Instagram is a powerful tool for building your business. In fact, with more than 800 million people actively using Instagram every month, there are few platforms that beat it in terms of allowing you to authentically engage with fans and attract customers.
That part’s clear. Less clear? The best way to go about building your Instagram presence. That’s why at Foundr we devote a lot of time and effort toward shining some light on this topic.
We’re not talking about vanity metrics or fake comments and followers. We’re focused on using this platform to generate real, meaningful business results.
Over the years, Foundr CEO Nathan Chan has gotten really good at exactly that. After growing the Founder Instagram account to over 1.8 million subscribers, he’s learned what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to getting more followers, likes, and engaged customers from Instagram.
And in this post, we’re sharing five of the best ways Nathan’s discovered for growing an Instagram account, 100% free. That’s right—you can grow your IG presence without paying a penny. Check out this video and then we’ll unpack Nathan’s advice below.
Step 1: Follow the Unicorn Strategy
To illustrate this step, check out these two posts from Foundr’s Instagram account:
What difference do you see? For starters, look at the likes.
The first one got 1,006 likes. The second got 11,894 likes. In other words, the second post got almost 12 times the engagement.
If it were just a few dozen or even hundred more likes you could chalk it up to chance. Maybe you posted at a bad time or the Instagram algorithm wasn’t being friendly that day. But when you’re talking about a 10,000-like difference between two posts, that’s not a fluke. That’s a signal to implement what Nathan calls the Unicorn Strategy.
This is where you look on Instagram for rare posts that outperform all other posts, ideally by a factor of 10. And then, you simply repost (with credit/permission) or recreate similar content. This allows your Instagram account to stack up quick wins fast because you’re not guessing if your audience will like your content. You’re only putting out content that’s been proven to work elsewhere.
For example, one of my favorite podcasters of all time, Apple Crider, is working on building his personal Instagram page. He noticed this post on @acropreneur’s Instagram account got a ton of engagement.
Where a typical post might have gotten around 3,000-4,000 likes from a 145,000 followers, this one got nearly 10,000 likes. Almost double!
That was a signal for Apple Crider to implement the Unicorn Strategy. He reposted the picture on his account, crediting @acropreneur.
What happened? It turned into one of his most popular posts to date, picking up over 3,000 likes. Compare that to his average of around 500-700 and you can see how this leads to big breakthroughs.
Now, Apple does a lot of great work to grow his account outside of this, but the Unicorn Strategy is one of the keys he’s used quickly grow his account to 14,000 followers.
It works because no matter what happens with the algorithm, you can always rely on great content to consistently rise to the top. And if you’re looking to grow your Instagram account for free, it can be a powerful way to increase engagement and get new followers.
As Nathan says, the secret is following accounts that are in your niche or serving a similar audience as your business and watching for the posts that break out and really outperform.
A word of caution though! Make sure you have the creator’s permission before reposting and always credit them for their work. You don’t want to put your account and reputation at risk by plagiarizing.
Step 2: Post Viral, Shareable Content
Have you ever seen a meme or funny picture on Instagram and immediately shared it with a friend?
If so, you know the power of this strategy all too well. And it’s actually one of the secrets that all the fastest growing Instagram accounts deploy.
Having content that your followers love is good. But if you really want to move the needle and grow your account for free you want to create content your followers share. Do this right and you can turn every follower you have into two.
For example, look at this post from @_yes.im.a.girl_:
For an account with just over 45,000 followers, getting 6,290 likes is very impressive. For context, some accounts with four times that number of followers don’t even get that kind of engagement.
But they did because they leveraged a very powerful Instagram secret. In the caption of the post, they prompted their followers to tag a friend in the comments. Saying, “Tag someone who is innocently manipulating.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Dozens of people tagged one, two, even three friends in the post, effectively doubling the reach of this post every time.
This is why giveaways that require you to tag your friends are still used by many popular Instagram accounts. It allows brands to add thousands of new followers by tapping into their existing fan bases.
But it still works if you’re looking to grow your account for free. Just encourage people to tag their friends in the post and you can boost your engagement rate.
