Instagram 101: Followers, Unfollowers, and how to manage them.

So here we are, who would have guessed years ago that this blog would eventually be used to dish out social media strategy? I suppose it isn’t a stretch, I wrote about taxes as an expat when I was living in Kuwait, so why not social media management and marketing on one of the largest social networks out there, Instagram? Today’s blog post is the first in a series of topics I’m developing related to the platform and it’s all about the one thing you probably care about – FOLLOWERS.

What suddenly makes me an expert on Instagram, you’re probably asking yourself – being more accustomed to my musings on helicopters, food, and travel. The simple answer is this – I’m not an expert. There are a lot of people out there who will claim to be, I’m not one of them. What I AM, however, is a fairly smart guy with a really smart wife, and together we are tackling Instagram as we grow our NEW #TravelCouple account. Time for a shameless plug – Go follow us @wandertogether208

TheRoamingPilot was MY travel account on Instagram, and it has gone through several evolutions – I think it started out as @elitehelipilot (which was a bit pretentious, I know) and became @the_nickh for a little bit (while I was running for Congress) and is now @wanderingnick208. So where is this second account coming from? Why do we need it? What are our goals? Are we succeeding? Well…I’ll go into detail on all of those questions in a later post, here is a quick version.

After I asked Abigail to marry me I was quick (due to my photo and social media addiction) to set us up a “couples” account, with the intention being to funnel wedding images and guests there. We started using the hashtag #HendersonWedding2019 and posting up cutesy-wootsy pictures of us being, well, adorable. This account had all of…12…followers (three of whom were me) and almost zero engagement on posts. Here, this is one of our first posts that we made on the account, and its engagement:

9 total likes, 7 when you deduct mine and Abbi’s, two comments, one of which was a reply from us. Don’t even get me started on the lack of analytics – we just weren’t doing things right back then. Now, by contrast, look at one of our new posts:

We went from 7 likes to nearly 300 hundred likes on a photo, we had nearly 1000 impressions, nearly 300 of those from hashtags alone and nearly 50% of the accounts we reached weren’t even following us. We only gained 1 follower from this photo, but understand that metric is based on people who followed us from just having seen the photo in their feed – not the ones who clicked through to our profile (13). I don’t recall how many we gained this day, but I know it wasn’t just one.

So what is the difference? Do you think we are getting that sort of engagement from our 12 followers that we started with? Absolutely not. In fact, since Abbi and I sat down together and really committed to making this profile something meaningful, tangible, and potentially – in the future – profitable we’ve gained nearly 3000 followers. To put that into a more measurable metric, approximately 900 followers per month since we began actively managing our Instagram account. Every photo we post now gets more engagement than any of the photos on my account @pilotnick208, which at its height had 1100 followers, has 1,822 photos posted to it at the time of this blog being written, and has been active for a decade or so. @wandertogether208 has 77 posts made over 3(ish) months and 3,100 followers.

Managing Followers and Unfollowers

Like I said at the start of this post, Abbi and I are not experts on social media management. We’ve got a few things going for us though. We’re both smart, tenacious, and all-in on building and growing a brand together. If you listen to my podcast AN INTENTIONAL LIFE W/ NICK HENDERSON then you’re familiar with my philosophy of “intentional living”. I say “my philosophy” fully aware that it is preached by pastors and gurus around the world and it isn’t really “mine”, I just like to get some credit here and there. Managing a social media account, one which you intend to grow and monetize and leverage, to become an “influencer” is no different than managing a business, and ultimately no different than managing your life. Let me correct that, anything you do – whether you’re growing a social media account or just using it to post pictures of your cats – should be done with intention.

Intentionally Following Other Accounts

School is now in session. First up – who to follow, why to follow, how to follow. There are a few different schools of thought on this topic. You’ll find any number of opinions on the internet if you search for them, and now I’m adding ours to the buffet. Let me ask you this – how many of you, reading this, love to get tons and tons of junk-mail, spam, phishing emails, and trash delivered to your inbox every morning? Show of hands? Nobody? Since this is a blog, and I can’t see you, I’m assuming nobody raised their hand. If you did, put it down, you look crazy and people around you are probably wondering what you’re doing. The answer is – of course – that nobody LIKES to get that trash. The same thing will happen to your FEED on Instagram if you aren’t INTENTIONAL about who you follow. Keeping in mind that Instagram limits you to 7500 followers (last I checked) can you imagine trying to scroll through your feed in search of meaningful, relevant, content with 7500 users posting? If you INTENTIONALLY managed who you followed, it would be easy – 7500 people, brands, and dogs of instagram that you love, connect with, support or envy. If you just follow every single account that follows you, or crosses your path in a sort of “shotgun”‘ approach to following, you’ll find the opposite is true. The content in your feed, being fed to you, will be horrible…with smatterings of quality mixed in. Even the finest bits of lobster left on the side of a plate eventually finds its way into a dumpster full of garbage.

