Cheat Sheet: Instagram


Instagram was the runaway success story in the social media world. Bought by Mark Zukerberg behind investors’ backs for $1Bn, the photo-sharing app is now worth a reported $35Bn 2.5 years later. Not only that, it has surpassed Twitter in active user numbers.

Because of its potential for content reach and influence I was intrigued to see if I could make a mark on the platform and explore what works and what doesn’t in terms of getting followers and engagement. The following Cheat Sheet covers all that I know to be true, and a great shortcut for those of you who also want to see some success on Instagram.


Your Instagram Profile

  • Look Interesting, Intriguing, Entertaining & Real

This one is pretty much a given. No one follows a boring looking profile.

Spend time setting up an intriguing profile that people will want to follow and populate it with interesting, colourful, funny, wanderlust and cool photos. If you are looking to appeal to a certain type of audience (e.g. the snowboarding crowd) make sure the majority of your photos follow this theme.

  • Create & Find Great Photos

If you don’t live with a gourmet chef in the Maldives or hang out with base jumping Manhatten-ites, you’re probably going to run out of profile-popping pics pretty quickly. Look elsewhere. 

For the average joe, it is not always possible to post interesting photos from life experiences every day (there is only so many times you can post about your work desk!) So find repositories of great imagery that fits your style and personality. Pinterest, other Instagram users and photo sites are good places to start. Make sure photos are credited if not your own and be wary of that person’s sharing rules. Quality over quantity though.

Building Post Engagement

  • Connect to Facebook

Do your friends know you’re on Instagram? They soon will do.

Connect up Facebook so your friends and family can start following you and seeing your posts in their Facebook timeline. But why stop there? Leverage other social channels for reach, and cross-pollinate your audiences by posting links to your Instagram posts.

(Pssst, you can also embed Instagram posts on blogs n stuff…)

  • Use Popular Hashtags

If you want your photos to get seen you have to get them in front of people who are searching for them. The way to do this is include keywords (#hashtags) within the post’s description or comments.

There are a whole bunch of famous/generic hashtags that will help get you in front of the masses including the Top 20 below but always include photo/theme-specific hashtags too (for instance, if you post a picture of your #cat use hashtags like #pet, #petstagram, #kitten, #cats, #instacat, #catstagram etc. Google [cat hashtags] for more ideas).

Top Generic Hashtags:

  1. #love
  2. #instagood
  3. #me
  4. #tbt (throw-back Thursday)
  5. #cute
  6. #follow
  7. #followme
  8. #photooftheday
  9. #happy
  10. #tagforlikes
  11. #beautiful
  12. #girl
  13. #like
  14. #selfie
  15. #picoftheday
  16. #summer
  17. #fun
  18. #smile
  19. #friends
  20. #likeforlike
  21. #instadaily
  22. #fashion
  23. #igers
  24. #instalike
  25. #food

Additionally, there are some super-popular upcoming hashtags such as #gopro. Do some research online for the top hashtags for your niche whether it be #snowboarding, #fit, #newyork or #foodporn.

  • Tag Influential (& Relevant) Users

These users will get a notification and might check your post out leading to extra likes and comments. You never know, they may even re-share your post to their followers!

Don’t constantly tag the same people in all of your posts – this is spam and they will get annoyed and can report you. Use this tactic sparingly and only when you think the influencer will like your post.

#ProTip: Some Instagram accounts are based purely on re-shares and curation of other people’s content. These types of accounts exist for many themes so finding them and tagging them in relevant posts can lead to good exposure.

  • “Tag A Friend Who…”

Use smart CTAs (calls to action) that empower your followers to tag their friends in your posts to help them spread…

An effective way of using the viral effect is to use a call-to-action within your post’s description such as “Tag a friend who would love this!” or “Tag your mates who you want to do this with…” that encourages your followers to alert their followers of your posts. While this tactic doesn’t work for all photo themes, you’ll be amazed at how powerful clever usage of CTAs can be. Think creatively.

Building Follower Numbers

  • GetFollowers App (for iPhone & Android)

Get followers by following other users. A simple way to get another 10 or so followers here and there when you have 5 mins spare.

When I first started my journey I was looking for some quick wins. This app worked fairly well for me.

The idea is simple. The app shows you other users of the app along with 8 of their photos. You can choose to “follow” or “skip” that person. If you follow them you get 4 coins. For each coin you will be shown in someone else’s feed who has the option to follow you for coins. This is a quick way to build up follower numbers and exposure but don’t expect a huge amount of engagement from them. I suspect many are fairly inactive or indeed bots.

NOTE: There are similar apps out there promising the same thing and require you to enter your password natively in the app. DO NOT DO THIS, they are scam sites designed to collect profile details. Only use apps that connect via Instagram itself (which asks permission to connect directly) – never enter your password on these apps.

  • ‘Like’ Pictures

By ‘liking’ other people’s content, you get on their radar. Many people check to see who has been liking their posts in their activity stream and with check out the profiles listed. 

It’s that easy. Search for relevant hashtags in the same vein as the theme you are going for (make sure you last 10 or so images match the theme of the hashstags you are searching) and get liking! you’ll probably get 1 follower for every 20-30 likes you give. You may also get a bunch of likes back yourself.

You can increase the chances of getting followed back if you keep cropping up in a user’s activity feed time and time again as they will begin to recognise your username/profile pic and check you out.

  • Comment On Pictures

Another way to get on people’s radar’s is to comment on their photos. If they are a particularly popular user, chances are they get a tonne of ‘likes’ but less comments to it is a good way to cut through the noise.

Additionally, leaving comments makes you more visible to others as your username appears under a post, with your username taking up real estate. Be thoughtful with your comments and add real additional value to the post. Simply saying “great pic!” won’t get you too far. Comment on pics of a similar theme to your last 3-5. Like-minded people may click on your comment, see your photos and follow you.

#ProTip: It’s quicker and easier to comment on the Instagram website (or if you like emojis) using your keyboard than the phone app so if you plan to do this regularly, put your phone down and get to your laptop!

  • [text]



Additional Tips

  • Make Web Addresses / CTAs Stand Out

Did you know you can create “custom” locations to highlight your key action message or web URL?