5 Ways to Up Your Instagram Game

Near enough everyone is an Instagram addict these days, but not everyone cares about getting more followers. If you love posting photos of your dog, your Nana and your hot dog legs, that’s totally cool, but this post probably isn’t for you. However, if you are looking to curate a beautiful Instagram page and grow a community of highly engaged users then you are in the right place. Based on my own personal strategies, are 5 ways to get more followers on Instagram and seriously up your Instagram game…


1. Realise the Power of Hashtags

Firstly, let me state the obvious. If you have a fear of using hashtags, GET OVER IT. Hashtags are the single most effective way to get more followers on Instagram as it puts your photos in front of thousands of relevant people. You can use up to 30 hashtags on each post (I do), but the real trick is making sure you are using the right kind of hashtags.

So what are the right kind of hashtags? Choose hashtags that are closely linked to your chosen topic or niche. Choose hashtags that have a community behind them, full of people who are likeminded and have similar taste and interests to you. These are the people that are most likely to like your photos and follow your account. It’s important to take time doing research on the most relevant hashtags for your post instead of randomly hashtagging words and phrases.

My strategy: I plan hashtags for each of my posts and write them out in advance in ‘notes’ on my iPhone. If I need some hashtag inspiration, I take the photo I want to post to the ‘write a caption’ stage on Instagram. Here you can type in words and the app will automatically suggest relevant hashtags in the dropdown below. This dropdown also tells you how many times the hashtag has been used, determining its popularity and opportunity for exposure.


Tip: Don’t always choose the hashtags with millions of posts under them. They’re used by many but their popularity means your photo will only be at the top of the feed for a split second. Hashtags with 20,000-100,000 posts can be great as the community is still niche and you are battling with less users to be top of the feed.

Example: We all love a good brunch, so take this photo for example. Instead of using #brunch (+12 mil posts), #breakfast (+52 mil posts) and #avocado (+5 mil posts) I used niche hashtags such as #brunching (199,447 posts), #breakfastclub (458,494 posts) #avocadolover (51,561 posts). These hashtags were suggested to me when I typed in the basic words.

2. Become part of relevant hashtag communities

Once you’ve started using community hashtags, you should also spend time engaging with these communities. This will give your account greater exposure to other relevant accounts who are likely to follow your page.

At the centre of a hashtag community (e.g #wearetravelgirls – 315,285 posts) is usually a popular Instagram account that reposts photos under that chosen hashtag (e.g @wearetravelgirls). An added bonus is that the hashtag’s Instagram account may choose to re-post your photo, therefore giving you really valuable exposure to a relevant audience.

My Strategy: As my blog is about travel, I use female travel community hashtags such as #wearetravelgirls, #globelletravels and #girlsmeetglobe. Every so often I will look at the feed of these hashtags and spend time liking and commenting on other people’s photos. If I find new accounts that I think are relevant and inspiring, I will follow them.

Example: In this post I asked my followers to tell me 3 destinations they want to visit in 2017. I wanted to make it a travel discussion and for people in my community to speak up. Therefore, I used the following female travel community hashtags;

#dametraveller #wearetravelgirls #outdoorwomen #wildernessbabes #ladiesgoneglobal #globelletravels #girlsvsglobe #girlslovetravel #sheisnotlost

The strong pink colour is quite striking, but instead of just using #pink I did some research and found the hashtag #ihavethisthingwithpink (74,000 posts).

3. Respond to all of your engagement  

So you’ve worked really hard on improving your hashtags and spent time engaging with Instagram communities, it’s likely that you’re going to see a boost on engagement in your own photos. Your likes per photo may increase and you may see more comments popping up on your photos. At this stage, the absolute worst thing is to ignore those comments! Instagram’s latest update has made it even easier for you to engage with your comments by adding a like and reply button to every comment.

My Strategy: I try to like and reply to every single one of my comments on Instagram. This is because I want to grow a rapport and relationship with my followers. I don’t always have the time to reply to every comment straight away, but I will dedicate about 20-30 minutes each day to sit and read through the comments and reply to them. The basic psychology is, if you reply to someone, they’re more likely to comment again next time.

