How To Build A Massive Following On Instagram

by Richard Lazazzera and Jess Ashworth

9 minute read

How To Build A Massive Following On Instagram

With more than 500 million monthly users, Instagram is one of the world’s most-loved social media applications. Although it’s owned by the same people behind Facebook, the two social networks couldn’t be more different when it comes to the type of content people engage with – Instagram purely exists for photo and video sharing, and that’s exactly why vacation rental owners should be using it.

Used correctly, Instagram can be a highly-targeted, visual advertising channel for your brand. In fact, in a recent study it was discovered that Instagram provides brands with 25% more engagement over other social platforms. This mean that Instagram is a prime channel to build your brand for your business. 

Also more than 60% of travel companies are using Instagram as part of their marketing, so it’s wise to keep up with the trends. If you’re not convinced yet, read on to find out why owners should start a vacation rental Instagram account to start taking advantage of the benefits it can bring.

Like any social network out there, there are right ways to use it, wrong ways to use it, and clever ways to use it.

In this post, we will show you how to most effectively use Instagram to increase engagement and build a massive following.

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How to Get Followers on Instagram

There are five tactics that will help you get more followings on Instagram.

  1. Use the right hashtags
  2. Use the right filters
  3. Post at the right time
  4. Steal your competitors followers
  5. Sponsored posts and product reviews

Let's dive deeper into how to implement each tactic.

1. Use The Right Hashtags

Photos are by far the easiest way to promote your business, especially when the majority of your bookings are taken on the internet before guests have a chance to see your vacation rental in real life. 

Your goal on Instagram is to engage your current audience while also growing your following. Posting new, interesting and engaging photos will satisfy the first requirement but to begin growing you'll find hash tagging your photos to be extremely important. 

Hashtagging your photos makes it easy for people to find your photos that are searching for those specific terms.

So which hashtags should you use?

Just like with Twitter and other social sites, users on Instagram use certain hashtags over others. If you use the right hashtags within your photos, you're much more likely to reach new users and be discovered.

Here are the current top 20 hashtags on Instagram according to Websta:

  1. #love (1,027,917,810 posts)
  2. #instagood (552,537,705 posts)
  3. #photooftheday (394,332,818 posts)
  4. #beautiful (367,636,422 posts)
  5. #tbt (360,522,758 posts)
  6. #happy (2353,202,629 posts)
  7. #cute (351,930,751 posts)
  8. #fashion (351,195,493 posts)
  9. #followme (326,083,312 posts)
  10. #me (314,611,081 posts)
  11. #follow (311,454,486 posts)
  12. #like4like (306,277,038 posts)
  13. #picoftheday (306,277,038 posts)
  14. #selfie (293,039,427 posts)
  15. #summer (261,573,181 posts)
  16. #friends (258,756,470 posts)
  17. #instadaily (258,189,528 posts)
  18. #girl (244,327,385 posts)
  19. #fun (238,836,598 posts)
  20. #art (233,524,357 posts)

If you looked at the list above and said “But none of those apply to my products or brand”, you're likely correct.

Using hashtags is one thing, using the right tags is a completely other thing. Popular tags like the ones listed above will likely net you additional engagement and likes, however, they will not lead to increased long-term engagement, new interested followers and most importantly, sales.

If you want to tag your photos properly, you'll need to find and use the most relevant hashtags. This means doing the appropriate research to make sure you're using the most relevant hashtags that not only describes your brand, but is also being searched for on Instagram.

To find relevant hashtags, you’ll want to use a free online program like IconoSquare or Websta.

Below, I used Websta to find relevant, related and popular hashtags for my men’s accessory brand by searching for key hashtags that are closely related to my brand.

For example, if your listing description states you provide guests with a breakfast hamper to welcome them to your home, you can illustrate this with a beautiful example photo on your Instagram. Check out this welcome gift from Cicada and Hunter Moon Country House.

As another example, searching the hashtag #MensFashion, I was able to pull the following list of additional keyword hashtags along with the number of times they have been used (popularity).

Use The Right Hashtags

You’ll want to go through this exercise trying different keywords that describe your brand and products, building out your hashtag keyword list as you go.

Keep in mind that Instagram allows for a maximum of 30 hashtags per post. Additionally, the popular words will change over time, so make sure you revisit your hashtag keywords every few months to make sure you're using the best possible terms.

Protip #1: Here’s a trick that I use for my ecommerce businesses. For every product and product category for my stores, I have done the research to see which are the most popular Instagram hashtags around those product categories. I came up with 15-20 popular hashtags for each category of products I sell, as well as a base of 5-10 popular tags that describe my brand and product offering overall. Finally, I also created a list of popular local specific hashtags that relate to my brand.

