Why Your Photography Business IG Follower Count Isn't Going Up and What to Do About It
So, is your photography business IG account follower count stagnant and not going anywhere? Do you keep getting accounts following you, only to unfollow you a week later? With millions of new users being added every month, competition is so steep, but that also means there’s so much potential for follower growth! See if you are guilty of the gaps below, and implement these strategies to get a piece of that 900 million and growing users!
**I am totally guilty of not implementing these strategies because honestly, it takes so much time, and as I will mention in the conclusion, IG follower count is not my priority at this point. I am all about creating and posting my best content, and I feel like that converts into clients than the # next to the “followers” on IG! Just in case you notice scrolling through my feed. ;)
Here are some of the reasons you may see that you aren’t getting new followers, and how to fix it!
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Your posts aren’t optimized
Optimizing your posts is a passive approach and definitely not a fastest way to gain followers, but it’s the basics and should be done for each of your posts at the bare minimum.
You will definitely get more likes and engagement on your posts at least by doing this - and you will be discovered by other IGers that’s following the methods described in the next section. Once you do the initial research, it’s pretty easy to automate this process, so it’s worth doing the leg work!
Target Audience: Everyone - especially those who are looking for specific photographers that takes photos at a certain location, or certain types of photography
Cost: Free or paid service to schedule posts and research for you
Not just random hashtags will work - you should research the best hashtags for the photos you post. To get the best chance to be discovered, don’t use the most popular hashtags with millions of tags. You won’t stay in the “recents” section for too long. Find relevant hashtags with maybe 10K-100K range so your post will stay at the “recents” feed for longer = more visibility. With that number, people are still using it so it’s worth it! You will also get a bigger chance to land in the “top posts” section too. To search for these hashtags, I like to use tools on IG posting planner apps like Plann, where it provides hashtag suggestions and it also stores sets of hashtags for me. I don’t use the planner part of this app anymore (I use Later for all of that), but I love this feature of this app because it shows how many posts have that hashtag, and it’s color coded so I just look for hashtags in the “light blue” category.
Also, have at least one branded hashtags that you should use. For example, mine is #emilyjenksphotography. That way, when people search for that hashtag, they will pull up pics ONLY relevant to me. Some people get more creative with their signature branded hashtag, so have fun with it!
Also, include a few tags that are designated to “featured accounts”, which are accounts like “Run Wild My Child” in the kids photography world, where they find photos from the IG space and feature them. This gives you lots of exposure! Have a list of these types of accounts, and follow the rules usually stated in their bio. (E.g. for this account, they want you to use the hashtag #runwildmychild to be featured.)
The best number of hashtags to use is heavily debated. Some say 11-15, but I say use all 30! Again, having a few sets of go-to hashtags will make coming up with 30 for each post easy. Some people also say you may get “shadow banned” if you use too many of the same hashtags in the same order over and over again - just in case that’s true, just switch up your hashtags once in a while!
I love this feature and use it all the time to find potential accounts to engage with, get inspiration before my shoot, etc. Even if it’s as simple as “San Francisco, California”, enter that location! What’s cool is, you could be the “known” photographer for that location if your photos are flooded when someone is scoping that place out!
Be sure to check out the location before you tag it. Some places have multiple tags for the same location, and one is more popular/used than the other. Go for the more used one for visibility!
Accounts to tag
Similar to the featured hashtags I mention below, you can tag other bigger accounts, and it will automatically go to their “tagged” photo grid. You may get featured through that account this way, or you could just get extra exposure because your photos are on their grid. You can tag up to 30 accounts. I’ve never tagged that many, but if you are serious, and you really believe in that photo - why not!? Similar to hashtags, I keep a list of my “dream” accounts that I would love to be featured in one day and tag away.
You are not engaging!
This is probably the traditional, slow and steady way of gaining IG followers - and totally free if you do it yourself! It just takes a lot of time. The gist of it is that you search for relevant hashtags, accounts, or locations, and do the following engagement strategies that I describe below with their photos/accounts. When you search for hashtags and locations, you will only encounter public IG accounts, so most likely those are going to be fellow IGers looking to grow their audience. You could engage with private accounts (found through searching who liked/followed other photos/accounts), but the odds of those private accounts accepting your request is kind of slim, and I personally just feel like a stalker when I send follow requests to complete strangers, so I just don’t.
