Ask the Hustle: How do you grow a social media following without buying followers?

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Mia Sullivan

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We invited you to slide into our DMs a while back, and almost 300 of you wrote in with questions. We got some good ones, and we’re getting back to you here. This one’s from Lexi in San Antonio, Texas:

Ask the Hustle

How do you get/grow a social media following for a brand-new clothing company without buying followers? When people see a business account with 80 followers they tend to not trust it, but you have to start somewhere. How do you get the first chunk of followers so that other people will view your brand as legitimate and are more likely to follow. Some brands buy followers, but I don’t want to do that.

You’re right, Lexi: You gotta start somewhere. Don’t be discouraged by your handful of followers — Rome wasn’t built in a day! (And neither was The Gap.) You’re new to the game and should use this time to experiment and see what sticks.

Plus, your instinct to not buy followers is a good one. Customers can sniff out a fake from a mile away, and it’s not worth the risk. A bunch of bots flooding your comments is not a cute look.

That’s not just us being elitist, we promise. The experts agree:

“Buying followers would actually do nothing, because it’s not real attention,” says Saru Saadeh, CEO of growth marketing firm Iron Roots.

Alex Bodini, co-founder and CEO of UK social media agency Spin Brands, concurs. Buying followers “might give you a short high in terms of credibility, but it’s only going to hurt you long term.”

While we want to tell you to just experiment, iterate, have fun, and essentially do weird sh*t on the internet until someone notices… we know that’s not the concrete advice you came for.

Some tips from Saadeh and Bodini to organically grow your social media following:

  • Share high-quality content, especially videos: Make simple, engaging videos and share them regularly on social media.

    Saadeh recommends focusing on platforms that are good at getting a new user’s content in front of would-be followers, like TikTok, YouTube, Instagram Reels, and Twitter.

    “If you post 100 high-quality TikTok videos, you’re bound to capture the audience,” Saadeh says. “They have a very powerful algorithm.”

    People’s attention spans are super short, so you’ve got to start strong and hook viewers in the first few seconds. For a new clothing brand, Saadeh recommends mining digital trends to develop an engaging format for a video lookbook.
  • Get in on viral hashtags: Use trending hashtags to your advantage. Can you post something inspiring or witty that integrates a hashtag that’s trending? This is a great way to gain organic visibility.

    A set of hashtags on a post from a small, sustainable clothing brand, for example, could look like #smallbusiness #handmade #sustainablefashion #fashiontips.

    Don’t add too many hashtags, though! Bodini recommends four to six max per piece of content.
  • Partner with micro-influencers: Influencers can help you build brand awareness. As a new clothing brand, Saadeh recommends partnering with micro-influencers and trading a few pieces of clothing for content and stories featuring those pieces.

    Influencers with fewer than 10k followers are often looking to build their portfolios and prove their worth and would likely work with a smaller brand, says Bodini. It depends on the micro-influencer, of course, but offering ~$100 worth of product generally gets you a few pieces of related content.
  • Engage with other brands: A good way to do this is by commenting on posts from brands in your category. Writing something clever really helps, too. If your comment generates a lot of engagement, it’s more likely to be featured toward the top of the list. And if your comment is featured toward the top, it’s more likely users will see it, click on your profile, and consider following you.

At the end of the day, content is king. Stay real with your audience and don’t push the product too hard. Customers like to forget that you’re selling them something. We all just want to laugh, be entertained, and learn something new while swiping our credit cards and regretting it later. 

Try different platforms, too, and consider whom you’re trying to reach. If you’re after the Gen Z crowd… you better start practicing dance moves for TikTok. Trying to reach Great-Uncle Joe from Wyoming? He’s on Facebook (posting, like, a lot). 

“It’s not going to happen like magic,” says Saadeh. “It’s hard work. But not having any followers… that’s the most exciting part.”

Been meaning to build out your social strategy? Check out HubSpot’s free social media templates to get things going.

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