Instagram is becoming more and more relevant to photography and video clients, to the point where a respectable Instagram following is part of how clients choose potential creators for paid jobs.
Brand sponsorship, affiliate marketing, complimentary products for review and influencer access are also a few of the side benefits to growing a large Instagram following with high engagement.
As a visual medium, Instagram is uniquely tailored to the advantage of photographers and videographers who produce visual content for a living…so how do you grow organic followers and engagement on Instagram?
I have tried many Instagram growth strategies over the years: from like and follow schemes to bots to outright purchasing followers and likes – but in this Upleap review, we are going to look at a new Instagram tool that promises to grow organic followers and engagement.
The Business Case for Investing In Social Media Promotion
Before we dive into our Upleap review, I want to be clear that I really dislike the entire concept of pay to promote on any social media platform. When you have to pay to promote your account, it breaks the fundamental purpose of what social media was supposed to be. For more, take a look at Sara Melotti’s excellent article Instagram Created a Monster – A No Nonsense Guide to What’s Really Going On.
I am also highly skeptical of the actual real world value of having a large social media following, not to mention the fallacy of spending significant time and effort growing an audience on a platform that you don’t own or control (ie. a social media account versus your website). For more, check out: The Value of Social Media Followers: Does It Matter If They Are Real or Fake?
However, social media service providers have created an environment where it is functionally impossible to grow any significant following or engagement without some sort of paid promotional effort – either paying the social media platform directly to promote your own content, or paying a third party like Upleap.
Therefore, paying to promote your social media content becomes a business calculation: if I invest in growing my Instagram following and engagement, I expect a specific return on my investment in the form of paid gigs, brand sponsorship, complimentary products etc. For more, see: How To Get Brands To Pay For Your Work Using Social Media.
Out of all the social media platforms, I am concentrating on Instagram because:
- I know the brands, agencies and buyers I want to connect with are active on Instagram.
- Instagram is a visual platform and as a visual content creator I have an inherent advantage.
- I have already received some (minor) return on my investment from Instagram in the form of paid gigs, complimentary products and influencer access.
History of Paid Promotion on My Instagram Account
As of today, my Instagram account (@jpdanko) has 10.2K followers, 360 following and 550 posts.
My first post was just over three years ago, and since then I have posted in starts and stops.
Since Instagram has opened up their API to allow for auto-posting to Instagram Business Accounts, it has made life so much easier to use an Instagram scheduling service (I use Later.com – click here to sign up for a free account and get an additional 10 free posts) to pre-schedule my Instagram content and automate posting on a daily basis.
When I initially opened my Instagram account, I did what all new users do – I started liking and following accounts of people I knew, or influencers I liked.
This strategy topped out at a few hundred followers. It was time consuming, onerous and had a limited return (there is not much business use in investing your time if only your friends and family are interacting with your account).
I briefly tried the mass like-follow-unfollow routine – which did work – but was way too time consuming to be worth the effort. It also made my account unusable because I was following so many accounts that I wasn’t actually interested in.
Next, I tried Instagress. Instagress is an Instagram bot that likes, follows and unfollows Instagram accounts based on geographic location, user interests and tags. Instagress was using the Instagram API in violation of Instagram’s platform policy and was permanently shut down a year ago (along with most other similar Instagram bot services).
Instagress grew my Instagram followers to around 4000, with decent engagement on new posts: typically 200 – 400 likes and a dozen comments on each new post.
A lot of the comments were typical bot hallmarks like: Wow, Nice, Amazing, emoji, emoji…etc., so I strongly suspect that a lot of the attention that Instagress generated was just a big bot loop (bots following and liking bots).
I used Instagress slowly for an hour here and an hour there over the course of a year.
After Instagress was shut down, for some reason I decided that it would look a lot better if I had at least 10000 followers. 10000 followers just seemed like a nice round benchmark that says “hey, this guy’s account has 10000 followers, he must be pretty good” – so I went out and simply purchased 6000 or so new followers from a click farm.
Then I also experimented with purchasing likes. The theory was if I purchased enough likes on each new post, that post would make the legit Instagram featured page and then generate it’s own interest.
It didn’t work – none of my posts made the featured page no matter how much I flooded each new post with fake likes.
That leaves my account where it is today.
10.2K followers, at least 6K of which are fake and another 3K are questionable. New posts usually generate 30 – 100 likes and the random comment (which is very low engagement for an account with 10.2K followers). Most of the activity on my account now are from a few dozen regular followers – most I don’t know personally but have come to interact with as “fans” (for lack of a better word even though it’s a terrible description).
