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How To Actually Grow On Social Media (Even If You Have 0 Followers)

I have a lot of followers.

(Nothing like a bit of narcissism to get this started, right?)

On a serious note, I say that to frame this conversation. This is for people that want to grow on social media.

I didn’t always have this big of a readership.

This is obvious, but you know how human nature works.

People create an image from what they know about you and base their judgments around that.

People see I have 2.8 million followers and don’t think I had 500 at one point with a cringeworthy profile.

It is extremely rare to find a human being who has done the self-development required to never judge a book by its cover.

My first attempt at social media was as a photographer.

I was in love with taking photos but was never able to monetize it outside of a few $50 graduation shoots (the images sucked, sorry whoever paid me to do that).

I would post my images on Instagram, use a bunch of hashtags that I copied from other accounts, and hope that I would somehow gain 100,000 followers someday. I had no monetization plan.

Editing started to catch my eye more in more.

I would start taking photos just to do some crazy edits on them.

I spent my days binge-watching YouTube videos to learn Photoshop and Lightroom.

Eventually, I came across a guy named Visuals Of Julius.

He would post these surreal images. Something like I’ve never seen before.

I wanted to do what he did.

So, my YouTube binges continued.

I borrowed some Adderall from my roommates and would lock myself in my room, jamming to heavy rock, creating whatever my heart desired.

Here’s one of my favorites:

This is when things started to get real.

I started to uncover the “secret” to social media growth.

My beautiful images meant nothing on their own. I couldn’t just post and hope that our lord and savior, The Algorithm, would save me.

I had to get my content in front of people.

I had to get my content shared by people with larger audiences than me.

(When you zoom out, this is the one and only principle for social media growth, even if you are hosting X Spaces or a podcast where someone else is hosting you to share your spoken content).

In the digital art world, there are a lot of curation accounts.

These were accounts that posted their favorite digital art every day and tagged the creator.

You would only have a chance at getting seen by these accounts if you tagged them, used their hashtag, engaged with them, and possibly messaged them to build rapport.

I was consistent for two months.

I knew I had to create good content that the other accounts would want to share.

If I remember correctly, my posts got shared 30-40 times across accounts of varying sizes.

Accounts like “A Game Of Tones” were the jackpot. If you could get shared by them you would skyrocket in followers. The dopamine hit from getting shared by 100K to 500K follower accounts was insane.

In my first 2 months, I grew my Instagram from 0 to 2500 followers.

The first 10,000 are always the hardest from what I’ve experienced in myself and my students.

At this point, I burnt out and quit.

I didn’t see myself sustaining a stimulant addiction and 8-hour days to produce one Photoshop composite.

And, I didn’t know marketing or sales.

I could have cashed out big if I would’ve created an education product around how I create the art (take notes, artists, there’s a reason every other big artist has a course or tutorial database. Sell what’s selling).

This short-lived failure of growing a social media brand taught me what is actually necessary to grow:

Get good content in front of other people – that’s the only chance you have at someone following you.

But there are many ways to do this right.

Let’s talk about every growth mechanism you can leverage, ordered by priority.

Big Picture – How To Grow On Social Media

I no longer do Photoshop art.

I’m a writer now, and this is a part of the Digital Writer series, so we will be talking about this from that lens – how to get your writing shared. (If you want a primer on what and how to write, read this letter on writing authentic content).

By writing, I mean anything written on social media, which is almost everything.

Captions, Instagram posts with text on the image, tweets, LinkedIn posts, reels scripts, YouTube scripts, etc.

Social media growth is so straightforward that everyone overcomplicates it, or they don’t pay attention to it at all.

Some people post and post and post just to get mad at the algorithm for not spreading their content.

Other people know how to grow, and they are intelligent individuals, but their posts are like art pieces that never get purchased. The artist thinks they are the best thing in the world, but the market couldn’t care less.

Then, there are those who grow a bit but don’t know how to double down on their best ideas to compound that growth.

1) Write Persuasive Content

The keyword here is persuasive.

Persuasion implies a few things:

  • A hook. Be mindful as to whether or not your first sentence will grab their attention. This goes beyond just the words you use. The structure and design of the post can do this, even on X.
  • A big problem. Imply or state a problem that people can relate to. Don’t make it too high level.
  • A clear solution. An actionable way to overcome the problem, preferably with a unique way of doing so from personal experience.
  • A big benefit. Imply or state a desirable benefit that people will receive from your advice.
  • Confidence or polarization. Stand firm in your beliefs but be willing to change them. Nobody wants to follow someone who doesn’t sound confident or can’t choose a side. Say what you want to say. You will get hate like everyone else.
  • A novel perspective OR big idea. This is why reading or consuming content is important. If you can find a way of explaining an idea that isn’t normal, it will give your readers a dopamine hit and advance their understanding.

