Trying to get to your first 1000 followers? My method grows real following by 50 to 100 Instagram followers per week. No follow/unfollow BS involved. Zero spend method. No bots. No engagement group (pods). If it sounds like something that is workable for you, please keep reading.

This post is a step by step guide, so yes, it is VERY long. I have compartmentalised each step into smaller reading bites:

  1. Niche – do you need one? how to find one?
  2. Hashtag selection – step by step on how to select, how many to use
  3. Content planning – camera vs phone? consistency? frequency? scheduled feed? IG story? IG tv?
  4. Engagement – how to drive engagement?
  5. Paid advertising – is it necessary?

Before we start, let’s have a bit of inspo prep talk:

Per research (source:, 2018),

69.6% of IG users have less than 1000 followers. Only 15.7% has 1000 to 10k followers.

So getting pass that 1000 followers mark alone will lead you up to the exclusive 15.7%!

how to grow instagram organically.jpg

1 Niche

Do you need one?

What is the real reason for your interest in followers or engagement rate? If it is just attention seeking, show off or for feel good’s sake, do you even care who is following your post? Does it matter to you? If it doesn’t matter, a niche won’t really matter to you either.

If your reason is to sell something now or in the future, yes, you absolutely need a niche to grow a RELEVANT audience.

A relevant audience must have at least TWO of the below qualities:

  • Can afford your service or product
  • Have access to your service or product
  • Is an existing, or plausible consumer **an aspiring consumer will also qualify especially in the luxury segment

How to decide on a niche?

Niche is not rocket science. It is a small slice of the market place. That’s it!

Deciding on a niche is helpful for growth because it is easier to market to a small selected audience than to a mass market, especially when your account is tiny (below 1000 followers). You’re more likely to be seen that way. It’s like screaming a message to 100 people vs screaming a message to 1 million people.

First decide on WHO is in your market. Then decide on a niche. E.g. you’re a Parisian organic supermarket located next to Alesia. Your market is people living nearby, but your niche are the eco-conscious / healthy living fanatics etc **will elaborate more in a bit

5 key basic considerations (these 5 are not the complete marketing definitions, but are specific to Instagram due to the algorithm design):

  1. Legal or IG restrictions
  2. Age group? If you’re a wedding planner, having a large teenager following is probably useless.
  3. Gender relevance? Good luck selling menstrual cups to men. Which gender is your product or service’s natural purchaser?
  4. Location. Can this audience access my goods or service? e.g. do you have the logistics to deliver the product to USA? if not, even having 1million USA followers is useless.
  5. Natural interest. If you’re a fine meat store, why will you even want a vegan follower? Delete this follower already. (can see this as psychographic)

Please note that deciding on a niche is not the same as deciding on a brand image. Niche is a starting point for deciding on your brand’s offering, aesthetic and communication style.

How to narrow it down?

The easiest way to approach this is to think of a client profile. It’s like a fictional character with comprehensive habit, tastes and preferences. When you’re low on followers, you’ll have to imagine this yourself. After you have around 2000 followers, the statistics will become more clear as to who your niche is.

Let’s use a small Parisian organic supermarket in the 10th district as an example. Niche

  • Single living within 10min walk from our supermarket
  • Works 40 hours a week
  • Gym or exercise twice a week
  • Semi-vegetarian (eat seafood, but no warm blooded animals)
  • Attempting 100% organic food living, but still eat non-organic food if it is inconvenient
  • Working towards becoming a vegan
  • Being seen living clean is a top priority

Okay, so what does this all mean?

With these clues, you can guess what sort of photos or products you need to display on IG to attract her right?

  • Convenient meals – prepacked / pre-cut ingredients, quick recipe.
  • Health related caption and healthy looking pictures – bright lighting, vegetables, nature.
  • Offer protein alternative information e.g. tofu, nuts
  • Instagram ready packaging. Easy for her to share her healthy lifestyle to the world.

how to choose Instagram hashtag.jpg

2 Hashtag

Hashtags are important for:

  • For people to find you from hashtag search
  • New followers and exposure
  • For IG to identify your account and categorise into the relevant segments

In IG terms, niche is the primary determinant of hashtag selection. The second determinant is relevance e.g. if your picture is a photo of a kitchen, #kitchen is a natural hashtag choice. Thirdly, it is the size of the hashtag.

The best way to be discovered by new followers is by ranking in the recommended posts (or top tab by hashtag) AND stay there. Therefore, using the right hashtag mix is essential.

Where possible, try to get to something like this:

2 XL – usually for IG to identify my account as a whole

5 L – niche specific

5 M – picture specific

3 S – for ranking purposes, picture specific

The next subsection will explain what is XL, L, M etc means.

How to select hashtags?

It is important to consider all 3 factors when choosing your hashtag bundle:

  • Niche
  • Relevance
  • Size of the hashtag

Niche and relevance are self-explanatory. Hashtag size refers to the number of posts existing in that hashtag and the recent frequency.

How many hashtags per post?

