How to Grow Followers Without Feeling Icky or Gross

Followers and fame are a bit like the chicken and the egg: which comes first?

In my book… neither.

What does come first? Your unique magic that attracts both. 🦄

WARNING: Don’t become a size queen or fall into "compare and despair." Small followings are often the most active and engaged. Still, read to the end and you should be able to add several hundred new followers pretty quickly! 🎉

Context + Conversion Rate

In business and “the business,” having a large following means a captivated audience. However, when I was in New Zealand, I met a data scientist who works for the Nielsen ratings. They are working on analyzing engagement metrics (the quality of your relationships) not just followings (the quantity).

Business opportunities (especially the ones with $$$$$+) come from individuals—one person who decides to give you the job and pay you! Most often, in businesses large and small, that’s based on your reputation (or word-of-mouth marketing). Focus on the quality of your connection, rather than the quantity of relationships.

You can certainly create some "fame" (or recognition) with thousands of followers online. Sadly, there aren’t many sustainable (or perhaps I should say ethical) shortcuts to fortune, fame, or followers. Those that take them, such as buying followers or engagement, run the risk of losing their investments or getting exposed by the New York Times. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have all run purges to delete thousands of bot accounts. Growing real fans takes real work!

Before you focus on growing followers, follow these pre-requisites. One big tip: stay focused on your conversion rate, not the traffic or amount of followers. In other words, the percentage of profile visitors that say “yes” to becoming new followers. If you solely focus on traffic or retention… your efforts are going to be less effective.



I have a unique branding process I walk my clients through to find and share their #1 Self. One step is defining a larger why, purpose, or calling. This way, your work takes on a larger mission: you're a true world leader, shining your unique light, giving people a clear and consistent reason to follow you. You don't fall into the trap of focusing solely on followers and likes you’re getting. You come into the world and world-wide-web with something to do or share.

Branding work will also help you determine what kind of people you want to attract. You stop going after everyone and anyone, and work to make yourself a magnet to a specific kind of person.

Imagine yourself as a product in a grocery store. Your “packaging” as well as where you’re “positioned” in the store will both affect how many people say “yes” and take you to the checkout line.

The online market isn’t any different!
— @TonyHowell

You must package and position yourself like a product. That means designing your Google first impression (website) and social media channels. Take a look at celebrities or other role models for examples.

Your biggest weapon? Imagery! That’s your identity to the outside world. Get photos that support your vision of who you are and how you want to be seen. Unfortunately, we all judge a book by the cover… and pictures say a thousand words. Photograph for the life/brand/career you want.

Then, take a look at your social media bio. Make sure it gives your audience a reason to follow you. Include a link to learn more (ideally your website… where you can get their email and multiple follows). Finally, take a look at your latest posts. Make sure it’s all highly attractive to your specific audience!


Conscious Content

The best way to grow fans? Have other people share your posts to their thousands of friends, fans, and followers! I don't want you to get too precious or analytical about what you share. You'll always win some, and lose some. That's part of life. However, if you speak the truth, you never know when your words will ring true for others.all

Note that hashtags and mentions aren't always necessary! You can simply add your point of view to an existing conversation, or also curate other people’s outstanding content.

That said, sometimes the best way to get "discovered" is through tagging specific hashtags, addressing trending topics, tagging people, or marking your location. Similarly, you can go back and engage with content/users who've used those hashtags, location tags, trending topics or conversations with influencers.

Collaborations + Creative Outreach

In business, one of the best ways to grow your audience is borrowing someone else's! This is why Todrick is doing Chicago and Oprah is doing Weight Watchers.

You can follow the same strategy through special LIVE appearances, podcast interviews, guest blogging/vlogging, or Instagram takeovers. Who has the audience you want? How can you offer them value in exchange for a spotlight in front of their audience?

If you’re looking for a quick win of new audiences, start with your existing network. Sync your email and phone contacts so that you can go to each network and “find friends.” Periodically, I will also visit the “suggested” profiles and reach out to make genuine connections. The bigger my network, the more mutual friends I will have with VIPs and the more frequently I will show up as a “suggested” profile to others!

Want to go even further? The more aggressive way (which I feel is icky if you’re not taking conscious actions) is to do some outreach. “Follow and unfollow” is you’re nasty!

The idea is to engage with those who may be interested in what you have to share. You’ve probably noticed many “random” people liking your content on Instagram? You’ve been targeted based on tagging: keywords in your profile, hashtags, locations, your engagement on someone else’s profile, or someone you follow.

If you want to take this action, my recommendation is that you go to a colleague’s latest post and engage with those that recently liked or commented. This way, you know they are active on the network. I’d still use your judgement: talk to real people and act like a real human being! If you do, they’ll likely say “yes” to following you, because you’ve honored them with your genuine interest and attention! You can simply like a few of their photos and sincerely comment on one. You don’t have to go following and unfollowing a mass amount of people.

Closing Thoughts

You can use special apps to see who is or isn’t following you… but I wouldn’t focus too hard on that. Provided your context, channels, content, collaborations are all on point, you'll gain many new followers.

Recognize it’s going to take lots of time and energy, so I want to close by reminding you to focus on your work and what you have to give. Make it so valuable and unique that people have no choice but to not only follow you, but hire you when they’re able.

ArticlesTony Howell