How to Become an Instagram Influencer

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The influencer economy shows no signs of slowing down. The market has grown from $1.7 billion in 2016 to a whopping $13.8 billion in 2021, and this upward trajectory is projected to continue. 

Whether you’re just starting to grow your following or you’ve been toying with content creation for several years, keep reading for actionable advice on how to become an Instagram influencer.

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What is an Instagram influencer?

InfluencerDiego Cervo/Shutterstock

In the simplest terms, an Instagram influencer is someone who has built an engaged community on the platform. There is no specific amount of followers that grants you influencer status. 

There are, however, different subcategories of Instagram influencers based on follower count. These are rough approximations used by the ever-changing influencer marketing industry: 

  • Nano-influencer: Less than 10,000 followers
  • Micro-influencer: 10,000–100,000 followers
  • Macro-influencer: 100,000–1 million followers
  • Mega-influencer: More than 1 million followers

The best strategies for becoming an Instagram influencer

Instagram athletic influencerORION PRODUCTION/Shutterstock

Becoming a full-blown Instagram influencer requires a combination of patience, strategy, coordination, and adaptability. 

These tips will set your Instagram account up for the best chance at gaining an engaged following. 

1. Define your content pillars and niche 

To grow your Instagram account, you’ll need to give people a reason to follow along. Having a clear idea of what you’re going to post or talk about on Instagram will make it easier for people to understand what you do and what they can gain from joining your corner of the internet. 

Your niche can be something broad, such as acting, fashion, or pet care. Your content pillars, however, should be specific sub-topics that are relevant to your niche. For example, if you decide to post about getting started as an actor, your pillars could be: 

  • The do’s and don’ts of acting technique
  • Where to find free or low-cost training resources
  • A day in the life of a working actor

Your pillars should be specific enough to differentiate you from other creators in your niche. Going off of the acting example, another acting creator could have completely different pillars from you, such as: 

  • Acting terminology you need to know
  • Audition tips 
  • Ask me anything as an actor

Identifying a niche and pillars can be tough for some. That’s why we recommend asking yourself these questions to help you narrow down your areas of focus: 

  • What are my biggest passions? 
  • What kinds of topics do my friends and family consult me about? Am I an expert in any area?
  • What could I see myself talking about for hours, days, or months and not growing tired of? 

Once you have your content pillars figured out, you can work to make your account better reflect them. 

RELATED: How to Use Instagram’s Explore Page, Hashtags, + More to Grow Your Following

2. Optimize your Instagram bio

Your Instagram bio is small but mighty. Optimizing it can make your account more discoverable, which may make it easier for you to grow a following.

“First and foremost, it’s important to have the same photo and username across as many social channels as possible for brand consistency. That’s one of the best things you can do to gain recognition,” says Austen Tosone, a digital content creator and influencer expert. As an actor, this could be as simple as using the same headshot on your Instagram profile as you use on your personal website or IMDb page

Tosone also recommends formatting the name field in a specific way to better capitalize on opportunities. “In your name field, put your full name and include your location, ideally the nearest major city. Also include the word ‘creator,’ ‘influencer,’ ‘blogger,’ ‘actor’—whatever you identify as. The name field is one of the few things on Instagram that’s searchable. Brands use it to look for influencers to cast in campaigns or invite to local events.” 

In your actual bio, include what people can expect from following you. According to Tosone, a great way to achieve this is by including an “I help” line. For example, “I help aspiring actors gain more confidence.” 

If you’re interested in collaborating with brands or want to be more easily discoverable by agents in the future, it’s a good idea to put your email address in your bio (in addition to adding an “email” button to your profile) so that brand and talent managers can see it more easily when scouting. 

Tosone also notes that there is currently no email button on Instagram profiles when they’re viewed from desktop. “A lot of brands still cast campaigns by viewing profiles on desktop. That’s why it’s extra important to write your full email out in your bio,” she adds.  

3. Switch to a creator account 

Instagram offers three different types of account options: personal, business, and creator. 