Maximum hashtags allowed per post: 30

The most effective number of hashtags: 5 – 15 (I recommend up to 15 based on experience)

**5.44 hashtags is the average for the top 15% engaged post, with an average of 6214 likes (rounded up to the nearest unit). Source:

For instance:

#travel has 375m posts (20/2/2019)

how to select hashtag.jpg

If you click into recent, roll down a bit and look at the time stamp. You’ll notice that there’s virtually a new post every second. That’s 50+ posts per minute.

how to research hashtag.jpg

What does that mean?

Very high volume of activities is good. BUT!!!!

First 9 account at the <top> tab, has above 5% engagement rate (likes + comments), some even achieve this at the initial hour that it’s published – VERY difficult battlefield alert! It means that the likely hood of you ranking and remaining there is slim to none **I’m assuming that you have under 1000 followers at the moment. Within 30min, there is 1500 pieces of new content pumped into this tag!!!!! The competition is WAY too intense here.

The number of hashtags is precious, so looking for an alternative hashtag is more practical.

Please note that the determinant to appear in the <top> tab is by %, not by the actual number of likes and comments. It is completely possible that someone with 2000 followers can outrank someone with 2 million followers.

An alternative to #travel? Let’s try

#travelblog has 17.2m (average 10 posts per minute) – XL

#lovetravel has 3.1m (average 4 posts per minute) – Large

#travellove has 1.5m (average 2 posts per minute) – Large

#travellinggram has 605k … – Medium

#wanderlustlife has 147k … – Medium


I counted manually, so please forgive me if the statistics is not 100% accurate. Hope it can still illustrate the idea though. There are professional software that can offer more accurate statistics, but I am cheap and don’t want to pay 😛

Research on at least 60 hashtags before you settle down!!! You’ll only need to do this once every 3 to 6 months, so do it right.

Please note that some niches are naturally bigger than the others e.g. #cat (170m) is larger than #diy (42.6m).

You got the idea, right?

Look at the top page for the hashtag that you are interested in for your IG. How does your content compare with those featured?

The trick is: smaller the hashtag, lower the competition. Don’t be trapped in tiny hashtag with zero active users though.

Hashtag with less than 6 posts every hour in the last 6 hours is too slow (too niche) to be worth your time.

12 posts every hour (100k to 150k) hashtags is the ideal size to rank. You have a high chance of remaining on top for days. Otherwise, anything around between 200k to 500k are good medium hashtags to use.

**This rule does not apply to your own unique (brand) hashtag. For example, I have #ExploreLaughRepeat for all my posts. The purpose is to brand, not for being discovered.

NB: It is important to scroll through the recent tab to check when is the last time that someone posted under that hashtag!!! For instance, #newyear2018 has 731k posts. However, do people still search for that in 2019?

how to grow your first 1000 instagram followers.jpg

3 Content planning

Camera vs phone

If you already own a mirrorless or reflex, great. If you don’t have one, use your phone and stick to outdoor or daylight photos. Why? Because most phone can produce super crisp pictures with bright lighting. Also, with the IG picture size and help of filters or editing apps (snapseed, vsco, lightroom etc), it is hard to differentiate the quality at a glace.

Instagram account: @localgirlforeignland

Buying a camera is NOT an investment if it will not yield probably economical benefit. If the photo quality is of top importance to you, get a professional photographer to do a bunch of photos for your account. Bear in mind that no matter how ass kicking your camera is, you still need to do the photos yourself.


There are 2 parts to consistency – content type and colour scheme.

Content type

Basically, if you’re a bakery, why will you post pictures of girls in bikini even though these are very popular on IG? Stick to 1 type of content consistently. If you’re a bakery, stick to bread, the store itself and baking ingredients. This way, a potential follower can decide at a glace whether your content is interesting for them.

You may get bored posting 100% on a singular topic, you can mix in 2 sub-categories within every 9 post without losing the overall content theme. Again, if you’re a bakery, maybe you can add a photo of the city that your bakery is in to add a bit of personality.

Colour scheme

The easiest way to do this is to use the same filter across all photos. This way, the overall look of your feed will come together naturally.


Some say posting twice a day, others says everyday. You know what? I say once to twice a week until you’ve hit an average of 20% engagement rate for your latest 6 posts. Raving up your engagement rate will place you in high value account category. Plus, because it is a great way to test what type of content your visitors prefer.

Very NB: Do not post less than 1 post per week even in the event that you don’t hit 20% engagement rate.

Scheduled posts

It is more efficient to plan your posts 1 month at a time. There are lots of free software that helps with this type of thing.

I use because it allows me to preview in IG layout. It has both app and PC version. Easy to transfer pictures from my camera., instagram
Print screen of what look like on my computer

There are lots of others to choose from, find the one that suits you best. Others that I’ve tried were:

If you have tried other social media management tools, please share in the comment below to help others.

