I’ve changed the focus of my account and lost tonnes of followers; how do I find my new people?
First up here's a shoutout to you for recognising this for exactly what it is: you've pivoted your focus, and not all of your previous audience is interested in what you're sharing now. That's completely normal. Attrition in this situation is inevitable for anyone, whether you have 100 followers, 1000 followers or a million people screaming your name outside shopping centres each weekend.
How many followers you are likely to lose in such a situation really depends on how radical the change in direction actually is. If you're a lifestyle blogger who starts to mingle in some parenting content after the birth of a child, you might only lose a small minority of your audience. On the other hand, if your previous content was primarily about supercars [note to self: google what a supercar actually even is] and you've made a sudden switch to gluten free baking shares, then you can reasonably expect a good 90% of your audience to switch off and move on to something more in line with their original interests.
It's not personal. It's entirely and completely about them.
I say all of this not so much for your benefit, question-writer, but for anyone else reading this who finds their self esteem, business confidence and happiness inexorably linked to their Instagram stats. Unfollows can feel deeply personal and even painful, especially when it's a portion of our livelihood at stake.
If we were to take a survey of a wide enough range of Instagram users, we'd find such a range of conflicting ideas of what everybody wants in their ideal account. Perfectly curated grids; journalistic naturalism; political movements; videos of kittens waking up. Plastic surgery videos and slime tutorials. Memes and landscape photography, pimple popping videos and girls in bikinis posing against backgrounds that are subtly but suspiciously warped. Logically we know that to try and squeeze all of these things into a single account would produce a raging hot dumpster fire of unfollowable chaos, yet we often find ourselves tempted to try and be something to every person that crosses our digital path.
This is an impossible and thankless task.
The only way to ever build anything of significance and value is to be fully and wholly yourself.
Build a brand with your true personal self at the centre, and you will always have space to pivot as your interests evolve. An account that is based solely around your pet budgie or child's mealtimes might grow faster, but it has fewer scope for evolution, and forms a tight pigeonhole to wedge ourselves in.
The fact that you've chosen to pivot, letter-writer, instead of starting a whole new account leads me to believe that you probably felt that the new direction you've taken your content in would still be of interest to your core audience base. So how do you go about attracting a new audience now you've begun to step out in this brave new direction?
The answer is: in the same way you go about growing an audience when you're brand new, except you've got a significant advantage this time. You have the kudos of existing numbers next to your name, which entices people to pause for longer, give you more of the benefit of the doubt. You have your existing loyal tribe of people, however small, who will engage with your posts and help boost them in the algorithms. You're at the advantage of understanding what works - knowing how to take a killer picture, write a great caption, talk to your audience in a way that is meaningful and wield a hashtag or ten with aplomb.
You might hear some people advocating for deleting followers - whether because you think they might be ghost followers, bots, or simply people who aren't engaging with your content. There are even apps available that promise to help you find these users and block them, and it's true that if a large percentage of your audience is choosing not to engage with your content, this can have an impact on your visibility within home feed (the algorithm will simply push you further down the list, so you'll only be seen by the most tenacious of scrollers).
My problem with this kind of strategy is that it's a blunt tool wielded with a very heavy hand. Who is to say that the follower who doesn't noticeably engage doesn't read every caption and hold it close to their heart?
Who are we to decide who's a genuine follower,
or to say that because somebody doesn't hit 'like' right now that they should be expelled from our future posts? Isn't that contrary to the whole nature of sharing that we started this with?
A better, more nuanced way to filter your audience is to simply lean hard into the direction of your new content and let people self-select. If your posts about babies or politics or baking alienate people, they have the freedom, knowledge and ability to unfollow and move on. Regular readers will have already heard me reference my analogy of panning for gold. This is what we do any time we divide our audience: let people fall through the cracks, safe in the knowledge that the real gems will stay, and hold all the real value.
It can feel scary when so many of the messages we get from the modern world tell us 'more is more' and 'bigger is better', but
there is absolutely no benefit in having empty numbers of people who do not get what you are here to do.
Rather than try and manually sort these with the limited info available on people's profiles, simply continue to post, continue to be entirely yourself and continue to disregard any drops in numbers, safe in the knowledge that there will come a time when this levels out and you will see linear growth once again.
Keep in mind that any growth you're attracting right now may be masked by the unfollowers you're also experiencing - e.g., if a post garners you 10 new followers but loses 15, then you may see that it only brought you 5 unfollows. I'd advocate,
rather than measuring your success in follows right now, take a look at things like comments, shares, and posts to people's stories.
How many people felt moved to write you a DM this week? Is that more or less than in previous times?
There's a tendency for us to think that the only following that counts is that which appears effortlessly overnight, but the real influencers are those who are effective communicators and know how to call their audience to action. Whether that action is to spread their message, sell their products or bring new followers - it's the effectiveness of that communication that determines who is the true influencer or not.
Things to consider:
What are people following you for? If you've had a change in direction its probably worth asking yourself this question and taking stock. Why have people stayed with you? Is it the new content? Is it the old? Is it an amalgamation of the two? What are the core values of the work you produce, and how can you continue to express these meaningfully in all of your content?
Do you still want to serve your old audience? Some people introduce new types of content but still maintain a thread of the original offering. Like the example of the lifestyle blogger, generally people are quite forgiving and will overlook a post or two that is not for them if there are still enough other posts that deliver what they are looking for overall.
Asking for some support. The people who have stayed with you throughout this change have likely spotted it, and are still there cheering you on. Don't be afraid to ask for some support and cheerleading from your community - could they share your posts to stories or tag friends to help spread the word? How can they help you reach more of your new people, instead of the type you're slowly moving away from?
There will come a day when the followers will even out, but until then, you're going to need some gumption, some self belief and to keep your eyes firmly on the prize. Remember you're doing this for longevity, for yourself, and for all the people who need the new content you'll be bringing into the world. I'm holding your virtual hand, cheering you on, and have no doubt you can do this. After all - you've already done it once before.
Sara Tasker is the author of Hashtag Authentic: Finding creativity and building a community on Instagram and beyond, available from February 21st.