How to Build a Community on Instagram

I want to kick this off by saying I have a relatively small Instagram following. I hit 1K followers last week and almost passed out from excitement. While that may seem like a small follow count to a lot of people – my engagement is at nearly 20%.

And that number is bonkers.

From what I’ve seen your average Instagrammer hovers at like 5% engagement. Anything around that ballpark is considered fairly good. I’m not even trying to toot my own horn, but plain and simple 20% engagement is insane.

Not everyone who comes to my blog is a blogger, but actually a fair amount of you are! I love that. I love that we’re building a supportive rather than catty and competitive community. I wouldn’t be where I am without the help of amazing blogger babes like Morgan, Ashley, & Payton.

Even if you aren’t a social media superstar, it’s still fascinating to think through how to build up your Instagram. Everyone is on “the gram.” Literally almost everyone. Why? It’s fun, its visual, and it’s about communicating.

It’s not all about the numbers, people. It’s about the connection! So here are my tips on how to build an engaged community on Instagram.

GUYS WE JUST HIT 1K!!! ?✨ and basically this is how big my smile is. Thank you for the crazy support in 2016 and I can’t wait to take on this year with everyone! ❤️?

A photo posted by Kelsey | Blondes & Bagels (@blondesandbagels) on

How to (roughly) calculate your engagement rate.

It’s easy to know how many followers you have. It’s less than intuitive to know how engaged they are. Pull out your iPhone (who even owns a calculator now?) and get ready for some simple math.

Step one is to open up a few of your most recent Instagram posts. Glance over the number of “likes” your photos have and the number of comments. By going through 5+ photos you’ll start to get a feel for your averages of these metrics.

In looking back through my last 10 posts, I can see I have around 200 likes per photo. This number is on the conservative side. I’ve been breaking the 200 mark frequently lately – but better to underestimate than overestimate!

To find my engagement rate I take my average number of “likes” per photo and divide that into my follower count. At 1,050 followers with an average of 200 “likes” per photo, that’s a 19% engagement rate.

Easy, yet super informative.

Also major shout out to social media superstar Skylar for reaching out to me to let me know an even more accurate way to calculate your engagement. Instead of dividing your number of likes/comments into your number of followers, she pointed out it makes way more sense to divide that number into the number of people your post actually reached. Which if that’s real life, I’m floating somewhere between 40-50%.

Why engagement matters.

Dare I say it – I think engagement matters much more than your number of followers. Why, you ask?

Because who gives a shit if you have 30K followers but only two comments? It means no one is invested in you. It means you have a following, but not a community.

Whether you’re a blogger babe or just an Instagram fan – a community is way better than a “following.” A community means you have a support system. It means you have people who care about you and your life. These are people to celebrate the high points and commiserate during the low ones. These are people that want to learn and laugh and grow with you.

And that’s beautiful.

If you’re a blogger trying to work with brands, please know that brands are starting to wise up to this. Most brands would rather see a high engagement rate over a high follow count any day.

Also don’t be shy to point out your engagement rate to them! When pitching a brand, don’t be embarrassed that you have under X number of followers. Boast about your engagement rate instead.

I like outfits as black as my soul. ? this outfit up on the blog ✨now✨ link in my bio! ?

A photo posted by Kelsey | Blondes & Bagels (@blondesandbagels) on

Use the appropriate hashtags (duh).

This tip is on everyone’s “How to Grow Your Instagram List.” Well listen up because it’s actually important for your engagement!

Using the right hashtags means that people who care about the same things you care about will see you. This means they’re more likely to engage with you.

Looking for a list of hashtags to use? I’m a firm believer that you need to find the right hashtags for you and your brand. The ones I use might not be the right ones for you!

However if you’re a nosy nancy (wink wink) and want to know the hashtags I’m loving right now (and how I use them) – just opt in here and I’ll send them straight to your inbox!

Engage on those appropriate hashtags.

It’s not enough to just use your hashtags. You have to actually engage on them yourself.

Once or twice a day I’ll click into one of my current favorite hashtags and scroll through the latest posts. I’ll make sure to like almost every single photo on that hashtag.

Giving love means you’ll get love! So many people throw hashtags out into the Instagram abyss and never engage on them. That is the fastest way to have followers – but no community.

Is it socially acceptable to be in love with an inanimate object? ❤️? I fully credit @lydiaemillen for my obsession with my first designer handbag ever!

