Grow Your Instagram Community Authentically

Grow Your Instagram Community Authentically

Guides for Accounts Under 10K

Grow Your Community
30 Day Program

Puno here! The girl in that intro video. 💃🏻 So, this is probably the number one question I always get. Well, it's usually two questions: (1) how do I grow my community and then people sneak in... (2) how do I "beat" the Algorithm? 


Let's talk about the Algorithm first. The purpose of the Algorithm is to help you have a better experience on Instagram by serving content based on your past behaviors. You know how you first logged onto Spotify and then felt like Spotify didn't "know you"? The first thing you thought wasn't, "How do I beat the Spotify." You thought, "Dammit, OK, I need to teach Spotify what I like." After many Likes and 👍🏼, your Discover Weekly is LIT.

This is how I want you to think about the Instagram Algorithm. As a machine that you have to teach. Now you're probably thinking, "I'm trying to grow my audience, not get served good content." First of all, why not get better content? Instagram is an incredible tool with access to millions of people, ideas, brands, cultures, and Animal Conservation. I remember when I tried using a Like Bot and my Explore tab was ew, gross. It made me not want to be on Instagram! Why make your digital workspace awful to work at?

Here's the thing. You can get a great feed, explore tab, grow your audience, meet new people, and increase your engagement, if you take the time to be strategically social... and network. 🙋🏻‍♀️ Ayo! 

Everyone's doing all these 30 day challenges and, you know what, I dig it. It's a great way to try something new and not feel like you're making too big of a commitment. The other thing I like about 30 days is it's short, but long enough to see some effect. If you're an influencer, brand, professional, really anyone who is creating content on Instagram, but not getting the traction you want, then take Paul Graham's advice and do things that don't scale. More specifically, do this 30 Days of PeopleMap program #peoplemapping . 

Step 1 — 
Schedule 1 hour a day on your calendar for the next 30 days.

Wait wait wait! Don't leave yet. This should actually be a relief for you. As opposed to sporadically spending 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there on Instagram, batch your time and focus for one hour once a day. Or you can be like Lauryn Evarts who has 700K followers and do this for two hours everyday:

If you’re trying to improve your platform and serve your community, take an hour in the morning and an hour at night to engage, every single day, 7 days a week. And don’t do anything else for that hour. I think you’ll be surprised what comes out of it!
— Lauryn Evarts of The Skinny Confidential on The Influencer Podcast
I take at least 20-30 minutes to engage with my community.
Jenna Kutcher on Ep 228 of the Gold Digger Podcast

If you've ever said, "I wish I had more time in the day". Then create time by prioritizing it. You know it works, so just do it for 30 days.


Step 2 —
List Building for Brands, Partners, Competitors, and Influencers

Time: 15 Minutes

These are all my lists in PeopleMap!

These are all my lists in PeopleMap!

Imagine if someone had a list of 10,000 brands, competitors, and influencers that were hand-picked for you? You would probably pay some money for that list. List Building is part of every digital marketer's repertoire, regardless if you're an influencer, brand, agency, or professional. If you're trying to aggressively grow, you need to build lists to keep track of all the potential collaborations you can make and accounts that you can analyze to find and engage with more like-minded people (aka your prospective community).

We used to spend hours manually browsing the Instagram app and loading up our phone with screenshots, or entering them in a spreadsheet. That took way too much time. That's why we created Lists and the Analyze button in PeopleMap. I wanted to analyze an account to find the right people faster (vs scrolling through their followers) and then easily organize all of these gems with their latest stats. My future self has thanked me later.

If you're new to List Building, think of all the accounts that have already attracted your potential community. If you could just take someone's followers, which account would that be? For example, if you're a Mom Blogger, you could build lists of other mom bloggers, kids brands, photographers, conferences, and magazines. Or if you're an illustrator, create lists of craft shows, other illustrators, boutiques, textile designers, and graphic designers. Brainstorm who your competitors are, who your future collaborators could be, and who you're influenced by. Categorize them into multiple lists so that you can find them again later. 

For this challenge, your goal is to build a list of 150 accounts. List Building isn't always easy or straightforward, but you have to practice this skill and get faster at identifying where your community is. Everyone asks me how to grow a community authentically. List Building is the first step! You have to find the right people. So, every day for 30 days, give yourself 15 minutes to find 5 accounts.

