How to Get Instagram Followers Ethically

Instagram logoInstagram is a hot platform for sharing photos and for social networking. With more than 500 million active Instagram users as of June 2016 (source), you will want to have a presence there. But how do you get Instagram followers?

This post will describe several ways to get Instagram followers – ethically. The following methods will be discussed:

  • Gaining Followers Organically
  • Follow back
  • Engaging People

Ethics and Instagram Followers

First, a quick note about ethics and Instagram followers. There are many, many sites on the Internet that promise to get you thousands of Instagram followers easily. I recommend that you to avoid those, as you may get thousands of “followers” but they will either be fake accounts or people who are not engaged with your images and message.

I encourage you to get followers who are truly interested in what you have to show and say. This does take more time and effort than the “get followers quick” sites, but you will have followers that actually read your content, rather than dummy accounts with nobody behind them.

Gaining Followers Organically

If you are active on Instagram, posting images regularly, you will accumulate more followers organically. By “organically” I mean people will find you through friends, through hashtags, or through Instagram hubs. If they like what you’re posting, and like your profile, they’ll follow you to get your content.

This is very helpful but it will take a long time to accumulate a large number of followers.


You can gain followers by liking and commenting on your friends’ posts. Other people will see your comments and go view your profile and perhaps start following you as well. I don’t see this as a huge growth strategy, but you’ll be checking your friends’ posts out anyway, so it may help.


You should always hashtag your posts. You do this by entering one or more words prefixed with a “#”. Some examples of hashtags are #canada, #trains or #love.

Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post. This might seem excessive but a lot of people search for posts by hashtag, so it is in your best interest to tag your posts with appropriate hashtags.

I usually tag my posts with the location (e.g. #winnipeg, #northdakota), a few tags related to the subject matter (#train, #night, #sunset) and then some tags related to Instagram hubs. Here’s a great post on how to use hashtags properly, and’s ultimate guide to using hashtags.

Instagram Hubs

Instagram hubs (or “feature accounts”) are accounts that feature others’ work. You tag your posts with a hashtag specific to that hub, and the people who run the hub will periodically review tagged posts and feature a photo on their hub.

For example, Pocket_Rail is a hub followed by almost 10,000 accounts that follows the hashtag #pocket_rail. If you tag your post with that, you might get featured and get your photo in front of them.

Pocket_Rail has featured several of my photos (thank you!), including this one of an NB Southern excursion train.

Photo credit @stevetraingeek •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• @pocket_family presents •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• From @pocket_rail #pocket_rail . Thank you friend for sharing your photo and tagging our @pocket_pride . •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• Chosen by . We’re your family in your pocket Cc: Pocket_Family_Owners . @kristina_nicolina & @willysands . Cc: Pocket_Pride_Admin . @chefjane . . Follow your features on Twitter #Pocket_Family And Like us on FaceBook . #huntgram #trains #train #rails #railroad #railway #traintracks #transport #daily_crossing #kings_transports #train_nerds #trb_express #railways_of_our_world #railmarkable #splendid_transport #trains_worldwide #loves_vehicles #ptk_vehicles #total_vehicles #world_bestvehicles .

A photo posted by Railroad Culture (@pocket_rail) on

You can see that they prominently feature a link back to your profile and you should gain a few followers – and bragging rights! – from being featured.

Note that on Instagram, tagging a hub implicitly gives them permission to repost, so if you’re not comfortable with that, don’t tag them.

Here’s a list of 101 Instagram hubs to hashtag to get featured.

Follow Back

It is common for Instagram users to follow those who follow them. You get a notification that so-and-so has started following you, so you check out their profile, and if it interests you, you follow back.

Simple enough, right? Just start following people and they’ll follow back?

It’s not so simple. You have to find the right people to follow, and you have to offer a compelling profile that will make them want to follow you.

Who to Follow

There are a couple of ways to find the right people to follow, to increase the chances that they will follow you back. The key is to find people who are either posting in your niche or following those who post in your niche.

Suppose you write a lot about cats. Siamese cats, in particular. How do you find people on Instagram who like Siamese cats?

Start a search and start typing in Siamese. You’ll see some suggestions pop up immediately.

Siamese Cat Search

The first four results are three accounts and a hashtag. Let’s pick the hashtag #siamesecat. You’ll see a list of top posts with that hashtag, and below that, the most recent posts including that hashtag.

Open each post in a separate browser window and see who liked and/or commented on the posts.

SO. CUTE. (from @siamesecorner)

You can see that 861 people liked this. In the Instagram app, you can poke the like counter and it will show you every user that liked the post, with a convenient “Follow” button right beside them.

Instagram post followers
Instagram post followers

I do not recommend that you follow every one of them.

Have a look at each profile and see if what they post is A) interesting to you, and B) related to what you post.

You want to follow people who would be interested in your content. For my @stevetraingeek account, I look for people who have a train in their profile picture first, then look for people who post photos of trains.


Engaging on Instagram
Don’t get frozen out!

The third way to ethically gain followers on Instagram is to engage people. Actively participate on Instagram by liking posts, and especially by commenting on photos.

Be sure you are not just spamming photos by leaving generic comments. I see a lot of accounts try to gain followers by commenting with “nice photo” or “wowzers” or similar comments on photos that are not at all related to what they post. It’s clear they are trying to get you to check their profile out.

This won’t be a problem if you follow people who post content related to what you like and post. You’ll be authentic when you comment and naturally engaged.

Be sure to show your appreciation for the post, ask a question, whatever seems natural to you. Don’t add “follow me” or “view my profile” at the end – that’s spammy. People will check you out if they want to.

Wrap Up

That’s three main methods for how to get Instagram followers ethically:

  • Gaining Followers Organically
  • Follow back
  • Engaging People

Get out there and expand your Instagram audience!

Further Reading