Is it still possible to grow an audience on Instagram in 2021? I think there has never been a better time to do it, but it’s a little different than back in 2017, when I started The Minimalist Wardrobe—a community with now +220k followers on Instagram.
First off, there’s definitely more competition for attention every year. You’re up against more content and better content than ever, so simply compiling neat images together doesn’t fly anymore. You need something good. There’s no way around that.
There’s a positive aspect to this, however. When you build something you’re able to grow in 2021, your audience will be more valuable. The extra effort that’s needed today will pay off when it comes to monetizing the audience.
Back when it was easier to grow an Instagram account, an account with a million followers could be worth close to zero if you hadn’t put any thought or effort into building a meaningful audience—something which was common since new followers were easier to get. That’s not such a common trap anymore.
Secondly, Instagram’s user base today is huge, so your chances of finding yourself an audience for virtually anything is a reality. You won’t run out of people.
Thirdly—and this is my personal opinion, you of course never know—I don’t think Instagram is going anywhere anytime soon. I really think it has cemented its presence in our lives for the foreseeable future. Say what you want about Instagram’s business tactics of buying competitors and copying their businesses into features (e.g. Snapchat and TikTok), but they’re effective.
What I’m trying to say, is that investing effort into building an audience on Instagram is in my opinion a safe bet, in terms of the platform being here for a long time.
So yes. You can definitely grow an audience on Instagram in 2021. It can’t be done without a proper strategy, but the potential is almost limitless.
An Unorthodox Approach to Growth
I have an ecommerce client who has struggled to grow their audience on Instagram, even after a year of focused effort to post more meaningful and visually pleasing content.
When taking a closer look at their account, they weren’t doing anything particularly wrong. Sure, there were many things to improve on that undoubtedly would increase their growth—such as using hashtags more effectively and positioning posts to convert new followers better—but nothing drastic that would magically take them from growing a couple hundred followers per month to a couple hundred followers per day.
The problem isn’t how they run their account. It’s the type of account they have. They have a standard brand account, where they showcase their products, repost pics by their customers, post about behind the scenes stuff (upcoming products etc.), and educate their customer base about how to get the most out of their products.
Broadly speaking it’s a well run Instagram account. These types of accounts just aren’t meant to drive growth with. They’re meant to serve your existing customers and to convert people who are already looking for the products you sell.
So we decided to set up a secondary account as a growth engine. The idea is to create something that can attract the target audience, even if they’re not ready to buy our product.
Later we’ll set up funnels, so that when people are researching for products, they can easily find and follow the main account. These could be story highlights leading the the main account, regular mentions on the feed, or even direct story links to the shop.
The secondary account is more of a “theme account”—an account dedicated for a topic, an interest, or a philosophy. You could think of it like an online magazine. In this particular case we decided to create an account for a certain type of decor inspiration, which our product obviously goes perfectly with.
This kind of setup gives us the ability to grow and reach new people at a significantly faster rate, primarily for two reasons:
- We have a much larger pool of people to go after. Simply being interested in the niche we operate in is enough. No buying intent is needed yet.
- The secondary account much better at converting new people into followers because it’s more interesting and not selling anything directly.
We’re just starting now, so let’s see how it goes in this case. It’s not something you can just set and forget—there’s definitely work to be done. But from everything I’ve seen on Instagram, including what I’m doing personally, this will work like a charm when executed correctly.
The 3 Cornerstones of a Successful Instagram Post
If I’ve managed to convince you that Instagram is a more lucrative channel than ever, even with its challenges, and if the secondary account approach motivated you to try something similar, here are some actionable and evergreen tips for engaging Instagram posts. These hold true however you use your Instagram account.
A successful Instagram post is…
Visual & relevant: Make the post about the photo / video. Try to communicate mostly through the media and use the caption to support and to clarify. A common mistake I see is a photo with a completely irrelevant caption. These posts almost never do well. People like when they “get” the post in a second, which doesn’t happen when the media and caption aren’t tied together.
Inspirational & motivational: Instagram is a place where people go to zone out and to daydream. Inspirational and motivational stuff give small dopamine boosts that are exactly what people hope to get from Instagram. Funny shit works too, but it’s way harder to nail on a constant basis, unless you’re just really funny. Educational stuff is overused and not ideal. Inspire on IG & educate on your blog.
Punchy & simple: People in Instagram browsing mode have no attention spans. Keep ideas simple and get to the point fast. Don’t make them work for that dopamine.
Yes, stuff can work despite you checking off all of these perfectly, and sometimes it makes sense to go for a longer, educational post—but most of the time these are the general rules to follow on Instagram.