Instagram Tips: Why People Follow & Unfollow

One thing that can be insanely frustrating when trying to grow your Instagram account is the unpredictable behaviour of followers. Some days they come, some days they go, and it can often seem to be without rhyme or reason. What’s with all the unfollowers?

It’s such a big issue that I recorded a whole podcast episode about it. Listen here to get a full in-depth analysis of why people follow to unfollow, and what you can do about it. 


Instagram isn’t all about numbers, & it’s silly to get hung up on them. That said, the majority of us do share our pics to get a response, and it can be disheartening to see other people gaining that strange modern currency of likes & follows whilst your account stays static. Below are a few insights into what can influence it all…

The top ten reasons people unfollow your Instagram account

  1. You post inconsistently. Maybe you posted brilliant pictures every day, then nothing for two months. Anyone that came to check in during that time might think you’d gone for good & unsubscribe.
  2. You post too many pictures at once. Most people consume posts in their home feed, and a huge photo dump is annoying and un-instagrammy. Spread them out for maximum impact and engagement.
  3. You post things ‘off topic’. If your account is all flowers and flatlay and you drop in a drunk selfie in a badly lit bar, people are likely to hit unfollow.
  4. You never engage. Instagram is all about community and reciprocal relationships. You are not Beyonce collecting fans.
  5. Your quality is inconsistent. If you sometimes post gorgeous DSLR shots but occasionally share blurry snaps of your kids from your phone, you might find people come and go.
  6. Follow-to-unfollow-ers. A lot of people (especially teens) will follow a batch of accounts in the hopes that some will follow back. They then go back and unfollow them all a day or so later – often regardless of whether you followed back or not. 
  7. Spambots. Instagram regularly deletes spam accounts & fake profiles. If you lose a sudden chunk of followers overnight, this might be why.
  8. You recently ran a giveaway. Some people will follow for entry and then unfollow again afterwards – there’s no avoiding it, I’m afraid.
  9. You post something they disagree with. Parenting, religious beliefs, political affiliations… people are looking to create friendships on instagram, so if you’re not a good match for them or their values they may unfollow, & that’s ok.
  10. They’re worried about their follower count. People can feel overwhelmed by the number of accounts they follow, or get hung up on how they think it looks to follow a certain number of accounts. Often they’ll go through and cut down – it may not be anything personal or about your posts, so try not to worry about it! 
What can you do about it?  Make your account more followable to the good guys! 

how to get more instagram followers

the top ten reasons people hit follow on instagram

  1. Your whole-gallery view is awesome. Read my post here for some tips on how to achieve this, and why it matters.
  2. You post consistent content with a theme. People love to know what they’re getting.
  3. You post something different to what everyone else is doing. There’s only so many coffee-in-a-cafe accounts someone can follow before it begins to blur. Even me! 😉
  4. You have a large following already. There’s definitely a certain gravity to a bigger follow count – I guess people take it as testimony to the quality of your account and are quicker to join the crowd?
  5. You reply to comments and like other peoples photos. People will connect with you, the person, and want to do it more.
  6. You’re insta-friendly with someone currently on the Suggested User list, or are appearing on people’s ‘explore’ page. (Or you’ve been featured by IG yourself, but that should be obvious!)
  7. You recently followed a big account (and they might be spammy). Some users, like those mentioned in 6 above, will regularly skim the latest followers of big accounts to find potential new fans for themselves. Some will then unfollow, but not always.
  8. You’re running a giveaway that requires it. Self explanatory.
  9. They want to keep track of you. Perhaps they’re a brand or future work partner who wants to bookmark your page, or perhaps you just inspired them somehow.
  10. You post awesome photographs. Hurray! The whole point of Instagram, after all!

Want to know more?

What seems to influence your follower count, for better or for worse? Do you play the game, or stick to posting what you want and ignore the numbers? Or a bit of both, perhaps? x

  • Thanks for once again sharing your words of wisdom Sara. I love all of these Instagram tips and tricks and your Instaretreat was incredibly helpful – so good I read it in one go (oops). It’s very easy to become almost obsessed with numbers when you’re trying to grow your Instagram but really, you just can’t please everyone. Like you say, there are days when the followers stream in but others where you have a massive drop and it’s due to all of the above.

    I was recently featured on Urban Outfitters Europe and had an influx of followers but then I was too nervous to post anything at all in case I lost them all again. Instead I just hid away for a few days haha. I think I’m back into the swing of it again (must stop over-thinking my photos and just post God dammit).

