Lessons From Instagram: Hashtags and Followers

Do more hashtags yield more followers on Instagram?

Instagram - America Map From License Plates
Road map, USA.

LET ME BE CLEAR UP FRONT: For this post, I may talk about follower “quality.” This is only in terms of trackable data. Believe me, I appreciate each and every single follower I have on Instagram. You guys make me feel talented and awesome, and that means that YOU are talented and awesome.

For the second installment in this non-sequential series, I wanted to focus on Instagram followers rather than Instagram likes. There’s a clear correlation between Instagram hashtags and likes, and likes are something that show engagement from those who view your photos. Followers are slightly more elusive.

Again, whether you’re a brand or just a person, you’ll have to know your exact reasons for wanting likes or followers on Instagram. If you’re a brand, it’s most likely for marketing and sales purposes. If you’re just a person, and your reason is vanity or fame, that’s fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, I’d just ask that you not be obnoxious.

So anyway – followers. There are varying degrees of follower quality: human followers who know you in real life, human followers who don’t know you, and spam followers who don’t know you but want something from you.

Human followers are always preferable, because those are the followers who don’t tend to leave when you don’t reciprocate the follow, and by and large they tend to “like” your photos more than those that don’t. Also, they will do this more than just once, usually, so in all ways, they are preferable. See the manic chart below – clearly, the numbers tend to favor actual followers.

Chart Showing Instagram Likes From Followers vs. Non-Followers
Try not to stare at this image for very long.

When just starting out on Instagram, the followers who know you will tend to like your photos more than the ones that don’t – this has been my experience, anyway. For the first 300 photos I posted on Instagram, I received a total of 961 likes, 577 of which were from followers and 384 were from non-followers. That’s a ratio of about 60-40. According to my data, of those 577 likes from followers, only four likes came from followers I don’t know in real life.

Pie Chart Of Instagram Like Ratio
Pie. Lovely.

Using hashtags is a great way to get people who don’t know you to follow you, though, and though they are lower “quality” followers (in a strictly-data kind of way), higher quantity of followers of any kind will tend to yield more likes.

As is the natural order of things, more followers come with time. Without any hard data to prove this, I can (at a quick glance) see with the naked eye that more and more likes are coming from followers I don’t know since collecting that information on the first 300 photos. The obvious point is that I do indeed have more followers than before.

Instagram Followers Over Time
Instagram Followers Over Time. Duh.


  • More followers leads to more likes. Followers on Instagram are a very, very good thing.
  • The obvious marketing advice is to ask people to follow your feed. Your profile might be a good place to do this, or perhaps the comments of the photo would do. This, of course, is tacky as hell, and I hate it. I might have more followers if I had less shame.
  • Again, I cannot stress enough the importance of photo quality. Innovative, interesting, well-framed, in-focus, and clear artistic voice are what really get you followers. There is a lot of good competition on Instagram. Hashtags are your foot in the door, but your photos are what will sell it.
Instagram - Motorcycles And Candy Canes
Motorcycles & candy canes.

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