I reached 100,000 followers for my small business' Instagram and TikTok accounts in 6 months. Here are the 3 strategies that made all the difference.

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I reached 100,000 followers for my small business' Instagram and TikTok accounts in 6 months. Here are the 3 strategies that made all the difference.
AnnaLaura Cromwell.Richard Barlow Photography
  • AnnaLaura Cromwell, 27, is the director of community at the restaurant-subscription service Offline.
  • She says she was able to grow its social following so quickly by focusing first on good content.
  • She also says you have to post more often than you think and get creative repurposing content.
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This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with AnnaLaura Cromwell, the 27-year-old director of community at the restaurant-subscription service Offline, about social-media tactics that have helped grow the company's following. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Growing a social following from zero can be intimidating for small businesses, especially when you want to do it quickly.

When Offline's product — a monthly subscription that gives members deals at local restaurants, access to preview parties at new businesses, and more incentives to explore their city — was ready to grow beyond our hometown markets of Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina, we wanted to create a playbook that would help us hit the ground running as quickly as possible. And we wanted to do it without any gimmicks, so we would have a real audience of potential customers and social proof when it came to B2B sales with our restaurant partners.

When we launched in Charlotte, North Carolina, I set a goal of attaining 100,000 followers across Instagram and TikTok within a year — a goal that was challenging enough to push us forward but modest enough that we wouldn't try to grow at the expense of gaining the right kind of followers. We ended up hitting that number in just six months.

I reached 100,000 followers for my small business' Instagram and TikTok accounts in 6 months. Here are the 3 strategies that made all the difference.
Offline's following on Instagram and TikTok.Courtesy of Offline

Here are the steps we took to achieve that rapid growth that any business owner can follow, whether they're launching a new social channel, doing a refresh of their accounts, or just trying to accelerate their follower growth.

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Focus on being a good follow first

Half of succeeding on social media is playing to the algorithm, and a lot of business owners can get too caught up in that. The other half is a very human strategy: Making sure you have a good account to follow.

That's where we started when we launched our accounts in Charlotte: If we knew the value prop for our paying members, what was the value of just being a social follower? Whether it's educational content, entertainment, or something else, you want it to be clear what people should come to your page for.

As a food-and-beverage account, we help our followers learn about new restaurants and things to do around their city. Providing that content week after week — without any gatekeeping — shows potential followers what to expect from us and builds a relationship with existing followers to get them excited about our paid offering.

Push yourself to post more — without sacrificing quality

I reached 100,000 followers for my small business' Instagram and TikTok accounts in 6 months. Here are the 3 strategies that made all the difference.
Behind the scenes of an Offline social shoot.Courtesy of Offline

Part of being a good account to follow also means striking the right balance between quality and quantity. I always say the quantity you're posting should make you a little uncomfortable, without causing you to sacrifice the quality of your posts.

I've found the most success by setting a flexible posting goal. I have what I call a "good, better, best" scale for my team: Good is one Instagram Reel and two TikToks (this is the minimum) per day, better is two Reels and two TikToks, and best is three of each.

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Even with a full-time content creator in each market, this is a lot, and we've looked for ways to streamline our content creation so we can post more often while still feeling proud of the quality. For instance, we found that if we avoid overshooting and instead really focus on filming only short clips, it saves time during editing since we don't have to painstakingly search for the best shot. This comes with practice, but my team can edit a 20-second Reel in 15 minutes because they're great at visualizing what they want ahead of time and only filming what they need.

We also looked for content formats that were easy to crank out quickly and repeatedly but still succeeded with our audience. Through experimentation, we discovered one style of Reel that allowed us to repurpose old content and performed well every time: A pan of the city skyline followed by a list of five places to check out, with stills of each (for example, "Five rooftops to check out").

A post shared by OFFLINE | Restaurant + Social Club (@offlinecharlotte)

Experiment and follow what's working

Even once you find what works for your audience at the moment, you have to keep trying new things to keep up with algorithm changes. So many business owners rail against this because it means adjusting your strategy, but I think it's better when you go with the flow of the changes. This allows you to work smarter, not harder, when it comes to gaining momentum.

I don't have a specific percentage of experimental posts we try to do, but I think of it as keeping a loose grip on our content: Mostly keeping us in the lane of what works, but looking for ways to slightly deviate and make small tweaks. I get new ideas for things to try by being a user of the app first, paying attention to what's working for other similar creators or even creators in other industries and thinking about how we can adapt that for our content. If this isn't your strength, consider hiring a creator to help run your account.

For instance, I noticed recently that top-performing posts were using more "original sound," instead of putting their video over a trending sound on TikTok. I decided to give it a shot on our page, encouraging our community manager to try voice-overs instead (with the script he was already writing for onscreen text, so minimal extra effort). It's been performing well, but I know in a couple of months that's likely to change.

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The good news is, there's no definite right or wrong way to succeed on social media. It's all about figuring out what works by keeping a close eye on the data. On a weekly and monthly cadence, we do recaps of all of our accounts, paying attention to the highest-performing posts and what we can carry forward from those.

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