BEAT THE INSTAGRAM ALGORITHM
Time to reveal my secret formula to get 10K followers in less than a month as a Designer.
On 18th May 2019, I decided to take up a personal challenge of getting 10K followers on Instagram. The crazy part was that I wanted to hit that number within 1 month. Within a month? Why such a tough target?
One of the new trends on Instagram is the text-based content about design. These posts seem to be doing insanely well. After seeing these posts for a few days, I thought to myself “I can definitely do it much better than these guys… Anyday!”. I knew it would be super tough but I was a 100% sure that I could beat the Instagram algorithm. On the night of 16th June 2019 (28 days later), I finally hit the 10K follower count 🎉.
We’ve all heard of a concept called Design Sprint, but today allow me to introduce you to Instagram Sprint! 🤣
“Wait a minute Chethan, this sounds too good to be true.”
Alright! Before you start making all sorts of assumptions, let me set the facts straight.
- No money was spent on promotion. All my followers were organic.
- I posted a total of 23 posts over a period of 28 days. 1 post per day only!
- I spent 2 hours per weekday and 8-10 hours per weekend creating the posts. Every day was as normal as any other day. Travel, Office, Gym and enough sleep.
- Each post took me an average of 3–5 hours.
- I started with 850 followers on 18th May before the Instagram Sprint. So technically I got 9,150 followers over a period of 28 days. But I got around 650 followers in the next 2 days. It’s still a big win 😝.
My secret formula isn’t the only way to get 10K followers. This is what I believed in. This is what worked for me. This is my strategy. But feel free trust your gut and go another route. It’s a free world after all.
And yeah, this might be a big article because I have a lot of secrets to spill.
Also, all the stats I mention below are 100% true. Feel free to let me know if you want hard proof. I will send you a recorded video for your satisfaction 😂.
One last thing. Make sure you don’t skip the last part. I have something that will motivate you and keep you high on your confidence meter.
So now that we’re on the same page, let me start spilling my secrets. Strap in your seat belts and let’s get started.
- Strategy (The best part)
- Engagement (Maintain your followers)
“Oh no! Not another cliché article talking about the same old value and consistency 🤦🏼♂️.”
Fair enough. But before you stop reading or move onto another article, let me tell you why this isn’t your regular article.
I am going to break down the real meaning of what makes an Instagram post valuable by giving you real examples.
I am going to explain the real secret behind consistency and the right way to be consistent. Just posting every day isn’t going to do the trick. There is much more to it.
I am going to explain how to think like a professional detective. What are the things that you should do and should not do?
And finally, a few cunning tricks to up your Instagram game.
So are you still here? Of course, you are.
To be honest, the way I beat the Instagram algorithm is, by not actually beating the Instagram algorithm.
Instead of giving more focus to things like hashtags, I gave more focus on providing real value. Without value, there is no success.
“Alright, so what makes an Instagram post valuable?”
Simple. The person reading the post should be able to make sense and understand at least 80% of the information in the post. He should also be able to immediately start applying that knowledge. Then that would be considered as a valuable post.
“Give me an example!”
Let’s say that you want to explain the steps of a design sprint or the laws of UX. For god’s sake, please don’t do that 🙏🏼. If you go ahead mentioning all the steps or all the laws with a title and some supporting text, no one in the world will understand it. Don’t share high-level design knowledge. Instagram is NOT the platform to do that. Content has to be easily consumable.
Just because you have valuable information doesn’t mean that it’s valuable for others. It becomes valuable only if it’s easily consumable.
I’m sure that it would get you of likes and comments, but you will hardly get any follows. Even if you do, it would definitely not help you get 10K follows in less than a month. People might not appreciate your effort. People might not recommend you to others. You will be perceived as ‘just’ another designer. You don’t want that to happen.
“What do I do instead?”
Well, there are 4 ways of making content valuable.
