Using hashtags and places to engage with your audience
  • Utilising influential accounts and competitors to increase your exposure
  • The ‘no-nos’ of outbound engagement

So let’s get started!

What is outbound engagement?

Outbound engagement is engaging with your audience beyond the comments on your own posts. It’s proactive and generally involves the community manager seeking out their audience and liking, commenting, sharing, and tagging their audience’s content with the aim of building relationships and followers.

Given that the majority of Instagram profiles are set as open, it means that Instagram marketers can see and engage with posts of other Instagram users, even if they’re not currently followers.

How can outbound engagement grow your Instagram followers?

By actively and strategically engaging with your prospective audience, you can make those users aware of your account and ideally add value.

When you engage with your audience, they will receive a notification, may inspect your profile, and, as long as the Instagram grid attracts them, convert into a follower.

The key to outbound engagement is to genuinely add value – educate, entertain, or inspire. Quite often it will require creativity and great community management skills.

Instagram like, follow, comment

4 ways to grow your instagram followers using outbound engagement

There are four key ways you can do outbound engagement to grow your instagram followers: utilisation of hashtags and places, influential accounts, and even competitor content.

As discussed, it’s important that your engagement is genuine and authentic, and avoids spamming or irritating users, as this may have a negative effect.

Search, follow and engage relevant hashtags

We often use hashtags from a publishing point of view. We include up to 30 hashtags to increase the visibility of our posts, to drive our audience back to our profile and ideally hit that ‘follow’ button.

However, hashtags are just as important with outbound engagement. Savvy marketers can engage with posts from accounts using relevant hashtags. By simply searching and scrolling from ‘top’ and ‘recent’ posts, you can comment and like content which is likely to have been published by your ideal audience.

Think of hashtags your audience may use when publishing content that is relevant for your brand, which you may be able to comment on. If you’re an online athletic apparel brand, you may follow and explore hashtags like ‘#trailrunning’ and ‘#gymsession.’

At a bare minimum, we want to be sure to be constantly reviewing posts using our branded hashtags (#YourCompanyNameHere). Not all Instagram users will tag your account itself and simply place it as a hashtag, which means you need to be on top of posts using branded hashtags to convert those users to followers.

Using Instagram hashtags to grow your followers

Find your audience on places

For brands with a geographic component to their business or target audience, you can apply a similar principle to the one above, to the locations function on Instagram.

As with hashtags, some users may not always tag a brand, but rather a location. For example, visitors to cafes and restaurants may tag the location but not the venue itself, making it imperative to monitor this content and engage with posts.

You may even find relevant locations and landmarks which may allow you to engage with your audience. Want another example? A wetsuit manufacturer may look at the posts that are tagged with a well-known surfing location. The community manager may browse the posts tagged in that location, comment on the great pics, and perhaps even suggest other great beaches they may want to check out.

Instagram place tagging

Use influential accounts

As part of your audience personas outlined in your social media marketing strategy, you should identify key accounts of influence – these may be an industry body, an influencer, key commentators, etc. As an example, if your audience is small business owners, you focus on accounts like local chamber of commerce, small business software organisations, and other brands and accounts you believe your audience would follow.

By turning on notifications for these accounts and commenting, your engagement will be visible to your ideal audience. Whether it’s witty, insightful, or supportive, the goal is to be prominent with your audience and drive profile visits.

It’s not advisable to do this on all posts, but the ones which are more relevant to your brand and message.

Instagram notification

Engage with followers of competitors or similar accounts

You may not be following them, but there’s no doubt that you check out what your competitors are doing on Instagram. Typically speaking, people who follow your competitors are potential followers and customers for you.

When a competitor posts, you will be able to see the people who comment and potentially even those who have liked it. From here, you can navigate to those accounts and engage with their content in order to build awareness of your account.

This tactic can also be employed with accounts who have similar content and themes. As in the above tip, you may not only comment on the posts, but engage with accounts that have liked or commented on it.

It’s important to realise, that employees of your competitors may very well make up those engaging in the content – so your activity may not go unnoticed.

Social Media College Instagram page

The ‘no-nos’ of outbound engagement

Outbound engagement can be such an effective means of growing an organic audience that we don’t want to get carried away. As with many tactics in social media marketing, there are good ways to promote our brand positively, and there are bad ways which may have a negative impact.

In a world of automation, there are Instagram bots which can automatically comment on posts of certain accounts, hashtags, etc. Often, due to the broad nature of this engagement, the comments are usually low value, such as simply saying ‘love this’ or emojis. Instagram users are becoming savvier around bot use, as are community managers, so we’d discourage the use of bots as it may result in negative attention or being blocked by users.

It’s also important to avoid being spammy or disingenuous. Blanketing the comments of a brand or responding in a way that doesn’t find your brand voice won’t gain you any favours in the long run, and can result in account ‘shadow bans’.

Will Smith Hell No


So there you have it, all you need to know about using outbound engagement to rapidly grow your Instagram followers. We’ve covered:

  • The what, why and how of outbound engagement
  • Using hashtags and locations to engage with your audience
  • Utilising accounts of influence and competitors to increase your exposure, and
  • The ‘no-nos’ of outbound engagement

Tell us in the comments which of these tactics you may use, and don’t forget to subscribe if you want to learn more amazing social media marketing tips and tricks.

About the author 

Jonathon Tanner

Jonathon Tanner is the Co-CEO of Social Media College, Australia's leading educator and trainer for social media.

He co-authored the Diploma of Social Media Marketing, the world's first and only Australian Government recognised course in social media marketing, delivered by 25 leading colleges and TAFEs across Australia, and articulating into several Bachelor programs at Australian Universities.

His deep expertise in social media spans content marketing, social media strategy, 15 different social media networks, paid social advertising, personal branding, email marketing, and social media conversion.

Jonathon has also co-founded several other businesses, as well as spending 12 years as a management consultant specialising in mergers & acquisitions for private equity firms, growth strategy, and operational improvement.

Jonathon holds a combined Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Sydney.

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