You may have noticed my Instagram account jumped up in considerable numbers over the last two weeks. I was in San Francisco at the time I went to post a photo when I noticed I had gained 75 new followers. I couldn’t quite figure out why, as I never get that many new followers in one sitting. I had a look around and noticed Instagram had started following me. At first I thought it was a mistake. Why would Instagram want to follow me? It was then I noticed I had a new Direct Message…from Instagram. They were letting me know I had been chosen as a Suggested User, which is a dynamic list that highlights some of the top community members on Instagram. Instagram also gives the option to decline the offer. An account is usually featured for a couple of weeks before it is cycled out to give other users the opportunity to be featured. A Suggested User is usually featured when new people sign up to Instagram and when existing followers start to follow an account and Instagram makes three other account Suggestions. For many people it’s the ultimate recognition towards Insta-fame. But for others, like myself, it’s a bit overwhelming. So here are my thoughts:

How to become a suggested user on Instagram

THE PROS My dreams of waking up to discovering I have 1,000 new followers overnight became a reality. My notifications were going crazy, my account was growing and more people were liking and commenting on my photos.

It felt pretty damn good being recognised by Instagram for producing original content. I put a lot of time and effort into creating every photo I post. I don’t have a photographer taking and editing my photos. I don’t have interns or teams to help me come up with creative ideas for my content. I don't just have Instagram; I have this blog which takes up a considerable amount of time planning, writing, editing and executing original and engaging content. I do everything myself.

A high following means I am able to reach, interact and engage with more people around the world. It also means I am able to inspire people to travel more and go on lots of adventures, even if it’s in their backyard.

As a blogger, brands look at my social following as well as engagement before they decide they want to work with me. My account has grown by 50k followers in two weeks, and that means I have more appeal.

Once an account has a certain number of followers, new viewers (both new and existing to Instagram) will be more likely to follow me. If anything, having a higher number gives me some kind of credibility.

I have seen a growth in real likes on each photo I’ve posted since I’ve become a Suggested User and I can also see lots of real comments, which is super cool!

THE CONS Unfortunately with the good, comes the bad. A lot of the new people following me are new to Instagram and they look like spam accounts. In addition, I am starting to see a sprinkling of spam comments, tags and direct message requests. I’ve already had about 50 people requesting to send me Direct Messages, which I’ve quickly declined. Sorry folks!

As I’ve seen with previously Suggested User accounts, my following has already started to decline. In the last three days, I have already lost about 400 followers. This is either Instagram cleaning spam accounts or people feeling as though they may have followed me too quickly without understanding (or liking) the type of imagery I post and share, and have therefore choosen to unfollow me. Bluntly, it sucks. But I’d prefer they leave me now than continue to follow and not engage with my content. For me, engagement is king.

I have been told that a lot of legitimate new followers might have got swept up with Instagram when they first signed up, but over time log on less and less. Which means, whilst they are still following me, they are not actively getting to know me or engage with the content I share create. This results in the kiss of death – low engagement. Something I am terrified about. I even have a friend who posted a photo and asked Instagram to delete all of the spam-like accounts he got when he was made a Suggested User. His numbers are high, but sadly his engagement is lower than before he was made a Suggested User. C’mon Instagram – what’s with that?! Poor form if you ask me.

All of a sudden I am hyper careful of what I want to post. I’ve been getting some weird and suggestive comments from people who I know are not interested in being an active member of the little community I have worked hard to create. I am actually removing these comments and blocking those accounts. Yup!

WHAT NEXT? As I mentioned earlier, I am already losing followers. But this is actually a good thing. I want to actively cultivate my followers into a group of engaged people who want to follow me, are inspired by my adventures and love my photos. I want to know who they are and I want to continue to nourish and grow the community I have worked so hard to create.

So now it’s time to work out who those people are. I will do that by getting my new community to know me. I am replying to every comment and questionle possible. I am actively addressing and thanking my new followers each week in at least one to two posts. I am writing more aspirational and motivating copy to go with my photos so people feel emotive, inspired and connected with my adventures.

HOW CAN YOU BECOME A SUGGESTED USER? “But how can I become a Suggested User” – I can hear you allllll ask. Well here it is. Instagram actually tells you how to become a Suggested User here. However in truth, unless you work at Instagram, no one actually knows the magic formula. But I’ve got some tips on how to become a Suggested User on Instagram.

The first thing you need to do is find a niche and own it. Like, really truly own it. I know plenty of other travel bloggers but no one is constantly talking about, living and breathing adventure and nature like I am. I also know a lot of bloggers who, all of a sudden, are now travel bloggers as well; which is so exciting however taking flat lays of passports and plane tickets isn't my jam. I'm too busy climbing mountains to post stuff like this.

The next thing you need to do is get better at taking photos. Earlier in the year I went to New Zealand for an Instameet and met a group inspiring, likeminded landscape, travel and adventure photographers, including Chris Burkard. After I came home I decided to get better at photography and editing. I watched tutorials, I asked questions, I practiced and I refined my individual style. I learned how to shoot water properly, and I learned how to shoot astro. Whilst I am still learning the tools of the trade and by no means am I a photography expert, I take way better photos than I did earlier in the year.

You also need to actively build your community. I do this by replying to all the comments I receive with a comment back or an emoji acknowledgement. I started commenting, asking questions and liking more posts myself - but I only comment on images when I have something interesting to say or a question to ask.

You then need to get better at working with brands. So I decided to make it mandatory for brands who wanted to work with me to share my content on their channels (no matter how small or big) so I could continue to grow my community through referral traffic. I had asked in the past, but now I was making it compulsory (where possible). I also don't sit at home and wait for opportunities. I go out and chase them.

After doing all of the above for a few months, you should notice steady growth and that means more eyes on your content and more chances of getting noticed by Instagram. For my account, I noticed I was garnering about 1,000 new followers a month and my engagement was king. I had created a steady flow of new followers and engagement, and I was proud. I started to notice I had better engagement than some accounts with over 100k followers, even three and four times higher engagement. I was very proud of my little community.

Oh! One last tip. And I am not sure how I feel about telling you this because I don't want anyone all of a sudden starting to 'love' my work in hopes of getting referred. However I do believe in sharing and sharing breeds positive experiences and outcomes. So here I go. Suggested Users are able to nominate anyone in the Instagram community at any time if they feel the account is worthy of also being given the holy grail of Instagram…