How we went from 0 to 27.000 Instagram followers organically

Instagram, the photo sharing service that even your mum is probably using, has now over 500 million daily active users. We were curious to see how easy (or hard) it is to become “Insta-famous”, so we started an Instagram account around cycling, just for fun. We’re now 18 months further and we grew it organically to 27.636 followers (and counting), without spending a single penny. Here are our best practices:

Before we get practical, here’s the reason why you and your business should double down on Instagram:

On Instagram, brands enjoy a regular engagement of 4% of their total followers. Compared to less than 0.1% on Facebook.

You get the point, right? Instagram is a great marketing tool, and having a nice number of followers will help you and your business grow.

As big cycling fans ourselves, we started @beautyofcycling because we were curious to find out how Instagram works and how easy (or hard) it is to grow your account organically.

If content is King, strategy is Queen

You can’t win the social war with shitty content

We really like the quote: ‘Done is better than perfect.’, there’s a lot of truth in it. But still, the content that you post on Instagram has to be great! You don’t have to be a professional photographer to deliver Instagram goodness. Be creative and take your time to create good content. And don’t forget:

No one’s life is as perfect as their Instagram feed

Useful tools: Adobe Photoshop, VSCO, Snapseed, Lightroom

Since we count on User Generated Content, we don’t have to produce that much content our self. But more about that later.

After a lot of trial-and-error, here are 10 things that worked for us, and will work for you too:

1. Make your profile outstanding

Your Instagram account is the new version of your business card. And your bio has to be on point. Write a killer bio and tell something about yourself.

Add a link and never underestimate you call-to-actions. People do what they’re told to do, saying ‘Click the link in bio’ really works.

If you’re a business, don’t forget to change to an Instagram Business profile. It gives you the chance to add your address, phone number & email address. Business accounts also have access to very interesting statistics about their account.

2. Consistency is key

Post often on Instagram. At least once a day! And yes, also on Saturday & Sunday. It’s the best piece of advice we can give you. Since Instagram introduced their algorithm based timeline, posting pictures consistently is really important. We all want our post be seen by ‘everyone’. So if you share pictures or videos on a regular basis (and their doing well – good number of likes, comments,…), then that’s a sign to Instagram that you’re active, and post good content. Instagram likes that and your posts will show up high in your follower’s feeds.

Social media analytics tool Quintly analyzed over 5,000 profiles in early 2015 to learn that the average Instagram account posts once per day.

More intriguing: Accounts with the highest number of fans tend to post a bit more than that–up to 2 or 3 photos per day on average. This data might allow us to say that “more successful” accounts tend to post with a higher frequency.

Quintly also found — and this is really interesting — that there was no correlation between increased frequency and lower engagement. This means that brands that posted more than twice per day didn’t see any ill effects.

3. Hashtags are your best friend!

Love it, or hate it. But if you want to grow on Instagram, you have to use hashtags. Hashtags have become a uniform way to categorize content on many social media platforms. Hashtags allow Instagrammers to discover content and accounts to follow.

TrackMaven found that posts with over 11 hashtags tend to get more engagement.

You cannot post more than 30 hashtags per post. But in our opinion, if you’re using this many, you’re using too many!

We’ve spend quite some time to create a list of hashtags we use constantly. Instagram has a big cycling-community, and that makes it hard to pick the right hashtags. We made a list of +- 40 different hashtags, with huge variations in the number of times they’re used (Ranging from 10.000 posts to 5.000.000 posts). We now use +- 15 hashtags per post, and mix them up constantly. When you’re doing well, and your post is having a lot of engagement, it’s possible that your post shows up on the top 9 posts for that specific hashtags. That gives you huge exposure, and your post will go viral! It’s quite hard for ‘smaller’ accounts to experience that, but that’s the reason why some accounts have thousands and thousands of followers.

Also, don’t forget to create your own hashtag. On our cycling account, we use #beautyofcycling. The hashtag is now used almost 40.000 times, and bundles a lot of pictures related to our account.

4. Engage, engage, engage!

We’ve tackled hashtags and you know that you have to post consistently. But that’s not enough. You have to be active on Instagram. This means that you have to like pictures and videos, interact with your audience, comment on a ton of posts,… .

Active participation on Instagram is the best way to say: ‘Look at me!’, without actually saying: ‘Look at me!’.

Listening and responding to your audience can be a great way to encourage positive word of mouth and create new brand advocates, as highlighted by a study conducted by the Internet Advertising Bureau found that 90% of consumers would recommend a brand to others after interacting with them on social media.

Ever thought about DM’ing someone on his birthday with a one day coupon code?

Ever thought about using DM as customer service?

Ever thought about sending customers updates on their order? “Hey there, thanks for your order” — Send them a Story about the packaging process – “You’re package is on it’s way mate, let me know when it arrives!”.

Social media is all about creating a personal connection with your followers/customers/strangers. Make them fall in love with you(r brand).

5. User Generated Content (UGC) can save your ass

UGC can come in many forms such as pictures, videos, and tweets. And it’s extremely powerful — according to research Millennials and other generations trust UGC 50% more than other types of media. (Influencers for the win!)

Where possible, try to encourage your community to share memorable moments and experiences they have with your brand across Instagram and ask permission to repost some of the best content to your own channels.

That’s what we do. And it’s great, because it saves you time, money and it makes your fans happy because you give them the chance to get featured on your page. And we all love attention.

Bonus tip:

When posting on Instagram, include faces in your posts to boost engagement.

Pictures with faces get:

  • 38% more likes
  • 32% more comments

6. Don’t forget to add videos

Instagram allows users to upload videos between 3-60 seconds in length. However, an April 2015 study from Locowise found that only about 10% of all posts on Instagram are videos right now, but they’re getting 18% of all comments. This shows there’s still plenty of room for you to focus on video and be one of the first!

Instagram’s new feature: ‘Stories’ is a great way to experiment with video as well. You can upload videos (or pictures) that disappear after 24 hours. You can show more human things there, it doesn’t have to be picture-perfect. You can show ‘behind the scenes’, ask for feedback, and just show your real life.

7. Experiment with posting hours

We try to post between 7pm and 8pm (Brussels time – GMT +1). Also posting at noon works quite well. We’ve tested everything, and we’ve seen that this works best for us. Our followers are spread around the world, so we have to take count of time differences. But this is very personal, and it can be totally different for you.

Just think logically for a minute and ask yourself some very simple questions, like ‘When will my followers be online?’. Will they be active on Instagram at 9am. when they just arrived at work? Or will they be on Instagram at 8pm when they’re home and have spare time? It’s no rocket science, just think about your target groups and post accordingly.

8. Make it human

You’re on Instagram, so act accordingly. Use ‘social media language’, and communicate the same way your followers do.

Your behavior has to be different on Instagram than on LinkedIn for example. You probably want to be very formal on LinkedIn, because that’s what people expect.

But Instagram is much more informal and it’s okay to communicate accordingly. It’s more fun, and you create a positive experience for your followers. Because you communicate in their language.

9. Measure your efforts

When you’re using social media very intense, make sure you create goals, or targets, for yourself.

An easy framework to use is S.M.A.R.T. It stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely goals. Posting blindly and expecting to achieve massive amounts of new sales would be like cooking without the right ingredients and expecting perfection.

Instagram’s Business feature gives you some good insights about the work you put in.

Other useful tools are: SocialBlade, it tracks user statistics for YouTube, Twitch, Instagram, and Twitter! And SocialRank, an easy way to identify, organize, and manage your followers on Twitter and Instagram.

10 Don’t focus on ROI!

Social Media is Relational, Not Transactional.

The problem with trying to determine the ROI for Social Media, is you’re trying to put numeric quantities around human interactions and conversations, which are not quantifiable.

Adam Broitman, VP of global digital marketing at Mastercard, once said about social media: “For us it doesn’t have to be an exact science. If people are talking about our brand in a favorable way, that’s good enough”.

This really sums up what Instagram is about. Spending X-hours on Instagram every week, won’t increase your revenue by factor Y. It’s just not correlated.

When spending a lot of time on Instagram, you’re growing your brand, not your sales. It’s very important to have that in mind.


What’s your Instagram strategy?

We’re very curious to learn more about your Instagram behavior. Feel free to share your best practices or questions in the comments.

And if you’re looking for a partner in social, to help you with social media, feel free to send us an email at: – or DM us at Instagram: @LagoAgency 🙂

  • Julien Payette-Tessier

    Wow thank you guys for those tips! I follow @beautyofcycling since a couple of months now and it’s really good content. You guys have made an awesome job since only 18 months. One of my tips would be to always post images with the same content. People will follow you because they have an interest about one thing. I am a cycling photographer but I love to shoot concert as well. I can see a real big difference of likes and comments when I post music pictures vs cycling pictures. Even when I post mountain bike pictures VS road bike pictures because I have a bigger road cycling bike following. Here’s my instagram: @payette

    • Jens Ivens

      Hi Julien, thank you for your comment.
      Your advice makes a lot of sense! We’ve seen exactly the same thing, road cycling works best, CX is a little harder, other cycling disciplines just don’t work at all. Are you thinking about starting another account just for concerts? I’m sure there is an audience for that as well.

      • Julien Payette-Tessier

        Hey Jens, I’m pretty sure there is an audience for concert photography but I prefer to maximise my ernergy on one thing which I think cycling photography is my niche.