Trying to Solve the Instagram Mystery

Trying to Solve the Instagram Mystery

Instagram seems to be the one social media platform I can’t make any progress with. I’ve nailed Twitter, cracked Pinterest but Instagram? No luck. I’ve moaned about it, I’ve considered giving up and then I decided to really give it a go.

Over the last month, I’ve tried a few different tactics to see if I could up my Instagram game.

1. Posting in the morning.

Using Tailwind’s smart schedule, I discovered the best time of morning to post would be between 8 and 9am. So, that’s what I did. Every day for two weeks.

Generally, posting in the morning is my preference, anyway. As I like my posts to have a positive theme, I think it’s a nice way for most people to start the day.

The results varied, presumably depending on content.

2. Posting in the evening.

For the last two weeks of the month, I switched to posting in the evening. The times were less specific and I uploaded whenever I felt like it. I am much more likely to browse Instagram in the evenings, and assumed others may be the same.

There wasn’t much difference in the level of engagement.

3. Hashtags.

For both phases, I used Tailwind to help me find appropriate hashtags and increased the number I was including per post. While there are people who swear by using all 30, I aimed for around 15 per post. This is one side of things which didn’t seem to make a blind bit of difference – despite people consistently preaching about the importance of hashtags.

4. Engaging.

As with most platforms, this is what seemed to do the trick. By following others first, liking their pictures and leaving comments, these actions were often reciprocated.

The trouble I find with engaging on Instagram is that I can do it comfortably in my own circle. I’m happy to comment on things that pop up in my feed. Overall, I’m generous with my likes.

What trips me up is finding people beyond that to interact with. All I did was go through the hashtags I seemed to be using most and try to strike up connections. It worked with a few people, and achieved absolutely nothing with others.

5. Theme.

I’m the first to say you don’t need an Instagram theme to be successful. Not having one doesn’t make you any less of a blogger than others. I do stand by that.

On the other hand, I feel like you need to be consistent. I didn’t feel like my feed had that quality. It was bright and fun, but I don’t think it did myself justice, or my blog. I put so much effort into everything I do, but I felt my lack of enthusiasm for Instagram was starting to reflect in my pictures. This comes down to being my own harshest critic, I realise, as it’s not something I’d see if I looked at someone else’s feed.

I did have a few lovely comments about this from blogging buddies who told me they really liked it, which was nice! It didn’t seem to have much impact on the whole, though.


I started with 1500 followers, and ended up with over 1700. Over 200 followers in a month is good progress in my eyes, but most of these followers didn’t come from these tactics. The majority came from Facebook groups, or Twitter.

The only other platform I really struggle with is Facebook. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they’re both owned by the same people. It seems they are making life more and more difficult in attempts to push people towards paid advertising.

Does this mean I’m going to give up? Tempting as it is, the stubborn streak in me wants to find a way to make it work. It may seem like I’m taking it all too seriously, but I want to try different approaches before I admit I’ve been beaten. Plus, I appreciate the importance of some sort of Instagram presence if you’re in the blogging business, so I don’t want to abandon it altogether.

What’s next?

  • I’m going to try some of these 5 tools, to see if they take me any further.
  • Rather than posting every day, I’m going to try every other day. I recently saw someone on Facebook touch on the idea that, due to changes in the algorithm, your posts have a slightly longer lifespan now on Instagram. This means posting something else before that has played out can harm your engagement. I’ve seen other people say similar things on Twitter, too, so I’m interested to test it out.
  • I also know I need to make more use of stories but, truth be told, my life isn’t that interesting – and this is where I fall short with Instagram as a whole. I spend about 80% of my time, sat in front of my laptop. Oddly enough, I have plenty to write about, but very little to say.

So, I haven’t exhausted all my options yet and my quest to crack Instagram continues.

Trying to solve the Instagram mystery

Trying to beat the Instagram algorithm
I experimented with different Instagram tactics and this is what happened...

Upping my Instagram game. Click through to find out what worked, what didn't, and what I'm trying next.</div<

I know I’m not alone in my frustrations, so how do you get on with Instagram?


