“How did you gain so many followers?”
Ah yes, if only there was a way for me to make money for every time I received that DM on my Instagram account (or would it be more proper to say “platform”?). 6 years of doing the ‘gram later, it’s hard to believe I am STILL posting photos of my food! I could never have imagined what this account would turn into when I first created it, so I’ll clue you guys in on how I got to where I am today.
Disclaimer: I still don’t know how this all happened. Not once did I ever think that I could have over 77,000 amazing people following me, but I do, and I am so grateful.
Freshman year of high school (back when Twitter was all the rage), my friend’s started retweeting “fitness motivation” tweets around Spring Break. At the time, I had never given an ounce of thought as to what I was eating. I heard people talking about the “Spring Break Body” and at age 15, I was like “yeah sure, sounds good.” So I started following Daily Fitness Motivation pages. As a result, I began eating healthier and running on my own during the off season (I ran cross country in the Fall). I really loved the concept of the fitness Twitter account, I was constantly seeing people working out and eating healthier, so I decided to join in and make one.
@DoWorkFittie was born in 2012. It’s been long deleted, but I used it to tweet pictures of my meals and when I was working out. I interacted with likeminded runners and health conscious individuals on there. Some of them I still talk to today! I looooved the community feel. I didn’t have any friends in high school who were into the same things that I was in terms of healthy eating and working out, so it was really awesome to get to talk to other people my age who were experiencing similar struggles. Overtime, I started to get more into the food photography part aspect of my Twitter, put more effort into what my meals looked like and decided I wanted an Instagram account instead of a Twitter. @healthywaysfordays was born.
I started off my Instagram life by following some food & fitness Instagram accounts. These accounts that I followed were mostly runners, as I was a runner, and other accounts like me with girls my age or older who ate healthy and ran.
The funny thing is, that when I first made @healthywaysfordays, I was private. I also had manually gone through and blocked everyone from my personal Instagram account… I did NOT want my friends knowing about it. Keep in mind, the year was 2013 and healthy eating was not what it is today. Nobody had food accounts, except for the main bloggers and the few other girls like me that I found who ran cross country and ate pretty, healthy food. People didn’t really take pictures of their food unless it was a Starbucks Frappuchino (with all the drizzle) or a Gigi’s Cupcake with icing 4 inches tall. I didn’t want my friends to know that I was passionate about health and fitness, they knew that I ran and ate healthy of course, but I couldn’t let them know about the foodie account because I was embarrassed.
So you might be wondering, “if your account was on private and you didn’t want people to follow you, how did you grow a following?” I don’t really know, if I am being honest. Like I said before, I followed similar accounts to mine, I followed people who inspired me to eat more and fuel my body right, and I followed fitness accounts with different workouts (I used to post more fitness related and running related posts). At the time there weren’t “big” accounts, or I didn’t follow any of those. I followed girls like me who had a few hundred followers and were just constantly posting unfiltered and unstaged meals, the real stuff. I commented on people I followed’s pictures, they commented on my pictures, I gained some followers. I made friends in the community, still friends with a lot of them today (hi guys). Eventually I came off of private, but everyone in my personal life was still blocked. Sometimes my friends would see me taking pictures of my food and ask me what I was doing, but I would come up with some excuse. This just goes to show how long ago this was… “phone eats first” was NOT a thing yet.
Back when I was first starting to gain a following on Instagram, the algorithm on Instagram was different, and I know this. I’m sure you remember, unless you were living under a rock, but Instagram used to display your newsfeed in chronological order. I honestly think that this helped me gain followers/engagement, because every one of my followers was FORCED to see my pictures when they were scrolling. Now it’s harder to get the same level of engagement because the new algorithm makes it so that you only see people who you engage a lot with AND people that Instagram thinks that you would want to see. If someone follows you, they may not end up seeing any of your posts.
I slowly started gaining followers, I think it took me a month or so to gain 1,000 and then after that it just happened exponentially from there. I hit 10,000 during the Summer of 2016 and now I have around 77,000 in the Spring of 2019 so you can see how having more followers makes it easier to gain new followers. I never intended to grow a following like I said, so whenever I hit a big milestone like another thousand, I would get so excited and shocked that I had made it that far. You’re definitely a long-time follower if you remember that I used to make the numbers in my food- for 7K I did pancakes and for 10k it was in a yogurt bowl… I was so cute.
Another question people like to ask is about sponsorships and “free food” as my friends call it. The first company that ever sent me products in exchange for a post was actually Square Organics! I still have a really good relationship with their company and highly recommend their bars. The Chocolate Coated Mint is my favorite one, followed by the Chocolate Coated Cherry (discontinued, sad) and the Chocolate Coated Peanut Butter. Their marketing team reached out to me when I had around 4,000 followers, but I was also posting pictures of their bars on my account because I bought them with my own money. They sent me a gift package of their bars and some stickers, along with a discount code, “healthywaysfordays” which STILL gets you 20% off. Love these bars, love posting about them, love this company.
After that, I would occasionally receive a DM asking if I wanted to try out a product. Usually these companies were bar companies like G2G Bar, Go Macro, and That’s It, or others like Jillz Crackers. I loved getting packages in the mail and posting about the brands. I still get so excited every time I get a package! Getting packages and sampling different products was something that happened as a result of making this account, not something I expected. I never once made my account with the intentions of having anyone follow me, let alone did I do it so companies would send me free stuff. When it started happening, I just accepted it and worked on developing my relationships with those companies.
