I am honestly still in shock! I went from having a small, tiny, unnoticed Instagram account to over 190k followers and growing in seven months.
The craziest part? I did this in 2018, when everyone is complaining about the algorithm, saying it’s impossible to beat.
If you want to grow on Instagram, keep reading…
Everyone can be successful on Instagram – yes, even YOU!
Oh, and while you’re here, grab this cheat sheet to take to go so you can see how to beat the algorithm in my free guide!
Alright! On to the good stuff…
College Was Such A Crazy Food Struggle (Can You Relate?!)
When I was in high school and college, I was SO confused with what to eat. I yo-yo'ed a good 15 pounds.
I tried every diet. - The cabbage soup diet (for 2 hours), a vegan diet, super restrictive diets, and also crazy diets that I made up in my head, like trying to eat a mountain of lasagna and nothing else the rest of the day… or eating ONLY fruits and vegetables.
Seriously. Why do we torture ourselves?!
As a result, all I did was think about food, my life revolved around what to eat and when to eat it - and meanwhile, nothing was working!
I was very unhappy with how I looked and didn't know what to do to change it.
Since I was thinking about food all the time anyway, I switched my major from math to nutrition midway through college so I could understand the science behind what I was eating. This, and interning for a number of weight-management related organizations, did help me finally understand both the scientific and psychological aspects of what would keep me full, satisfied, and at the healthy weight I felt most comfortable at.
But I wanted to help OTHERS find these realizations, be free from the misinformation on weight loss that’s online and on social media, and ultimately to manage their weight in healthy, fulfilling ways.
At the time, there were a lot of nutrition education materials on what to eat for people with diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc. but there was nothing for my age group that helped tell the truth about food! It was annoying to say the least. I felt that young adults shouldn’t have to study nutrition in school just to lose a few pounds and have a good relationship with food.
When I graduated from my bachelor’s and master’s from Case Western Reserve University in spring 2013, I started the website and social media accounts for “The College Nutritionist”.
I came to NYC to start my PhD at Columbia University in Behavioral Nutrition – a mix of psychology and nutrition, or, how to communicate effectively & change people’s food behaviors - in July 2013. With a little extra time on my hands, I started posting recipes on Instagram and my blog.
Instagram was different back then. It was much easier to grow.
Pictures appeared in chronological order – your followers were shown all of your posts (versus now, when followers are only shown your posts if they view, like, or comment on your pictures often). The (dreaded) “algorithm” wasn’t in place, and I was pretty easily able to grow to 17k followers.
I Lost 3k Followers On Instagram...
Enter true PhD craziness! Working around the clock, running my own experiments and managing my boss’s studies to get publications, running to Queens to be an adjunct instructor, and working as a part time nutritionist at a private-practice to afford my rent. And of course, trying to find true love in NYC! Seriously though, the dating apps take so much time and effort (!!).
During this time, College Nutritionist really fell by the wayside (dropping to 14k followers on Instagram since I wasn’t posting at all). I just didn’t have the energy or time to devote to it in any capacity.
March – April 2017: Instagram follower growth stagnant at 14k followers
I knew I’d be leaving my research job at Columbia to work in an internship for a few months, and I’d have a little more free time. I was thinking about how I wanted to spend that extra time. I wanted a more fulfilled life – but I wasn’t sure exactly what that looked like.
I did know though, that I felt an aching guilt when it came to The College Nutritionist. I knew there was serious potential there, as it was a strong niche, or section of the total market that I could specifically target. So many people in business want to help anyone and everyone – but, as Tim Ferris, author of the book The 4 Hour Workweek says, “If everyone is your customer, then no one is your customer”.
My first lesson for you is to do just that – niche down until it hurts – on Instagram, and of course, in your business in general. As Tim Ferris also says, “When you niche down, it becomes less difficult for your target customer to find you, and easier for you to charge a premium price”.
I actually talked with some of my friends about selling my Instagram account. The highest offer I got was for $2k, but I knew it was more valuable than that.
I thought: ok, I’ll give it one more try. Being creative and helping others is something I knew I loved doing. I thought that at least, this could fill up that little extra free time I would have over the next few months.
May 2017 – July 2017: Slow Instagram follower count growth from 14k to 15k followers
I began posting nearly daily. I wish I could tell you it was a breeze – everyone loved my photos, and I was an overnight success.
I can’t tell you how much further from the truth the reality was!