Example: To get more people commenting on your photos, it’s a good idea to add a question into your caption. I asked my followers ‘where in the world are you all from?’. The question got an amazing response and I got to see how global my Instagram community is. I made sure I replied to all the comments.

 4. Be Super Selective about your photos

All of your hard work on hashtags and engagement is pointless unless you have beautiful and well-composed photos on your Instagram page. If you go out for the day and take 50 photos that you like, it’s tempting to post all of them on Instagram. Don’t. Only use the very best shots for your Instagram post, and make use of the other photos elsewhere.

Strategy: Whenever I go through a new batch of photos I will always use the most unique and high quality photos for Instagram. Any photos that don’t quite make the Instagram cut will be used on my blog. This way, when my followers check out my new blog posts they are always guaranteed to see fresh new imagery that they haven’t already seen on Instagram.

Example: I recently went to The Lake District for a collaboration with Accessorize. The brief was to take stylish travel photos featuring Accessorize products. We took hundreds of photos but I only chose about 5 or 6 for my Instagram page. I saved my ‘B-List’ photos to share on Twitter and also on the blog.

Backpacks are an explorer’s best friend 😍🌎 #Accessorizer

A photo posted by Jess Gibson (@thetravelista) on

 5. Plan your Grid

Ok, this final tip is a little controversial as it goes against the concept that Instagram posts should be shared in ‘real time’. To an extent, I do agree with this. But whenever you find a new Instagram profile that makes you go ‘WOW’, the chances are it has been highly curated. The photos are probably very strong on their own, and also look beautiful as a collective. The photography style is probably consistent and there may be a similar filter or tone throughout. If you have an artistic or design-led eye then curating your Instagram profile will come quite naturally.

For me, a well-planned Instagram feed is all about contrasts. Think colour contrasts, tonal contrasts, textural contrasts and perspective contrasts. I would never post two photos of a predominantly similar colour next to each other, because they would detract from each other. If I have a brightly coloured photos e.g. me against the pink wall, I would make sure I post this next to a fairly neutral photo to make the colour pop. It’s also nice to balance our close up detail shots with photos shot at a distance. Basically, variety is key!

Strategy: I use a free Instagram grid planner app called UNUM and couldn’t recommend it enough. It allows you to upload your potential Instagram photos into a 3×3 Instagram grid and you can drag and drop your future photos into position. The app allows you to see what your page will look like before you post the photos. This app is an absolute must for anyone who wants to curate their feed.

Example: Take my 9 most recent photos on Instagram for example. These were not taken in chronological order. They were put in this order to make them look aesthetically pleasing on my Instagram page. Here are just a few thought out contrasts within these 9 photos;

  • The close up helicopter and leaves shots are sandwiched by a far away building shot
  • The bright pink wall shot is surrounded by neutral colours to make the pink stand out
  • The texture of the wooly cow contrasts with smooth pink wall beside it and the flat white notebook underneath it


Planning out your grid can feel like a bit of a rubix cube and engaging extensively with other accounts can be really time consuming. But if you’re willing to put the time and the effort, I guarantee these tips will help you to get more followers on Instagram.

Finally…here is a list of all my favourite and most frequently used hashtags. I edit this list for every post and research niche and alternative community hashtags that are specific to each image…

#travelphotography #passionpassport #instapassport #wanderlust #travelwithaninsider #littlestoriesofmylife #lovelysquares #exploremore #nothingisordinary #lifewelltravelled #travelgram #instatravel #worldtraveller #thatdarling #thehappynow #beautifuldestinations #worldpics #earthpics #igers #igers+destination #luxlife #instalux #hotellife 

#dametraveller #wearetravelgirls #outdoorwomen #wildernessbabes #ladiesgoneglobal #globelletravels #girlsvsglobe #girlslovetravel #sheisnotlost

Enjoy this post? Make sure you’re following me on Instagram @TheTravelista to see what I post next!

