4 Step Formula to Building a HUGE Instagram Following From Scratch


People, in particular model friends, are always coming to me asking how to build a huge Instagram following so they can use it to create other opportunities and maybe make a living as an influencer.

Although we at Richucation haven’t been working much on building our following because when we did the research our target customers mostly aren’t on or active on Instagram we’ve helped friends and clients add tens of thousands of followers to their pages relatively quickly and easily growing from nothing to 5 and 6 figure followings and growing their followers by 30% per month even when they are in the 5 figure level.

There’s a ton of crap advice out there so after the latest request to share with someone how to do it this morning I figured I’d write a post and talk about what no one else is talking about.

You don’t have to be an Instagram expert to understand how to build a following if you understand the marketing fundamentals.

So even if you don’t necessarily want to build a huge following this article is going to take you through some really common mistakes we see lots working with clients who are struggling with their marketing.

As you’ll see there’s two sides and people most consistently screw up the one side so we’ll focus mostly there.

At the end of this you’ll be able to build a following of 10s to 100s of thousands of followers you can monetize and have the skills to do it over and over again.

If you do this well and if you learn the process well you can make A LOT of money using these skills and leveraging your following.


Why Build a Huge Following

Why Learn Marketing

Two Sides of Building Any Following

Understanding Instagram as a Platform

Dispelling Hashtag BS and Giving You the Real Goods

Post Frequency

Post Timing

5 Ways to Get Noticed

Being Findable

The Real Way to Grow

Looking Beyond This One Channel

What’s Next?

Why Build a Huge Following

A year or two ago Selena Gomez was getting paid $500k per sponsored post!

Kylie Jenner sold something like $421 million in make-up in big part through her social media following.

You likely won’t achieve those kind of results but being able to put out a post and either make a ton of money or get a ton of traffic to a site is powerful.

Add to this the ability to secure investment deals in companies, travel for free, and much more and there’s a huge obvious pay off to having a big following.

What most people seem not to realize is building an Instagram following is just like any other marketing in fact it’s just another channel.

If you’re smart you’ll focus more on learning marketing and use Instagram as one channel as opposed to focusing on Instagram itself.

Why? Because what’s popular might change but your marketing skills and ability to make money off them will not.

Why Learn Marketing

Let’s start by not confusing marketing with what we call Profitable Marketing and hence our Marketing ROI training because the difference between marketing that produces ROI and regular marketing is HUGE!

So let’s ask why learn profitable marketing?

In the world today what are some huge worries?

Automation, artificial intelligence, global competition are all eroding traditional jobs.

Self driving cars will probably eliminate 4% or more of the workforce.

It’s uncertain times where we don’t know if many of the normal jobs today like law, accounting, etc. will exist in 30 or 40 years.

This is partially because many things are becoming abundant and hence so cheap they aren’t worth paying much for.

But do you know what there will always be a demand for and scarcity of?

People’s attention!

Every business needs customers to survive and thrive and getting customers is first predicated on getting people’s attention but people’s attention is limited you can really only focus on a very limited amount of things at once so those who have the ability to get and hold people’s attention will have the power long term.

This is an incredibly unusual skillset because in most fields if you have the ability to make a lot of money (a top athlete, top actor, musician, author, etc.) the chances of failure where you get nothing or close to nothing are very high. It’s a winner takes all game.

By contrast traditional bastions of employment where you’re fairly likely to do ok like being a doctor, nurse, teacher, welder, carpenter, accountant, computer technician, etc. while they might provide you with a stable income don’t provide you with an opportunity to make millions.

Marketing is different it’s easy to make a solid 5 to low 6 figures by being decent at marketing in fact you don’t even have to be that good. You can get a job at an agency and earn a normal salary.

But if you’ve amazing at marketing it’s a field that scales meaning you can impact massive numbers of people with the same time input and as a result it’s one of the few skills where you can make millions if you’re good.

Better still it’s not a winner takes all game where only the top of the top are making those numbers we’ve got dozens of clients all over the world making millions of dollars through their marketing skills and a lot more making mid to high 6 figures mostly in their 20s and 30s though some older.

So marketing is perhaps the most valuable skill you can learn but most marketing is utter non-sense because it misses the most important part the ratio between input and outputs so what follows and in fact all our training isn’t about vanity creating awareness, looking good, etc. it’s about producing results with low input that people are then willing to pay you A LOT for.

With that in mind let’s get into the meat of how marketing works and how it applies to building a huge Instagram following fairly quickly.