  1. 24th October 2018 / 12:47 pm

    I love how you approach this as a puzzle and try to crack it. I have no idea how to grow IG either but these all seem like great tips without buying ads. Keep at it. πŸ™‚

    • ruthinrevolt
      25th October 2018 / 10:08 am

      Thanks Emma! It can feel so frustrating sometimes, but I’m determined NOT to buy ads πŸ˜‚

  2. 24th October 2018 / 1:47 pm

    I am bemused at the follow unfollow mullarky! Someone will follow me one day, I’ll follow back and they unfollow me the next day. It is obviously a tactic used by some people to up their followers. At first I tried to rise above it; now I unfollow. Does that sound petty? I just hate being used.

    • ruthinrevolt
      25th October 2018 / 10:09 am

      Nope, that’s not petty – I’m exactly the same way. When they’ve clearly done it to bump their numbers rather than genuinely connect, I have no interest in being part of that.

  3. 24th October 2018 / 1:51 pm

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I am trying to have fun with it instead of being fixated on those numbers each day. I look forward to reading more about your thoughts on this area of social media in the future.

    • ruthinrevolt
      25th October 2018 / 10:10 am

      Having fun with it is definitely the most important thing, and a good approach to take! I just feel very frustrated with the platform and their attitudes (ie pushing people towards paid advertising), and it makes it hard to enjoy using it.

  4. 24th October 2018 / 5:44 pm

    Really enjoyed reading about how you tried to find out the key to using Instagram!
    I have often wondered when the best time to post was but now I know… there isn’t! So thank you for doing all the leg work for us all Ruth!

    Liv x

    • ruthinrevolt
      25th October 2018 / 10:11 am

      My pleasure, Liv! I was convinced one or the other MUST be a better time to post… nope πŸ˜‚

  5. 25th October 2018 / 7:06 am

    I really enjoyed this post Ruth! Thanks for sharing your Instagram experiments here. I love the way you approach things πŸ™‚ I don’t put a lot of time into Instagram I have to be honest. It doesn’t yield great traffic results. I use it to share my art predominantly because it’s such a visual platform. I may occasionally post a story advertising a new blog post, but that’s about it.


    • ruthinrevolt
      25th October 2018 / 10:12 am

      It’s definitely a perfect place to share your (gorgeous) art! But you’re right – in terms of traffic, it does very little, and I’d rather focus on things that help with those goals, like Twitter and Pinterest. I think I’m just being stubborn and don’t want to admit defeat πŸ˜‚

  6. 25th October 2018 / 9:40 am

    Thanks for this post. Im glad its not just me! Its hard, because l just want to be me, be genuine and relatable, so I struggle with the hard promote. Ultimately, l want to reach more people , rather than simply be followed, but both are kind of the same. I’ve done the same things you have and come to the same conclusion as you, that these platforms are wanting to entice us to pay. Which l won’t. I have switched back to a personal rather than business account and that’s helped gain some more followers so make of that what you will!

  7. 25th October 2018 / 11:07 am

    I love instagram when it comes to my ‘personal’ life – I love a good insta story and stalking other people’s, but when it comes to the blog I just crash and burn with both insta and facebook. Granted, I don’t give them much attention but when you have to put so much in to get so little back, I’m just not interested!

    Cordelia ||

    • ruthinrevolt
      31st October 2018 / 4:46 am

      That’s exactly how I feel, too – it just doesn’t feel worth the amount of time you need to invest to get anywhere with them!

  8. 25th October 2018 / 11:44 am

    200 organic Insta followers in a month, however you acquired them, is something to be very proud of! I love Instagram for all the gorgeous pictures that pop up on my timeline. I’m not sure it’s especially helpful in terms of marketing for my blog but I do find it helpful to try things out on my account in terms of hashtags etc when I’m writing posts for my social media clients. I love your “crack that puzzle” approach, Ruth, and I love your feed as well πŸ™‚ xx

    Lisa |

    • ruthinrevolt
      31st October 2018 / 4:49 am

      Thanks Lisa! There are some beautiful pictures on Instagram, I must admit, and I think I have more fun as a spectator rather than a user πŸ˜‚