    Dominique x

    • Thanks Dominique! I’m secretly delighted that you read it all in one go – I was worried it’d be too dry for anyone to manage!

      SO hear you on the stage fright after a feature. It’s so silly isn’t it? After being made a ‘suggested user’ the first time I was totally paralysed by it. Now I remind people that you were followed for your usual content, so it makes no sense to try and change that to please people! You got this girl – & congrats on the feature! xx

  • Emma

    My Instagram is private, so I’m not really into “collecting numbers” – if I was I’d make it public and use hash tags. I do regularly unfollow people though, and it’s usually for the same three reasons:

    1. Interaction: this is a biggie for me. I like to see Instagram as a community. I follow people if I think we have something in common. I sometimes feel uncomfortable looking at someone’s photos long-term if they don’t also follow me, as it seems a bit voyeuristic. Sharing is the nicest part of Instagram and I regularly unfollow accounts that don’t follow me back and I don’t interact with. For this reason I also always follow back if someone follows me – I assume we have something in common, and that’s why they’ve followed me, and see it as an extension of a hand of friendship, digitally. Not really an option when you have 11k followers or whatever, but I don’t understand people with only a hundred or so followers that don’t follow back – it feels like a snub.

    2. Uninspiring photos: this links to 1, but I class this as photos that go against the “we have something in common” ideal. Like if someone regularly posted pictures of luxury shopping in Westfield, something that isn’t really my thing, I’d probably unfollow. Anything neggy like a passive-aggressive “inspirational” quote is an immediate unfollow.

    3. ‘Photo dumps’: as you say above, Instagram isn’t about uploading 8 photos from the same trip to the park. If I have two nice but similar photos I’m strict about only uploading one. Streams of photos are for Facebook and drive me crazy. It’s the equivalent of talking over people in a conversation.

    • These are all great explanations – way better than mine above actually! I feel like your second point ties in with number 9 – when someone posts something that makes you think, ‘oh, maybe we wouldn’t be real life friends’. It’s not necessarily a bad judgement, just a difference. And SO with you on the passy-assy quotes, on all platforms! xx

  • Hello ! (First time commenting here)
    Your article is spot on … followers come & go, I myself have unfollowed some persons for some of the reasons you stated above. Therefore when I see people are unfollowing me (and don’t feel great about it), I try to remind myself that I also do it myself, it’s as simple as that !!
    I’m also commenting to see if my comment with Disqus is going through (re: your tweet).
    Thanks for the article ! 🙂 Best,

    • Thanks Sonia! You’re completely right – remembering why you unfollowed is the secret to not taking it personally when other people do. Easier said than done, but a great idea in theory! Comment came through a-ok! Thanks so much xox

  • Thanks Sonia – and don’t apologise for your English, it’s fab! I’m really glad to hear I’ve convinced you not to close your account, for today at least. It IS really disheartening to put your heart and soul into your pics and get nothing back – but it sounds like you’re doing all the right things! If you want to share a link to your account with me, I’d love to take a look! x

  • Such great lists! I love interacting with people on Instagram, and it’s amazing how many beautiful and inspiring accounts there are out there now. One thing I think that has always hampered my own growth on Instagram (and even Twitter) is that I choose not to blindly follow back. I prefer to protect my feed and make sure I’m only seeing photos that interest me, so I only follow back on accounts that I think I will actually enjoy. Not great for growth, but I’m okay with that!

  • fabien

    Thanks so much for this interesting article – I have no exceptions when it comes to my personal account : I post what i want and people can come and go. Only my good friends presence matters 😉 But regarding my professional account It’s been a cold shower so far and I couldn’t imagine that things could be so complicated on IG. In short : What seems to be like minded accounts will follow me – most of the time I follow back but then they Unfollow in the minute ! (the same on TW but not systematic) so sometimes I don’t follow back and play a more distant part, but still they will unfollow. I understand that my IG can be improved but I know it’s not bad at all. I guess they do it to grow their fanbase ! Things are a little bit twisted.

  • mara

    Hi Sara, I received a lot of follow and then unfollow by people who want the followback, but if I’m not interested in their account I don’t follow, am I wrong? I also follow back some account I was interested in, but they unfollow me after received the follow, obviously I unfollow them then…I’m so costernated by these dynamics, my profile is a professional profile and I don’t want to appear snob, but I’m not there to play those game, so stressing..