Two Sides of Building any Following

Building any following has two sides. Most of what you’ll read out there focuses on one side and frankly falls flat because without the other you’ve got nothing.

Still the first does matter and we’ll start by describing it then spend the majority of this article explaining how to do the other well since that’s where most people go wrong.freq

Ask most people how to build an Instagram or social media following and what types of things will they tell you?

  • Post regularly
  • Get good photos
  • Engage with your audience

Mostly this is nonsense social media posting and success is more about quality than quantity with some rare exceptions we’ll describe later.

The people with the biggest followings don’t post more and don’t engage more.

What they do have though is people WANT to follow them so they are interested in what they are posting.

Sometimes this is because of who they are in the case of celebrities, sometimes it’s because of the content itself as in the case of photographers and sometimes it’s because they are getting something out of the content as in the case of say bloggers reporting on make-up or video games or whatever.

The point is although having great content people actually like and want to follow isn’t as important as the second side it is important and you’ll magnify your results by achieving this.

So what’s the second side?

Having people actually SEE that content!

The value of every post is directly proportional to how many people see it and the biggest problem most people encounter in building a social media following isn’t what they are posting it’s not being seen.

The equation for number of followers is simple: how many people see your posts multiplied by the percentage of those people who wants to follow you.

As you might imagine if you can get seen by enough people you don’t need really amazing content.

I once coached someone on building a following and they came to me saying “oh if I was a hot girl I’d get lots of followers easily”. So I’d show him feeds of random hot girls and ask “how many followers do you think she has?” When he guessed something high I’d show him they had only a few hundred or a couple thousand to prove the content even though you think it is compelling isn’t what gives you a big following.

More than anything what gives you a big following is getting seen A LOT by a lot of people.

This is why virtually anyone in tabloids tends to have a big following not because what they post is great but because they get seen a lot.

As a result what we’ll spend the rest of this article covering is how to get your posts seen on Instagram.

This same principle applies to any form of social media:

  • Youtube
  • Facebook
  • Snapchat
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter
  • Blogs
  • Etc.

Your number of followers is determined by the number of people who see what you post multiplied by the percentage of them who want to follow you based on those posts.

No matter how good or compelling your content is if you can’t get it in front of people 100% multiplied by zero is still zero.

Whereas if you get seen a lot at least SOMEONE is going to want to follow you.

You should work on improving both. When we’ve worked with people to build their followings having them get professional photos or at least great quality photos has definitely boosted their traction but it’s all predicated on getting that attention.

What’s different between social media platforms isn’t this formula, it’s simply how the platform works to get seen and that’s what we’ll cover next.

Understanding Instagram as a Platform

So the formula is the same in any social media platform for building a following and in fact in all marketing period it’s impressions multiplied by conversion rates.

But when you’re communicating with people through a platform it’s important to understand that platform, how it works, the frame of mind people are in and therefore how to optimize for it.

For example, when doing Facebook advertising you’re best not to sell directly because it’s not a shopping platform.

On the flip side on Amazon it is a shopping platform, people are there to buy so you should sell directly.

Google depends on the keyword.

Let’s talk about characteristics of Instagram as a platform though and you can then apply the same concept to analyze other platforms.

Characteristics of Instagram:

  • Not a sharing platform – this is different from Facebook or Pinterest, which are very much about sharing. On Instagram they make it hard to share posts broadly. You can send them on an individual basis to friends but it’s not an easy repost to your wall like Facebook.

  • Not a search platform – this is different from Youtube, which is highly search oriented. On Youtube optimizing your videos for search will help you a lot because that’s the primary way people engage with the platform. Instagram although it has a search is fairly limited. You can take advantage of this limited search as we’ll discuss below but people tend to interact with it by scrolling through their feed and the feeds of others rather than searching.

  • Discovery – Instagram is a discovery platform where you primarily uncover new feeds by scrolling through your feed and see feeds tagged by others or going through the Discovery feed or explore feed or whatever they call it. This is going to be very important later on when we’re looking for exposure.

  • Post notifications – it’s also worth noting that a big part of Instagram relies on post notification, which is a comparatively small portion of some other platforms.

  • Story – Instagram of course has stories and these are increasingly the way in which people follow the people or pages they are interested in.

  • Hashtags – these are also a popular, though arguably dying part of Instagram, which is another way it’s different from Facebook where hashtags aren’t particularly popular or useful.

Having recognized these core components let’s explore how to use them.