  9. 25th October 2018 / 3:07 pm

    I really admire your determination in not letting things beat you Ruth! Instagram really is such a hard puzzle to crack, although gaining 200 followers in a month is very impressive! It feels like it is the hardest platform to grow on as the follower/unfollower thing happens too often. I find that I can gain blogging followers if I join in with the insta threads on Twitter but other than that it is difficult and I have no idea what I’m doing, ha ha. Good luck on your mission and thank you for sharing your tips and suggestions with us so far <3 xx

    Bexa |

    • ruthinrevolt
      31st October 2018 / 4:51 am

      Thanks Bexa! πŸ™‚ Gaining followers through threads seems to be the only thing that works for me, too. Beyond that, I’m stuck. But, it’s always reassuring to know I’m not the only one who struggles to grow!

  10. 25th October 2018 / 8:39 pm

    This was a really interesting read, Instagram is definitely one of the hardest platforms to grow on and my own has been a consistent battle and growing has involved a lot of time spent there. I think it’s interesting that you struggle to grow on FB too as I really do too!

    Soph – x

    • ruthinrevolt
      31st October 2018 / 4:54 am

      I think it does require a lot of time, but it’s just so hard trying to find that when there’s so many other things to do in blogging. Thanks for commenting, Soph!

  11. 26th October 2018 / 2:46 pm

    This is interesting. I’ve tried all sorts. All ends of images, timings, frequency… I still haven’t cracked it!
    If I ever do, I’ll be sure to write a post on it! At least we’re all having the same battle, eh?

    • ruthinrevolt
      31st October 2018 / 4:57 am

      Definitely – it’s so comforting to know I’m not the only one because, for a while, I was CONVINCED it must be something I was (or wasn’t) doing.

  12. 26th October 2018 / 9:53 pm

    Th mystery of instagram haha
    I read a lot about it: do a lot of stories, engage with people, post every day (even more than once per day if you can), have a theme, use hashtags, use smileys/emojis (post with emojis are more likely to be liked apparently…)
    But to me this is all bla bla bla. I’m sure it can work of you already have more than 10k followers haha
    I am trying to implement these things but like you, I don’t see a difference xD
    People are playing this follow/unfollow game way too much to geow your following!
    If I lept all the followers I acquire since I started, I would be at more than 1000 now… but every morning I wake up to see: yeahhhh 10 new followers! And then you check you are 3 less than the day before in your followers count xD
    I love instagram but I’m trying to stop feeling bad about not growing it as much as I wish hahaha I don’t want the enjoyment to faint and let place to the frustration haha
    I just don’t get it!

    • ruthinrevolt
      31st October 2018 / 5:01 am

      Exactly – it just feels like a losing battle. It’s important to enjoy the platform first and foremost, though, so definitely try and hold on to that love for it. I feel it definitely works against me that it’s my least favourite social media because even going on there just feels like a chore most days.

  13. 26th October 2018 / 10:48 pm

    Ok I loved this post because it pretty much nipped most rumours in the bud with your findings. People are ripping users off daily with β€˜join me on my online chat for more info on how to grow’ (all too conveniently counting down the seconds for the campaign to start and making the person panic purchase) for the information to be mostly useless!
    I used to know a lot on Instagram algorithms before the friend and family algorithm took place, now it’s just hope and a prayer in terms of growth I find. Whatever I can gain in one day will be gone come the next day and nothing changes the reach I hit regardless of hashtag switch ups.
    I do however love talking absolute rubbish into the camera, so you know where to ask for advice on that baby girl πŸ˜‰πŸ™Š

    • ruthinrevolt
      31st October 2018 / 5:04 am

      πŸ˜‚ It’s never been my speciality, but I honestly feel like it’s pure luck with Instagram lately! Your stories are the best, though. 😍

  14. 27th October 2018 / 12:46 pm

    I love your dedication to figuring out Instagram. I’m like a lot of people and have given up (temporarily) on Instagram. I love posting for me, but it gets a bit much with the number of influencers on there who are only concerned with growing numbers rather than making connections. 200 followers in a month is an incredible amount to gain – congrats!
    It’s great to see that you’ve debunked a few of the Instagram myths. Instagram always frustrated me and caused my anxiety to spike because I felt like I was failing, especially as a blogger, because of a lack of posting at ‘the right time’. This post has reminded me that I don’t care as much as I used to, all the engagement and growth that happens is at least organic and if people want to continue this following to unfollow business then I’m not fussed because I’d rather not get involved with all of that. I think the most important thing is to have fun and, like you said, keep a presence, especially as a blogger. Although, I’m with you there on Instagram stories – I fail at using mine because I’m sat in front of a laptop for most of the day, too!
    Great post, Ruth!