Always pick a niche topic. Something that is very small and specific. Dig deeper. For example, pick one of the steps of the design sprint or one of the laws of UX and stretch that out as much as you can. Drill down to the smallest concept. People find it super easy to consume that. That is exactly what I did.
Instead of explaining the color theory and types of colors, I went deep and made a post on the ways to pick a color. I drilled down to the basics and explained the difference between screen density and resolution. That is such a niche topic. I got over 750 followers from these 2 posts.
Not the same thing again
Please do not make another post on Top 10 fonts, Top 5 Sketch plugins, 5 must-read books or Top Youtubers for design 🤦🏼♂. And for god’s sake, please don’t make another post on Design systems 😭.
Think outside the box. Be Unique. Do something new!
I was shocked to see these 2 posts blew up 🤯. Who would have ever thought of making a post on shadows? I did!
With a combined reach of 134K unique accounts, I got over 2000 follows just from these 2 posts. Unbelievable right?
I’m not even going to talk about likes 🤣.
“Woah! So how did it end up reaching so many unique accounts? You must have used a lot of hashtags rights?”
Hashtags did play a minor role in discovery. But the reason for reaching so many accounts was that people started sharing my post with others and on their stories. People shared them over 400 times. That’s insane!
Fresh out of the oven
Every day we learn something new about design. Just like sports, politics or the bottle cap opening challenge. Making posts on what is trending can really really boost your follower count. Allow me to explain.
The moment Google announced that Dark Theme was coming to Android Q, at the Google I/O 2019, I knew I had to make an Instagram series on it. It took me around 30–40 hours in total to learn everything about Dark Theme and then transform that knowledge into posts. I had to watch the keynote and go through the entire guidelines at least 5 times. I did that because I wanted to be super thorough with the guidelines so that I could explain them in the posts in the best way possible.
It’s always about making valuable content consumable.
And the return on investment was mind-blowing. A total reach of whopping 235K unique accounts, 650 shares and 2000 follows! This motivated me so much that I ended up making a full-fledged Medium Article on Designing a Dark Theme for your Android App.
It didn’t end there. A few weeks later at WWDC 2019, Apple announced a bunch of new stuff. Out of which, Dark Mode, SF Symbols and the Apple Design Awards was something that was targeted towards designers. And so, I got back into the race.
Ready to hear the numbers? Reach of 231K unique accounts, 770 shares and 2000 follows.
Learning to communicate and making content consumable is what makes something valuable. Not pretty visuals, not good looking fonts and definitely not your career experience.
It’s for your fans
Everyone knows the million dollar question of the design industry.
“How to get started in UI/UX Design”
I can’t even remember the number of people who have asked me this question. And so I decided to make this post and share it with everyone who asked me about it.
With a reach of 40K unique accounts and 350 follows, I think it was okay. The reason it didn’t do as well as the other posts were because this was a very broad topic put into a few lines of text.
Out of 23 posts that I uploaded, I have shown you just 13 posts. These 13 posts generated over 7,000 followers!
So ask yourself these questions when you get an idea for an Instagram post:
Are you really sharing the type of valuable content that no one else is? Are you really sharing content that is new and unique? Are you really sharing content that people can quickly understand and consume.
The 2nd Golden Code is quite short. Let me explain why consistency actually matters.
When I say consistency, I mean posting on a regular basis. I’m not talking about your visual style, brand or presentation.
With the time I had, I was able to post once per day. If you have more time, go ahead and post more than once per day. But make sure it is valuable enough.
I prefer value over consistency. Quality over quantity. Always!
“So why consistency then?”
The answer is simple. It’s for luck.
Yup. That’s right. Humans are not robots. They don’t have a fixed time table and schedule. They do things based on emotions and feelings. People check Instagram only when they are free and bored and want to take a break (unless they run a business on Instagram). And no one in the world can predict the timing of that. So you never know what or who can help blow your following. Just 1 share by an influencer account can get you hundreds of follows.
It’s that once in a lifetime opportunity sort of thing, that you don’t want to miss out on.