Start by analyzing yourself:

  1. Search for your account on PeopleMap

  2. Press the Analyze button. This takes a bit of time so you might want to try list building through hashtags or start with one of our Top Lists of Micro-Brands.

  3. Once the analysis is done, in the Analyze Panel, sort by Most Tagged.

    • If you're an Influencer, you might have tagged brands that you love. Add them to a List called Brands I Love and analyze those accounts.

    • If you're a Brand, you might have tagged Partners, Influencers, or Customers. Add them to their respective Lists and analyze those accounts.

    • If you're a Professional, you might have tagged communities or events that you are part of. Add them to their respective Lists and analyze those accounts.

  4. In the Analyze Panel, sort by Top Commenters.

    • If you're an Influencer, you probably already have other micro-influencers in your community. Add those accounts to a List called Micro-Influencers an Collaborators. Then, analyze those accounts.

    • If you're a Brand, you might see some potential Partners, Influencers, or Customers. Add them to their respective Lists and analyze those accounts.

    • If you're a Professional, you might see some potential Collaborators or Customers. Add them to their respective Lists and analyze those accounts.

  5. Let's dig even deeper into this rabbit hole! Rinse and repeat for each of those analyzed accounts.

By the end of this 30 day challenge, you should have at least 150 accounts in your lists.


Step 3 — 
Mine & Grind with 30 New Accounts Everyday

Time: 45 Minutes

Click the jump icon to comment on

The Mine & Grind! I should trademark this phrase! It's the strategy I used to grow @madewithmap from 0-80K followers in a year and it's how I continue to collaborate with rad people and brands. 

If you did Step 2, you've already done the "Mine" and you can start with those lists. The "Grind" is authentically and strategically commenting. 

How does it work? When you're authentically commenting with new accounts, they are more likely to check out your account. Think about your own behavior. If someone you don't know makes an interesting comment on your account, you'll check out their account. Then after a few swipes, you'll either like a few posts, comment, or follow them. They're just like you!

In addition to commenting with people in your lists from Step 2, think about what your posting and who would relate to it. 

Let's use my post on the right as an example:

  1. Right after I post, I would Analyze @vereverto in PeopleMap. Why? Because I'm wearing a VereVerto bag! I would also Analyze @saintheron because ahem.

  2. Then I would add @vereverto to my lists: Indie Brands, Brands I've Worn, and Brands to Collaborate With.

  3. In the Analyze Panel, sort by Top Commenters, click through to accounts that you dig and comment authentically to them. Click the jump arrow to go straight to the post on

  4. Add accounts you've commented to a new list called Commented.

  5. Aim to comment authentically to 30 new accounts a day.

You should have 900 accounts in your Commented list after this challenge. Most conferences have 500+ attendees and you barely talk to any of them. Think of Instagram as the biggest conference ever. 

But what do I say?

This part is hard because you might not be used to being social on Instagram. Or talking to strangers on the internet! Use these 30 days to get over your fear and start making genuine connections with people. You're on Instagram, too! Wouldn't you be thrilled if someone genuinely commented on your account?

I find that it's easier for me to talk to people who actually take the time to make an interesting post. Something worth talking about. These people typically care about growing an authentic community and consequently attract authentic people who are active on Instagram. If you find that you're uninspired by the accounts you are coming across, try finding other people. Maybe who you're surrounding yourself with is the old you and you're ready to grow and find new communities to tap into!

Here are other ideas on what to talk about:

  • Imagine if they were standing next to you at a conference, what would you ask?

  • Everyone wants to go for coffee, but you could also chat with them over DM or comments. I've made so many friends on Instagram that way. We eventually got coffee, but we covered a lot of ground before.

  • How can you collaborate together? The best collaborators do 51% of the work. They think of the idea, they know how to execute it, and they are pro-active about making it happen. This is a skill that you learn over many collaborations, so get a few under your belt.

  • How can you incorporate all of these conversations in future posts? Let's say your next post is about your favorite Sustainable Brands. Reach out to people and ask them what they think. Share that in the copy of your post.

  • Get creative! You're a content creator, right? Start practicing this skill. It's not just what type of content you can create, it's how you can create a community.

In marketing, in anything really, every idea or strategy isn't a win. Which is why you need to do this consistently for 30 days. The reason I love being an entrepreneur is because I get to decide which ideas I want to work on. I get to own the consequences of my ideas. And, I get to learn from them and choose which idea I want to try next as a result. Take advantage of that freedom and iterate on your ideas!