Target Audience: Other photographers, industry creatives, and other Instagrammers/ influencers (those with a public profile)
Cost: Free or paid service to engage for you
How to Find Accounts/Photos to Engage With
Go through the hashtags you came up with for your own posts. You can now follow these hashtags, which makes it easy to engage as they come up on your feed. If you are having a hard time coming up with hashtags, easiest way is to go through your competition that has a little more following than you, to see what kinds of hashtags they use. Really big accounts rarely rely on hashtags, so they won’t have any good ones.
Search for locations you often do shoots at, or locations where your ideal client hangs out. If you are a wedding/engagement photographer, search for a local favorite spot for getting engaged. Look through the pictures, and find pictures of couples, etc and engage away. Similar for newborn photography - go on local hospital location tags, and see if anyone is posting about their newest addition to their family!
How to Engage
Like a bunch
Once you find an account that you want to engage with, like a bunch of their pictures. That catches attention especially if their own engagement isn’t too high. When they sign in, they will see a bunch of hearts at once. Some people choose to like pictures that are not recent, so people will see that you liked something no one recently has. That stands out too.
Like + Comment
If you want to go a little deeper, like a bunch of pictures and leave a meaningful, but not spammy comment. Don’t just say “nice pic/nice account” like those bots do. Respond to their call to action, or say something relatable. Start a conversation!
You can take it to the next step and make the first move. This isn’t for everyone - especially if you don’t want to start following a bunch of people who won’t reciprocate, and you don’t want to unfollow people later. I usually wait to see if the people I engage with follow first, but that’s just me. You will probably get more followers faster, by making the initiative.
My biggest pet peeve and easy way to piss off or annoy people, but if you care about the number on the “following” side (some people think if you have a high “follower” account with low “following” number, they are more of an “influencer”), then this is one way to gain followers. Can you tell I get annoyed by this?! :) I totally get that it’s a business tactic though.
If you do use a bot or a service to do this on your behalf, and care about networking with certain people in the future, I highly recommend whitelisting certain accounts so your bot/service doesn’t give you a bad reputation among colleagues you enjoy being around or eventually want to network with.
Psst, if you are like me and hate this tactic, here are some ways to avoid/spot these people:
You can get free apps to show you who’s following to unfollow you so you can unfollow them back right away!
When an account follows you and they have an unusual ratio of follower/following account, they are most likely using this tactic. if they are in the 10-30K range of followers and only follow back a fraction of that (100s or even 1000s) and randomly starts following you, I can bet you so much that they will unfollow you within a couple of weeks.
Similarly, if an account only has a 100 followers and they are following 3000 people, they are starting to grow their account. They will unfollow you soon after.
Send a DM
This is another place I feel like it gets a little spammy, but I do like to engage through DM by responding to people’s stories! When you follow hashtags, you also see that hashtag stories. There, you can send people a DM when you see something relatable.
You could just DM people and ask if they need photo sessions soon, or anything else, and I have had photographers do that to my personal account. I was totally happy to receive those DMs since they were nice. Just be thoughtful, mindful, and not spammy. (That photographer unfollowed me a week later, and followed/unfollowed again a few times after that - so that’s a different story.)
You are not doing awesome giveaways
I used to not be a fan of giveaways. But then I realized how much fun they are, and super effective in reaching your ideal clients if done right! There’s also a chance though, that you will get a flood of unfollowers once the giveaway ends. Finding the right partner will make a difference, and how you follow up and deliver to your new followers will also prevent those from unfollowing you. If you want more engaged followers that truly are interested in your work, this really could be the best way to directly affect your bookings!
Target Audience: Actual clients interested in your services
Cost: Cost of the service/product that you are giving away, and in some cases, cost to pay the bigger accounts/organizers
Giveaway with another IGer that has your ideal clients as followers
Find IG accounts that have a huge following by your ideal clients. For me, I did one with Bay Area Toddlers, who has close to 5K followers - basically all parents in the Bay Area. Goldmine! I not only got a lot of followers from that giveaway, but I got very little unfollowers. As a personal rule, I don’t follow back private accounts, and I did follow back a few public accounts that I loved their feed. I LOVED my shoot with the giveaway winner, and I still get referral clients from that giveaway.
