Hey friends!
Okay, if you missed PART ONE, PART TWO or PART THREE of the organic Instagram growth series, click to catch up!  I think it’s pretty important to peek at the first part, because it kind of shows you why this series might be a bit against the grain, and it gives you some background on my own IG journey, too!  Take a sec to catch up with us, and then let’s move on to the next in the series…outline below:

Part One: Behind the Scenes
Part Two: Who Are You? (style + boundaries)
Part Three: What Do You Post? (pics + stories)
Part Four: How Will You Grow? (growth tactics)
Part Five: Pro Tips! (advice from your fave IG-ers)

In this fourth installment, we’re going to chat about doing you + being kind on your Instagram feed, specifically with regards to growth tactics.  I can only speak from my own experiences with regards to this topic, but hopefully you can take what seemed to work for me and make it work for you, too!  We’ll break this topic into two sections each: DO YOU and then BE KIND….


While I strongly STRONGLY believe that growing our Instagram follower count is absolutely NOT the most important thing in the history of ever [see Part One]….it IS important if you are trying to expand your reach, perhaps for biz purposes, perhaps for future opportunities, etc.  It seems like IG changes its own rules, regulations and best practices for growth every five seconds, so here are a few seemingly timeless growth tactics I’ve used for awhile, both BEFORE the yucky algorithm shift and after.



While the number of hashtags we should use constantly changes, and the place to put them changes, too (in the first comment?  In the caption?!  WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM US, INSTAGRAM!?!? 😂), the basic principal behind hashtags remains the same: be smart with your hashtags so that people can find you.  I try to use a mix of large hashtags (so like 100K+), medium hashtags (50K-ish) and a few smaller, newer hashtags (10K or under) give or take.  Think about your current feed size, too.  When choosing hashtags, I try to think to myself, “Do you think you’ll get enough engagement to shoot you to the top of a hashtag that is over a million?  Or do you aim lower in hopes of making it to top post in a smaller hashtag so you for sure get seen?”  It’s all about the mix of exposure possibilities, so using a mix of hashtag sizes seems to be helpful for me!

#diningroom #diningroomdecor
#farmhousetable #farmtable #shiplap
#fluffykitty #prettykitty
#oklahoma #oklahomablogger

Using the above picture and hashtags, let’s dissect:
I try to be sure I’m using searchable, relevant hashtags, rather than hard-to-search tags.  Check spellings, check how many underscores are used in the tag, check if there are too many of the same type of hashtag causing yours to get lost.  You can see from the four lines of hashtags above, I like to choose a few tags based on what type of room I’m featuring (#diningroom #diningroomdecor), a few hashtags that are relevant to items in the photo (#farmhousetable #shiplap #fluffykitty), and then if you want to be “findable” on IG, you can use broad location tags (#oklahoma #oklahomablogger).  Of course, leave off location or be super broad if you are concerned with privacy.  Your call there.  But this is sort of how my brain works when choosing 10ish hashtags for my photos.  Sometimes I’ll add product tags or publication tags to change it up, so do your research and find tags that will work for your specific pic!

I don’t recommend using the same bank of tags over and over, however.  IG seems to track repeat usage and it could trigger the dumb algorithm, so try to use fresh tags on each photo for the most part. I do keep a running list of tags in my Notes app on my iPhone, but I like to mix things up each time I post to catch new eyes who just might be searching that tag around the time I post!



There are many apps that can help track what appears to be your “best post time” so that you can plan ahead, but you know what I kinda think…?  My best post time is when I have the time to stop, interact and be social ON THAT POST, whether it’s in the morning, during my kiddo’s naps or in the evening after they’ve gone to bed.  The apps I used to use constantly contradicted each other anyway, and I was so tired of them telling me the best times to post were also the times my family needed me the most.  NOPE.  Not anymore.  I’ve sort of changed how I approach post times, because I have seen that the very best way to build a community, boost engagement and use social media for the good it can bring (social time with my buddies!) is to post when I am able to be available for 20-30 minutes of phone time.  I want to chat with my people after I post, so….even if it isn’t the “best” time for posting, I do it anyway.  In my opinion, it’s better to be present for my kids when they need me (thus waiting to post till perhaps a bit after my “best times” according to apps), and then, when I’m able to chat with my IG buddies, I will post then…free of the possible Mom-guilt of constantly being on my phone in front of them like I used to.