Dispelling Hashtag BS and Giving You the Real Goods

Alright so the first way people discuss getting seen and pretty much one of only two valid ways preached in most of the information you’ll find out there is through hashtags.

Most of the info on hashtags is utter non-sense as you’ll see.

Now, is it worth using hashtags?

Kylie Jenner famously said she doesn’t use hashtags but of course has one of the largest followings in the world. This should tell you a little about how necessary they are but then again you’re not Kylie Jenner or if Kylie Jenner is reading this please repost our article for your fans!

How do hashtags matter?

Hashtags are a way to get found because someone can click on that hashtag and see other posts also tagged with the same hashtag.

Likewise, someone can search for a hashtag and scroll through photos tagged accordingly.

What’s the problem?

It’s two-fold, first, people don’t tend to scroll through hashtags much. It’s just not how average people interact with the platform on a regular basis.

Yes, some people do it some and so using the right hashtags can get you extra exposure but it’s not a great way.

We pretty much will tell you hashtags are useful to get you to 1000 followers and beyond that simply don’t make enough difference to be worth much effort.

Why is this?

Because most hashtags tend to get buried really fast and therefore your posts won’t tend to get seen anyway.

This brings us to the non-sense about hashtags.

I read all kinds of bad advice online about what hashtags you should choose and it is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the analytics.

What am I talking about?

People tend to use hashtags based on what tags are popular.

This is a mistake.


Because there’s a difference between what’s popular for people to POST and what it’s popular for them to SEARCH for.

Here’s an example.

Millions of people use #love it’s probably one of the most popular hashtags going.

However, how many people actually go searching for #love?

A lot less.

It gets worse.

The most popular hashtags have a lot of posts, which means your posts are likely to get buried really fast and are unlikely to be seen by anyway.

So, what are the best hashtags?

You want hashtags with enough interest that people are probably looking for them (sadly I haven’t been able to find any analytics on what people are searching for) and usually specific enough that people might be searching for it.

For example, if there’s some music festival or something someone might search for hashtags about it. Or some hotel or city or site they might look for hashtags about it because this is practical much different than some random #highfive, which people are far less likely to search for.

On the flip side you want a low enough number of uses of the hashtag that your post won’t get buried too fast.

We generally found in our tests you want hashtags with 10s of thousands or 100s of thousands of posts no more and usually not much less.

For example, in our tests we found #elonmusk worked extremely well because a niche group of people are very passionate about Elon but there are relatively few posts about him so if you post there’s a good chance your post will be visible for days rather than fractions of a second like it will be if you post say #love.

This is also where posting very often is helpful in creating more visibility because your post show up repeatedly under the hashtags in question after the others have been buried.

Location tags it should be noted function essentially the same as hashtags.

In theory having more tags is better you need to be careful as Instagram has begun adjusting their algorithms to penalize those who are perceived as spamming.

The added benefit of tags is they seem to play a role in what shows up on the discovery feed as it attempts to show users content similar to other content they like and follow.

Post Frequency

How often should you post?

Most posts is better within reason as each post gives you added exposure if done correctly in fact in very small pages with followings under 1000 we’ve found you can’t post too often.

However, this quickly exhausts itself as you’ll see later there’s a much more important factor than post frequency and you’re generally best tapering off to around 1-3 posts per day for optimal results but only so long as you can maintain post quality.

While building aim to post at least once per day and more when you’re first building up your base of 1000 or so followers.

Where you’ll post more frequently is in the story.

It’s important to realize aside from the discovery feed, which won’t likely give you a lot of exposure but is based a lot on location so bear that in mind as well as common friends, likes, tags, etc. your story will generally NOT help you to build a following. What it will do is keep your audience engaged, which is important to long term monetization.

Post Timing

When should you post?

This depends on your audience.

You want to post when your audience is awake and on their phones for the following reason.

Instagram is going to prioritize what content gets seen and this is based in large part on how the first people who see your posts respond to them. If there’s a great response Instagram will assume it’s good content and give you better or more prioritized distribution, which has a feedback magnification effect.

You can get apps to tell you based on other of your posts what the best times to post are for your audience.

5 Ways to Get Noticed

Alright, those are some really foundational basics but they don’t get you far. What we’ve described so far will get you a few hundred to maybe a thousand followers but beyond this becomes fairly difficult.

The next strategy is useful to get you to maybe 10, 000 but not much further efficiently.

This is a very accessible method for most people though far from the best method, which we’ll discuss soon.

What does this involve?