A photo posted by Kelsey | Blondes & Bagels (@blondesandbagels) on

Leave thoughtful comments.

While I’m scrolling along on my selected hashtag, I’ll also make sure to leave comments on almost every photo.

Fair warning – this is time consuming. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is your Instagram community. You have to work for it.

Ever noticed that on your own photos where you’ve used hashtags, people leave weird, short, and sometimes irrelevant comments? That happens to me all the time.

This is because a ton of people hear the advice “leave comments on other posts” and try to take the short cut. They pop in a “wow!” or my all time fave (note the sarcasm): they actually say nothing but just type in an emoji.

Don’t cheat. Actually look at that person’s photo. Actually read their caption. Leave a thoughtful comment.

When you leave a silly “omg!” or “wow” or an emoji – people are less likely to click into your profile and want to engage with you. Why? You didn’t really engage with them. 

Leave a thoughtful comments and I promise you’ll get a thoughtful comment back. You’ll also probably get a follow!

The best thing about it is it won’t be a hollow follow. It’ll be a new follower that knows you engage, you care, and have similar interests. 

Reply to comments thoughtfully.

It’s important to leave thoughtful comments on other people’s posts – but it’s also important to reply to every comment you can on your own posts.

You’ve now engaged with some new potential followers (and friends!). They will be leaving you some love in the comments sections of your posts.

Don’t leave them hanging.

Make sure to thank them, to chit chat with them, and make sure they know that you saw their comment. In the same way that it’s important to not just pop in a “wow!” when commenting on their photos, also don’t just pop in a “thanks!” when replying to comments on your own photos.

Say thank you – and then tell them they just made your day. Fully answer any questions they might have. Have a fun conversation!

This doesn’t have to be work – it’s supposed to be fun! You’re making new friends and building your community!

24 you’ve been one hell of a year. ✌?️here’s to 25! ???? #itsmybirthyay

A photo posted by Kelsey | Blondes & Bagels (@blondesandbagels) on

Actually give a damn about other people.

So what’s all this basically sum up into?

Actually give a damn about other people.

That’s it. Really that’s it. The way to build an engaged following on your Instagram (and your blog for that matter) is to care about someone other than yourself.

Always aim to help, to inform, and to care – and you’ll have yourself a badass crew of new followers and friends in no time.

Don’t forget to engage with me over on Instagram! I’d love to chat!

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10 responses to “How to Build a Community on Instagram”

  1. That’s awesome that you have such high engagement. I’ve grown my following super rapidly during the last year thanks to a few shoutouts from brands, but my engagement has dropped off a bit so I’ve been working on that. If you’re interested, here’s a post that I wrote about how I’ve improved my following

    • Blondes & Bagels says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Lena! Have you bought the guides yet? I’ve seriously been noodling it. I know follow/unfollow is a piece of the puzzle but I haven’t taken the plunge and spent the money yet because I’m not sure if it’s “worth” it! I’d love to know!

      xoxo Kelsey

      • Yes I bought the guides. They are definitely good at explaining the science behind instagram strategy, a lot of people just give vague things like ‘hashtags’ and ‘engage with others’ but they really give you step by step. I need to actually sit down and revisit them

  2. Ashley Zeal says:

    You are killin it, boo! So proud of you!!!!!

  3. Molly O'Connor says:

    Go you!! I love engaging with my followers, it is my favorite part about Instagram! Being able to form connections with people you otherwise never would have met is pretty dang cool!

    • Blondes & Bagels says:

      Thanks Molly! I totally agree – my fave thing about Instagram is the ability to engage with my followers too! We’re in this weird and amazing time where social media is taking over. You can either disengage and become reclusive – or you can get out there and meet people from other cities, states, and countries you never could’ve engaged with before! It’s super cool! Thanks for leaving me some love! 🙂

      xoxo Kelsey

  4. Deborah says:

    CONGRATULATIONS! I’m so happy for you! I feel like I’m always stuck at around 820 but hopefully that will change soon :]
    All of these tips are great, especially the last one. I can’t even begin to express my frustration of instagramers who follow you and then unfollow you as soon as you follow them back (I usually unfollow at that point because I hate feeling used). This should be a platform to engage with your followers like you said!
    Also, 20% engagement??? That’s amazing! :]

  5. this is so awesome and i love all the great points you shared!

  6. I just can’t handle instagram anymore. Leaves me feeling terrible in so many ways!