Have you just started a new food Instagram account and looking to start off with a bang? Or have you had one for a bit and are looking for ways to step it up? Well I have been running @thechowdown over on Instagram for over 7 years now, and along the way I have learned a few things about running a food Instagram and growing my following. I’ll be the first to admit I do not have the largest following, or close to it. However, a little over a year ago I decided to step up my Instagram game and turn my all-over-the-place food diary of an Instagram account into a more professional and cohesive food blog. With this, I decided I wanted to grow my following and increase my engagement. In just over a year, I have gained almost 4,000 followers, which was over a 550% increase from the under 700 followers I had! I love sharing my experience and what I’ve learned along the way, and I figured the best time to share is while its still fresh in my mind and while I am still learning.
Please note, this list does not include tips for taking or editing food photos. I have written a separate detailed blog post on how to take and edit awesome food photos, which you can find here!
This tip is first because I believe it is one of the most important tips I can give, and I hardly ever see it on other blog posts or videos on how to grow your Instagram account. Providing value can look like a lot of different things depending on what your content and niche is. It could be sharing tips and tricks for meal prep
ping, recording at-home work outs or demonstrating kitchen hacks. One of the easiest ways food Instagram accounts can provide value is to share the recipe details of the dish you are sharing! By providing something of value in your posts, you:
- Can create a greater interest in your posts
- Give people a reason to save your post
- Give people a reason to come back to your post
- Gain more comments and/or DMs if people have questions about the recipe/workout/tips, etc.
- Gain more followers if they know they can find recipes/workouts/tips on your page
For me personally, when I started to take my Instagram more seriously, I decided to add value by providing the recipes for the majority of my posts. When I started doing this, I noticed a large increase in my followers and the number of people that saved my posts. It didn’t happen overnight, but once people started noticing I consistently shared recipes in my posts, they wanted to follow along for more recipe ideas and inspiration.
Providing value isn’t something you have to do with every single Instagram post. However, I do recommend finding something and staying consistent with it. When your followers know they can count on a recipe or a workout, etc. every other day or once a week, they are more likely to come back for more.
Quality over quantity
This is a tip you may see all the time, but that is because it is so true and relevant to all niches on Instagram! While consistency is important (we’ll talk more about that later one), you should not post JUST for the sake of posting. The quality of your photos will attract more followers than the quantity of your photos.
This is a mistake I would make all the time back in the day. I would be out to dinner at a restaurant and snap a quick pic of my meal, only for it to come out blurry and grainy (we all know restaurant lighting is terrible). However, I would post it anyway, either because I felt like I needed to post something or because the meal was so good I wanted to share. The problem is, a dark and grainy picture of that delicious meal is not going to come across that way to your followers. I encourage you to look at the photo and think ‘if I was just only looking at a photo of this (and not tasting it or smelling it, etc.), would I want to eat it? Would I want to make it? Would I even know what it is? If you’ve answered no to these questions, you may want to think twice about posting it.
‘Quality’ may look different to different people. If you are just starting out, you do not need magazine quality photos. My recommendation is to find a quality standard that works for you and stay consistent with it. Maintaining a consistent quality of photos will create a more cohesive feed and entice people to want to follow for more. As you gain more experience with styling, taking and editing photos, your quality will only go up.
With over 1 billion active monthly users on Instagram and over 95 million posts made every day, falling into a niche is just not enough to gain traction these days. The best way to gain a loyal and engaged following is by honing in on a sub niche. A sub niche is a specific group that can be categorized under a larger niche. For example, food Instagrams are a part of a niche, but vegan food Instagrams are apart of a specific sub niche.
There are many different sub niches in the food community on Instagram. I recommend choosing one that most resembles your personal lifestyle and what feels most comfortable to you. By choosing something that fits your lifestyle, you are more likely to gain followers that have similar interests as you, which will make engaging with your followers easy. If you’re not a great baker, don’t choose a baking sub niche just because sweets tend to do better than savory food. Your content will not be as genuine and you will probably lose interest and motivation, and your followers will to. It can be argued that honing on a specific sub niche may deter followers that don’t strictly into that sub niche (i.e. a vegan page may have a hard time gaining non-vegan followers). However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, you want followers, but you want the right followers. Non-vegan followers will probably not be as engaged as vegan followers. And as I mentioned above, Instagram is so big now, there are plenty of vegans and vegetarian Instagram users to gain a large following, you just have to reach them!
Engage with like minded individuals
So you’ve started a food Instagram and you’ve honed in on your content, you’re providing value and you’re posting some amazing food photos! That’s great, but there’s one problem…Instagram is not showing your photos to your followers. It’s extremely frustrating, I know. I hate the algorithm as much as the next person, but we can’t control it. What we can do is get our name out there as much as possible and the best way to do this is to engage with like minded individuals. Who are like minded individuals? They are the people that post similar content, the people following similar accounts to yours, the people that love food and are on the hunt for delicious recipes. These are the people you want to engage with. How do you engage, you ask? By commenting on their posts, by responding to questions or polls they’ve prompted in posts or stories and by DMing them. Of course you want to go about this in a genuine manner, but this can help you build relationships with others in the community. If you are actively engaged in their content, they will be more likely to actively engage with yours. Additionally, when you comment on other people’s posts, their followers may see your comment and check out your page.
There is, of course, a right way to go about this and a wrong way to go about this. Here are my do’s and don’ts:
- DO leave genuine comments on posts, perhaps pointing out your favorite part of the dish or that you’ve been craving the same thing
- DO put some thought into the comment. Don’t just say ‘yum’ or leave an emoji. They don’t count in Instagram’s algorithm
- DO answer questions that are prompted in the caption
- DO give feedback when it is asked for
- DO respond to polls and questions prompted in stories
- DO DM someone if you found one of their stories particularly interesting, funny, helpful, etc.
- DO DM someone if you have a question about one of their recipes or where they got a product, their opinion of a product, etc.
- DO DM or comment letting someone know if you tried out one of their recipes
- DON’T ask for a follow for follow
- DON’T ask for a shout out (especially if that person has a lot more followers than you)
- DON’T comment on posts telling people to follow you
- DON’T spam people’s DMs
Respond to comments and DMs
I won’t spend too much time on this one, as I am sure it is something everyone talks about. However, part of engaging with like minded individuals involves responding to their comments and DMs. Not only does it leave a good impression on that person (and anyone that sees the comments), responding to comments and DMs may boost your account in the algorithm. In terms of comments, you can easily double the amount of comments on each post by responding to other people’s comments. If you get less than 30 comments on your photos, you should be responding to every single one. If you get more, I suggest setting aside some time each day or every other day to respond to as many comments as you can. As for DMs, I recommend responding to every single DM that is not mean, spam, or a follow for follow request.
Log on with purpose
Before making a full commitment to grow thechowdown, I would only use Instagram for two things: to post content here and there and to consume content. This mainly involved mindless scrolling and half-watching people’s stories. I still enjoy doing this; however, I now dedicate specific times where I log on to Instagram to solely work on growing my account. I always plan this out ahead of time, so I can be as productive as possible while I’m logged on. I may spend this time responding to comments on my posts, respond to DMs, comment on other’s posts, engage with those on my explore page or engage with posts in popular hashtags I use. If your goal is to grow your following, I encourage you to shift some of your time spent mindlessly scrolling to engaging with your followers and potential followers.
Inspiration not imitation
There are many reasons why you should not imitate others on social media. The first, is that it’s just not cool to copy others. It can be frustrating for other creators when they see others copying their content or recipes word for word by others as if it was their idea. Additionally, others, especially their followers, may catch on to this and you may lose followers/potential followers. Lastly, if you are imitating someone else, it means you are not being yourself, and authenticity is extremely important to growing a following (see next tip). I understand that it is easy to get wrapped up in other people’s content. You may see their success and following and think you can get there by doing the exact same thing as them. I hate to break it to you, but it’s just not that easy. That person probably put in a TON of work to grow their account that you don’t see just by scrolling through their feed. I also get that there is so much content and so many creators on Instagram, it’s almost impossible to have a 100% original idea, and it can be frustrating to try to do this all the time. That is why I believe it is okay to gain inspiration from others. Whether that is using a certain photo angle because you liked how it showed off the dish or seeing a curry dish on your favorite account and getting inspiration to create your own curry recipe.
This tip goes hand in hand with the tip above, and is easier said than done. It can be intimidating to be your authentic self on social media for all to see. It can be easier to turn on a fake personality or keep your true personality hidden to avoid judgement from others. However, people follow you for your content, but they stay for your personality. And the people that stay for your personality are going to be your most loyal followers.
I encourage you to think of the people you love to follow most on social media. I would bet that one of the reasons they are your favorite is because you feel like they are talking to you directly and that you could be friends with them in real life. I know my favorite people on Instagram are my favorites because, not only is their content good, but I love their stories. They are the stories I open first when I open the app. I find these people to be the most authentic and I enjoy their true personalities. I also trust their opinions and feedback.
Authenticity is also important if you ever hope to have branded content on your page and/or become an affiliate. If you are not authentic in your normal stories, why would anyone trust your opinions and judgements when it comes to promotions? The best way to build up to successful branded content with genuine engagement is to be authentic from the start.
This one is a given at this point. Consistency is key. Back before I got serious about growing my Instagram account, I was extremely inconsistent. Some months I would post 15 times, some months I would post two times. Whenever I went through long periods without posting, I could see my follower count drop. When I finally did post, I’d lose a handful of followers instantly. My guess is they saw my post and forgot they followed me and why they followed me as it had been so long since I popped up on their feed. I’ve totally done this myself, and I’m sure you have too at some point. People follow you for a reason, they want to see your stuff, and they want to see it consistently.
Now, if you are wondering if this contradicts the ‘quality over quantity’ tip, the answer is yes, it in fact does a bit. Because it’s better to wait to post quality content vs posting a crappy photo for the sake of posting. But there is such a thing as consistent quality. Figure out how often you can realistically post consistent quality photos and stick to that schedule. For me, that meant posting every single day for about one year. Now I post six days a week, Monday-Friday and one day on the weekend. Pick a post time as well and aim for that every day. See the next tip on how to pick a post time.
Use analytics to your advantage
If you are not using an Instagram business account yet, I highly suggest switching to one. It is free to sign up, you just need to sign up for a business Facebook account (which you do not have to use if you do not want to). Instagram provides a plethora of free analytic information right on the app. The analytic information is incredibly invaluable as you grow your account. Below is a breakdown of how you can use some of the Instagram metrics to your advantage.
Follower growth: Track follower growth to see if you are gaining or losing followers week over week. If you lose a large chunk of followers in one day, you can see what content you posted (or didn’t post) that day that could help you figure out why there was a dip.
Follower demographics: This is extremely helpful in gauging your audience and tailoring your content to meet what they are looking for. For example, I have a large local following, so I try to provide some content in my stories that involve local restaurants, points of interest and local brands. Additionally, the majority of my audience is female (over 80%), so I feel comfortable talking about things that are geared more towards women, such as all things pumpkin spice, my favorite beauty products and the killer booty workout I just did.
Reach: This metric tells you how many people saw your post (and where) and is a helpful tool to gauge the success of a post. If the post reaches a large audience, you may want to explore creating similar content. I’ve done this many times before with a lot of success. Within the reach metric, you can also see where people saw the post, whether it was their home feed, on the explore page or hashtag pages. If the majority of views came from hashtag pages, you may want to write down the hashtags used and reuse them in future posts. Just don’t overuse them, or Instagram can shadow ban you from these hashtag pages. Lastly, if you want to work with brands in the future, they may ask to see your reach.
Saves: As a recipe developer, this is one my of my favorite metrics. Anyone can passively like a photo as they scroll, but people that save your post means they took the time to read it and found something valuable they want to refer back to. For me, that means they liked the recipe so much they want to reference it again or potentially make it! Just remember, to entice people to save your content, you need to provide something of value (re: tip #1).
Shares: Another one of my favorite metrics. Similar to saves, this metric tells me that the post resonated with someone so much they wanted to share it on their story or with a friend. This only means more people, possibly ones that may not have otherwise seen your content, are getting their eyes on your page. Posting sharable content is a great way to spread your name or brand quickly and authentically.
Most active follower times: This one is pretty obvious, but this allows you to see days and times your followers are most active. This allows you to post more strategically to reach as many people as possible.
Tell your friends and family
Let me tell you, I definitely underestimated this when I first started out. I started my food instagram account over seven years ago as a place to post my food pics, away from my personal account. I didn’t tell many people about my account because it was just for fun. However, when I decided to take my thechowdown seriously, I started telling all my friends and family about it. Everyone that has an Instagram account started following me and engaging with all my posts (those extra 10-15 likes can be huge in the beginning). Not only that, but they started telling their friends and family about my account, and they started following me. I have some friends that have their mother, sister, best friend, coworkers and bosses following me. My point is, if you tell three friends about your account, they may tell three people, and those people may tell three more people. Before you know it, you have a large network of people following you via friends’ and acquaintances’ recommendations, and they tend to be loyal followers!
Mindset. Mindset. Mindset
This is without a doubt the most important tip I can give you. When I decided to up my Instagram game, I knew that I needed to change my mindset towards my Instagram account. Before, I treated my Instagram page as a fun hobby, and it still is a fun hobby, but I knew I needed to shift my mentality. I knew that if I wanted to GROW my Instagram page, then I needed to have the mindset to GROW. This mindset includes:
- Believing in the success of growing your account
- Not giving up when things don’t grow as quickly as you’d like
- Putting in the work to get where you want to be
- Using mistakes and setbacks as learning points to move forward
- Not letting other people’s seemingly ‘easy’ success stop you from putting in the work
- Not letting Instagram’s constantly changing algorithm/rules discourage you
Essentially, if you want to grow your Instagram account, and potentially grow it into a form of income, you have to put in the work and you cannot give up when things do not go your way. I started treating my Instagram account like a job. This means I show up everyday, I don’t slack, I don’t give up, I have passion for what I do and I want to be successful. This all may sound like a commitment, and that is because it is! If you want a successful and growing account, you have to be committed.
Thank you for reading my tips on how to grow your food Instagram account. If you found any of these tips helpful, please let me know in the comments below. If you enjoy content like this and would like more like it or have any suggestions, please let me know!