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How to Build an Early Audience on Instagram: 5 Tips for Startups

Posted by Bianca Tubolino on September 22, 2016

Many entrepreneurs tend to shy away from using social media when they are first starting off.

I can understand why. There are so many different platforms and different strategies for each one. The good news is that you do not need to master all social media platforms in the beginning stages of your company. Find the platform that has your targeted audience and master that. Today, I am going to write about how I hacked Instagram and used it to prove my concept, get my first customers, and rapidly grow my business. 

My Story 

My name is Bianca Tubolino, and I am the CEO and co-founder of the company Jetset ESL. I have over 8 years of experience teaching internationally, and I am passionate about education and culture. So in 2015 I quit my job, took out a $6,000 loan and started Jetset ESL.

Now, as anyone who has taken out a similar loan before knows, $6,000 does not last very long; after 2 months I was broke. I had two choices: 1. Find another job or 2. Find a new way to bring attention to my business. I started thinking of new channels to get my message out, and I instantly hit on Instagram. I made an account, and in just 1 month I had over 2,000 followers and enough paid students for me to pay my own bills. 

One day a woman named Amanda asked me if she could have a free 10-minute session. After setting up the session we started talking and those 10 minutes turned into 3 hours. I found out that she was the owner of a language school franchise called Wizard and that she knew thousands of teachers. She invited me to go down to Brazil and do a teacher training session.

Three months later, I was on a plane to Brazil and ended up having 52 teachers attend my workshop. Fast forward to today, Amanda is now my business partner, and we are working with 8 schools in Brazil, and Hawaii and South Korea are planning on having over 3,000 students by March. If it wasn’t for Instagram, I would have never been able to learn and network with my followers, and I would not be where I am today. Looking back, I can point to 5 distinct strategies that helped me organically build my early audience. 

5 Strategies to Grow Your Instagram 

1. Be Specific and Know Your Purpose

If you want to grow your Instagram account fast, your followers need to know what to expect. That means you need have a very specific Instagram account. For example, the people who follow our @JetsetESL account come to our page to learn English. Almost all of our posts either teach English through a simple vocabulary work or phrase, use inspirational quotes to teach English, or give updates on the company. By doing this, we are attracting the followers that we want. We know that the majority of the people following us either are students who want to learn English, English teachers who want to help their students, or school owners.

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2. Have A Good Name

A lot of people make the mistake of using a name that has nothing to do with what they are promoting on Instagram. When I first started my account I made sure my username was @TravelingEnglishTeacher. I did not use @JetsetESL until I started having a following. The reason I did this was so that users knew what my account would be like before clicking through to my page. If a potential student saw @JetsetESL, they wouldn't draw many conclusions about our business. But anyone seeing @TravelingEnglishTeacher would know right away that I was an English teacher and potentially send me a message. 

Once I hit 20,000 followers I changed my name to my company name. My following slowed down for about 3 months, but it is now picking back up again.

3. Look at Your first 4 Lines of Pictures

The first 4-5 lines of pictures are extremely important. Most users will not scroll through an Instagram account unless they like the first few pictures they see. This means that these pictures are extremely important and need to reflect your purpose. If you look at @JetsetESL the pictures, we use are good quality and if someone wanted to learn English every single picture reflects that. Many people make the mistake of adding selfies and other personal photos to their company account. Make sure to keep your personal account and your business account separate!

blog-bianca-instagram-photorows.png4. Use High Quality Photos

You would think this is an obvious one, but you would be surprised by how many people don’t use high quality photos. Even if you are not a professional photographer, you can use apps like Mocha Decko and other editing apps to improve your photos. If you do not need to take a lot of pictures, use stock photos.  There are over 500 million people using Instagram and 80 million who use Instagram daily. That means your photos have the potential to reach 80 million people in a hurry! Make sure you are representing your company in a positive way.

5. Build A Community

People love to feel like they are a part of a community. You can do this by being very interactive with your users. I do this by ALWAYS having a call to action. A call to action could be "like this picture", "tag a friend", or "ask a question". People love to talk about themselves, and the pictures that I post with personal questions are the ones that always have the most comments and likes.  Competitions are another great way to build your community; I give away free English lessons. I usually give followers a chance to win a free 1:1 English lesson by tagging a friend in a photo. This is a great way to motivate your users to continue following you, get more users, and promote your product/service. 

Finally, I always try to network with other Instagram users. Find out who has a large following and reach out to them. See if you can cross-promote each other. If they don’t want to, maybe you could collaborate on a different project. I also suggest reaching out to your followers. You never know who has the connections you need to grow your business! 

Why Instagram?

A lot of people ask me why I chose Instagram. Well the answer is simple. As an English teacher, I realize that photos have the ability to transcend language. If you look at the picture below, it doesn’t matter if you can read the writing on the top of the picture - instead, it's the image that makes you feel something and makes you want to take action.

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Most importantly, pictures have the ability to tell a story. And if you have enough people following your story and retelling that story, that is when you have the ability to make a significant change. So I urge all of you to look at your social media and see what story you are telling. And if you don’t have an account yet, make one and start sharing your story to the world. 

Tell the story of your startup city
Bianca Tubolino

Written by Bianca Tubolino