How It Works
Find an account that you want to partner up with - who has a big following with clients in your niche? Do they do giveaways? What are their rules of giveaway like?
You connect with the account that you want to do a give away with - tell them who you are, how much you like their account, and how much their audience will love a free photo shoot with you!
Once they agree, make sure one of the terms is that they have to follow your account to enter the giveaway. Whether you feature the giveaway on your account too can be negotiated. Some accounts may want that. Some accounts may just be excited that they have something so cool to offer their audience.
Send them photos, scripts, etc. Ask them to share on their stories too.
Pick a winner
Have them announce the winner and simultaneously, have them announce that those who entered but didn’t win, can still book with you for % off, or something like that so they have incentive to stick around. Bonus points if you give them a link to sign up for your email list!
Connect with the winner and do the photo shoot with the winner! So much fun.
Post pics from the photo shoot, and have the account share those again! Have them say something like “book your photo shoot today by following @emilyjenksphotography and DMing her! She has a promo code just for our audience!”
Host your own giveaway
If you have the capacity to do a free or heavily discounted shoot, post on your IG and stories for a free photo shoot giveaway! The condition to entering should be to tag a friend and have them follow you. Bonus entry if the friend follows/tags someone else, or something like that!
Giveaway through a group of IGers
This other type of giveaway involves a group of IGers getting together to go in on a “pot” of something to giveaway to an audience. For example, maybe a group of 4 photographers may say they are giving away a camera, and to enter, people have to follow all the accounts participating. The 4 photographers will pitch in on the new camera together to give away, and they benefit gaining new audience from each other.
In some cases, larger accounts with a huge audience may organize their own, and instead of purchasing a product to give away as a group, the smaller account may be asked to pay the larger accounts - because in theory, the smaller account will be gaining far more new followers. I have never personally done these types of giveaways, but I know they exist! Look for large accounts that do giveaway often, and connect with them directly. I feel like these giveaways attached to a random product gets unfollowers more though. Just my 2cents.
Some services guarantee you XXX followers for $35 or something like that. My personal opinion is just don’t. I am putting this in the giveaway category because some giveaways do guarantee XXX followers if you pay me $50. Just be weary of any guarantees that give you random number of followers. Some can be fake accounts, and most are going to be empty accounts where you gain nothing from. Needless to say, most of these services, if it’s not a giveaway, will use the follow/unfollow, leave really lame comments tactic to get people to follow you.
You aren’t running effective ads
Target Audience: Actual clients interested in your services, other photographers, creatives, and other Instagrammers/ influencers (those with a public profile)
Cost: Sky is the limit
You can run ads directing people to your IG account, and say something like “follow for future promos on photo deals!” That way people have an incentive to follow, they are likely interested in your services, and it’s not like a one time “grab a spot on my mini session” type of thing.
When running ads, choose your audience wisely! That’s an entirely different topic, reserved for another post. (Give me a nudge if you want me to write about this sooner rather than later!)
You are forgetting about networking
Target Audience: Everyone
Cost: Mostly free, maybe the cost of a ticket if you are attending an event, buying a drink, and business cards
Facebook groups are a great place to network with your ideal clients, as well as promoting your IG page. Find Facebook groups that allow this, like some photographers groups allow you to feature your photos, and drop your IG link. Do it as much as you can! Or, when someone is looking for a photographer in your local group, don’t just leave your email and website, but leave your IG account too! Bonus if you say something like “best way to reach me is to follow me, then DM me, so I don’t miss your message!”
Note: Follow for follow threads, “like or comment” pods, and more are one way, and it’s something that’s done on Facebook groups a lot. This is where you can find others to agree to follow each other and engage in various ways. This is looked at as a huge ethical no-no, and potentially go against competition laws, so I highly discourage this tactic, especially among other photographers. A lot of Facebook groups solely focused on doing this is getting shut down!
Yes - people still do this!! lol Whether it be a big expo relevant to your industry, or a local meet up group, always pass out your IG account information. Have a business card with your IG account, or just casually say “hey do you have an IG account, let’s follow each other!?” and do it on the spot.
Not connecting your IG to other social media and online presence
Target Audience: Everyone
Cross promote on other social media
As much as you can, you can cross promote your IG account on your FB page, FB stories, Twitter, Pinterest, and blog. You can post your IG posts automatically on to FB, so do it! Mention something happening on your IG stories on your Twitter or FB stories. Big place though, is as I mentioned above, is to find Facebook Groups that allow you to post your IG posts or link to your IG account and make it a point to share on days it’s allowed!
