I am honestly still in shock! I went from having a small, tiny, unnoticed Instagram account to over 300k followers and growing in just over a year
The craziest part? I did this in 2019, when everyone is complaining about “the algorithm”, saying it’s impossible to beat.
If you want to grow on Instagram, keep reading…
Everyone can be successful on Instagram – yes, that 100% includes YOU!
Oh, and while you’re here, grab this cheat sheet so you can grow Insta followers fast (and ethically!! No bots/ weird apps, etc.) too!
My story of growing on Instagram actually begins WAY before Instagram was even a thing (we were just getting used to Facebook!)
back in 2007 when I entered college
I really struggled with stress & emotional eating in college (can you relate?!)
When I was in high school and college, I was SO confused with what to eat. I also yo-yo’ed a good 15 pounds.
I tried every diet
The cabbage soup diet (for 2 hours), a vegan diet, super restrictive diets, and also crazy diets that I made up in my head, like trying to eat a mountain of lasagna and nothing else the rest of the day… or eating ONLY fruits and vegetables.
Seriously. Why do we torture ourselves?!
As a result, all I did was think about food, my life revolved around what to eat and when to eat it – and meanwhile, nothing was working!
I was very unhappy with how I looked and didn’t know what to do to change it.
SO! Since I was thinking about food all the time anyway…
I switched my major from math to nutrition midway through college so I could understand the science behind what I was eating.
This, and interning for a number of weight-management related organizations, did help me finally understand both the scientific and psychological aspects of what would keep me full, satisfied, and at the healthy weight I felt most comfortable at.
But I wanted to help OTHERS find these realizations, be free from the misinformation on weight loss that’s online and on social media, and ultimately to manage their weight in healthy, fulfilling ways.
At the time, there were a lot of nutrition education materials on what to eat for people with diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc. but there was nothing for my age group that helped tell the truth about food!
I felt that young adults shouldn’t have to major in nutrition just to lose a few pounds and have a good relationship with food.
When I graduated from my bachelor’s and master’s from Case Western Reserve University in spring 2013, I started the website and social media accounts (including Instagram) for “The College Nutritionist”.
Instagram was different back then. It was much easier to grow before the dreaded “algorithm”
Pictures appeared in chronological order – your followers were shown all of your posts (versus now, when followers are only shown your posts if they view, like, or comment on your pictures often).
The (dreaded) “algorithm” wasn’t in place, and I was pretty easily able to grow to 17k followers.
I lost 3k followers on Instagram…
Enter true PhD crazies!
I entered a PhD program in Nutrition & Behavior Change at Columbia in August 2013
Which was prettyyyyyy busy!! I was working around the clock, running my own experiments and managing my boss’s studies to get publications, running to Queens to be an adjunct instructor, and working as a part time nutritionist at a private-practice to afford my rent. And of course, trying to find true love in NYC! Seriously though, the dating apps take so much time and effort (!!).
During this time, College Nutritionist really fell by the wayside (dropping to 14k followers on Instagram since I wasn’t posting at all).
I just didn’t have the energy or time to devote to it in any capacity!
I actually talked with some of my friends about selling my Instagram account. I just didn’t have the time to devote to it!
March – April 2017: Instagram follower growth stagnant at 14k followers
I knew I’d be leaving my research job at Columbia to work in an internship for a few months, and I’d have a little more free time.
I was thinking about how I wanted to spend that extra time. I wanted a more fulfilled life – but I wasn’t sure exactly what that looked like.
I did know though, that I felt an aching guilt when it came to The College Nutritionist. I knew there was serious potential there, as it was a strong niche, or section of the total market that I could specifically target. So many people in business want to help anyone and everyone – but, as Tim Ferris, author of the book The 4 Hour Workweek says, “If everyone is your customer, then no one is your customer”.
My first lesson for you is to do JUST THAT – niche down until it hurts 😉 – on Instagram, and of course, in your business in general.
I thought: ok, I’ll give it one more try. Being creative and helping others is something I knew I loved doing. I thought that at least, this could fill up that little extra free time I would have over the next few months.
May 2017 – July 2017: Slow Instagram follower count growth from 14k to 15k followers&n
I began posting nearly daily. I wish I could tell you it was a breeze – everyone loved my photos, and I was an overnight success!
I can’t tell you how much further from the truth the reality was!
I was mortified. I posted (what I felt like were very) beautiful photos, and would get less than 100 likes per post.
Truly embarrassing since I did have thousands of followers at this point. It seemed like no matter what I did, my engagement wouldn’t budge. Not only engagement, but my growth stagnated – no new accounts were following me.
During this time, I was networking with other foodie Instagrammers, and one friend who was growing rapidly told me: You know, your content just isn’t that good.
Even though I was a bit stunned at the remark, it was a big revelation for me.
I couldn’t just blame the algorithm, I had to take ownership and responsibility for my results.
The problem was ME!
August 2017 – November 2017: Modest Instagram follower growth from 15k to 20k followers
In Fall 2017, I signed up for a mastermind weekend workshop.
This workshop reminded me of the power of TALKING to my audience to figure out what they want. I felt empowered, and the next week, this is exactly what I did.
My next piece of advice is to not be afraid to invest in yourself. Don’t put yourself in a difficult financial situation, but if you can afford it, absolutely spend the money on a course, a mastermind group, or a coach. It is a mistake not to.
I’m always am working with a coach. I’m never working on my business on my own. When we’re deep in the trenches of our own work, it can be hard to step back and see the big picture.
After spending some time really learning what my audience wanted (through talking with people and sending out surveys), I was able to figure out what they wanted from me most, in order:
Help with weight loss
Help with cooking on a budget
Help with meal prepping for 1 person
This truly was THE turning point for me.
I changed my bio and my content to EXACTLY focus on addressing my audience’s desires, or, as I learned, what entrepreneurs call “pain points”.
My engagement immediately began to jump, and with trial and error, I began developing more creative content that addressed college students’ & recent grads’ “pains” – those areas where they wanted help.
In my experience, I saw that the quickest way to grow on Instagram was by developing creative, clever content that the algorithm would pick up and move to the top of the Explore page, based on how initial users interact with the post (e.g. staying on the post for a little longer before scrolling to the next one, and of course liking it and commenting on it).
So much more than using the right hashtags, writing the perfect caption, or taking the prettiest picture, creative, clever content performs best on Instagram.
Don’t be afraid to try new things. You never know what idea will take you to the next level!
December 2017 – July 2018: Exponential Instagram follower count growth from 20k to 199k followers
The growth since December has been exponential, and my photos consistently get thousands of likes.
Like any social media platform, Instagram does constantly update and change, and it’s up to me (us!) to keep up with it and to come up with more and more engaging, clever content that helps my followers eat better and feel their best – ultimately solving their problems.
Do you want to grow too? 🤩
I would LOVE for you to check out my Beat the Algorithm course where I’ll walk you through, step by step, how to grow your Insta too –
But first, make sure you get my Instagram growth cheat sheet (FREE) so you can jumpstart your success NOW!