I was mortified. I posted (what I felt like were very) beautiful photos, and would get less than 100 likes, or less than 1% engagement (I think a good aim is 4% - so the number of likes on your average post divided by the total number of followers you have). Truly embarrassing since I did have thousands of followers at this point. It seemed like no matter what I did, my engagement wouldn’t budge. Not only engagement, but my growth stagnated.
During this time, I was networking with other foodie Instagrammers, and one friend who was growing rapidly told me: You know, your content just isn’t that good.
A big ouch for sure – but this remark was one of my turning points. I couldn’t just blame the algorithm. Instagram wasn’t out to get me. I needed to change my content in order for my account to grow.
August 2017 – November 2017: Modest Instagram follower growth from 15k to 20k followers
I signed up for a really amazing blogging course called 6 Figure Blogger after I saw a post from my gal the rockstar Natalie Bacon in a Facebook group of bloggers about it. Their course “planted the seed” for me that I could actually make a business out of working online. I had truly never even considered the idea. But their sales page (seriously, great job guys) was so inspiring that I thought: well yes, of COURSE, why WOULDN’T I want to make money blogging?
Due to my internship (which was proving to be much more time intensive than expected since I had a 2 hour commute each way), and the demands of finishing my dissertation, it took me a few months to get through 6 Figure Blogger. But along the way, I also signed up for a mastermind weekend workshop.
This workshop reminded me of the power of TALKING to my audience to figure out what they want. I felt empowered, and the next week, this is exactly what I did.
My next piece of advice is to not be afraid to invest in yourself. Don’t put yourself in a financial situation, but if you can afford it, absolutely spend the money on a course, a mastermind group, or a coach. It is a mistake not to. Personally, I always am working with a coach or a group. I may change this coach or group from time to time, but I am never working on my business on my own. When we’re deep in the trenches of our own work, it can be hard to step back and see the big picture. That is where others can come in, and can give you ideas you would never have thought of.
After spending some time really learning what my audience wanted, I was able to figure out what they wanted from me most, in order:
Help with weight loss
Help with cooking on a budget
Help with meal prepping for 1 person
This truly was the turning point for me. I changed my bio and my content to EXACTLY focus on addressing my audience’s desires, or, as I learned, what entrepreneurs call “pain points”. It’s a known fact in business, people are more likely to seek help to solve their problems, than they are to look for something preventive.
My engagement immediately began to jump, and with trial and error, I began developing more creative content that addressed college students’ & recent grads’ “pains” - those areas where they wanted help. One of my favorite quotes is from Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb and try something new. It is SO ok if it doesn’t work. You can try something else. The biggest mistake is NOT trying.
In my experience, I saw that the quickest way to grow on Instagram was by developing creative, clever content that the algorithm would pick up and move to the top of the Explore page, based on how initial users interact with the post (e.g. staying on the post for a little longer before scrolling to the next one, and of course liking it and commenting on it). So much more than using the right hashtags, writing the perfect caption, or taking the prettiest picture, creative, clever content performs best on Instagram.
Don't be afraid to try new things. You never know what idea will take you to the next level!
December 2017 – July 2018: Exponential Instagram follower count growth from 20k to 199k followers
The growth since December has been exponential. I grew from 20 thousand to thousand followers in 7 months, and my photos consistently get thousands of likes.
Like any social media platform, Instagram does constantly update and change, and it’s up to me to keep up with it and to come up with more and more engaging, clever content that helps my followers eat better and feel their best - ultimately solving their problems.
Do YOU want to grow too?
During this time, my good friend Libby and I (we actually met on Instagram!) decided to work together to help OTHER instagrammers grow their accounts and businesses too. We have been so happy to see their growth and success. Our students grow 3k followers in days, increase their engagement to up to 22%, and more.
Libby and I believe that EVERYONE can grow and become successful on Instagram - no matter what your niche or focus, whether you’re a fashion blogger, a nutritionist, personal trainer, business coach, etc. It’s not magic, it does take hard work, but it is absolutely possible and doable for everyone.
We have a course to walk you through the exact, actionable steps I took to grow my account - including everything from how to craft your bio, to what to link in your website, to finding content to create and deliver to your audience. Remember when I talked about always being part of a course or a group? Working with the help other others, instead of by yourself in isolation, can really make a huge difference.
This course is not for those who have 0 experience with Instagram - we’re not going to walk you through how to upload a post.
This course if for those who want to grow their Instagram account’s number of followers, increase their engagement (number of likes and comments), gain clarity with posting, and even create systems to make money.