Bring it up on every client communication
Don’t forget to add your IG account in your email signature line, and try to sign off emails to clients as “in the meantime, check out my IG page so get a better feel for my style/most recent shoots, etc.” Even when you send your client gallery, ask them to tag you on your IG if they do share!
Have a link to your IG on your website in every page
I usually have all my social media links in the footer and/or header so no one has to go search for my account. I love that my website theme has my IG feed at the bottom too!
Put a link/mention in every blog post you publish
Pop quiz: how many times did I link to my IG account on this blog post!? Lots. As much as I could. :) Anyways, try to casually weave in your IG account and all the fun that goes on there so people have an incentive to go over there and give you a follow. Like “I post my best work on my Instagram account, and I often post editing processes and cool location in my stories, it’s basically where you can find out any deals I am going to have first! Go give my account a follow so you don’t miss out!” No seriously, go to my account now and give me a follow. :)
Feature in your newsletter
I am sure by now, you’ve heard that your email list is gold. And it is! One way I learned not to care about my IG follower count as much as I used to is realizing that email list is something you own, IG followers belongs to Instagram. Email list is where I need to focus my time and effort to. But I digress. So, you can use your email list, and feature your IG account or post when you do send people an email. You don’t have to send everyone an email to go check out your IG page and follow, but you could make a section about all the fun that goes on at your IG page in your next newsletter.
Your account is set as a business page (vs. a personal page)
There are “rumors” out there that your posts reach more people if you have a personal IG account vs. a business one because IG wants you to pay for ads to reach people if you are a business account. There really isn’t definitive but if you are concerned that you aren’t reaching that many people, give your account to become a personal page a try. It’s easy to switch back anytime. I am personally using the business account because I am not that focused on follower counts right now and really enjoy the analytics that comes with the business page, but if you haven’t thought about this, it maybe worth testing it out yourself.
You aren’t taking advantage of IG Stories
Target Audience: The new audience who gravitate more towards stories vs. the grid
Cost: Absolutely free through manually posting, or free planning apps, or cost of paid apps or consultant
I am a total slacker when it comes to posting stories, but I am definitely a lurker! I love IG stories! If people follow certain hashtags, your stories, if you include those hashtags, will show up in their stories feed! So take advantage of that and get discovered! You can use multiple hashtags, make them really small, and hide them behind your photos or other objects so your story doesn’t look cluttered. Don’t forget to add location also, which is one more way for potential followers to discover you! You can also announce your own giveaways, ask your audience questions (“do you know anyone who needs a photo shoot? Tag them in my most recent post!”), and share your price list, etc.
You don’t post enough
Target Audience: Everyone
Cost: Absolutely free through manually posting, or free planning apps, or cost of paid apps or consultant
Every time you post a story or a post with all the hashtags, locations, and tagged accounts, you are putting your content in front of potential followers. So, more posts = more followers. It might be tough to come up with quality content over and over again, but in order to grow your following, especially at first, it’s definitely necessary to post as often as you can.
You aren’t posting quality content
Target Audience: The world
Cost: Absolutely free
Honestly, you will get noticed when you put out quality content, and do some or all of the strategies above. You can get all the random followers you want, but without quality content and engagement, I feel like you won’t be booking the clients you want! This is probably one of the toughest parts with so much talent out there in the IG world. Your photos really have to stand out amongst all the extraordinary photos out there. In my personal opinion, this really should be everyone, especially photographers’ number one priority!
There You Have it!
I hope this gives you a better idea on how to reach potential new followers, and get them to follow you! You can do everything yourself, and it could be free, but lets just say it takes soooooo much time. At the end of the day, IG follower counts help to make an impression on potential clients and anyone who come across your account, but it’s not a huge part of how my clients find me and make a booking. I love the people I’ve met through IG, but implementing all of these strategies takes time, and as a business owner, I’ve decided to focus my time on not endlessly engaging with other IGers and playing the follow-to-follow game, but simply posting photos I’ve taken that I love and want to share, and not focus on the follower count. Please let me know what you think about these strategies, and I always love to hear about how to get more efficient in growing my IG account!