    Kelly |

    • ruthinrevolt
      31st October 2018 / 5:06 am

      It’s such a frustrating platform because, just when you think you’re getting somewhere, something changes, or 10 people unfollow, and it’s hard to see the point of bothering at all. With so many people buying followers etc, I definitely think we should be proud of our organic growth – even if it’s only a little bit at a time!

  15. 5th November 2018 / 4:01 pm

    I agree with you completely. IG and FB are pretty much the bane of my existence. I have Pinterest down and Twitter just seemed to grow on its own. I don’t even think about Twitter because I have no time, and in just a few months, I’m creeping on 4,000 followers. It’s already surpassing IG that I started back in Jan.

    I am not too into growing my FB following yet–as I am not sure how truly important that will be to my growth or success. I watch bloggers score fake FB followers/likes in these mass FB engagement groups: one girl is boasting of almost 1,000 likes very quickly but NO ONE engages with her FB posts. Having 1,000 followers and 2 likes on a post doesn’t seem attractive to companies…or me.

    IG just seems like a very selfish platform these days. I love the idea of pairing pictures with storytelling–that is why I wanted to be on it so badly. I post consistently three times a week with around 20-28 hashtags (I agree–30 is truly pointless). I try to engage 30 mins before, go through hashtags and like pics, and engage immediately after for at least 15 minutes too. I check back a few times a day. Unfortunately, the follow to unfollow game is real and strong. There is nothing we can do to stop it (even by engaging and putting out stellar content). I also noticed that a lot of my followers expect 110% engagement back. I always always always always reciprocate comments, and I try to like photos too. Unfortunately, this just isn’t realistic every single dang day. I need followers who truly just want good content and a connection with sincere engagement. I need followers who aren’t playing a blogging game. Sigh.

    I do believe in being present on all platforms, but I also follow the cliche not to put all your eggs into one basket. If IG died out…I wouldn’t be sad. I do think it has to do with the somewhat greedy developers.

    I feel ya here.

    • ruthinrevolt
      6th November 2018 / 10:55 am

      Facebook isn’t important to me. In fact, the only reason I have it is so my family and friends can stay informed, without me putting it all on my personal profile. But, as you say, I do think it’s important to be present on each platform so I do my best to maintain it, but it’s not where I focus my attention.

      Completely agree with everything you said about Instagram, too. I’ve been feeling so disheartened with it lately that I’ve barely opened the app to engage so I know some of my struggles are self-inflicted. It does seem that people expect you to be there all the time to give and return comments which is unrealistic. It’s exhausting! Glad I’m not alone, though.

  16. 15th December 2018 / 7:34 pm

    I know I’m two months behind, but I was ignoring IG at the time you wrote this post.
    I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with IG (more honestly a dislike-hate relationship), but, lately, I’ve been trying to analyse the platform to crack the code as well and I just find it so depressing. I feel like the only people who succeed are 1. people who are famous for whatever reason, or 2. people who play the unfollow game.
    And just like you, I don’t feel like my life is interesting enough to make stories (and I don’t have Zara’s comedy skills) and sometimes to even take pictures.
    Please, do write a post if you make a groundbreaking discovery about the algorithm.

    Kate |

    • ruthinrevolt
      17th December 2018 / 9:23 am

      I completely agree with you about it being depressing. It just seems, no matter what I try, nothing makes much of a difference. As you say, you seem to need to be famous or play the unfollow game, which I have no interest in doing. I’m hoping, somehow, pure perseverance will yield some results.

      If I happen to make that discovery, I will absolutely share it, but I don’t like my chances…

      • 22nd December 2018 / 6:01 pm

        Same. Sigh!

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