How To Build An Authentic Following On Instagram With Stevie Dillion from Stevie Says Social

Do you obsess over the number of followers on your Instagram page?  Are you judging yourself because you don’t have the same follower count as other people in your industry?  Are you waiting to post more until you reach a certain number?  Are you considering using bots because it is all getting too hard?  Stop right there and listen to this podcast!

Stevie Dillon is a social media expert and has all the inside info on how to organically grow your following without taking any shortcuts.

In this episode we discuss:

  • All the “easy” ways to increase your follower count and why they are not a long term solution

  • Why it is important to focus on engagement rather than a number of followers

  • How to grow a following authentically

And so much more! 

Casey: Hi, everyone! I'm joined by Stevie Dillon from Stevie Says Social. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Stevie Dillon: Hey, thank you for having me. I'm so excited to be on.

Casey: Yeah, me too! So, just to start, can you tell us a little bit about the Stevie Says Social movement, and what your business is all about?

Stevie Dillon: Sure, I never had it described as a movement before, but I'll take that. I have been in business for six months, actually. And, before that I had a Stevie Says Social blog, which I started at the beginning of last year. Basically, I started blogging about social media because I was obsessed with it, and was basically kind of learning all this different stuff, and just wanted to, I guess, write about what I was learning. So, started the blog, was literally writing 3000 word blog posts every single week.

Casey: Wow.

Stevie Dillon: Which was insane, yeah. And, it started to get traction around April. And I had people contacting me, and they were saying "What's your services, what are you doing in terms of your offerings?" And, I was still working full time in corporate, so I had literally had never even thought about having service, or whatever. Then, I went to Europe in August, for a month, and it kind of hit this peak, and I just had all these emails constantly coming into my inbox, with service inquiries, and that sort of thing. And, I was just like, "Look, I need to either take it seriously, or just go back and work corporate, and forget about it." So, I spent a month on beaches, in Italy and Greece, trying to decide what to do. 

Casey: How bad, what a dilemma haha

Stevie Dillon: And, then yeah, I came home and put my resignation in, which was really hard, because I actually really loved my job. And yeah, just put myself into the deep end, and just went full time from September, October, I think it was. So, yeah, basically what I do now, is social media strategy. So, basically strategy for primarily service based businesses, helping them out with all aspects of their social media, and I have a podcast, and obviously my website. And, I'm bringing out some workshops, and courses around social media, shortly as well. 

Casey: Awesome, that's so cool.  Obviously you mentioned your podcast, so I'll put a link in our little show notes. Just, as a side note, your podcast is awesome.

Stevie Dillon: Thank you.

Casey: I listen to it all the time, and I think the thing that really stands out, is a lot of people they like to ramble in their podcast. And they like to show that they have all the information, and they know what they're talking about, but I feel like your podcast, I actually walk away with practical information, that can you take away and you can start implementing literally the minute you stop listening.  I think your podcast, really stands out like that. 

Stevie Dillon: Yeah. That's the kind of thing I wish I had have had. So, I couldn't see it anywhere, so I'll just create it. So, I'm so glad you said that. 

Casey: Yeah, definitely. I feel like people really appreciate that, even though you probably feel like you're probably giving out all valuable information, I think people will really respond well to that. And, it's awesome. 

Stevie Dillon: And, I don't think there's ever a problem, like I say this to clients all the time, "We've given you the very best away advice for free." I actually think it's a great way of building a business. I'm totally okay with doing that on the podcast, and know that when people actually need social media services, they'll come to me.  

Casey: Cool, so, obviously with your podcast, which I absolutely love, you have a topic which really intrigued me. "How to gain your first 5000 Instagram followers." I personally only have 500, so that was really an eye catching title for me. Do you find getting followers easier? I feel like I've clawed, and clawed away for those 500 followers, and the thought of clawing away until I hit 5000, or whatever. It's so daunting, does it get any easier?

Stevie Dillon: Yeah. How long have you had your Instagram account for? 

Casey: Probably about a year now.

Stevie Dillon: Yeah, see if you had established your account three of four years ago, you would have thousands, and thousands of followers by now. But, it has gotten so much harder than it used to be. It just used to be a matter of, just because there was no competition, and there was no algorithm or anything. You could set up an account, and start posting, and you would just gain followers really, really quickly. And, it is a 100% not like that anymore. So, you are definitely not necessarily, doing anything wrong at all, it's just more difficult than it used to be. I think getting that first thousand, is really, really tough. Once you get over that, you do start to gain a little bit of momentum. Hopefully, there's more people hopefully liking, and engaging on your content. Which means it's getting seen by more people in the explore feed, and things like that. It does get easier. 