IG stories

IG stories is helpful in bringing in traffic to the profile page IF the IG stories has ALL of these things in place:

  • Location tag
  • Hashtag (XL or L) + 1 complementary # (type in by text) e.g. #travelblogger + #guadeloupe worked very well for me. Do not use more than 2 hashtags, I find that more than 2 performs worse than using just 1 or 2
  • 1 gif animation or something drawn by free hand
  • Music **if it is available for your account

In my experiments, when all the above is in place, I get an average of 500 impressions (with 1200 followers). If I have made a post (feed) within 30 minutes I publish an IG story, I can usually hit 600+ impressions.

Additional profile visit helps a lot with gaining followers. It is worth attempting to make at least 1 IG story a day.

IG live

The beauty of using IG live is that your account will be prioritised on your followers’ homepage, and they will also receive an additional notification that you’re on live. So where possible, it is a good idea to do something with IG live on a regular basis.


I have not experimented enough with IG TV to offer any advise at this stage. If catch onto a pattern, I will share later all.

how to improve instagram engagement rate.jpg

4 Engagement

Type of engagement

In descending order of engagement importance:

Forward / Shared > Comment with account tag > Save > Comment with 5+ words > Other comments > Likes

How to drive traffic?

Like posts outside of accounts that you follow

Like 100 to 150 posts within the same hashtag (related to your account) every 3 hours. If you can do it every hour, great! But don’t exceed 250 likes per hour, else IG will block you from liking photos. You must switch to different hashtag from hour to hour.

An example of my schedule

07h00 #travelblogger – like 120 recent posts

09h00 #hike – like 120 recent posts

12h00 #travelblogger – like 120 recent posts

18h00 #guadeloupe like 120 recent posts

21h00 #hike like 120 recent posts

Try to like at least 600 posts per day until you’ve pass the 1000 followers mark.

You will notice that the more posts you like in a day, the higher engagement rate your posts will have. This method tricks the algorithm to list you as a quality IG user, hence your posts will be shown to more accounts. Basically, you’re telling the IG algorithm, “Hey, I use IG frequently during the day. I engage in other people’s content and contribute to the community.”

Before you start, make sure you have at least 9 published posts on your feed. Else you may run the risk of being listed as a shaddy account or a like farm-bot.

Like / comment on posts from accounts that you do follow

Don’t be a shitty follower. Be engaged with people that you’re following. If it is overwhelming, then don’t follow so many people! Stick to less than 800 accounts. Like 99% of their posts daily.

Give quality comments

Make sure it is more than 5 words, it applies to replying to comments as well. This is to make sure that your comment is considered an authentic engagement. Leaving 100% emoji comments get picked up as spam or inauthentic engagement.

Meaningful comment is a great way to be noticed by your target audience!

An example of my schedule for growing @localgirlforeignland

07h00 #travelblogger – comment on 3 top posts

12h00 #travelblogger – comment on 3 top posts

18h00 #guadeloupe – comment on 3 top posts

21h00 accounts that I follow – comment on 3 posts

Other engagement drivers

As mentioned in section 3, IG stories is another great way to bring in traffic. It is okay to recycle some contents to be used in IG stories; IG stories will disappear within 24 hours. Space them out strategically if you don’t have time to invest in making unique IG stories content.

Once you got into the routine, you’ll be able to do 600 likes, and 10 – 15 comments within 30 minutes per day (exclude content creation and planning). Very tight and stressful for the fingers, but possible.

It may take you way long in your first week. Don’t lose hope.

Remember, some hashtags only have 100 posts published per hour, it is necessary to rotate hashtags if you plan to do 120 likes every hour.

Delete ghost / inactive followers

Don’t be scared to delete low value followers.

Ghost follower = a follower that doesn’t engage with your content

These type of dead weight followers lower your relevance and can trigger IG to not show your posts to more account! Imagine from IG’s point of view:

Picture A is shown to 50 people: 20 people clicked like

Picture B is shown to 50 people: 5 person clicked like

Which picture is more relevant and should be shared with more accounts?

Relevance = engagement divided by the number of accounts shown to

5 Paid advertising

By applying all of the above, one can expect to grow by 50 – 100 followers per week. If this is too slow for you, combine these tactics with paid advertising to maximise growth.

As a small business, paid advertising is likely to be more cost-effective than hiring a community manager to reach a larger audience. So yes, I do recommend REGULAR paid advertising. aka. spending 30 EUR over a month is better than spending 30 EUR for 1 day of advertising.

Please note that when you do decide to buy advertising, it is import to revisit niche (section 1). Make sure that you have selected only the demographic that is relevant to your business.

That’s it! Bon courage~~~

Thank you so much for reading!

O golly! That’s it to this extremely long post. Have I missed anything? What do you do to grow your Instagram? Please share your bag of tricks 😉

Signature small



Salut, I am Joyce. 40 something living in Paris. Appreciate little things and share giggles. Prudent, no nonsense reviews. #ExploreLaughRepeat


  1. You have provided some excellent facts in this article. I’d want to start off by stating that this is an article that is not only informative but also helpful for us. Please continue to share items of this nature, and thank you.

  2. During my quest for material pertaining to a specific area, I came into your blog by accident. Not only was I able to locate the information I was seeking, but I also wound up reading a number of other pieces. Fantastic useful resource!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: