When I launched my makeup blogging on Instagram, I did so with reckless abandon. I didn’t always know what I was doing, but I did make a few observations and sound judgements along the way. In continuation of my series on starting the influencer process, I want to talk about the first few months of my journey, what I did, what I don’t do anymore, and what I would change.
I understood pretty early on that numbers matter. Before brands will want to work with you, they’ll need assurance that the amount of exposure their products could eventually get is worth the cost of the product + s/h. So, my first step was growing my follower count.
Thankfully I’d already figured out how hashtags work, so I started there. I actively researched which hashtags got the most engagement, while also making sure I used hashtags that fit what I was posting. Take time to familiarize yourself with hashtags that fit your brand and use them! These hashtags are crucial to new followers finding you!
Along those lines, I made a point of following and connecting with other Instagrammers who also talked about makeup and beauty (many of whom were found through hashtags!) Most of the time larger accounts don’t follow back, which is to be expected. But smaller accounts like mine (less than 500 at that time) were just as eager as I was to connect and make friends. That’s the foundation I built upon. Seek out people who share your interests and actively woo them.
It takes time to do things this way, BUT you make authentic connections. And by supporting them as they support you, you’re creating a base of collaboration and engagement that money just can’t buy. I call to mind a friend who has been with me from the jump. We have both grown so much and when I think of her, I see a true pal. So much so that when I’m asked by brands to recommend others who might be interested in their products, she’s on my list. And she will stay on my list. Loyalty is so priceless.
This process *is* time consuming, however. And unless you have certain key attributes, your growth will be slow. What I mean by “key attributes” is conventional beauty. If you’re white, under 25, thin, have pouty lips, and great hair, this will be easier for you. And there’s nothing wrong with having those attributes. But, there’s a fair amount of privilege that comes with them so, it just will be. There is a very specific Instagram look and those of us who don’t have it will need to work harder.
One of the “tricks” I found for growing my numbers was follow trains. I know, some people are going to get angry here. I couldn’t care less. Follow trains can be awesome. The idea is simple: someone uploads a photo, announces it’s a follow train, and then a bunch of people post their account names and follow each other. Similar to the pods I talked about before, but it all takes place on Instagram and there’s no pressure to follow everyone or engage with everyone. It’s much more laid back.
These are great for growing your numbers pretty steadily. I used to join follow trains on an almost daily basis. I made a point of hunting down beauty specific follow trains and it helped. It really did. Most of my closest Instagram pals are from follow trains I joined a year ago. So, I have no problem with telling you about them.
There is a drawback, however. If you’re gaining followers at the same rate you’re following accounts, brands will recognize that you’re essentially gaming the system (or trying to work around the new algorithm.) That’s not to say they won’t want to work with you if you follow 8000 people and 8000 people follow you back, but it does appear as though you only have followers because of favors: not because they actually care about your content.
So, if you do decide to do follow trains, tread carefully. Don’t rely on them too heavily. These are not the ultimate solution to growth: merely a little nudge forward. According to many websites on the subject of Instagram followers, the ideal ration of following to followers is 1:3. Or you follow one person for every three that follow you. But, in all honesty I’m not there myself. My ration is closer to 1:2 and I still get PR so keep this in mind as a goal, but don’t let it deter you from reaching out to brands.
“But, Tamara,” you ask, “when will brands send me stuff?? How many followers do I have to have??”
Well, okay, this requires a complicated answer.
Let me start with a little parable pulled from real life.
About 8 months ago I followed an account dedicated to all things beauty. This person had about 5000 followers and followed about 5000 people as well. I hadn’t really thought much of her until one day when she posted a rant regarding her numbers. She complained that brands didn’t work with her, she demanded to know how many followers she’d need to MAKE them work with her, and she was just generally very toxic. She seemed to think that just by having those followers she’d earned free stuff.
Oh, honey. No, that’s not how this works.
Yes, brands care about reach, but they also care about QUALITY. This girl’s account was erratic: no theme, blurry makeup photos with poor lighting, and then random memes thrown around. It was a mess. Her numbers had nothing to do with brands not wanting to work with her. It was her content and attitude holding her back.
In the same way, you can’t just assume you can hit some magic number and then get free stuff. There is no one magic number. Each brand has its own desires and its own goal. And its up to them to decide if you’re a good fit, regardless of your numbers.
Case in point: on the same day I sent my social media kit to two different brands with the same business size, same following count on Instagram, and similar products. Both companies responded, asked a few questions, and both companies made their choice: one decided to send me a PR kit, and the other did not. I offered both companies the same exact kit, same photos, same numbers, same links, same everything. But, they’re different companies. So, they made different choices. That’s what I need you to understand: these brands aren’t robots that require specific codes or input to make them give you what you want. These are real people. Treat them and respect them as such.
So, no, there isn’t a magic number of followers that guarantees you free stuff. While you’re starting out, just please focus on growing your engagement and creating quality content. The rest will work itself out (and honestly, most of my PR has come from brands that contacted ME…not the other way around. So, be patient.)
Last but not least, we have to address something unpleasant. And I’m not going to sugarcoat it.
If you buy followers and likes, you suck. You suck and you’re not clever. You will fool some brands, but most will see through it. There are tells, guys. I can spot people who bought followers a mile away. It is >so< obvious. And I’m not going to tell you how in this post, but I will soon. Either way, don’t buy followers. It seems like a quick fix, but it WILL hurt you in the long run. Most can not maintain the cost of it all. And it’s just not worth it.
So, don’t do it. Please, please don’t. I refuse to collaborate and support people who have purchased followers. They ruin it for the rest of us. They cheated. And they make us all look untrustworthy and sneaky. And that’s unfair.
I’m going to wrap this up here BUT in my next post we’re going to dive deeper into numbers, stats, engagement, and why those things matter. (AND you’ll be more able to recognize fake accounts or accounts who bought followers.) I looooove learning about the numbers side of Instagram so I’m super excited about our next post.
Until then! 🖤