Casey: That's good. Good to know.

Stevie Dillon: It's really not a matter these days, that you can just post content there, like you need to be ... Pretty much, you need to be really, really exceptional. You need to be doing things like this. Like, collaborations with different people. You need to be producing content off Instagram, and promoting it as a way of bringing followers over to you. If you're just literally focusing on posting on Instagram these days, it is almost impossible. 

Casey: Yeah. For sure. And, then do you think followers even ... It's just a numbers game, is it even something as a small business owner should really be focusing on? Or, do you think it's more important to have less followers, but they're more engaged, and they're more willing to buy your product? I guess. 

Stevie Dillon: The thing I see at the moment, is so many small businesses are just obsessed with the number above their Instagram account, and that kind of makes me a bit nervous. Because, I think followers are great, if they're people who are one day going to do business with you. The most important thing, is you need to ... So, let's say you're a local florist in Brisbane, you need to make sure that your followers, are local Brisbane people, that might one day buy flowers from you. Yes followers, are important, if they're the right people. The problem that I see at the moment, is there's just so many people trying to get followers at any cost. They don't care if they're ever going to do business with them, they just want to see that number increase. It's a dangerous game to get into, because if you have people, that aren't your people connected to your Instagram account, they're not going to engage with your content, which means the algorithm isn't going to show it to as many people. Which means that there's less visibility, and it's a viscous cycle.

Casey: Yeah, definitely. I see a lot of women, I guess, on Instagram in particular, who from an outside perspective you would think, oh my god, they're killing it they've got 10 thousand followers. But, when you actually look into it, say 90% of them are just men who think they're attractive or something. I guess, what do you think that does to someone's credibility, because I would assume they're not making any sales, even though from an outside perspective they look like they're killing it. 

Stevie Dillon: Yeah. I don't think there's anything wrong with that per se. If you're a bikini model, and you're on Instagram, you're naturally going to attract a lot of guys that are following because they think you look great in a bikini, you know. But, the problem is when there's, businesses looking to do collaborations and things with brands like that, and they don't look into who's, actually following them. So, that's absolutely no problem if that's your jam, and you want to be a bikini model, and that sort of thing, that's absolutely fine. But, the people that are collaborating with them, and that sort of thing, need to be very much aware that it's a very much male demographic, rather than a female demographic. So, if they're doing a collab where it's promoting a piece of female clothing, it's never going to go very well, because most of the followers are male. I don't know, does that make sense?

Casey: Yeah. I think in the broader picture, I guess in terms of small businesses, it comes back to don't compare yourself to anyone else, because ...

Stevie Dillon: Totally. And there's a lot to be said for the quality of a follower as well. You know you can have 10 thousand followers, who are following because it's a bikini account, and they think they look good in a bikini, but they're never actually going to be influenced basically buy from that account. As opposed to, you know, you might have 2000 highly engaged followers for somebody that really has genuine influence, and it's a lot more valuable. They're on completely opposite ends of the spectrum.

Casey: Definitely, cool. What do you think defines good engagement particularly on Instagram? 

Stevie Dillon: Do you mean in terms of the levels?

Casey: Yeah. 

Stevie Dillon: You'll find on Instagram that the fewer number of followers that you have, generally the higher your average engagement rate. Engagement is likes and comments. As you start to grow, as you get to 10 thousand followers, just because you've got more people following you, your engagement rate is less. It's less as you get to a 100 thousand, and so on, and so forth. But, the hard thing with Instagram, or the reason why people love Instagram so much, is that you put a picture up and then all, of the likes start flooding in. It's not like that on Facebook, and it's not like that on any other platform. So, people really love Instagram, it's amazing. That double tap, it takes people no time at all to do that. It's a lot more important to I guess start to build community, where you have people genuinely engaging by commenting on your content, and then you're replying back and you're socializing. And it's building a community of people.  So, I think that form of engagement is really, really important.

Casey: Yeah, cool. On that topic as well, what is your opinion on engagement pods? For anyone who's, unaware of what an engagement pod is, it's basically a group of people that they all agree to like and comment on each other's posts, and return. That keeps everyone's posts on the feed for longer. But, I guess that comes back to the question of credibility, as well. Because that's not an authentic follower, they might be totally engaged, but they're not a true authentic follower who's going to buy anything from them. 