For example:

(Brand Keyword Hashtags)

#mybrandname #mensfashion #mensaccessories #mensgoods #fashion #mensstyle #instafashion #menswear

(Product Category Keyword Hashtags)

#bugatchisocks #happysocks #corgisocks #socks #sockswag #socksoftheday #sockgame #sockswagg #socksofinstagram #happysockday #sockwars #funsocks #happysockday

(Location Specific Keyword Hashtags)

#Toronto #TorontoFashion #TorontoFashionBloggers

All of these groups of keyword hashtags are stored in a page on Evernote. This makes it easy and efficient when I’m on the go to post a new Instagram image, optimized for the most relevant keywords. I can easily open my Evernote and copy my standard brand, product and location specific hashtags to post with each photo.

Use The Right Hashtags

Doing the work upfront of researching, organizing and saving the most applicable and popular hashtags will save you a ton of time down the road, increase your engagement and help garner new followers.

Protip #2: If you’ve been posting to Instagram for a while and feel like you’ve missed out on all these opportunities to build your audience by using keyword hashtags, don't worry. You can still go back and post a comment with your new hashtag keyword lists and watch the likes and followers roll in.

2. Use The Right Filters

Keyword hashtags aren’t the only thing you should pay attention to. The Instagram community respond to certain photo filters more favorably than others. Using these preferred filters can have an impact on your engagement.

Here are the 10 current most popular filters on Instagram according to Iconosquare:

  1. Normal (No Filter)
  2. Clarendon
  3. Juno
  4. Lark
  5. Ludwig
  6. Gingham
  7. Valencia
  8. X-Pro II
  9. Lo-fi
  10. Amaro

TrackMaven recently did a study on Instagram accounts to see how filters affected engagement and found that Mayfair, no filter and Inkwell drove the most interaction.

Use The Right Filters

More important than the overall Instagram communities favorite filters are your particular audience's favorite filters. Consider this custom graph which correlates filter usage to engagement from your own Instagram account:

Use The Right Filters

You can use IconoSquare to review the performance of your own account to understand what is and is not currently working for you.

3. Post at the Right Time

Beyond adding the appropriate hashtags and using the best filters, you should also be considering the timing of your posts.

A targeted approach is to analyze what has and has not worked for you in the past. By visiting IconoSquare’s optimization section, you can get a detailed analysis of your posting history vs. engagement. This report will also highlight the best times of the day and days of the week to post.

The dark circles indicates when you usually post media. The light gray circles shows when your community has been interacting. The biggest light gray circles represent the best times for you to post.

Post On The Right Days And Time

You may want to consider using a scheduling program to schedule your post. For that, you can use a (paid) program like ScheduGram.

4. Steal Your Competitors Followers

One of the best ways to find and attract new following is by seeking out your closest competitors' Instagram accounts and engaging with their audience. These people have already shown some level of interest in the products you carry simply by following your competitors' account.

So how do you effectively steal your competitors' followers?

You can steal your closest competitors' followers by engaging with them. There are several ways to engage with Instagram users, and predictably, the more work you put in, the more followers and return engagement you’ll get out of it.

The three types of engagement on Instagram are:

  • Follow a user
  • Like a photo
  • Comment on a photo

I ran an informal test with my business account to see how my competitors' followers responded to my marketing advances. I targeted the followers of a close, local competitor. Since I know many of his followers would be local, I added my city to my profile to create a greater sense of familiarity between my brand and the people I am targeting.

I began by simply following 100 of my competitor's followers. Later, I followed another 100 of my competitor's followers but I also took the time to like one of their photos. Finally, I followed another 100 of my competitor's followers and commented on one of each of the 100 user's photos as well as liked that same photo.

Here were the results:

  • Follow: 14% followback
  • Follow + Like: 22% followback
  • Follow + Like + Comment: 34% followback

Although the are many variables and the test was far from scientific, the results were clear. The more you put in and engage with people, the more you’ll get out of it.

Note: While it's against Instagram's terms of service, some people use automated tools to follow the same process. House of Hannie discusses this tactic on the episode of Shopify Masters embedded below.

5. Sponsored Posts and Product Reviews

All this optimized posting to your account is great but if you really want to make an impact, you need to take advantage of influencer marketing on Instagram, exposing your brand to a wider audience.

Start selling more on Instagram with product tags.