The best way to solidify these in your head is to save them somewhere safe and try to spot them in the content you see online.

I will be going over 10 strategies to make your writing more engaging in the next letter (with examples).

I teach all of this (how to write and grow a brand around your interests) in 2 Hour Writer.

2) Get Eyes On Your Content

We’ve discussed this and will discuss it in depth in the next section.

For now, nail into your head that your content is meaningless if you don’t get eyes on it. This should be obvious.

It’s fine to write content into the void for practice, but don’t let that turn into an excuse because you are afraid to grow and face criticism.

3) Iterate On Your Ideas With Data

You can only reach this step if you have eyes on your content.

You don’t know what ideas work best for you if you don’t have any engagement on them.

When you do, review your highest-performing content in your analytics each month. Copy and paste them into a notes document.

When you go to write more content, sprinkle in those ideas and write about them from different angles.

This is how you increase your engagement with time.

4) Create Depth & Span For Your Best Ideas

You can do well on one platform like X, but you will eventually become a slave to that platform.

You will have to continue using growth strategies to keep your content in front of people. It won’t live on very long.

Modern power belongs to those who hold the most attention in their lifetime.

A short post that holds 10 seconds of attention is nothing compared to a video, podcast, or newsletter that holds 15-60 minutes of attention.

You must take your best ideas (from the last part) and turn them into longer-form content.

This is how you get your name spread without you trying.

This is how you build the roots of your brand deep into the collective psyche.

This is how you build trust and authority orders of magnitude higher than those who only post short content.

This is why you will almost always attribute the results in your life to a book or an author who taught you how.

Even if someone talks about the same ideas on social media, the author will pop into your head (holding your attention) when you read it.

Traffic Mechanisms – How To Get Your Writing Shared

Now that you are hopefully writing and posting content, it helps to understand the mechanics of the social media game.

When you understand how these allow you to grow, you can get creative with how you get your content shared.

These are in no specific order.

Test them all and see what works best.

Don’t fall for the trap of social media gurus telling you one is any better than the other because tHe ALgoRiThM cHanGEd!!!

1) Replies

This is the most obvious one that everyone does.

If you reply to somebody else’s posts, and readers go into the comments, they have a chance of seeing your reply.

If your reply is good, they may click to your profile, read your content, and follow you if it’s good.

There are a few things here that people miss:

  • Boring content doesn’t make people read the replies. I see people reply to boring posts all day and get a few impressions on their replies. Then they wonder what went wrong because.
  • Boring replies don’t make people click on your profile. Stop repeating what was said in the first post. Talk about yourself here. Tell people how you’ve experienced the same thing in your life. Talking about yourself leads to the most profile clicks.
  • Small accounts get fewer impressions overall. It’s good to reply and network with accounts at your size, but don’t think it will help you grow by much (that’s fine, you should still do it). Just be sure you are replying to bigger accounts with interesting content.

2) Quote Posts

Quote posts are when someone reposts your content with their own commentary. This can be on X or if someone shares your post to their IG story with their own commentary.

On X, this can work very well if you know how to write persuasive content.

If you quote post someone with valuable advice or something interesting, the original creator may repost you to their audience. This means you get more eyes on your content, which increases the potential for people to click on your profile and follow you.

Be wary here, don’t aim too high with this one like you would with replies.

Bigger creators have so many notifications that they will probably miss your post.

Be able to view your growth efforts from the lens of the creator’s audience you are trying to leverage.

3) Reposts

Your content has to be good enough, and relatable enough, for people to want to share on their feeds.

Always think this through before hitting post.

Will people share it? Why should they share it? Do they identify with anything I am saying? Is it polarizing enough to spark discussion and get comments?

4) Manual DMs

This one is more difficult and slow, but it works for networking and getting big accounts to share your posts (if you’re a normal person who isn’t a LinkedIn corporate robot in their messages).

Nobody wants to receive a message like, “Hey! Great to connect! I love your stuff! We should have a virtual coffee and talk about the complexities of zapier automations to enhance the overall experience of your loyal email subscribers so that you can build an incredible digital presence!!!!”

You can make friends online to the point where they are happy to just share whatever you send them.

Here’s a letter I wrote on my Non-Needy Networking Process. Use it wisely and don’t copy anything I say.

The manual DM method can also cross over into a method for controlling your growth.

Sending 1 DM may get 1 impression on your posts, but the potential that they share those posts is higher if you have a genuine conversation.

How To Control Your Growth On Any Platform

If you are smart, you can use any of the traffic mechanisms we discussed in creative ways to control your growth.