Both business and creator accounts are eligible to earn bonus payouts from Meta’s $1 billion creator investment

However, if you’re looking to grow and potentially create viral Instagram reels, make sure you switch to a creator account in your app’s settings. “The main difference between creator and business accounts has to do with music—which impacts what you can create on Instagram Reels,” says Tosone. “If you have a business account, your music choices are restricted to copyright-free music. This means you won’t necessarily have access to trending sounds. With a creator account, you will have access to whatever’s popular.” 

4. Prioritize making Instagram Reels over static photo content 

At the end of 2021, head of Instagram Adam Mosseri announced that the platform would prioritize video content. Additionally, a study by Later found that the engagement for static photos had decreased 44% since 2019—just before Reels launched in 2020—making photos a less reliable and less effective growth tactic. 

Producing Instagram Reels comes with a learning curve. Lissette Calveiro, an influencer coach and consultant, recommends diving right in. “If you’re thinking about making your first Reel, just make it,” she says. “Don’t worry about it being perfect, because just making one is how you’re going to learn to be a better creator.” 

After you’ve gotten over the initial hurdle of making your first Reel, Calveiro says, “The best practice making Reels is to have people watch them to completion. Give your Reel a strong story so that’s engaging throughout—no matter if it’s a minute long or only a few seconds. This is also a big reason why people put numbers in their Reel titles. For example, ‘5 Things to Know About X.’ ”

Using trending audio is another way to get more views on your Reels. The best ways to find trending sounds is to watch other Reels on the Reels tab, visit your explore page, or by browsing sounds through the music widget on Instagram Stories. 

5. Create quality content 

“Quality” content on Instagram refers to two different things: the technical aspects (its resolution, dimensions, etc.) and its ability to captivate an audience. 

The Instagram algorithm takes picture quality into account, and Meta confirmed that it prioritizes original, un-watermarked content. That means that a video uploaded to Instagram Reels that still has a TikTok watermark is less likely to perform as well as one that doesn’t. 

“Quality” also means just good or enjoyable—do you give your audience something inspiring? Funny? Informative? All of the above? If your content isn’t entertaining or insightful, it will be more challenging to grow your following. 

6. Write captions that give your audience a reason to save or return 

The current Instagram algorithm prioritizes content in your feed by interest. In other words, your feed is organized based on how interested you’ll be in viewing the visual content, reading the caption, and engaging with it. 

With this in mind, craft captions that give your audience a reason to save your post or visit your profile. A way to do this is to structure your content around a specific call to action (CTA). Ask yourself, what do I want my audience to do after viewing my content? Some common examples include directing them to respond to a prompt, save your post, share it with others, or visit the link in your bio.  

7. Schedule your content to post at optimal times 

The best way to get as many eyes as possible on your content is to post it when the biggest proportion of your audience is online. Instagram scheduling software like Later, Planoly, and Hootsuite can automatically calculate the best time to post on your account and post content for you.

If you don’t want to use scheduling software, the universal best times to post to your Instagram feed are: 

  • Mondays at 11 a.m. 
  • Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. 
  • Thursdays and Fridays at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. 

Even though the above times are backed by data, the best times to post for your specific audience may be different. Take note of the times and days of the week you post to see if there are any noticeable spikes or dips in engagement. 

InfluencerRoman Samborskyi/Shutterstock

8. Post consistently

Following a consistent posting schedule can be tough—especially if your life outside of Instagram is anything but consistent. Sticking to a set schedule, though, is important for establishing familiarity and trust with your audience.

Think of your content like you would a TV show that airs at a consistent time to allow viewers to reliably tune in. If your audience knows when to expect your content, they’ll be more likely to tune in and engage with you. 

9. Use relevant hashtags

Hashtags are an important discovery and engagement tool on Instagram. A study found that posts that use at least one hashtag see 12% more engagement on average. 

Choosing which hashtags to use comes down to who your audience is. “When conducting hashtag research, lean into these two questions: Who are you trying to reach, and what are they looking for online?” says Calveiro. “You want to use hashtags that your ideal follower might be using or searching for.” A quick glance at the types of photos under each hashtag you’re considering will help determine if your audience is using it. 

10. Show up on Stories

Viewed by over 500 million people daily, Instagram Stories give you the option to post photos or 15-second video clips that disappear after 24 hours. They’re also a powerful way to build connections with your audience. 

Instagram Stories let you create content in real time and stay current with whatever is going on. You can use them to show a behind-the-scenes view of your daily life, spark discussion, or even poll your audience directly on what they want to see from you. 

It’s worth noting that you can share links to articles, other posts, your website, and products you use through the link sticker on Instagram Stories. In-feed posts do not support links, so sharing them with your audience via Stories is more effective. 

11. Engage with others in a meaningful way

No one likes to be left “on read.” In addition to creating great content, regularly engaging with others is a critical part of building your following. 

Try to respond to as many comments as you can, especially if your audience is asking you a direct question. Doing so will establish a rapport and trust—key ingredients for an engaged community. 

Tosone explains that commenting on other users’ posts can also help to expand your influence. 

“A comment that goes beyond ‘love this’ or heart emojis stands out these days. A good goal to have when leaving comments on other accounts is to try to get your comment pinned. Right now, the way Instagram weighs comments is, if a verified user comments on your post, that comment will appear first. But if your comment gets pinned, it may outrank any comment left by a verified account, thus giving your account more exposure.” 

12. Tag brands and other creators 

Becoming an influencer is easier if you have people who advocate for and share your content. Aim to tag brands or other creators in your posts whenever possible.

When you tag a brand or creator, they’ll receive a notification that you mentioned them in a post. From there, they have the option to share it to their audience. Getting others to share your post will expand your reach, and potentially let others discover your account who might not have come across it otherwise. 

13. Track your analytics 

If you’re serious about gaining influence, you’ll need to pay attention to your analytics. With a business or creator account, you’ll have access to a built-in analytics dashboard. 

In addition to giving detailed metrics about each post, your Instagram analytics will tell you valuable information about your audience: how old they are, where they live, how many accounts your content reached, and which posts they’ve engaged with most. Use this information to determine what kind of content to create.

14. Avoid buying followers and other spammy growth tactics

Buying followers or engagement violates Instagram’s terms of service and could get your account suspended or permanently removed from the platform. 

It’s also not a good look if you are looking to partner with brands. Brands have sophisticated tools to help them calculate your engagement rate and follower health. If they determine that your following is not genuine, you will likely get passed up for sponsored content opportunities. 

Other questionable growth tactics include giveaways, follow trains, and comment pods. While it’s certainly good to make connections with other influencers on the platform, you want your engagement to be genuine, not forced. Inauthentic engagement can also damage your reputation and credibility. 

15. Stay on top of platform and algorithm changes 

Instagram’s algorithm and set of features are always subject to change. As an influencer, you should stay up-to-date with trends and important announcements—one small tweak in the algorithm can completely change the way people view and interact with your content. 

Fortunately, there are a number of reliable resources you can consult when it comes to Instagram updates, including but not limited to: 

  • The @creators Instagram account, which is officially run by the Instagram team and provides official updates on the platform
  • The head of Instagram Adam Mosseri’s account, which posts further insights and platform updates
  • The Later blog, a social media scheduling tool that creates content and conducts original research around all things Instagram

Calveiro adds, “The best place to get information about the platform is the platform itself. Doing so can protect you from misinterpreting information as well as misinformation about what’s happening. Always try to do your own research and go back to the platform’s official channels.”

Does my Instagram feed need to look cohesive?

Instagram feedKicking Studio/Shutterstock

While there is no one way an Instagram feed should look, there are known advantages to having a cohesive feed or branding. 

With a more uniform look, your feed gives visitors a better idea of what kind of content you produce with just a quick glance at your profile page. Beyond that, even choosing a signature brand color has been proven to boost your recognition.  

Ultimately, though, it’s up to you to decide if you want to build a strong visual identity. “At the end of the day, deciding to have a curated feed is a personal choice. Your Instagram feed should consist of what you want to put out there to represent your personal brand. It doesn’t need to be perfectly curated,” says Tosone.

Which Instagram metrics should I pay attention to?

InstagramWachiwit/Shutterstock

There are different metrics to track for in-feed photos, Stories, and Reels. For in-feed photo content, pay attention to when each of these metrics are on the upswing (in no particular order of importance): 

  • Likes
  • Shares
  • Saves
  • Accounts reached
  • Impressions
  • Comments

For post comments, pay attention not only to the amount you receive, but to the sentiment. Are people leaving positive or negative remarks? Or are they leaving a mix of both? If you’ve received negative feedback, it may mean it’s best to consider not posting anything similar in future. 

When it comes to Instagram Stories, monitor how these metrics fluctuate. The higher numbers you see, the better your content is performing. When you experience a dip in any of the below, it may mean that content isn’t resonating: 

  • Views
  • Accounts reached
  • Accounts engaged 
  • Link clicks
  • Impressions
  • Profile activity
  • Interactions
  • Navigation
  • Follows 

For Reels, you should be taking note of any increases in: 

  • Reach
  • Plays
  • Likes
  • Comments
  • Saves

Because Reels are so trend-driven, you should also check for any correlations between current events and seasonality. For example, if you see a spike in engagement on certain content during a specific time of year, you can take that into account when planning new content.

How many hashtags should I use on Instagram?

hashtag13_Phunkod/Shutterstock

Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags per post, but the official creators account recommends using three to five hashtags per post

The key to using hashtags on Instagram is relevancy rather than quantity. Calveiro offers further insight on how to select relevant hashtags: “Before committing to using a hashtag, it’s good to do some research and look up the types of posts that appear under that hashtag. If the type of content you want to post doesn’t match the content that shows up under that hashtag, it probably won’t be easily discoverable, thus defeating the point of using the hashtag. I recommend doing this kind of research every few months or seasonally.”

How do I monetize my Instagram account with brand deals?

InfluencerChaay_Tee/Shutterstock

There is no magic follower number you need to hit in order to start working with brands. Instagrammers with as little as 1,000 followers can get paid to post content, so long as they have an engaged audience. 

There are two main ways you can land brand deals: brands can contact you directly, or you can actively pitch yourself to them. Brands typically reach out via Direct Message or email, hence the importance of putting your email address in your bio. 

If you want to pitch yourself to a brand, you’ll want to make sure your pitch stands out in inboxes. Here, Tosone describes the components of a successful pitch email: 

  • Start with a catchy subject line. Entice someone to open your email. 
  • Open with your connection to the recipient, if you know them. If you’ve never spoken to them before, introduce yourself succinctly.  
  • Give specific details about how you want to partner with them. Describe how you envision integrating their product into your content.   
  • Explain why the brand should choose to work with you. Give them details about your audience and explain how their audience aligns with your audience, as well as your previous history with the product, if any. 
  • Try to end with a CTA. For example: “Would you have 15 minutes to hop on a call with me to further discuss a potential partnership?”

How much do Instagram influencers make?

Influencer selfieDisobeyArt/Shutterstock

The amount of money that Instagram influencers make varies greatly. And remember, you don’t need to make a single dime to be considered an Instagram influencer—generating revenue and influencing are not mutually exclusive. 

If you are interested in monetizing your influence, however, know that you can generate anywhere from a few hundred dollars to well over six figures. This can be a great way to help cover some of your expenses as a working actor. 

“The amount of money you make from creating content can be as high as multiple six figures,” Calveiro says, “but it really depends on how strong your community is, your content, and authority. It has nothing to do with follower count and everything to do with how strongly people are connecting with you.” 

Most Instagram influencers typically earn money through a combination of different income streams, including but not limited to: 

  • Brand partnerships: This entails working with a brand to produce an agreed-upon set of deliverables, such as photos, Stories, or Reels. 
  • Instagram bonuses: Instagram will notify you directly if you’re eligible to earn money through their bonus program. Creators have made anywhere from a few hundred dollars to up to $10,000 per Reel through bonuses. 
  • Affiliate links: Influencers earn a small commission each time their followers click on a link to a product they posted about. 
  • User-generated content creation: Some brands will hire influencers to create content for their own marketing channels. This is different from a typical brand partnership because influencers are not required to post the content they create to their own account. 
  • Video editing: Instagram influencers typically wear a lot of creative hats, and with the rise of Reels, video editing is becoming more of a necessary skill. Some creators capitalize on this by editing content for other clients. 
  • Graphic design: Similar to video editing, influencers with a penchant for design can monetize this skill. 
  • Social media management: Since influencers have experience growing and managing their own account, many choose to take on part-time or full-time social media management jobs to earn a living.

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