Well if you want people to see you on Instagram you’ve basically got three ways of doing it:

  1. Being discovered – hashtags are one of these ways and we’ll discuss some others shortly
  2. Being known – for example a celebrity known from some other platform and as a result will seek you out
  3. Getting noticed

What does getting noticed mean?

The easiest way to describe this is you show up in their notification feed.

When you end up in someone’s notification feed especially if you’ve got a good profile photo they’ll often go check to see who you are and then have a chance of following you.

In Instagram there are five actions you can take, which will cause the person to get a notification and therefore possible look at you:

  • Following them
  • Liking their post
  • Commenting on their post
  • Messaging them
  • Tagging them

Each of these actions will trigger a notification.

It’s worth noting this strategy works best on people with fewer followers though tagging them in your photos or your story often works for people with larger followings as it tends to be the most likely to get noticed.

So, for example to grow your followers you might do the following:

  1. Identify someone whose followers are likely to also like you because they are similar or complimentary – for example models might look at the followers of other models or photographers. Various types of photographers might look at other photographers or travel pages depending on the particular focus of the photography.

  2. Go through their followers one by one like a few of their photos (triggering a notification that you’ve liked their photo if they have notifications turned on), comment on a photo or two, and follow them.

  3. Each of those three actions will trigger separate notifications. Since they’ve seen a fair amount of activity they are more likely to check out your feed and maybe follow you.

  4. Unfollow them a few days or so later unless you actually really like their feed

Richucation Bonus Tip - Don't simply choose all followers of a page similar to you randomly.  Instead where possible focus on users who have been active recently.  Do this by visit a recent post of a feed similar to yours, look at who has liked that photo, then go through the process above of liking, following, and commenting.

Do not use and take advantage of the hashtag #follow4follow and variants because these are worthless followers.

You can pay for bots to automate this process. As of the time of this writing our favourite is Instazood.

This method will result in you following a lot of people but get you a decent number of followers over time though you can’t overdo it or Instagram will block you.

Being Findable

This brings us to the subject of being findable, which we’ve already covered a little.

You can get a reasonable amount of exposure by showing up the discovery feed of a lot of people especially if you’ve got good content.

How do you do this?

Well part of it is simply being relevant in other words similar to other content the person is following, has liked, etc.

This is where proper tags and hashtags can be a factor.

Another factor though is engagement.

Instagram is more likely to promote content that’s trending, hence having two things:

  1. Great content
  2. Legitimate followers who are actually engaged with you

Two ways you can help with engagement are to encourage people to turn on post notifications for your page and also to hint at your posts in your story without fully revealing them. Models might do this by putting “new post” in their story but covering or blurring out part of the image so the users have to go check it out and when they do possibly liking it.

Richucation Bonus Tip - Instagram will especially promote content where there's been engagement from popular pages (as of the time of this writing especially pages with over 10,000 followers) so when possible get yourself some followers and friends with last followings to like and comment on your recent posts.

Obviously, you could coordinate an effort to gain more engagement on posts if you’ve got a group of people or series of pages working together.

Once again, nothing replaces good relevant content in achieving this goal.

The Real Way to Grow

All of the above are great ways to get you started, things you can do on your own to grow enough of an audience to be perceived as having credibility.

What follows now is the single most important factor in growing a following fast.

What is it?

Having other people with followings tag you in their posts.

Consider for example that many of the models Dan Bilzerian hangs out with have huge followings of several hundred thousand.

Usually, their following grew dramatically after they spent time with him and he tagged them in his posts or story because it attracts a lot of attention.

Think of it this way say you like a person’s posts, comment on a few and follow them thereby getting some attention. You can do that for how many people per hour?

Let’s go extreme you can do it for about 400 people per day before Instagram shuts you down (this is subject to change as well so might decrease).

Of those people a bunch won’t even see you and of those who see you most won’t follow you so you’ll pick up maybe 10-40 new followers per day using that method if your feed is compelling and relevant.

The point is your maximum exposure is 400 per day.

You could use hashtags really effectively and with each post get in front of another few hundred people most of whom won’t check out your feed and fewer still will follow you.

In short, you might add a few followers per post that way so it will take a hundred posts to add maybe a couple hundred followers depending how well you optimize, how good your content is and how relevant your tags are.

Worse, these strategies are likely to take a considerable amount of your time.

Now imagine someone with a following of 100,000 real followers posts about and tags you.

Even if you assume only 20% of their audience sees the post that’s still 20,000 people you got in front of with virtually no effort on your part at all.

