You’ve probably noticed that you get more comments and likes on your Instagram posts than your Facebook posts, and you’re not alone. Instagram regularly nets as much as four times more engagement per post than Facebook does — which is great for your business. If you’re worried your follower count isn’t high enough, though, you might be tempted to sign up for free followers.

But the reality is that the “free Instagram followers” pitch is a trap. Sure, your follower count will grow, but that means more and more of them will never engage with you or other followers. Free followers will also never become qualified leads who book on Instagram — so they do absolutely nothing for you.

But what’s worse is that adding a bunch of free followers could totally tank your visibility. Instagram is constantly taking steps to identify and reduce inauthentic activity — that means bots and fake followers gained through third-party apps. If Instagram catches onto you, they could suppress your posts, or worse. You might be facing a suspension, which definitely outweighs the temporary rush of watching your follower count rise.

Instead of resorting to a free influx of followers, you need to grow your follower count with some tried-and-true Instagram marketing strategies. Here’s exactly what to do.

How to Grow Instagram Followers Organically

Fortunately, the answer to how to increase engagement on Instagram doesn’t involve signing up for or buying a list of faceless accounts. You can gain more legit Instagram followers who will engage and even turn into customers in three steps.

1. Make your profile original and consistent.

You have a split second to make a first impression, so crafting a memorable profile is key. Start with information about your company: What do you do? Who do you serve? What’s your niche? Remember that Instagram is about building connections, so inject some personality into your bio.

For example, explain your mission to help your community instead of listing off awards and accomplishments. Try: “Yoga classes for all skill levels, genders, sizes, or abilities. The studio that feels like coming home.” 

Feel free to be a bit playful here and add some emojis, but don’t go overboard. You want to be fun, but not flakey. 

2. Join some hashtag trends.

The next step to growing Instagram followers for your business is joining the conversations that matter most to your audience. That means monitoring the most popular hashtags in your market. Research the hashtags your target audience and buyer personas use most often with Instagram’s “search tags” feature. Start with the name of your industry — hair, yoga, beauty, etc. — and see which hashtags have the highest number of posts. Incorporate those hashtags into your captions and stories moving forward.

Since you’re hoping to turn your followers into clients, consider location-specific hashtags as well so you can target your audience. Drilling down this way will bring you more people who are likely to book, rather than just follow without becoming a paying customer.

3. Look for partners, not just followers.

Engaging and partnering with influencers is a solid business strategy if you take time to research each influencer’s audience base. But be wary: If they have thousands of followers but skimpy engagement, you might be looking at an influencer without any real influence. 

If someone is the real deal, start by jumping into their conversations and hashtags. Then, try to partner with one, capitalizing on their audience to grow yours.

If you’re a hairstylist, for example, you could partner with a nail artist and offer an Instagram contest where the winner gets a gift certificate to both of your salons. To enter the contest, people have to follow both of your store profiles and comment on the post where you announced the contest. By making cross-brand engagement a part of the contest, you’ll gain instant access to high-quality leads you might not have been able to reach otherwise. 

If you’re searching for information about how to increase engagement on Instagram, the appeal of free followers can be tempting. But it’s a trap in every sense. The only effective answer for how to grow Instagram followers organically is to do it with these strategies. Trust us: One real follower is worth 1,000 fake ones every time.\