Around the globe, 3 billion people use social media. A whopping 17% of the world’s population log onto Facebook every day. For businesses large and small, it’s a relatively cheap and quick way to develop your brand with existing customers and reach out to new ones.

If you’re not using social media, your business is missing out. But signing up to Facebook or LinkedIn isn’t enough. To grow sales you’ll need to increase your following, and that means investing either money or time – or both. Each platform offers paid for advertising. But it’s also possible to grow your audience for free with just a little time invested.

Don’t just take our word for it – we’ve got our own stats to back this up.

In the last 90 days, we’ve been putting the advice below into practice, and the results are clear. We’ve grown our followers on Twitter by 290% and increased engagement by 15.7k%. It’s a similar story on Facebook, with a 182% increase in post reach. And on LinkedIn, we’ve increased our followers by 150% in the last month alone.

So now it’s your turn to get results. To get you started, here’s our guide with 17 steps to grow your social media following for free.

1) Take a multi-channel approach to maximise your reach

Don’t limit yourself to just one social media platform. You don’t have to be everywhere, but it’s worth focusing your efforts across many sites. For business, the highest performers include LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Sharing content across multiple channels won’t increase your workload substantially but will give you a much broader reach. That’s because you can share the same content across each channel. But, you will need to understand how each social media interacts with potential customers and tailor your posts accordingly.

2) Get to know your audience for great engagement

Getting to know your audience (or target audience) is a vital first step in growing your followers. To increase your audience, you need to be getting out there in front of potential new followers. And you can do that by getting current followers to engage with your page. By understanding who your audience is and what they like, you can make sure your content appeals to them. And that should mean more likes and shares.

Now the tricky bit. How can you find out what your audience wants? Well, an excellent place to start is to think about the sort of content you like and share. Most likely, you don’t want to be bombarded by sales pitches every day. But you probably do like content that is useful to you – answering questions you have or helping you to become better at something.

Taking a look at the number of clicks your posts get can also give you an indication of what works and what doesn’t with your audience. And don’t forget, you can ask your followers what they think too. Ask them if they find the information useful – if they do, you know to keep on doing more of the same.

3) Publish frequently to get seen

Social media experts agree that posting content regularly is essential to growing your following. The logic is that the more you most, the more likely you are to get noticed. The optimum number of posts will depend on the platform.

Co-Schedule looked at 14 research studies into this question and concluded that you should aim for one Facebook and LinkedIn post a day. Twitter has a quick turnaround, so more tweets = good. Aim for at least three tweets a day and more if you can.

4) How to keep up with the demands of the hungry social media beast

The thought of all that content that will be needed to help grow your social media following might well leave you breaking out in a cold sweat. But do not fret. The good news is that the content you share on your social media does not all need to be original. Too much self-promotion can be harmful.

Different sources suggest different ratios of created v curated content. This can vary from 1:10 to 2:3 self-promotion:curated content you should be aiming for.

5) Use content curation to bolster your material

Content curation is about gathering the best, most relevant news and stories and then deciding what to share and when. It’s just like what a museum or art gallery curator does – but with information. It helps you to keep your social media publishing schedule full. But it’s not just a case of reposting. You’ll need to add your spin to add value to your audience. And always make sure you credit the original source – it’s just not polite to do anything else.

Not sure where to start with curating content? For ideas, use our list of 25+ tips to curate content like a pro.

6) Write your own great content

When you’re writing or commissioning content for your brand think about how it will be received on social media. It can be helpful to think about the questions your potential customers want answers to. If you can answer those questions, you’ll be on to a winner. Or you can use a Blog ideas generator, like this one at HubSpot to get you started.

One thing to always strive for is high quality. Your audience will recognise when you’re sharing poor quality content. At best, they’ll just skim and move on to the next thing. At worst, they’ll unfollow you, and you’ll lose an audience member.

7) Find great content to share with ease

Your next task is to find quality content you want to share from other sources. You can use a number of online tools to help with this. We find Feedly and BuzzSumo’s Content Analyser useful as they can help you to identify articles that are already trending. It stands to reason that if other people are reading and sharing the article, your followers might want to as well.

Take care also to read the articles before you share them. If you don’t, you risk damaging your reputation. There are millions of blogs and articles out there claiming to know the best way to do this or that. But some are definitely better than others. If in doubt, stick to popular sites that are respected by people in your industry. That way you know that the information you’re sharing is likely to be true.

