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6 best practices for winning back those lost Instagram followers

Forget what you've heard.


Taylor Hatmaker


Posted on Dec 22, 2014   Updated on May 29, 2021, 10:20 pm CDT

If your self-esteem dipped along with your Instagram follower count last week, never fear. Whether your account dropped by two or two-thousand (it happens), you can grow your IG fanbase to terrifying new heights by gulping down this potent brew of common sense, strategy, and totally original hot tips you can only find here.


1. Post stuff that doesn’t suck

This should go without saying, and yet here we are. If you feel a pang when a follower peels off for greener pastures, you are emotionally invested enough to take better Instagram photos. For one, for the love of god, stop posting screenshots—that’s what Tumblr is for, I think. If you care about your follower count enough to have read this far, you should take a moment to consider if your Instagram comes off as some kind of incoherent Pinterest board of a rapturous tween’s subconscious. Do you post inspirational quotes? Get the hell out of here—there are other apps for you. Boring, poorly-lit group photos? Facebook proper will welcome you with open arms. Over-filtered photos or anything whatsoever using Kelvin? Try DeviantArt, maybe.

2. Post original stuff

At the absolute least, Instagram photos should be original (as in, you took it yourself) and interesting. If you’re gunning for more followers, consider expanding point 2 to “interesting to a stranger.” Instagram is your opportunity to curate the public perception of your life in the simplest, most visual way possible. This is your chance to look like you have your shit together. Instead of Instagramming that pile of unwashed clothes you’ve been nesting in, take a macro shot of someone else’s latte. Who cares if you’re lying? This is the Internet.

3. Do not under any circumstance:

– Post regrams. I’m going to take an unpopular stance on this one. Want to repost something? Repost it with a credit in the comments and avoid that hideous blue frame situation.

– Post any photo of food taken with flash. Seriously, it looks really gross.

– Post > 3 selfies in a row, unless your feed is 100 percent selfies in which case, own it, whatever.

– Post > 4 cat photos in a row unless they’re, like, really good. 

– Post screencaps. There is a social network for you and it is Tumblr. 

You probably never do any of this stuff though, right?

4. Hashtag best practices

Hashtags are a double-edged sword. Invented for pure utility, hashtags group like things. Bear that in mind when you start riffing on that brilliant hashtag you just came up with. Slathering your Instagram account with redundant hashtags  defeats the purpose of using a hashtag at all. Take this unsuspecting user, who posted a perfectly adequate photo of someone’s cat. 


The photo is in focus, artfully composed even, with a shallow depth of field (blurry background) guaranteed to make you an insta-IG star. The caption is even good—cats are always tucking their little legs under them like weirdos! Moments later, this IG user loses it. Pick a few hashtags, ideally the most popular or self-aware/ironic ones and leave it at that. Dropping a bunch of hashtags no one uses won’t net you more followers but it will make you look like you’re looking for followers. To attract IGers who follow you for more than a #followback, you’ll want to appear as aloof and above self-promotion as possible. Much like in love, employment, and tax evasion, playing hard to get on Instagram is a 100 percent effective strategy

5. Connect all the things

Instagram has a built-in way to share easily to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Flickr, so go ahead and link all that stuff up, assuming you have it. One tricky thing about Twitter is that your Instagram tweet will only show a link to your post on Instagram itself—if you want the photo to appear under the link you’ll need to do this manually or set up something like an IFTTT trigger. Promote your Instagram account wherever you have the most followers, even if that means Ello or Google Plus. Anyone interested in your life on another social network will probably follow you on Instagram, if you post Engaging Content. That said, if your account is private you’re probably screwed and we can’t help you. Why did you read this far? Speaking of getting connected, find people who do stuff you like and interact with them. Leave comments. Don’t be shy, this is the Internet, what could go wrong?


6. Decide what your thing is and stick with it

Yes, it’s time to talk about your personal brand. Much like dark matter, your personal brand has a pull on the gravitational forces of how you move through the world (the Internet), whether you choose to believe in it or not. Unlike dark matter (What is that stuff, anyway? This is the worst analogy), you can bend your personal brand to your will. If strangers know what to expect from your Instagram and you pull whatever that thing is off well, word will spread. Especially if you come up with something ridiculously cool, like this artist who makes 3cm-wide watercolor paintings, recently featured on Instagram’s official blog. Want to commit to Kim K’s brand of selfie-powered self love? Maybe something meta, like selfies capturing scenes of other people taking selfies? Cats in ballet poses? Pinecones that look like the cast members from mid-’90s sitcoms? Do it and don’t look back. 

Yes, these are the official rules of Instagram. Worst case scenario, you can always snag 10,000 followers for $70 (value!) but we can’t promise they’ll shower you with the likes and comments you crave. #officialrules #Instagram #rulesofinstagram #IGrules #meanttobebroken #followforfollow

Photo via Janitors/Flickr (CC BY-2.0) 

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*First Published: Dec 22, 2014, 9:03 pm CST