What did you think of my 5 ways to get more followers on Instagram post? I would love to hear your thoughts. Try out some of my strategic tips and see if they can help you to grow your own Instagram followings. Jess x 




  1. 26th January 2017 / 6:42 am

    Some amazing tips here Jess, thank you! I have 1 more Q – do you ever post pics taken with your iPhone or only ever camera photos? And do you use filters? Thanks! Love AP xo

    Andrea’s Passions

  2. 14th January 2017 / 10:39 pm

    Hi Jessica,
    Thank you so much for this! I am trying to grow my instagram following and it’s been such a struggle! I will definately try these tips. I am launching a luxury travel blog next month and need all the help I can get!
    Thanks again!

    • Jessica
      17th January 2017 / 12:20 pm

      Hi Pamela, I am so pleased you enjoyed this post! I’ve been having some great feedback from others that the tips have been working so please do give them a go and let me know how you get on 🙂 xx

  3. 12th January 2017 / 8:27 pm

    As developing my Instagram account is one of my aims for 2017 this has been really helpful – thank you so much for sharing your tips! I hadn’t realised that grid planners exist so might look into it as I am definitely guilty of posting images that are too similar next to each other. No wonder your account looks so professional!

    • Jessica
      17th January 2017 / 12:21 pm

      Hi Nicola! You are very welcome! I really hope they come in useful, I’ve had some great feedback so far particularly on the focused hashtags. They really work for me so I definitely think these tips can help you reach your 2017 Instagram aims! xx

  4. 10th January 2017 / 1:52 pm

    Such a perfect post and thanks for sharing all your tips. I’ve been a long term fan of your insta so it’s really nice to see how you put it all together! That pink wall is just beaut though!

    • Jessica
      11th January 2017 / 9:34 am

      Hi Sam, thank you for this amazing comment! So nice to hear you’ve been a fan of my Instagram, there is so much that goes in to it behind the scenes, but now you know 😉 Hope the tips come in handy for you xx

    • Jessica
      11th January 2017 / 9:33 am

      Thanks Georgina! Definitely give the tips a go I think you’ll see a positive impact 🙂 x

  5. 10th January 2017 / 9:43 am

    Such great tips Jess! I had no idea about the caption thing that in that it suggests relevant hashtags…not sure what planet I’ve been living on! Also I’ve never heard of UNUM planner either! I’m going to spend an hour this evening on researching hashtags and planning my feed a little more 🙂 xx

    • Jessica
      11th January 2017 / 9:32 am

      Hi lovely, thanks for your comment! The hashtag suggestions are great and so helpful for finding new ones. UNUM is amazing, so glad you’ve given it a go! xx

  6. 10th January 2017 / 8:39 am

    And what do you think about apps that find real followers? I used sometime zen-promo when I just started and it helped me to get my first followers. You save time with it but other ways as you described are good too

    • Jessica
      11th January 2017 / 9:21 am

      Hi Jeny! I have never used apps to get followers. In general it is a big no-no if you want to build an engaged and authentic audience as even if they claim to be ‘real’ followers, they haven’t independently chosen to follow your page. You may get more followers but the amount of likes and comments you get will stay the same, and these are just as important 🙂

  7. 10th January 2017 / 1:47 am

    So many good tips Jess! I usually go for those bigger hashtags (eek, oops), so need to work on those. Also such a great tip for UNUM – I’m really picky about the way my grid looks, and often I end up deleting photos because I hate the way the grid now looks when I post them haha

    C x

    • Jessica
      11th January 2017 / 9:19 am

      Hi Catherine! Thanks for your comment 🙂 the bigger and most well known hashtags are obviously amazing for exposure but you’re just in competition with so many others. Try mixing them up with smaller ones and see if it makes a difference 🙂 also, you will LOVE UNUM if you’re picky about your grid. I used to post and delete all the time before I got the app xx

  8. I’ve been looking for ways to improve my Instagram so this post has come at THE perfect time. One thing I know I’m rubbish at is replying to comments. I don’t know why, but I need to get into the habit of responding to people because I know how important it is. I also didn’t know about the UNUM planner, it sounds like a really useful tool!

    • Jessica
      11th January 2017 / 9:18 am

      Hi Emma! So pleased this post came in useful for you. It’s interesting to see what everyone has taken out of this, for you its the comments. For others its the hashtags etc. Be sure to check out UNUM I couldn’t live without it! xx