Face it. Instagram is one of the hottest social media platforms on the planet right now. With 800 million users now using the platform, you'll be able to target your customers and drive business results no matter what industry you're in. Not to mention, they're owned by Facebook, so they're not going away anytime soon.

Here are 12 ways to grow your Instagram audience organically and get real followers (not the fake bots some are purchasing). Best of all, it'll cost you nothing. It's completely free.

1. Create Instagram Stories

According to Instagram expert, Sue B. Zimmerman, creating Instagram Stories will drastically increase your chances of getting featured on Instagram's Explore page, a goal anyone trying to grow an Instagram account should have.

Why? Well, Instagram is competing directly with Snapchat when it comes to Stories, so it makes sense that the Instagram algorithm would favor those using the feature.

A brand doing a terrific job using Instagram Stories is the National Basketball Association, who frequently post behind-the-scenes content of NBA training camps, locker room conversations, charity events and more. They also frequently give away swag like NBA jerseys, headbands, and socks.

2. Show Your Face

According to research conducted by Georgia Tech, Instagram posts that contain human faces generate 38 percent more Likes and 32 percent more comments than those that don't.

3. Partner and Network With Influencers

Networking and cross promoting your content is a powerful thing. Building a strong network of influencers who are in the same industry as you are is one of the most organic ways to establish a following. Why? Because the influencer's audience, more than likely, has similar interests as your followers (and future followers) do.

Whether you're a brand or an aspiring influencer, networking will never do you wrong. To start the networking process, search around for Facebook Groups, meetups, and LinkedIn Groups for influencers in your niche.

4. Repost User-Generated Content (UGC)

User-generated content is a fancy word to describe content your customers create and post while at your business or content that showcases them using your product. UGC could be an Instagram post a group of friends took at your restaurant or bar, or could be a post of a customer using your company's products in the privacy of their own home.

Reposting UGC works especially well if you're a brand trying to grow an Instagram account. People trust other people. By posting people enjoying your product or service, you'll be implementing the rule of 'social proof' and will be naturally building trust between you and your audience.

A brand who does an awesome job at posting user-generated content is the outdoor sports and lifestyle company, Cotopaxi, who will show their most loyal followers some love by sharing their posts.


A post shared by Cotopaxi (@cotopaxi) on

5. Go Live on Instagram

Both Facebook and Instagram, as of late, are putting a ton of emphasis on live video. Because of this, the platform is partial to accounts who use the feature, thus using Instagram Live could increase your chances of being featured on the Explore page.

6. Tag Businesses and Locations You Visit

This tagging can be in your standard Instagram posts or in your Instagram Stories. Tagging the locations or businesses you visit will increase the chances that that business will share or like your post, which would put you in front of the business' audience (since Instagram followers can see the activity of those they're following).

You'll also be putting your content in front of the people who're searching about the location or business for whatever reason (travel, restaurant recommendations, etc.). Lastly, if you tag the business you're visiting in your Instagram Story, there's a high likelihood of you being featured in the business's own Instagram Story.

7. Find Out When Your Optimal Posting Time is

One size doesn't fit all when it comes to posting times. There are a lot of factors to consider: time zones, engagement habits, and more. By viewing Instagram Insights, you'll be able to see when the optimal times to post are for you based on where your followers are located and when they're most active. To access Instagram Insights, all you need to do is convert your Instagram account to a business account. Read this to find out how.

8. Host Giveaways and Contests

Sometimes, the most effective solutions are the simplest. In order to increase engagement, give your audience an incentive to engage. Entice your followers by giving away free products, consulting, or something else in exchange for tagging 5 friends in your post announcing the contest. Be as creative as you can.

Dunkin' Donuts recently capitalized on National Coffee Day by giving away one free medium coffee with the purchase of a medium or large size. The company encouraged their audience to tag the friend they'd like to share the coffee with, resulting in hundreds of comments on the Instagram post.

9. Leverage Hashtags

Select a combination of super popular, moderately competitive and smaller, more niche hashtags to ensure the maximum number of targeted prospects will be able to see your content.

Pro Tip: Don't overload your caption with a hundred hashtags. That looks spammy (and tacky) as hell. Stick with 10-15, and be sure to post these hashtags as a comment on your posts.

10. Ask Your Audience to Tag Their Friends

Sometimes, simply asking can do the trick for you. Ask your audience to tag friends who would enjoy the post or agree with the contents in the caption. This will cause a 'ripple effect' and could result in a boost of followers for you.

11. Find Out What Your Followers Want to See

Take some time to spy on the Instagram accounts of people who would be your 'ideal customer'. See what kind of content they're engaging with, what their habits are, and more. How can you tailor your content to fit their needs while still remaining original and unique?

12. Tag Brands and Large Accounts in Your Posts

Use discretion here. Only tag accounts on posts that are directly relevant to those accounts. If the post isn't relevant to the brand or large account you're tagging, it'll come off as spammy.

By tagging these large accounts, you'll better position yourself for that account to like your post, which could result in their followers being exposed to your profile.