Instagram has been the most disruptive social network to redistribute social power away from paparazzi and publications and back to celebrities and influencers who have taken their public images into their own hands.
As a result of our relentless obsessions to get an hourly quick photo fix of our favorite icons and items on Instagram, supermodels like Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid are earning upwards of $300,000 per post across their social portfolio.
I, on the other hand, cannot claim any notion of fame, Internet or otherwise.
What I have done is post over 10,000 photos on Instagram over the past two years. Observing what worked and what didn’t over those 10,000 posts allowed me to figure out how to effectively grow organic followers while earning money from my passion with exotic cars.
In less than two years I’ve gone from one account with 700 followers to more than 28 accounts commanding 13 million followers, growing at over 1 million followers per month and making a healthy six figures per year.
What I’m trying to get across is that anyone can leverage their passions, hobbies and knowledge and create one or more Instagram accounts, grow their followers and earn money following my simple instructions. The only thing I did that led to my current insight was using Instagram — a lot.
The formula is simple: create an Instagram account with killer unique content, attract new engaged followers, then sell advertising, shout-outs or products (yours or other people’s).
The seven essentials below will not only help you understand how to quickly grow your followers, but also show you how you can attract small businesses and brands that will want to advertise via your account. This will grant you several monetization opportunities — in other words, literally making money from being good at Instagram.
Essential 1: iOS or Android
Let’s get one thing straight: cameras are unnecessary. Unless you’re a professional photographer delivering an artistic eye through your photography, there is no need for an expensive bulky camera. Consequently, the next question becomes: iOS or Android?
If you plan on creating an Instagram account where you take your own photos, then an iPhone is the best option. iPhones have two main advantages over Android devoices: image processing and image capturing. Pictures taken and uploaded from an iOS device yield a slightly sharper resized image for your profile picture. iOS cameras are also superior to any Android camera (especially in low light).
Android on the other hand excels at productivity; unlike iOS devices, Android devices have the ability to directly access photos stored in cloud storage drives from within Instagram such as Google Drive and DropBox. This is a huge time saver if you process photos and want to keep photos organized and accessible using cloud based storage.
While not necessary, I use both iOS (iPhone 6) and Android (Nexus 5) devices to stay current with the micro changes that exist between Instagram on either device. I use my iOS to take photos, and my Android to do the bulk of my posting.
Essential 2: Mobile apps
Very quickly it will start to learn and predict words, sentences and emoji’s that you use after certain words. It also will allow you to teach it @usernames, captions and #hashtags saving your fingers thousands of keystrokes.
If you’re a heavy poster (and you will be if you follow this strategy), this will save you a ton of time spent writing out captions.
If it weren’t for this app, I wouldn’t have been able to create and run so many Instagram accounts all on my own. What normally would take me three to five minutes to type a unique caption now takes me less than 30 seconds.
Add watermark and iWatermark app
If you create your own unique high quality content, then I highly advise you watermark your photos. It helps you establish and reinforce your brand/logo and curbs blatant photo theft, which Instagram is plagued with.
Watermarks should be small but visible. People are more likely to share a photo that has a small clean logo than a large obnoxious one.
KiK Messenger has become the favorite method of communication for many Instagram account holders, as it’s been around since before Instagram implemented its direct messaging feature. It’s a stand-alone messenger app that doesn’t integrate with your SMS/text messages.
As your account grows in popularity, you’ll start to get bombarded with spam. KiK provides a convenient way to weed out the spam and keep your communication on point for those interested in doing business with you.
KiK allows you to remain private (doesn’t show your phone number) and requires you to select a unique username to represent yourself. Many (but not all) Instagram accounts use the same username in KiK. Most people will put their KiK username in their bio, so you know exactly who to message if you want to engage in real time messaging.
Essential 3: Account protection and general setup
Instagram continues to be regarded as the most valuable and monetizable social network out there. Unfortunately, this also means that it’s ripe for plenty of email phishing scams. Many scammers even own variations of Instagram.com domains to trick even the most Internet-savvy users.
In fact, even I had my top account hacked this summer for a couple of hours — it was one of the most stressful events of my life! To make sure no one goes through that, the following steps detail how to set up the main aspects of your account with an emphasis on security.
New email address
In order to create a hacker-proof Instagram account, you need to create an email address for it that no one knows about. Don’t even list this in your bio, that’s a sure way of getting hacked. Give it a strong and unique password, and don’t use that address for anything except the initial setup.
Aside from a private email address, your second level of hacker protection is to add and link your smartphone number to your Instagram account. This adds another level of security in the event you lose your password or get hacked.
Your final level of defense is to connect your Facebook account to your Instagram. Should you forget your password or get hacked, this allows you to login and do a password reset with your Facebook Connect credentials.
Your bio is your chance to sell yourself, your account and to attract new followers. You need to make a great first impression right off the bat, as potential followers will only spend a couple seconds evaluating your page before making a decision.
Keep it short (four to five lines), descriptive with proper spelling and grammar, and NO emoji’s — keep it professional.
Avatar / profile photo
Keep your avatar simple with little to no text. If you must use letters to abbreviate your page name, use a clean simple font.
Add a URL link to you bio
This is the only click/linkable URL that Instagram allows on each of our profile pages, so use it to your advantage. I highly suggest using a URL shortening service such as Bit.ly, which allows you to shorten long URLs.
Public versus private account
If you want to run an account with the goal of establishing your brand/account and making money, keep your account public. There is nothing that turns off potential followers more than arriving at your page and having to follow a private account to see what you post.
Essential 4: Posting content to Instagram
Two things you should know about posting on Instagram: content is still king and Instagram captions are the new blogging. You can ultimately double the speed at which your account grows by posting high quality, unique photos along with engaging captions.