And you know what?  It works.  Not every single post is a crazy numbers game, but….when I post, my people know I’m there with them for a solid chunk of time to chat, to get to know each other, to answer questions and to be SOCIAL.  If your “best post times” are when you have to post and run because you have fifteen other plates spinning at the time, then guess what….?  That wasn’t your best post time, because you missed the chance to use that post for good!  My rule is I don’t post if I have to post-and-run.  I’d rather wait a bit longer, wait till the next day, or make a different plan so that I can post AND stay to chat for a bit.  I refuse to be on my phone all day, errrrry day like in the past, so I’m not on for hours and hours after my IG posts.  BUT!  I make the effort to carve out 20-30 minutes per post to give to my sweet tribe of #CottonStemmies over on IG, and I think that has made all the difference in trying to connect and grow a tribe.  So.  My advice?  Ignore the apps.  Post when you are free, when you are finished with your tasks, when kids are unconscious, when you can be SOCIAL and put in the work to grow your community with sincerity and kindness!  That, in my opinion, is your best post time.  😉



Post consistently + take breaks:
Say what?!  Contradictory much??  😉  Sounds kinda funny coming from the girl who takes weekends off of Instagram and most all social media, but the idea is to not go too long without posting, because the IG algorithm is always watching our feeds to gauge engagement.  Now…I feel divided on this.  Breaks from social media are totally refreshing to our souls, to our brains and to our families, so I am HUGE HUGE HUGE advocate of deleting the apps and looking up for a day or two.  Those short weekend breaks don’t seem to have affected my feed at all, and I highly encourage you to try taking time off.  However, if we take a week or longer, I think it could possibly affect our numbers, so plan to come back with a bang to really shoot your engagement back up!  Don’t let social media own you: take breaks, look up and LIVE, especially if you are feeling sucked into the IG vortex.  And then, when you are ready to come back, come back with an awesome photo, lots of chat time with your community and solid story engagement, too!

Participate in company/publication tags:
Many times, publications or companies that you love have hashtags that they encourage their readers and followers to use in order to get a repost…so do your homework and use them!  What products do you show in your photos?  Does the company IG have a hashtag they’d like people to use?  Does the publication you’d like to get a repost from have hashtags they check?  A little big of digging might earn you a pretty solid repost from a large and respected IG account!  I remember the first time I was reposted by @southernlivingmag after using their #MySouthernLiving hashtag, and I about peed my dadgum pants!  That first repost happened when I was barely a month into Instagram, and it resulted in a large influx of new followers…simply by utilizing a hashtag the magazine told us we could use!  These reposts have been huge for my personal growth, so let’s do some research and see if they already have hashtags we can use to get noticed and reposted for growth!

Drive engagement by asking Q’s…but stick around a bit to answer:
In every single “how to grow my IG” blog post in existence, it seems like the advice is given to add a call to action or question in your IG post caption.  Totally get it.  And I totally do it…IF…I actually have 20-30 minutes to stick around and chat.  We shouldn’t apologize for NOT being on our phones 24/7 to answer every single question from any of our followers at any time they might think to ask it…no.  That’s called being an app addict, and it’s unhealthy.  BUT!  If we are going call our people to action and ask for their help in boosting our photo’s engagement, then let’s plan to stick around and interact right back with them for a chunk of time!  Only seems fair!  And not every photo needs a call to action or to end with a question…let’s be real.  Sometimes, we just share what’s on our hearts, a funny anecdote or a quick caption, and that is JUST FINE.  But try to spice it up with a bit more interaction, stay to interact, and watch engagement go up….because guess what?  YOU are engaged, and your community can tell.  They want to be social with you, so you start.  You set the tone and they will follow.  Stay for 20 or 30 minutes to chat, maybe pop back in an hour or so later to answer follow-up questions, etc.  You can’t be everything to everybody, but you can for those 20-30 minutes.  😉

Team up with your IG friends!
One of my favorite ways to find and share new eyes is to team up with my Insta-friends!  There are loads of fun hashtag games you can play along with (that’s how I met so many friends when I was new!), and they are a great way to get exposure and find new feeds as you begin to grow.  I love partnering up with friends for share swaps, IG story team-ups, and even utilizing blog tours as a way to drive IG traffic, too!  There are endless ways to help each other grow by joining forces with friends, so get creative and parter up with your own buddies! 🙌🏼


Okay, we’ve covered a few ways for you to boost your own growth, and now I wanna look at the flip side: how can you help to grow others?  I’ve said it in all of the other posts in this DO YOU + BE KIND growth series: kindness comes back around.  Social media is for sure a “look at me” platform, and that’s okay sometimes, especially if you use it for your business or if it IS your business.  You want that growth, that engagement, that income, and that means you need eyes on ya.  Totes agree and totes want those eyes, too.  But…there’s another way to view our platforms that could help make social media a safer, happier, kinder place to be, one little share/repost at a time.  What you put out there comes back around, so how could you find small ways to extend a helping hand?  A boost to someone else?  A corner of your own spotlight?

To use an example from my own little IG journey, I host Thursday feed creeps each week and have been doing so since very early into my Instagram existence almost two years ago.  I noticed that I was starting to be noticed by others, reposted and shared by others, and those kindnesses are 100% what helped me get my start and continue to grow my reach on IG.  But…what was I doing to pay it forward on my end?  So I began to find ways to feature others, both new and established feeds of all styles, all themes, all colors, all focuses, and it has truly become my FAVORITE day of the week with my buddies!  [You can follow along with us each Thursday HERE!]  This is my specific way to spread the love, and I hope in some small way it has served as a way to thank this community that helped me so much and continues to support @cottonstem.

So…how could you do you AND find a way to spread the spotlight over on IG?  How could you continue to strive for growth on your own feed while also lending a hand along the way?  There’s always a way to spread kindness, and I truly believe what we put out there is what we attract in the end.

Okay, friends!  I hope part four of the Do You + Be Kind IG growth series was helpful to you and maybe gave ya a few things to chew on as you continue to grow your space on the social media spectrum.  I can’t wait to share the final part of this series with you soon: advice from some of your favorite Instagram people that I know y’all love and admire!  Their advice and insight is priceless, because they are talking to you from real life experiences, and I hope you’ll come back to hear what these experts have to say….
Until next time,


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  1. Nina Carter says:

    Oh my gosh, Erin! Every time you add a new part to this series I love your mindset around Insta even more! Yasssss to ALL of this! Thank you so much & I love that you take 30 minutes after each post to spend “time with your buddies”. You are such an inspiration to me. A friend has asked me to speak about Instagram at an Entrepreneur Workshop in September & you better believe I’m sharing how you’ve inspired me!! That workshop is where I met Brittany from Antique Candleworks & when she talked about your Instagram Stories it truly made me feel I was on the right path in my Instagram journey & to keep going. 💛 Thank you for all you do, Erin!

  2. Amy says:

    Loved reading this post Erin! Thank you for sharing ❤️ You are such a light in this IG community and I love how authentic you are! Thanks for doing and being YOU!!!


  3. Angelina White says:

    Yay so excited to read the latest in the series and it didn’t disappoint. Some great advice and tips that I never thought of or knew. This is very helpful because mine is to grow my IG account for business purposes and I think it will help. I love Thursday creeps and can’t wait for this week’s cause our business is as makers, so it will really be fun to play along. Thanks again for your time and knowledge you have put into this I truly appreciate it.