Those are the only tools you can use to grow if you don’t want to be a slave to the algorithm.

1) Short Form To Long Form

Short-form platforms like X, Instagram, and TikTok are inherently more easy to grow on than something like YouTube or a podcast.

You can write more content that gets shared with the traffic mechanisms we discussed.

I couldn’t grow on YouTube for the life of me, but I knew how to control my growth on X.

So I posted to both and funneled my audience to YouTube with time.

You don’t have to do anything that I’m saying here, but this route makes sense considering everyone wants to be a YouTuber.

You’re probably going to have to take a smarter path, and this is one of them.

2) Curation, Quotes, & Remixing

DJs and producers grow by remixing popular songs so they can “steal” the traffic from that popular song.

Sometimes they will post reels on Instagram with their remix and the original artist (usually with a lot of followers and clout) would share it to their page or story.

This was a similar case to when I was doing digital art.

I could remix someone else’s art, tag them, and possibly get shared.

The same is true for writers.

You can:

  • Quote them in a thread or newsletter. Use their ideas in your longer posts to illustrate a point. Then DM them the post saying that you mentioned them. They may repost it without you asking.
  • Commentate on their content. Similar to how YouTubers make reaction videos to leverage the traffic that the larger creator is getting.
  • Get people on a podcast. People love getting on podcasts. This is how you can get exposed to a larger creator’s audience. They will share the podcast to have their audience watch or listen.
  • Talk about their ideas and credit them. A simple post where you say “The best idea I’ve seen this week:” then go on to explain how it impacted you and credit the original author.

This stresses the importance of long-form paired with short-form. It will be difficult to pull this off in a short post.

You can, of course, write longer posts on platforms like X to leverage this strategy.

3) Paid Growth

This one gets touchy.

People who are “super authentic” and moral and noble (who also have zero experience with social media) love to say how authentic and moral they are for not using paid growth strategies.

I’ve observed these people over the years, and 4 years down the road they’ve either not grown at all or have lost followers.

People don’t like bitter complainers who stop focusing on providing value and pushing a more holistic worldview.

Now, I’m not talking about running ads to gain followers. That’s the worst thing you could do. Do not do it. I repeat, do not do it.

I’m also not talking about paying for Instagram shoutouts where you pay a large theme account to post your content and shout at people to follow you.

Those are the accounts that have 500K followers with zero engagement.

I’m talking about a truly authentic post and using a little money to boost your results.

Good content is a prerequisite.

The paid growth I’m talking about is paying larger accounts that you resonate with to spend their time on one of the traffic mechanisms from above.

Large accounts are busy and probably won’t do this unless you pay them to pay attention to you. This isn’t unfair. It’s just reality. You don’t understand what they are building that occupies their attention.

You can ask them to repost you.

On X, this is as simple as having them share your post.

On Instagram, this is having them share your post to their story.

Do not have them say anything or tag you.

Let the readers see your content and follow you if they want to.

You can ask them to reply to you.

This works well on something like X when the platform starts to favor comments.

This is often easier on the creator you are paying because they aren’t sharing something to their feed.

You can really ask them to do anything.

DM them, ask if they offer help to grow, take the conversation elsewhere, and negotiate a deal.

In my eyes, this is a far better approach than paid ads or anything else to monetize your products or services.

Build your audience with authentic shares, let people follow you because they like your content, and then promote your offer to your audience as it grows.

If you think it’s fine for advertisers to promote a product randomly in your face, then I don’t see why you shouldn’t think it’s fine for creators to accept money to share content (that you’ll probably like) without asking you to buy anything.

4) Masterminds

Harsh truth:

Every creator you know is in a group chat with other creators.

They talk strategy and have fun building businesses together.

They also share each other’s posts and help them grow.

They use the traffic mechanisms to create a strategy they can bake into their routine.

Some groups comment on each other’s posts each morning.

Others repost the posts that they share in the group.

Most of all, they form a tribe and start to identify as a part of a group.

You can notice that there are tribes of 5-10 creators that all talk to each other online. This is why.

Yes, you will have to DM people, make friends, and let these relationships form almost naturally.

This is a long-term game.

You will not see insane results in less than a year by staying consistent with all of this.

Even then, you can still use other strategies to monetize as you grow.

That’s it for this one.

Thank you for reading.

Dan Koe

P.S. I teach digital writing inside 2 Hour Writer. It goes beyond just “learning to write.” It gives you a system to act on every day so you can do it for a living.

Who Is Dan Koe?

I am a writer & brand advisor for 7-8 figure creators, influencers, and social media brands. I am obsessed with dissecting human potential, lifestyle design, and one-person businesses.

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