8) Stay in front of your audience for more conversions

‘Wait!’ we hear you cry. Are we actually suggesting that you send your followers to site that’s not connected to your business? Well yes, we are. To build your social media following, you need to be helpful and relevant. And that will mean sharing other people’s useful insights and experiences. But don’t worry – you can still keep your business in front of your audience even if they do click through to the external link.

Use a free tool like Sniply, which allows you to insert a banner at the bottom of the web page you are linking too. This banner can include a message, your business logo and a call to action, with a button that clicks through to your business website. That way, you stay in front of your follower even if they do visit an external site and they can quickly get back to you if they want to.

9) Don’t forget to use hashtags to get your business seen

People use hashtags in social media to search for relevant information. If you start using hashtags in your posts, you can potentially get your post seen by thousands more people.

Luckily, finding appropriate hashtags to use is relatively straightforward. Take a look at the hashtags being used by other similar businesses or your target audience.

You can also use a site like Hashtagify. This allows you to type in your subject and it will show you a list of hashtags you may want to consider. For example, type in ‘social media’ and you’ll get a range of potential hashtags to try, including #socialmediamarketing, #SEO, and #DigitalMarketing.

10) Encourage engagement to keep algorithms happy

Encouraging your followers to engage with you will gain you valuable exposure to their followers. It also helps your content to stay more visible. That’s because most social media platforms (including Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn) use engagement as part of their algorithm in deciding which content gets more prominent exposure. That means that likes and comments on your posts can help to boost your presence and could help you gain new followers. There are lots of ways to encourage engagement:

  • Competitions
  • Posing questions
  • Asking your followers to like and share content
  • Asking your employees to like and share content

You can also add CTA buttons. For example, on Facebook, you can set ‘like’, ‘follow’ and ‘share’ buttons to appear under your cover photo.

11) Types of posts to try

Keep your feed fresh by using a variety of different posts. These different styles are likely to engage with different parts of your audience. The result is you’ll get greater engagement across the board if you employ different styles. For example:

  • Infographics
  • Text posts
  • Images
  • Videos

12) Twitter loves emojis

Including emojis in your post could increase engagement. But limit them. One is the optimum number of emojis for successful twitter posts according to Co-Schedule.

13) Remember your CTA

You’re trying to engage your audience with your posts, so remember to include a call to action. This could be a call to click a link to an article to discover more. Or it could be asking for comments back.

14) Best time of day for posting on social media

The time of day that you choose to publish your posts can impact significantly on engagement, and therefore how quickly you can grow your following. The boffins at BuzzSumo and Buffer have analysed 777million (yes million!) Facebook posts to see what works and doesn’t work. And they suggest that 8pm is the optimum time of day for maximum engagement.

If you like a reason (backed up by research) for everything you do, this is it. But always remember that different businesses and different audiences can have different results. Give it a try to see if you follow the trend. But don’t be afraid to try out other publishing times to see what (if anything) works best for you.

15) Scheduling tools to make life easier

A scheduling tool, like Buffer, can help make publishing regularly easier.

The joy of Buffer is that it lets you schedule multiple posts in advance. You can set the times your posts are published to fit in with recommendations for the optimum publishing timings and won’t need to be there to push the publish button. Even better, if you want to send something out at 3 am, you don’t need to stay up.

We use Buffer and find the analytics invaluable too when it comes to seeing what works and what doesn’t. There are basic analytics or subscribe to Buffer for Business for even more detailed breakdowns and graphs.

16) Don’t forget your other marketing materials

If you’re trying to increase your social media following, don’t forget to promote it through your other marketing channels. Emails (including your email signature), blogs, your company website, and newsletters should all encourage customers to sign up to your social media pages.

17) Fill in all your profile information

We’ve put this at the bottom of our list because it’s often at the bottom of everyone’s priorities. But actually, taking the time to fill in your profile information properly can have a significant bearing on growing your followers. It makes it clear to potential followers exactly who you are. And that can help them to decide to click to follow.

And don’t forget the power of your profile picture. People prefer to follow people, not businesses. So get yourself a professional head and shoulder shot to give your business a face. If you’re using Facebook, make use of your cover photo to highlight your brand. You could use a designer to create something that stands out. Or use a free tool like Canva, where you’ll find a range of templates to help you create a cover photo that will grab everyone’s attention.

Now you try it

We’ve shared our tips on what to do to grow your social media following for free. And we’ve given you the evidence that it has worked for us. Now it’s time for you to give it a go. All the tactics above are free – they’ll only take up your time. Alternatively, save yourself time and ask our helpful team at Big Star Copywriting to manage your social media for you.