Intentional Following Tip #1: Know your niche

@wandertogether208 is a travel couple account. Abbi and I both love travel, we love the world, the wonders, the people, the food, the culture. Why on earth would we follow a Hindi job recruitment page? We wouldn’t. And we don’t. Our niche is travel, resorts, beaches, lodges, waterfalls, airplanes, travel. By knowing our niche, which really is a cross-section of our interests, we know what we WANT to see on our feed. Knowing what you want is ordering the lobster, not going through the dumpster for it. Meaning our feed is inundated with epic travel photos, inspiring content, enviable experiences, and inspiration for our next trip, post, or whatever. We don’t have to dig through job ads in bangelesh and apartment listings in Uzbekistan to find our bits of lobster. We get full servings.

Tip #1: Know your niche, and follow accounts in it.

“If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you’ll achieve the same results.”

Tony Robbins

Intentional Following Tip #2: Limit your fanboy/fangirl tendencies

There are some seriously cool travel couple accounts out there, that are huge. Some with hundreds of thousands of followers, or millions of followers and they put out some of the best photos all the time. You scroll through their wall and get jealous of the lifestyle, the resorts WAY out of your budget, and the images they’ve curated to make it look like they live life in their swimsuits on one beach after another without a care in the world. Those accounts, that are that big, are often so big that you won’t get a follow back. They’re also so big that they’ll probably be in your feed anyways without following them thanks to aggregation accounts, hashtags, and suggested posts. NOT following them isn’t a bad thing. You need them as much as they need you really (as in neither of you need each other). That’s the truth.

The reason you want to limit following these accounts is a matter of algorithm. The dreaded and highly secretive string of computer code stored on a shadowy server in a dark basement in an undisclosed Instagram safe house somewhere that determines how much reach you GET, how far you go, how many people see you. And if your goal is to grow, you need to be seen.

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“the [Instagram] algorithm aims to delight you. If it doesn’t show you interesting and engaging content, you’ll exit the app.”

Hubspot contributor Caroline Forsey

When Instagram implemented their new algorithm they took something otherwise simple (chronologically displaying posted content as it is posted) and replaced it with a bit of alchemy. The objective is, for them, to show you content you like in order to keep you in the app longer. For you, wanting to be the content OTHER users are seeing while they are in the app is key. It’s not as easy as just posting a photo and showing up in your followers feed, no, now it comes down to a formula that includes followers to followings ratios, engagement rates, etc.

At a press conference in 2018 Instagram gave journalists a brief run down of the algorithm and how it works. Items factored in range from relationships, frequency of use, interests and what we are here to talk about today – following count.

“If a user follows a lot of accounts, they’ll probably see fewer posts from any one specific account, even if that account is prolific. But they’ll see a wider breadth of posts overall. On the other hand, if they follow a smaller number of accounts, they’ll likely see more of each account’s posts.”

Paige Cooper w/Hootsuite

So, what does the mean for you? It means being (my favorite word again) INTENTIONAL. If you follow 7500 accounts, according to Paige Cooper, you’ll get a little bit of everything, but not a whole lot of what you want. Unless all 7500 accounts are accounts you love, but even then (let’s be real) we all play favorites and with numbers that high, you’ll likely miss out on your favorites. Now, lets talk about the other side of the coin for a minute – if you follow an account that has 7499 followings, and they follow you back, taking them to 7500, the odds of your new follower seeing, and importantly, ENGAGING with your content goes way down for that person. Compared to, for instance, being followed by someone who only has hundreds of followings (read: not followERS).

Where am I going with this? There are mass follow/follow-back groups, and programs, and apps, and whatever that are designed to crank your numbers way up. The problem with JUST getting the big numbers is that you’re not exactly setting yourself to have ENGAGEMENT way up. Less engagement = less reach. Reach is where the bread and butter are kept. These things work great, for getting followers and finding new exciting accounts, but don’t get taken too far away from really intentionally following other accounts, and likewise, being followed by other accounts. You want the whole pie, not just the crust – tons of followers and tons of engagement. People often get stuck and distracted by the first one.

Tip #2: Follow accounts that will follow you back and engage with your content

Intentional Following Tip #3: Follow back AND Un-Follow Back

Let’s face it, people are…well…people. If you are doing any sort of growing on Instagram you will, without fail, be followed by other users, and then un-followed by them, that’s the nature of the game. If you are growing in the community which you’ve locked your niche in, and other users within that community follow you – the right thing to do is to follow them back (assuming the pass the test in Tip #4 below). That’s how you support other, like-minded individuals in a community you are thriving in, and how they support you back. Then there are those who are not trying to support you, the accounts which follow you counting on you to follow them back; and once you do – they unfollow you. What is their objective? My guess is that they are after a high follower to following ratio, which can start to matter if you are being looked at to be sponsored or endorsed by brands, organizations or whatever. For most, in my opinion, it is a vanity thing. It looks good, they look cool, or popular, in their minds because “so many” more people follow them than they follow.

Abbi and I have a day we set aside for follower/following review each week. It’s a day when we don’t do anything crazy like a “follow loop” (more on those later) which has certain rules about participating when we are able to go through our followINGS list to see who no longer follows us back – and then we remove them (it’s today actually! yay!). It’s a form of “turn about is fair play”, “two can play that game” and giving them a “dose of their own medicine”. But it is also important for our account to be seen, for our content to be engaged with, and for our growth to continue. When someone follows you, to get you to follow them back, and then they unfollow you – they’ve told Instagram that they don’t want to see your content. We aren’t saying we MUST be followed back by all accounts, just that we aren’t going to be unINTENTIONAL with our feed. As a bonus, maybe they’ll learn not to be greedy – you could be doing them a favor by unfollowing them, humbling them if you will.

There are any number of services and apps that will help you track unfollowers, be careful with them though, most are not authorized by Instagram and if you get caught using them you could get blocked or worse, banned – and all your hard work would have been for nothing. I’m working on a spreadsheet in google docs to track followers and followings right now, it’s a lot of work but my plan with it is to have a list of our followers, a column for whether they follow us back or not, and then a “keep/delete” column. I know, it’s old school, but it works.

Edit: I nixed the spreadsheet idea, too much work. Seeking a good app.

Tip #3: Follow back, it’s the nice thing to do. Un-follow back because it’s the right thing to do.

Intentional Following Tip #4: Content is king!

One of the things we’ll get around to discussing in depth later is the importance of QUALITY content. I’ll say it again, QUALITY content. One more time for those in the back – QUALITY CONTENT. Abbi and I are very deliberate in our posts, we want quality photos, engaging scenes, well composed, in focus, colorful, and visually appealing to our followers. When you are FOLLOWING an account because they followed you the very first thing that you should do is go check them out, see if you really want to follow them back. I have a rule, well…I have a lot of rules, about content. We don’t follow pages that only post food, or memes, or blurry photos, selfies…the list goes on. We want to only see high quality images.

“If you surround yourself with positive people who build you up, the sky is the limit.”

Joel Brown

By only following (surrounding ourselves with) accounts the produce high quality content, and in turn by only producing high quality content, we immerse ourselves in a community that will build us up. We’ve created a saved image collection of just great photos that we want to learn how to compose and pull off, and dozens of folders of places we want to visit to serve as inspiration and, later when we are planning the trips, as guides for where to go.

Only follow an account that has content you love and want to see more of. IF you find yourself feeling compelled to follow an account back, but you hate their content (for me it’s anyone selling Thrive patches or skinny tea) just click the MUTE button on their posts and story and you’ll be good to go. This also plays a factor in unfollowing users – if I click through to a user account and check if they are following us back or not, and find that they are NOT – but I like/love their content, sometimes I’ll keep them around. I’ll engage with a few posts and give them a shot to follow us back.

Content matters.

Tip #4: If their content isn’t your thing, then don’t follow them; at the very least mute them.

In Conclusion

How you go about gaining followers is your own business, there are many ways to do it, there are likely better ways to do it (like being famous), and there are certainly worse ways. What matters is that you stay on top of it. Managing your account is a very pro-active gig. You have to keep up with likes, mentions, stories, tags, follows, messages, etc. All while also living your life and taking totally Gram-able pictures in great places. Follow the accounts you like and love, don’t follow the ones you don’t.

One last thing – go follow our Instagram account! We’d love to follow you back, or not follow you back, it all depends on you!


Published by wanderingnick208

Nick Henderson is an FAA rated commercial pilot, world traveler, blogger, podcaster, photographer, and all-around good guy. His love of travel, adventure, food, and fun has taken him around the world and back again.

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