For maximum resolution ensure your photos are no smaller than 1080 x 1080 pixels if you’re pulling photos from the web on a laptop or from other social networks.
A caption can make or break even the most spectacular photo or video. A poorly written caption can make you look like an amateur, while a clever/witty/proper one can transform a mediocre post into a viral one.
You don’t have to write a novel, but give the user a caption they can connect with. A little description goes a long way.
Use three to five descriptive hashtags. If you’re posting a photo of a red apple, don’t just use #red #apple, those are too common and therefore too competitive. Use a more descriptive and targeted hashtag such as #RedApple instead. This approach will make you more searchable to potential followers.
A great way of getting your photos noticed is to tag other accounts in your image posts (unfortunately you can’t tag a video the same way). Don’t waste your time tagging irrelevant accounts that your photo has nothing to do with or they might ban you.
Also make sure you don’t waste your time with accounts that have privacy settings that prevent tags from showing publicly.
I have found that the hottest times to post are first thing in the morning between 8am-11am, in the afternoon between 2pm-4pm, and in the evening between 7pm-9pm. I find my photos perform the best and yield better engagements during these time slots.
When you start your account from nothing, I suggest you post one to two photos a day: one in the morning and one in the afternoon or evening. When you reach 5,000 followers, you can do three to four posts a day, followed by four to five posts per day when you hit 10,000 followers.
Hootsuite and Latergram are my two favorite scheduling apps. They are extremely helpful and allow you to setup an entire day or week’s worth of posts (via laptop or mobile) ahead of time.
Once set up, all you have to do is click on the mobile notification (for whatever specified time you have setup), enter the caption (via paste function from your clipboard), and hit the post/share button!
Engage your audience and peers
I highly suggest you start engaging with your followers as soon as possible. As you start engaging with your followers, others will see this and want to join in on the conversation. There are several ways to do this, like asking them what content they want to see or what they like about the photo/content you’re posting.
Essential 5: Analytics
There are several different Instagram analytics tools available for you to get more information about your account and your followers. The three free ones for personal/business that I use and recommend you check out are: Iconosquare.com, SocialBlade.com and SocialRank.com.
All three use the Instagram Connect login module, meaning when you log into these sites, you’re logging in as safely as you would be if logging in directly from your Instagram app.
Iconosquare.com is helpful for showing you which of your posts (or other people’s accounts) hit the discover/explore page, stats about your posting trends, highlighting hashtag use, overall growth, most liked posts, most commented posts and your top followers in terms of likes and comments. This allows you to quickly identify who you should be interacting with in order to foster an engaging positive community.
SocialBlade.com allows you to look up any Instagram account and quickly see on a daily basis how many new followers that account has grown, how many posts they post/delete and how many people they follow or un-follow. This is extremely helpful to determine which are the most valuable pages if you’re going to pay for shout-outs!
Essential 6: Growth
So you’ve gone through all of the previous steps and are enjoying a decent following, but you’re still not experiencing that rapid follower growth I promised at the beginning.
The truth is that growing your account organically through quality content takes time.
It’s far from impossible, but it definitely requires a little more effort now that there are so many niche accounts. The quickest way to get your account up to 10k, 50k and 100k+ so that you can start earning money is to create a unique account in a niche that no one else has covered yet and/or pay larger accounts for shout-outs.
Keep in mind you get what you pay for, so make sure you’re paying accounts that would have a demographic you’re interested in attracting to your account.
Be careful with bot programs that follow, like and comment automatically for you. Instagram is disabling more and more accounts for using these services and recently decided that come June 2016 it will be making changes to disable these programs from working with Instagram accounts.
Essential 7: Monetization
Instagram popularity by itself, sadly, does not generate revenue. However, there are several ways you can monetize your Instagram account. The most important part of this process is to understand when to start monetizing so that you don’t interrupt or affect your account growth.
Selling caption space below your photo. This is the first and least invasive option for monetization. This option allows you to continue posting as normal while selling the caption space to another account. When you sell caption space, it will be replaced with a shout-out to another account.
Sell the URL link in your bio. You can do this daily/weekly/monthly, or on a per-post basis where it works together with caption-featured posts like the option above.
Post other’s photos/videos or ads with a caption of their choice. These posts are usually negotiated to last for six to eight hours (or longer) depending on whether the content fits with the account they’re being posted on.
Like another account’s recently posted photo/video. For maximum results, this step is usually done in the first two to three hours of the post that is being liked.
If you’re personally representing yourself on Instagram and have grown a large following, you might also want to look into the various influencer marketing communities that allow you to list your Instagram profile in various verticals where major brands look for Influencers to work with to promote their brands.
You don’t need to have millions of followers to become an influencer marketer on Instagram, just a nice following with great engagement. I have seen people with 10k followers make over $100 per post to promote shoes, clothing and accessories.
In order to get a jump-start finding advertisers, look at pages similar to yours (or that have advertisers that you see as a good fit with your page and followers) and see who they’re promoting. Then email those advertisers and introduce yourself and your page and see if they are interested in advertising on your account.
You’ll need to email the Instagram account(s) where you first saw their advertising and see how much they charge so you can figure out a strategic and enticing price to get that advertiser to advertise with you.
There you have the essentials of starting and growing an Instagram account to have hundreds of thousands of followers and (eventually) make money.
None of these essentials are particularly difficult to follow, just remember that it takes time.
It takes time to build an account from nothing, and you’re going to have to be very consistent with your posting schedule to build any sort of following. However, if you adhere to these essentials, you have yourself a very strong foundation for becoming the next Instagram sensation.