I never did get involved with like-for-like schemes or pods – it just seemed like way too much work.
I also don’t intentionally post to Instagram hub accounts in the hopes of getting a featured photo – I fundamentally disagree with the concept of hub accounts re-publishing my work for free. For more, read: Instagram Hub Feature Photo = Copyright Grab? #Instascam
Which brings us to Upleap (sorry for the preamble!)
Upleap Review – Instagram Tool Promises to Grow Organic Followers and Engagement
After the collapse of Instagress and most of the other Instagram bots, a new generation of managed Instagram growth services popped up.
In many ways these managed Instagram growth services are very similar to Instagram bot services like Instagress in that they basically interact (like, follow, comment etc.) with other Instagram users on your behalf – basically an outsourced version of the mass like-follow-unfollow routine.
The biggest difference that they use a physical person (referred to as an account manager) to actually log into your account instead of hacking the Instagram API.
Obviously, it takes a certain level of trust to give your actual Instagram login credentials to a third party to act on your behalf – I suspect that this would be a deal-breaker for many users.
I decided to try Upleap after getting in contact with their customer service department (who were very responsive and helpful) to try and judge how reliable the service might be.
Out of all the similar Instagram growth services available, Upleap seems like one of the more widely used and trusted – so I though I would give it a shot and see what happens.
Upleap Review – Getting Started
Upleap offers a free 3 day trial with no credit card required (way better than most “free” trials that require your credit card or PayPal payment info and then continue to bill you if you forget to cancel after the trial is over).
Once you create a new account on Upleap, you are required to provide your Instagram login credentials. Yes, this is your actual Instagram login credentials. This is the price you have to pay to sidestep Instagram’s API – so get over that mental hurdle before you sign up.
Then, the new account wizard will ask you to describe your Instagram account. For example, I described my Instagram account as: “Professional photographer. Sport, travel, adventure and family photography. I use my account to promote my photography business brand.”
Next, you are asked to provide up to ten hashtags that are relevant to your account. This is to help your Upleap account manager target users who are actually interested in the types of content you post. You can also block hashtags that you would like to ignore.
Next you will be asked to provide up to ten Instagram accounts that are similar to yours. Upleap will use this list to target their followers who are presumably interested in similar content.
From my experience with Instagress, it is important to list at least a few accounts that have a large following, otherwise your pool of potential followers will be too restricted.
You can also block the accounts of users that you don’t want Upleap to interact with.
Finally, you can specify up to ten locations that Upleap will use to find followers based on their location.
Again, based on my experience with Instagress, I highly recommend specifying countries that are relevant to your brand – and excluding countries with known clickfarm activity.
For example, I specified: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan, Australia and New Zealand based on GDP and similarities to my home location (Canada).
You could also be a little more general and use “Europe” if you wanted to cover the entire continent without listing each individual country.
From there, your Upleap account manager takes over and will start liking and interacting with relevant accounts on your behalf.
Once your free trial is over, Upleap offers three subscription plans: Lite $39/mo, Standard $69/mo, Premium $99/mo.
You can also save between 25% and 40% if you pay for an annual plan instead of monthly.
Upleap’s pricing is significantly more expensive than most of the old Instagram bot services – so again, I think that you need a pretty clear business plan to justify this level of monthly expenditure.
However, Upleap does offer some pretty significant chunks of free time if you help to promote the service – here is a complete list of the rewards they offer.
Upleap Review – Follower Growth
With just a three day free trial, it is pretty difficult to judge the effectiveness of Upleap, although since activating my account, I have noticed a marginal uptick in followers and engagement.
I am planning on tracking the effectiveness of Upleap over the next few months and will report back what progress has been made.
In the mean time, I will continue to use Later.com to schedule and auto-post Instagram shares to my account (@jpdanko), and try to make more of a conscious effort to use traditional methods to grow organic followers and engagement (keeping with a theme, posting on a regular schedule, using a consistent color scheme etc.)
If you are interested in learning more about the traditional ways to grow an organic Instagram following, Upleap has an excellent blog post on the subject: 10 Easy Steps To Get More Instagram Followers.
How Do You Grow Your Instagram Followers?
What techniques have you used to grow your Instagram followers?
What worked? What was a bust?
Have you tried Upleap or a similar service?
How did it go?
Is it even worth the time, effort and money to grow a social media following?
Why or why not?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts!