The real reason you’re losing Instagram followers – and what to do about it

There was a time when losing Instagram followers was a pretty unusual occurrence.
Everyone was on this nice gradual upward trajectory, and growth was simply a matter of how quickly, and how relevent those followers were to our eventual goals.

Then everything changed.

These days I receive dozens of messages a day from people asking why they’re suddenly losing followers when they’d been steadily growing before. Even giant super users are seeing the same effect. Are they shadowbanned? Using the wrong hashtags somehow? Do their audience just hate all their content now?

And while in some very individual circumstances the answer might be that simple, for the majority of people the issue is something a little harder to spot. In fact, the problem isn’t really about losing followers at all. 

You’re (probably) not losing any more followers than before


That sentence is almost always met with a denial. But every time I post a picture I’m losing followers!  This definitely didn’t happen before!

The truth is, every time we post is an opportunity to lose followers. Whatever we share that day has the potential to turn a viewer off – to remind them that they don’t connect with us any more, or that they simply feel overwhelmed by how many people they’re following. And that’s fine – in fact, it’s good!  Our audience needs to be a finely distilled concentration of the right people, who truly like and engage with whatever we’re doing. Otherwise, what’s the point in building an audience at all? 

In my experience, pretty much everyone loses some followers with every post – it’s normal, and it’s going to continue no matter what. As Instagram becomes more and more saturated with amazing accounts to follow, and everyone becomes more and more frustrated with the number of posts they don’t get to see, we’re all getting increasingly choose about our home feed space. Only our favourites get to stay.

What’s really changed when you start to see these unfollowers in your numbers is that your follower growth is no longer outweighing the loss.

So, if you previously could rely on gaining 10 followers a day, your actual figures may have been more like: lost: -15
gained: +25
net total: +10

It’s a super subtle difference in how we look at the issue, but it can have huge meaning for figuring out the solution. 

How to fix it

Growth is getting harder, overall – but the opportunities are still there if you know where to look. Usually when we find we’re losing followers for the first time it’s because whatever trend or function we were tapping into for growth (unknowingly or intentionally), has changed, been updated or is no longer working as it did for us.
If you grew heaps in 2017 by being featured in ‘top posts’ for individual hashtags, for example, you’d have noticed the day they changed the system to start showing everyone different indivudualised selections there.

This is always the pay off for any kind of viral growth – we have to make hay while the sun shines, because Instagram and its audience is always evolving. What breaks the internet this week might leave everyone cold the next. 

If your usual content isn’t reaping the same rewards that it previously did, there are a few simply steps I can recommend.

  1. Mix it up.  Any time that growth stagnates or the old ways stop working is a great opportunity for experimentation. Try new post times – if you usually post daily at 9pm, try in the morning, for example. Find a whole bunch of hashtags that you’ve never used before. Post content that your audience wouldn’t normally expect from you. Engage with a whole different crowd.
    Pay attention to your engagement and follower numbers. What’s working and what isn’t for you now?
  2. Stop posting so much. Because every post is an opportunity to lose followers, the more you post the faster you’ll lose. While in real terms that’s totally fine, it can be slightly soul-destroying for our confidence, and might not be the best for our ongoing engagement in terms of algorithms and priority ranking. Many of my students have found faster growth by dropping down to posting once every other day to their main grid in 2018.
  3. Strengthen your connections. Your network on Instagram is hugely significant – the people you talk to, whose posts you comment on, who you regularly exchange direct messages with, etc. Instagram uses this information to suggest accounts to other users and to hazard guesses at who else will like your content, so the more you can engage meaningfully with your right audience and peers, the more information it has to go off. Plus, of course, engagement will always pay off. Just setting a timer and spending 10 minutes a day engaging with new accounts can bring a visible increase in profile visits and return engagement. 
  4. Nourish your existing audience. Sometimes when we get too focussed on growth we can neglect to take care of the followers we already have. Whether you have 100 or 100k, take time out to consider: how can you make your followers feel valued, and part of your community? What can you offer them by way of freebies, advice, or high-value content that makes them glad to stick around? Try to return the visit to their profiles, reply to comments and DMs and generally do all that you can to show that its a mutual relationship. We don’t unfollow the people we genuinely like.
  5. Pour your energy back into your content. Truly brilliant content always wins out. Yes, sometimes ok or fairly good content can sometimes do surprisingly well too, but aiming for that is like playing the lottery in hopes of winning £10. If you’re frustrated, anxious or stressed about your Instagram numbers, step away from the computer and go make pictures or posts that are full of creative energy. Not only will it remind you why you fell in love with the platform in the first place, but it will give you stellar content that your audience – and your potential new followers – can love, see and share.

  6. Take a break. If none of the above suggestions fills you with enthusiasm, perhaps it’s simply time for a short break from the platform. Contrary to popular rumours, Instagram doesn’t penalise or punish users for taking time out – you can disappear for a month and find your engagement unaffected and your audience largely the same. Plus, when you’re not posting, you’re not creating those daily opportunities for unfollowing either!

If you like this sort of analysis and insight, you’ll love my class The Insta Retreat, a six-week programme to help you build a game-changing Instagram profile that works for you.

We’re enrolling again tomorrow – Monday 7th January 2019 – and places typically sell out within an hour.

Click here to find out if it’s the right class for you!