  • I find myself in and out of love with Instagram frequently these days, seems less mine / ours since the boat got rocked with feed changes etc.

    If I think about numbers and what people want to see it makes me kind of reluctant about posting – the fear of the dreaded unfollow. I’m not particularly a people pleaser in general so I’m not sure why it bothers me so much. I think because I’ve been wanting to hit that illusive first 1000 followers (a distant memory for you and so many others, I’m sure) for some time maybe and it wouldn’t matter past that because I would have reached my goal perhaps?

    I post something slightly out of character or “off brand” and the followers dip. I do often think of having an account separate from my @alfiesstudio one to post the more flippant stuff that isn’t necessarily great to look at but just fun, but to be honest have started posting that kind of stuff to twitter.

    Social media, what a funny game hey…

  • Hannah Straughan

    Hi Sara, thank you for this – you read my mind! I’m a bit baffled as to why I seem to get a steady couple of hundred followers one week, and then it will remain static for a week or so. I THINK the answer is your point no. 1, and I do often fall into the trap of posting what I like rather than looking at my feed as a whole. I really struggle to working what I want my ‘look’ to be though; I’m so fickle!

    I love your advice posts, a lot of people who have gained success through working hard and being good at what they do would understandably want to keep their ‘secrets to success’ to themselves, so thank you.

    I’d love to see a post on creating/keeping a blog one day, if that’s something you were thinking of doing.

    Hannah x

  • Sometimes I feel at a loss when it comes to growing my instagram. Maybe my posts just aren’t good enough. Maybe I need to try harder. Thanks for the tips. I will keep persevering! One day I may actually see some substantial growth in my followers. x

  • Julia Williams

    I don’t know why I’ve never downloaded your e-course – but I have now and am looking forward to reading! x

  • Bootlips Johnson

    Interesting list.

    I’m new to Instagram, I set my page up a couple weeks ago. My site is dedicated to a celeb. If I post a few pics daily I have enough material to keep my account updated for many years. I have many 1000’s of pics of her.

    Now I’ve been trying hard to get followers and likes. Last week I had 40 followers, this week I have over 200. At the end of next week my goal is 350. I’m shooting for 100k eventually. It would be cool to get more followers then the actual celeb, she has an official account with 1.3 million followers. So that will be hard, but I’m going to try. LOL.

  • Anti-Hero

    I hate those people who only follow you in the hope you follow them back. I get them all the time. They follow and then a few days later they unfollow. What’s the point, it’s a dirty and a sneaky way of behaving. There is a special place in hell for people who do this.

    • Gerry McAllister

      Yeah, I’ve had that happen to me a lot. Apparently they do it in the hopes that they’ll get more followers even though they’re not remotely interested in your profile anyway. I’ve had it happen to me on Twitter a lot too, more times than I care to remember. I only got someone follow me on Instagram this morning, She has 1,108 followers and she’s only following 65, (that’s usually a typical sign) I followed her anyway just to see if she would unfollow and lo and behold she did!!

      • HDM Brotherz

        I’ll follow you back nbeisha_hdm

  • Jennifer Jarvis

    Follow to unfollowers are increasing on IG and it’s increasingly hard to keep calm and just unfollow back w/out posting something on their account. Ugh. Soul-destroying.

  • Thank you for this post!
    From the comments I see that other Instragramers have the same problem as me. People will follow me and then unfollow me after few days. This comes from accounts who have a lot of fans. Also, I have followed quite many folks but didn’t receive the follow back. I decided to not stress about it because, the folks who I followed but didn’t return the follow are really amazing. They’re probably too busy to check on who followed them on Insta.

    I get a lot of inspiration from their posts and that’s fine. My rule is that I follow everyone who follows unless they don’t have any posts or they’re spam or have nothing interesting to say. The point of Insta for me is to connect with creative and interesting people from around the world.

  • Harry Lightman

    Because they need more followers for themselves. Everybody know the principle: you follow, they follow your back and then you unfollow them to clear the space for next. There’s a limit you can follow. That’s how people gain followers. But I think it’s kind of unfair and dirty. I prefer use apps like zen-promo because they find people who really like stuff I do on instagram and they follow me so I don;t need them to follow if I don’t want to. This looks better as I think. And you?

  • Princess Tellyy

    yes,yesterday the person that i followed all the time has suddenly had unfollowed me i try not to make a big deal out of it but… just makes me want to cancelled my ig account alltogether,btw this is the second time the first person wouldnt let me follow them at all!!