Step 3: Post Consistently and Frequently
Here’s the path most people take when they decide to grow their Instagram following:
- Get really excited about what Instagram can do for their business and brand
- Post a few times
- Get a tepid response
- Panic about said tepid response (and consider sketchier strategies like buying followers and likes)
- Decrease posting volume and eventually give up because “Instagram doesn’t work.”
Nathan says this is the biggest mistake he sees people make. The better, more reliable path to success is to stick with it.
Even big brands like Foundr didn’t immediately take off. It took months of working, posting, and sharing before the results started to pay off in a big way and really compound.
When he was just getting started, he didn’t have many followers—mostly family and friends. His best posts would get 60 likes. At first, it was discouraging to put all this time and effort into creating great content, and then things started to click.
After a few months of consistently posting on his stories and feed, he started getting a few hundred and, eventually, a few thousand likes on his posts. Today, he runs an iTunes top 100 business podcast and it was built entirely from his Instagram efforts.
If he’d given up in the beginning, he never would have experienced that kind of growth. But when it comes to social media, consistency is rewarded and your efforts compound.
The key takeaway: When you post too little, you will see less growth. A good rule of thumb is to post a couple times a day on stories and once per day in your feed, at a minimum. Foundr saw its amazing growth by posting 8-10 times a day consistently.
Step 4: Comment & Engage With Top Pages
Another secret Foundr relied upon in the early days of growing their account was commenting and engaging with posts by top accounts.
For example, recently The Rock posted this photo on his Instagram:
The Rock has one of the biggest accounts in the world with 151 million followers.
But I don’t want to talk about the post. I want to talk about what happened in the comments section. Hundreds of people chimed in with fun captions and inspirational messages. One of those commenters, @danivitale, got 67 replies and 2,816 likes on her comment. Impressive!
But more than just likes, think about what that does for her account. It’s the top comment on The Rock’s post. Meaning millions of people can see it and, if they want, click over to her page and follow her.
The key with this whole thing, though, is to not be spammy. The last thing you want is to post a bunch of 🙏emojis and generic comments. That’s an instant way to signal to everyone that this is just a bot. And they’re definitely not going to click over to your account.
You want to post valuable content. So if it’s a motivational quote, post about what the quote meant to you. If it’s a person sharing a success story, say more than congrats. Talk about how proud you are of them.
Your comments can also be funny too. If you have a fun caption or take on the content, share that. People love a good laugh.
The point is, just spending a few extra seconds on a comment can go a long way toward getting more traction and followers.
Nathan says a lot of people hear about this and then nod their head, saying “Yeah! That sounds cool!” and then never do it. Don’t be that person who underestimates the power of this strategy.
To this day, Foundr still uses it and they have 1.8 million followers. So yes, it can work for you.
Step 5: Utilize Shout-Outs
There aren’t many guaranteed ways to release a hit pop song, but one that I can think of would be to have Taylor Swift guest star on it. Because I know if I could collaborate with her and get her to share it, her fans would pour in.
And she has a BIG following.
Musicians use this strategy all the time when their careers are on the rise. One good collaboration is all it takes to create an overnight success.
This same strategy works on Instagram using a technique called shout outs. This is where another brand plugs your page by saying, “Hey, you should check this page out! “
And it’s one of the quickest ways to add tens of thousands of loyal followers to your Instagram account—even without having to pay for it.
Sometimes if you reach out to the page owner or are consistently providing value of your own, they’ll recommend your content to their audience on their own accord.
Nathan says that this is one of his favorite strategies for growing an account because you can quickly get lots of followers as a direct recommendation from another big account. It can be a secret tool you have in your arsenal, even if you start small by connecting with your friends or smaller pages.
Just start somewhere! You can keep scaling up with bigger and bigger shoutouts over time. If you need any help with your first shoutout (or anything when it comes to getting your business up and running on Instagram), check out this ultimate guide, where we walk you through the entire process and more.
Why Pay When You Can Grow for Free!
A lot of people will try to convince you that the only way to succeed on Instagram today is to “pay to play.” But that’s simply not true. The reality is there are lots of free ways to grow your account.
In fact, some of the free strategies work better than any paid ones. At Foundr, we’ve tested and perfected these strategies for years. And many of them, we still use them to this day.
My recommendation? Deploy one or (better) all of these strategies and start getting traction on one of the world’s most powerful social channels.
What free Instagram growth methods have you used? Let us know in the comments!