Step 4 —
Repeat for 30 days

And there you have it! Do this for 30 days and I promise growth will happen. Not just in the numbers, but in your development as a community builder and content creator. More importantly, you're pro-actively using the algorithm to get exposure to new like-minded communities.

If you feel like you're not making progress, there are a few places where this could break down. Good thing you're doing this challenge, right? This way you can start experimenting with new strategies vs. just doing the same thing over and over and over and over and over again.

Ask yourself

  • Is your content relatable to the accounts your engaging with? Be honest. Compare your account and the people you are engaging with. Think about it from their perspective. What about your feed/bio/copy would make them follow you after a quick look? If you think there's a mismatch, below are a few ideas you can experiment with. Don't get hung up on the overall question, try making small changes everyday for the next 30 days. That's called iterating and essential to digital marketing.

  • What words can make your bio more clear? Try changing it up and being as straightforward (not generic) as possible. This way people know what you're all about and why they would follow your content. Definitely add: your email, your location, and what your twist is (eg, @alexmichaelmay, @ericjess, @djenebaaduayom, @kayley.e)

  • How can you elevate your posts? Maybe your content isn't where you want it to be. What if you collaborated with a photographer or another influencer? Do everything you would do if you were a Creative Director at a magazine. Moodboard, find locations, style, etc. Read this guide on the Power of Collaboration.

  • How can you bring in your perspective and personality? What can you talk about that is true to you? What information can you teach? How can you be more relatable? Try videos or longer form captions.

  • Are you having fun? Seriously. If you're not, then sit back for 15 minutes and figure out what you can do to make this fun again. I ask this question almost every day. Self reflection works. Just ask Mulan!


Frequently Asked Questions


What about Pods?

People typically use Pods to comment on each other's posts to boost engagement. Essentially, you're teaching the algorithm to stay within these accounts. You're saying, "Just show my posts to the same people over and over again. Thanks!" Nah, you want new eyeballs! The only way to do that is by commenting authentically to new accounts consistently. Ahem, try it for 30 days. 

Pods aren't all that bad though. It's essentially a group of like-minded people that all have the same goals: instagram growth. I just think pods are more useful in other ways: 

  • For accountability and camaraderie (aka therapy sesh 😉)

  • Share your lists on PeopleMap

  • Pitch each other and share brand contacts

  • Collaborate and create regular content


What about Bots?

Bots might save time, but if you're trying to grow an authentic community, they're just not going to cut it. People are too savvy! Here are the other reasons I'm not a fan of bots:

  • Fake followers are, well... fake. And who knows when the purge will hit you. Remember the Humbling?

  • Fake likes. Brands are getting clever and looking at influencer's likes. They even use tools like PeopleMap to see if people who are engaging with your community are the right community. Also, fake likes are pretty obvious in the feed. Especially when the bot starts liking porn. You know what I mean!

  • Fake comments. They just don't convert as well as authentic comments. Who would you check out more? Someone who wrote, "👍🏼" or someone who wrote, "Whoa, this could be the cover of Raddest Person Ever. You must have crazy inspo. Who are some people you are inspired by?"



What about hashtags?

I definitely think there's a way to use hashtags, but you have to be incredibly strategic and the outcomes aren't always great. For example, check my insights for this post. I strategically picked hashtags, but even that only got 1 impression. 

We would get way more growth when we would Mine hashtags on PeopleMap and engage with like-minded people. Even Gary Vaynerchuk mines hashtags with his $1.80 strategy (although I don't realllly get the $ analogy 🤷🏻‍♀️).

Here's how:

  1. Click Search at the top of PeopleMap, type the # symbol, then the name of the hashtag (eg, #girlbossrally), and hit Enter

  2. Set Min. likes to 50. 

  3. Click Filter. The filtering process could take a few minutes so don't close your browser tab. However, you can click posts while PeopleMap is filtering (each post will open in a panel).

  4. Click posts you like and check out the account. Add accounts you like to a list

  5. Analyze anyone you put in a list to find even more like-minded accounts!

Now I'm not saying don't use hashtags, I'm just saying throwing 30 hashtags on your account doesn't always equal growth. Just check your insights to prove me wrong! There are some hashtags like events, locations, and #beychallenge that are browsable and even follow-worthy. You can be super strategic and use hashtags to brand your own content. See how @gelcream and @madewithmap uses hashtags to brand and categorize posts.