Of course, not all of them will follow to see who you are and fewer still will follow you but if your feed is attractive and relevant you could easily pick up several hundred followers each time this happens.

Now, multiply the process by 10 for someone with a million followers.

Now, assume instead of one person posting about you or tagging you there are dozens or hundreds.

So, the question becomes HOW do you get people to post about and tag you?

Great question and there are several methods you can use:

  1. Submission directories – some sites post relevant content of other pages that’s where they get their content from they are curators rather than creators so you can submit content to them, tag them in your posts, etc. Again, better content really helps you here. If you’ve got great original content people will sometimes do it simply discover you and do it because they like your work.

  2. Collaborations – lots of ways this might work out. For example, if you’re a photographer rather than doing photography alone go out with other photographers or other people in general and agree to tag each other. If you’re doing photoshoots with people get the hair people, the make-up people, the models, etc. all to agree to post the images and tag each other as it creates a real win-win all around as everyone benefits from the added exposure (this taps into one of our methods for How to Market if You Have Little or No Money).

    You could agree to mutual what are called “shout for shout” where you each promote each other for mutual benefit and exposure. This is why building up a base of followers from the beginning first through your friends then through hashtag posting strategies and getting noticed strategies are helpful because no one wants to do a shout for shout arrangement with someone with a hundred followers but if you’ve got a few thousand you can start by doing this mutually with pages with a few thousand to a few tens of thousands of followers and then as your following grows you can upgrade who you do this with.

    This has become much more popular to do in your story where it doesn’t stick there but still gets each other some exposure.

    You can also do this by going out with friends who have big followings and mutually tag each other or at least get them to tag you and if there’s some reason to be curious about you people are likely to check you out and maybe follow you.

  3. Pay for it – you can spend money for people to do shout outs for your page, mention you in their story, tag you, etc. This of course allows you to get in front of hundreds of thousands of people even when you’ve only got a small following. Of course, if you have friends who have big followings they might do this for you as a favor so never be afraid to ask.

By FAR this is the best, fastest, easiest way to grow your following on Instagram and can take you from close to nothing up to hundreds of thousands maybe even to the low millions though usually to get much beyond a million requires something extra, which is what we’ll talk about now.

Looking Beyond This One Channel

The people who get the most followers by far don’t get them purely on Instagram and this comes into a big part of the formula for being a large and successful social media influencer, which is being multi-channel.

It starts like this.

Your followers on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc. will often follow you over onto Instagram and vice versa.

In fact, if you’re going to build Snapchat because it’s not as much of a discovery platform often the best thing to do is to build a following on Instagram and then promote to those followers to follow you on Snapchat.

The best people at building followings are all doing it multi-channel.

If you’ve got a website or blog people will follow you from there and vice versa.

That’s just the start though, that’s internal media.

Then you get external media, which means other sites and publications can pick you up.

Dan Bilzerian radically grew his following when Buzzfeed did some article on him referring to him as something like The Playboy Instagram King, which went viral and caused millions of people who wouldn’t have otherwise heard of him to begin following him.

Generally, there are a lot of external media sources in some way related to your area and the more of them you can hit the better.

This is where having good content is priceless because it makes other external publications more interested in featuring you especially if you’ve got very interesting engaging content.

Keep in mind media outlets are always looking for stories, for engaging content and done well this could be you.

This process is NOT easy.

Getting publicity is a project and expertise all unto itself but the more you grow the more viable it is and the more worthwhile it is to grow to the next level.

Take what you build and leverage it for more and more exposure. A following especially an active engaged one is increasingly valuable and gives you incredible options in life.

What’s Next?

Hopefully, this article has shown you how to deconstruct some simple marketing to take the mystery out of it and helped you with practical actionable tips.

If you’d like more like this please check out our other articles, download our free content and consider engaging with us in one of the following ways:

  1. Take one of our training programs – if this is a simple free article you can imagine what kind of value we pack into a few week or few month extensive training program on subjects like Profitable Marketing, Getting Deals, Leveraging Team, Growing Impact, etc.

  2. Have us consult with you in a Rapid ROI Strategy session to get results toward your financial and business goals quickly. These are perfect for people who don’t necessarily need extensive training but have a quick question or challenge to solve that would be very valuable and give them a big edge.

  3. Apply to have us work with you in helping you build your wealth, your business, your marketing directing you on exactly what to do, tweaking your process to get the fastest results possible. We do this especially in helping you to Build a Profitable Sales & Marketing Machine. You can also request similar assistance with other areas.

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