“Give me an example”
On 5th June, a normal boring Wednesday of the week I uploaded a post about the 2019 Apple Design Awards Winners. This post didn’t do well at all. I got only 170 followers. But see what happened.
“Big Deal. What’s so lucky about that?”
UX Gems has over 427K followers. And the craziest part is that it follows on 34 accounts. And I’m not one of them.
So for Mizko who is a super busy person, seeing my post at the right moment and right time, was pure luck! If I hadn’t posted it on that day, he might not have seen it at all.
Just imagine the amount of traffic that I would have got from an account with over 427K followers. Massive! People would have poured into my profile, checked out my posts, liked them and even end up following me.
“Damn! So how many follows did you get?”
No Idea. I’m not worried about the number. I’m just super pumped to know that I got featured by UX Gems! 😎
So make sure you try to be consistent because just like Karma… Luck is also watching you always.
Time to take things to the level! Are you ready?
So the first thing you need to do is to turn your account into a business account and make it public. Don’t be a damn fool by keeping it private. People will follow you based on your content and if they can’t see it, then they won’t follow you. It’s common sense 🤦🏼♂️.
The reason you need it to be a business account is that you will get access to the statistics of your account.
Split the 4 week period into 2 parts. The first 2 weeks are your testing period. Based on the performance, make the necessary changes in the last 2 weeks if you need to.
The testing period can also be a week or 10 days. It’s left to you.
Before you start the Instagram Sprint, make sure you have at least 5 posts ready that you can post everyday. The testing phase is very important and you want to make sure that you are consistent in posting. Once your posts are ready, start posting them consistently for a minimum of 7 to 10 days. Try not to miss a single day. But it’s fine if you do. I agree that you too have a life to lead.
The 3 main analytics that matter the most are Interactions, Discovery, and Followers. Here is how it looks like for me.
So the 2 inferences from these analytics are:
- Best time of the day to post.
- Best days to post.
“Yo Chethan! You said we had to be consistent and post every day. Why do I have to care about the best days to post?”
I know. I know. Let me explain.
If you try to make sense of the numbers, you won’t get the logic. It’s messed up sometimes. Believe me, I’ve tried it 🤣.
So just pick the top 4 days from each of the stats. For me, it’s Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For all Indians, it should pretty much be the same.
Post the ones that you think are the best on these 4 days. And your least favorite ones on the other 3 days.
“Gotcha! Makes sense. But what time do I post it?
The answer is right there. I get the best engagement on Sundays so I’ve taken that as an example for now. From the image, you can see that 6–9 PM is the best time to post. So the trick I follow is to post it between 6.30 and 7 PM (after half an hour but within 1 hour). But it might not work for you. That’s why you have the testing period.
“What if I want to see more than just the regular Instagram stats?”
So out of all the Instagram analytic tools that I found online, the one that I loved the most was Iconosquare. For the simple reason that the UI looks dope and it has a 14-day free trial with no auto-renewal. It has a whole big fat bunch of analytics that you can look it. It’s mind-blowing. But wait… Don’t sign up yet.
Sign up for the free trial after the first 7 days of your sprint. The best part about Iconosquare is that it will generate stats for your old posts as well. So you basically get more free stuff. From there on keep working your strategy.
Another tool that you can use is called Hype Auditor. You can sign up to this right away. It’s basically a marks card for your Instagram profile. It gives ratings on Audience Authenticity, Followers & Following Graph, Engagement Rate and more. It’s pretty interesting.
Woah! That chick looks hot 🔥
I’m to repeat this again. Making content consumable is what makes it valuable.
Good presentation makes content conusmable! This leads to content becoming valuable.
There are a couple of things that I hate with what designers on Instagram are still doing with their posts.
Btw, this is just my opinion and personal preference.
Instagram allows you to post images with a resolution of 1350*1080. If there is more room to put content in why do designers still upload it in 1080*1080? I really do not understand 🤦🏼♂️. I honestly prefer the portrait view.