  4. Angie Christenson says:

    This is so awesome!!! I’ve gotten so much out of this series. Thanks so much for sharing a real and authentic way to grow on IG. It’s easy to see others growing around you and wonder what you’re doing wrong, but knowing that things will happen in time and to stay true to yourself is great to remember. Your posts are always inspiring, but what I love most about you is how relatable you are and it’s easy to see you are staying true to yourself. Thanks for all the great tips!! ❤️

    • Erin | Cotton Stem says:

      It can get discouraging if we get too wrapped up in it–totally been there girl! Hugs!

  5. Tina says:

    I look so forward to these posts, Erin! I learn so much, and you reaffirm some things I’m already thinking, but continue to second guess myself.
    I sure do appreciate your insight, and willingness to help others! 💙

  6. That post time advice is so so good. I’ve been stressing about post times too much. I love what you said and I’m going to use it starting RIGHT NOW. ❤️

  7. That post time advice is so so good. I’ve been stressing about post times too much. I love what you said and I’m going to use it starting RIGHT NOW. ❤️

  8. Diane Cummings says:

    I can’t remember how I found your account, but I CAN tell you it wasn’t through hashtags! If I see an account I like I will start following that account! You are one of my favorites, so I will always look for you! But not through hashtags!

  9. I could not love this series of posts or your sweet heart more!! So many times through this I said out loud, “YES!!” Thank you for taking the time to really go through this with us. And a big squeeze to you and your family for doing what you do without sacrificing who you do it for! You are a blessing and I’m thankful you take the time to share your gifts with us. Looking forward to this weeks creep!! 🙂

  10. Jory says:

    Loved this! Thanks Erin!

  11. Bonnie says:

    This is another great one, Erin! I’ve loved following along with this series. 🙌

  12. Crissy Cates says:

    Excellent advice! I just love your “others first” mentality. Says a lot about who you are. Keep on keepin’ on, girlfriend! XO

  13. Jenn Terry says:

    Dear Erin,
    I am not sure how I came across your IG feed, but I have enjoyed catching up on everything that I have missed over the years. I love your stories, and I have really enjoyed this series of, “Being you.” I am a mother of three beautiful girls and started my little business last November. Sometimes your words and thoughts are the exact same thing running through my head. Thank you for your beautiful work, honesty, and advice for the newcomers. It’s is much appreciated. Thanks, Jenn

  14. Rebecca says:

    You are AMAZING and one of a kind! Truly, you deserve every single bit of success that you achieve. Wow. I’ve never read a post series like this before. 🙂

  15. Lena Elzayn says:

    Found you via Lauren McBride and I absolutely love following you! You are endlessly inspiring and I love your dedication to being kind and maintaining balance in your life. Thank you for sharing with us <3

  16. Cindy says:

    I just figured out you’re a blogger too! Not sure how I missed that on IG since I’ve been a follower for some time. Anyway, thanks for the tips. I’m farely new at IG and at blogging so these tips have really opened my eyes and given me some needed confirmation! THANK YOU! I don’t know what Thursday feed creeps are though. Can you explain a little bit more? Big hugs to you.

  17. Grant says:

    I have really enjoyed reading this series! Appreciate your openness and honesty. Excite to try and figure out how I can implement some of these ideas in my instagram and can’t wait for part 5!

  18. Mikka McClain says:

    All I can say is INSPIRATIONAL!
    I just started following you in December and to be honest I don’t even remember how I ran across your instagram, but I am so happy I did! I just love love love seeing, watching, and hearing your posts. I look forward to seeing your posts daily now! You have such a beautiful personality. I was even more excited to see that you were from Tulsa, Ok! I’m not from Tulsa, but I am an Okie girl myself with a sweet six year old girl…so some of your posts I can definitely relate to. Thank you so much for the time you take to post all of this wonderful and helpful stuff! You keep doing you!

    – Mikka

  19. […] Do You + Be Kind: Growing Your Instagram – Part Four – Cotton Stem […]

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