Instagram is partnering with Shopify to offer easy product tagging in 2017.

Sign up to learn more

So how do you do that?

First, unlike the tactics above to grow your account this one isn’t free. However, if done correctly, it’s good value.

To get started, you’ll need to make a list of large accounts in your niche. For example, if you sell beauty products, you’ll want to find large accounts from beauty bloggers.

You may already be following these accounts, if not you’ll need to find them. One of the best ways is to use Webstagram and search for some of the closest hashtag keywords you uncovered in the beginning of this post. When you do a search for your keywords, not only will it show you the related keywords, but it also shows you the top Instagram accounts that feature those keywords.

There are a few things to look for in the profiles results:

  • Large following - Usually 20k-200k
  • An email address in the profile

If there is an email address in the profile, it usually means they're open to sponsored posts. You’ll want to email them and ask them their sponsored post pricing. In general, I have found the average rate to be around $20-$50 per post, depending on the size of their following. However, if you're selling an unique and original product, you may also want to consider sending them your product to review and post. The more natural and less advertisement like the image, the greater the engagement and response usually.

Here is a great product placement from Maxim model Ashley Sky that received over 16 thousands likes:

Sponsored Posts And Product Reviews

Men’s fashion and accessory startup, Bachelr admittedly used this approach. They paid larger men’s fashion accounts approximately $50 per image to post tasteful images that highlighted some of their products:

Sponsored Posts And Product Reviews

The results from the Instagram sponsored post promotion was a flood of traffic to their Instagram account and website, supposedly causing their server to crash.

Sponsored Posts And Product Reviews

In a final example, Classified Apparel used the tactic of getting featured on a larger account to jump start their Instagram following. Starting with only 22 followers, they were able to net nearly 3,500 new followers in less than 24 hours. A few months later and they are now sitting at 10,000 followers.

Sponsored Posts And Product Reviews

Instagram Tool Roundup

There are hundreds of Instagram tools out there that can help you and your Instagram strategy. In this post I mentioned three key ones help you build your audience and engage with them.

  • Schedugram - Schedule your Instagram post for the most engaging times.
  • IconoSquare - Info, analytics and insights into your account and followers.
  • Webstagram - Find the best hashtags for your posts and people for your sponsored posts.

Once you've built up a large following on Instagram, check out these tactics for making money on Instagram.

Instagram Bonus for Hospitality

It’s not just images of your home that will delight your guests, but selling the location is also key. Instagram gives you the opportunity to use this to your advantage, especially when it comes to the geotagging feature. When you upload a photo, the location services on your device already knows where the photo was taken. If you keep the suggested location, it’s likely your photo will form part of a large collection of photos taken in that area.

Given that more and more people are using Instagram as a vacation research tool, it’s always a great idea to use hashtags and tag the location on all your photos so your images show up in the search results. This goes for pictures of local cafés, beaches or nightlife spots that your guests will love.

As well as being a space to upload (and show off) your own photographs, it can be used as a tool for reaching out to other local businesses, connecting with visitors to the region and maintaining an active online personality.

This can be as simple as a comment on your favorite nearby restaurant’s latest image – e.g. “I love that burger!”. Or you could go an extra step further and find people who are staying in your area using hashtags, and interact with their pictures giving a chillout bar recommendation or great nature spot close by.

Just remember, there’s no need to be salesy here, users will read your comments and be intrigued as to who you are. They’ll check your profile and once they see you’re a local expert, they’ll be grateful for the insider knowledge!

Vacation rentals themselves form a huge part of the the 21st century sharing culture – let’s face it, 72% of those familiar with the sharing economy reveal they could see themselves being consumers in the next two years. So it’s no surprise that Instagram just reinforces this trend.

Instagram users love to share where they are and what they’re doing to their followers at all times of day, and there’s a way vacation rental owners can utilize this. Your guests will upload their photos at your vacation rental, tag the location, and lo and behold you can ‘regram’ (repost) their shots to your own followers. Just look at the example from NewLife Villas‘ feed.


In this post we talked about the most effective ways to use Instagram to build a targeted following, but it's not always a numbers game. As with any social network, the most successful strategy overall is to be authentic and social.

If used correctly, Instagram can be a highly-targeted, visual advertising channel for your products and brand that can lead to a healthy stream of revenue for your ecommerce business.

Instagram is a two-way street, you just have to engage with your guests and they’ll follow your feed and like or comment on your posts in return.

We hope you’re inspired to start your vacation rental Instagram account! If you already have one, share your handle with @mondosol in Instagram.

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