I know that what people REALLY want to know is how do I make money on this account. Everyday 15 women will DM me asking me to sell their products or become a health coach in order to “capitalize” on my following. I always decline, mostly because I do not have this account to make a living or quit my job… which they promise me for joining. People just assume that I only have my account to make money and that every post is for money… wrong. First of all, I very recently started making actual money from @healthywaysfordays. The money I have made is very scattered and not super consistent. My first campaign was with Panera during their Big Game Super Bowl campaign in February 2018. I didn’t even know that I could make money from Instagram until they sent me a contract to sign with the Payout Total written at the top. Before that campaign, companies would send me product to try out and then if I liked it, I would post about it if I wanted to.
Since that first paid promotion, I have done some others. I’m open about this, but that being said, I have also turned down MANY. If I don’t personally LOVE a product or if I wouldn’t use my own money to purchase it, I don’t accept the offer. Same goes with product samples, if I don’t like the product, I won’t post about it and I’ll tell that company that I don’t feel comfortable posting about what they sent me. Every time I make a post about a brand or a product, you can trust that I truly believe in their company and that I am not just selling out for the cash. I know other accounts on Instagram who seem to post sponsored content every day, which is totally their choice (you do you girl), but if they are doing that with the wrong intentions, I don’t support that. I use Instagram to find a lot of the brands that I use in my everyday life, a lot of which may have been results of sponsored content, but I would hope that anyone who is vouching for a brand would actually like the brand. Just food for thought.
Now, I can’t sit here and pretend that I have done NOTHING to keep my engagement up/gain new followers. I do have a business profile where I pay attention to when my followers are active, and post content accordingly. I have this blog, which will hopefully open the door to being more open with you guys. I have joined AspireIQ, a website that matches influencers with brands to collaborate and form partnerships. I also put effort into my pictures that I post, I know that certain things get more engagement from my followers than others. You guys LOVE oatmeal and desserts, but don’t like salad too much. Who knew? I comment on other’s content, I use some hashtags that I have saved in my notes, I respond to comments on my pictures, and I have developed relationships with other food bloggers. I am choosy with the posts I make now, gone are the days where I would post 7 times in one day and every meal. I think that taking the time to really make each plate/bowl look pretty has boosted my account’s aesthetic appeal.
I think that from the beginning of creating healthywaysfordays to now, I am a much happier and definitely a healthier person. The account has given me so much more than I ever imagined that a social media platform could, and if Instagram were to get shut down tomorrow, I would still be forever grateful for the time I have spent on that application. But in terms of follower growth, that’s honestly about all I do. I post everyday at least once, sometimes more than once, and other times not at all. It honestly depends on my schedule and whether or not I actually have something to post or something to say. For those of you who are just starting out or who are looking for fast follower growth, breathe. There are thousands and thousands of accounts just like yours, so even if you think you have good content, you need some way to break through the clutter. The new Instagram algorithm is not working in your favor, in fact it’s working against you, so patience will be your best friend on your
Although people follow me for Inspiration, I started this account to follow others for inspiration and that’s still my number one reason for having this account. If I am feeling lazy, I’ll open Instagram and scroll through stories of people doing crazy workouts or having amazing runs and I am motivated to get up and get going. I see their delicious breakfasts, meal prepped lunches, and fitness tips which keeps me loving the incredible community that I am apart of. True story: a large majority of what I eat now (brands, dishes, meal ideas, the concept of meal prep) I saw on Instagram from someone else that I follow. Funny how that works! I’ll see a brand that I want to try that my friend posts, I will buy it and then post it, and then you see it and want to try it and purchase it. That’s why brands LOVE influencers so much, I love influencers, too!
I would say that you should make a foodie account because you LOVE the process. Grocery shopping for the ingredients, making the meal, plating it just right, and then snapping that perfect picture- it’s super satisfying. I love looking at the aesthetic finalized picture and then sharing it with my random, thrown together captions. I was doing this before I had even 10 followers, and I would still be doing it if I deleted my account tomorrow. If that means nothing to you and you are really just trying to grow your platform, I have some actual advice for your quest to Insta fame. Even for me, growth varies. Some days I will gain over 200 followers and other days I will gain 30. It depends on so many things and I am still learning what role my posts or my actions play in that.
All that being said: try not to make everything you do about the followers. People don’t want to follow you if you’re fake or if you’re only doing promotions. That’s no fun. You’ll also HATE your account if you take forever to gain followers and you’ll get discouraged. Followers will come if you are a passionate, authentic person with relatable content. I wake up in the morning excited about fitness and I love getting to interact with you guys, but also keep in mind that Instagram isn’t real! What? Shocker, I know! But there is a life out there… a real life! Full of people you can talk to and eat food with and go hiking with. You are more than your fitness life, Instagram life, food life, etc. Sometimes I wish that Instagram would shut down sometimes, just to end the self-comparison that comes with social media on an app where almost everything posted is a highlight and not the full story.
When you’re comparing your account to mine or someone else’s, keep in mine that I have had my account for years! I have tried to be consistent, I put time into my food, and I work really hard on my posts, but I love it. I eat food for me, not for you. I share my love of healthy food with my friends and family, I drag my friends to the gym, and I bake an obnoxious amount of healthy treats for my friends and family. I enjoy being apart of this community and like I said, I have gotten SO much out of it… it’s seriously changed my life.
So thank you, for letting me do my thang. I have enjoyed every second of it.