January 5, 2024

How To Grow On Instagram (As a Writer)

By Charles Miller

Me and Instagram have a complex relationship.

Well, not really.

It's just been my weakest platform for a long time.

In 2019, my Twitter blew up. Now I have 180k followers.

In 2023, my LinkedIn blew up. Now I have 99k followers.

Even my Pinterest account gets 1m+ impressions a month.

But Instagram? It's never had a real growth phase.

But now it's picking up steam, and I haven't posted a single photo of myself or Reel to make it happen.

Here's the breakdown...

Instagram Regimes

Since I've been taking Instagram seriously, there have been three major phases/regimes:

  1. They started putting other people's posts on timelines instead of just the explore page. People with good written content (like Twitter thread screenshots) saw their follower counts go up 10k+ overnight. One friend of mine picked up 200k followers in about a month. This phase ended and growth normalized.
  2. They rolled out Reels to compete with TikTok. Organic reach on Reels was insane. Again, people saw their follower counts go up by 10k or even 100k+ in a matter of weeks. This normalized too.

Now we're in a new phase. More on that below.

Reels Vs Photos

The current regime is that photos are back to working well. Reels still work well too, but now there's no clear favorite between the two. You can win with both.

My following has grown 10% each of the last two months.

That's led to only about 3k followers, but it's more growth than I've had in a long time.

The point: you can grow with text-based photos or Reels, and if you're subscribed to this newsletter, there's a good chance you prefer writing over getting on camera.

Note: some people (like Dan Koe) create text-based Reels that are basically pieces of writing that are animated. That's a way to do Reels without making the videos of you. But they're expensive. Even the most affordable animators charge about $100 per video. That's tough for a lot of people to stomach.

Content That's Working

A few times recently, I've talked about the best content being useful enough to save or emotional enough to share.

On Instagram, I've found that the immediately useful stuff does a lot better than the emotional stuff.

So much so that I've actually cut almost all the emotional stuff out.

If it's not useful, I don't post it.

That means all my content is quick tips, lists of resources, lists of tools, how-to guides, and stuff like that.

Single photos do well. Carousels do too. The factor that makes them blow up is that they're helpful.

Examples:

The top one has 5,700 likes right now. The other two have about 1,800. All of them attracted a lot of followers and website clicks.

What's the common thread between them?

Immediate value.

People see these, recognize the obvious value they deliver, and repay that value with likes.

They also save the posts for later, which further signals to Instagram that you're doing something right.

These are just tweets that I plug into TweetPik (recently acquired by Tweet Hunter), instantly turn into photos, and post.

It takes almost no time to create them.

And I don't have to get in front of a camera. It's just ideas presented in photo format.

Captions & Hashtags

I don't do much with captions or hashtags.

Good captions can be helpful because they make people spend more time reading your post, which tells Instagram that it's worthy of more people reading it.

I'd rather not write a ton for Instagram, though, and it's working fine for me.

I usually write about three sentences that reiterate the point or add a little more to the text in the photo, add one hashtag that fits the photo and the sentence I'm writing, then post.

If this was my primary platform, I'd write longer captions.

Because it's not, I don't.

Engagement

Engaging is part of every social media strategy.

I recommend engaging with people around your size and people with larger accounts.

This tells Instagram what niche you're in, and it can get you exposure from people reading comments (I've had some comments get hundreds of likes recently).

It also creates reciprocity with other writers, which will help you with engagement and growth.

Consider creating an engagement group with people around your size where you like, comment, and maybe story-share each other's posts.

I don't do that, but it can work.

Sustainability

I'm a big fan of having a less ambitious but more sustainable content plan.

Part of sustainability is enjoying the creation process.

For me, that means not taking photos or videos of myself.

It's just not me, and I'd rather not do it.

Maybe that's a limiting idea that I should conquer if I want to hit the next level.

Or maybe I'm better off going all-in on a kind of creation I love (writing) rather than splitting my effort and attention to try and do something else.

The Plan Going Forward

For now, I'm going to keep creating simple, useful, text-based photos and posting them 3 to 5 times per week.

If photos stop working and Reels start going crazy again in the future, maybe I'll create text-based Reels.

But there's very little chance you'll see me creating video content anytime soon.

I'll  just write good stuff, post it, and see what happens.

My guess is that it'll keep working.

Last Thoughts

Instagram is going well for me right now, and it might go well for you too.

Try posting text-based photos and engaging in your niche.

Maybe the algorithm will give you a little bit of love like it's been giving to me.

I hope it does.

Good luck.

P.S. Whenever you're ready, I can help you in 3 ways:

1. Copyblogger Academy - This is my content marketing community. It comes with 9 full-length courses, Q&A, and a lot more. Join 1300+ members inside.

2. Collaborations - I have LinkedIn growth services ranging from $300 to $4500 per month. Fill out my form to see if we're a good fit.

3. Consultations - If you want to talk 1:1, I do 4 consultations per month. Check my calendar to see if I still have availability.