The next thing I really don’t prefer is visual clutter.
Why would you want to show breadcrumbs and your Instagram handle on every single slide? It makes no sense. People don’t care about your Instagram handle or which slide they are on. They only want the content. So why would you add visual clutter? Focus more on the content that matters. People will perceive you to be a person who is desperate for followers or else.
As designers, we know what visual hierarchy is. Then why isn’t that being applied in your posts? Make important content, big and readable. The title is the subtext in this case. Make that smaller and less important. Utilize the full space with texts having a big font size which makes the primary content easy and fast to read.
I’m not asking you the do what I like. Try out these tips yourself and see if you like it. No pressure ✌️.
The Instagram Villian
Alright, before we jump into the last ingredient (Engagement), here are a few hacks to rank well on Instagram.
Watch a few videos on YouTube. That’s the best way to learn a lot of Instagram tips. The only YouTube channel I referred to was Sunny Lenarduzzi. She has the best tips and tricks!
Of all the million hacks out there, here are a few of the ones I followed religiously.
- Used 30 hashtags on every post. In the testing phase, I tried a variety of hashtags and once a post did well, I used the exact same hashtags. Apparently, Instagram considers it to be spam if you use the same hashtags But it really never affected me actually. I used to change 4–5 hashtags. That’s all.
- I kept myself free for 2 hours after I published the post. I replied to every comment that I got. Apparently, the engagement in the first hour and long comments helps your post rank better. So instead of saying “Thank you”, I started saying “Thank you so much. Means a lot 🙏🏼”. I also tried to address the person by their name. It makes the person feel nice about it.
- I tagged a lot of feature accounts (accounts that have a LOT of followers). These feature accounts would share my posts on their story if they found it valuable.
- A good description helps a lot. I didn’t write huge paragraphs. Just a few lines to give context on what the post is all about.
- Another thing that you can do is to share your post on social media platforms. I didn’t go too overboard but with it though. Just a few Facebook groups and on my twitter account.
So basically, by now you know everything that you need to reach 10K followers. But what’s the next goal? 20K? 50K?
Nope! My goal was to teach 10K so that I would get access to the swipe up feature. A through that I could start sharing much more valuable content. I stopped looking at my follower count and continued to focus on helping my followers.
“How did you maintain relationships with so many followers?”
The answer lies in the 4th ingredient.
And finally, here we are.
Be it a newbie or an experienced designer. Be it a guy or a girl. Be it a person older than me or younger than me. Maintaining relationships and a good network is extremely important to me.
With a lot of followers, comes a lot of DMs. I replied back to every single message that I got. I do it even today. Not only on Instagram, my YouTube Channel and Twitter as well. People ask me all sorts of questions. From career, to design to even personal life. I answer everything.
I also started a weekly Q&A on my story where people started asking a lot of fun and interesting questions. It was super fun to answer them. I do that even today.
I have a serious disease. I’m obsessed with helping people. Luckily there is no cure for that.
After reaching 10K followers I slowed down and started posting only on the weekends. But I continued replying to every message and engage with my audience through my stories. So even though I reduced the number of posts per week, I continued to share valuable content.
Over the 1 month period, getting 10K followers wasn’t the only thing that happened.
I started to get client work. Pitchproof which has over 42K followers offered to be on their podcast. I got to collaborate with UI Gradient which has over 186K followers. And they started to share my posts on their feed.
And the thing that made me lose my mind was getting a message from the one and only Ran Segall. One of the most iconic and popular design youtubers. I was speechless. Getting a chance to collaborate with him is like a dream come true.
This clearly proves that posting valuable content is more important than being consistent. Yes, consistency is required but not as much as being valuable to others.
So yeah… Hopefully, this motivates you to start sharing valuable content to other designers.
So that’s pretty much it. I’m super sorry for making this very long 🙏🏼. I wanted to share everything that I could. Hopefully, you found this article very helpful and insightful.