Stevie Dillon: Yeah, well you pretty much answered it. That's exactly how I feel about it. Get into social media. I just feel like, I totally understand why people enter to engagement pods. It's harder obviously, with the algorithm to get visibility, and if you're in an engagement pod, it gives you false engagement which can sometimes lift you up in the algorithm, so it can work. My big problem with it, is it's gaming the system. Anytime you do something that is gaming the system, eventually it will basically come back to bite you. And, we've seen that recently on Facebook, with engagement baiting being really heavily penalized. It's just like it's not a place you want to be, rather than focusing your efforts into joining engagement pods. It's bloody hard work having to like, comment, and you know. 

Casey: Yeah.

Stevie Dillon: Spend that time trying to cultivate a genuine community of people that are interested in what you have to say. But, I get why people do it. It's not something where I'm against people doing it, I see where it comes from. But, I just think that, that time is spent doing other things.  

Casey: Cool. I know you've done a podcast on this topic as well. But, I just wanted to get your opinion on here as well. What is your opinion on people that do the follow you, and unfollow you. I feel like, especially when I post a photo, all the likes and follows come in, and then I'll go to bed, and then I'll wake up and your follow account has dropped 10 again. They haven't even had a chance to look at your profile yet. 

Stevie Dillon: I know. 

Casey: So, savage. 

Stevie Dillon: I know it's so savage. I used to hate it, I'd see the little like 12 new followers, or something come up. And, then I'd refresh my feed, and it had dropped. And, I'd be like, I just don't understand. Yeah, so it's really frustrating. And, I actually put together that podcast, because my best friend Dawn, has just started her own business, and she was finding it was happening to her. And, she's like is there something wrong with what I'm posting? Is there a problem with it? And, I was like, "No, it's got nothing to do with that." But, a lot of people don't realize it's basically a bit of a shady tactic that people use, to get the attention of other accounts. They follow them, and then if they don't follow back, or even if they do, they'll unfollow them. And a lot of the time, they're accounts from the U.S., or they're overseas. They're never going to be your people. 

Stevie Dillon: You can really avoid the fluctuations, by being careful of the hashtags that you use. If you're using really broad hashtags, like hashtag food, any hashtag that has a huge number of posts under it, you're going to attract that sort of behaviour. So, that's one way you can reduce it. 

Casey: Okay, cool. Thank you, that's good to know. Do you think that we are, especially a small business owner, probably putting all our eggs in one basket with Instagram? I feel like everyone's putting a lot of effort into it, and I guess that's good, because you get that instant gratification with likes and follows, and stuff. But, should we be putting more effort into Facebook, even though it may not seem like were getting the kind of reaction? Do you think we should be spreading ourselves out just a little bit more than just Instagram?

Stevie Dillon: Everyone fell in love with Instagram, and I am as well. It is hands down, my favourite platform, because I just think that it doesn't have the same ... Even through there's a little kind of algorithm changes that have happened, it's nowhere near what happened with Facebook, where basically our organic reach is down to a really small amount. I think ride the wave. I think it's really the golden age of Instagram at the moment. I think that we should definitely be there, and if you're interested in it, and you love it like I do, definitely have a presence there. My only concern, is that Instagram is owned by Facebook, and eventually it's gotten so busy, that eventually there's going to be more algorithm changes. Organic reach is going to decline. They're a business, they're going to need to basically push their ad platform more. And, we're not going to see the same organic reach, that we've traditionally seen. I think totally ride the wave, while it's still good times. 

Stevie Dillon: I'm really cautious, and it actually stresses me out when I see accounts that have literally put all of their eggs into that basket. Because, it's not a good long term strategy. It's really important to cultivate things, like your blog, and podcast, and things off social, or look at other social media platforms. Just something else, so that you're really reliant on that one platform. There were a lot of people who were really reliant on Facebook a few years ago, and we've all seen what happens to them. 

Casey: So, everyone is basically worrying about their followers right now, when really it may not matter in a very short amount of time. 

Stevie Dillon: I really remember the times when people would just obsess with Facebook follower numbers, and it was all about that, and I don't think anyone even knows how many Facebook followers they have. They're certainly not trying to build it, because even if you have a million, you're not going to have any content seen by those people anyway, these days. 

Casey: I guess we kind of covered all the easy ways you can get followers. Even though they're not going to be actually authentic, and engaging. I was wondering if you could give three tips on small business owners can grow an authentic and engaging real followers on their Instagram page. 

Stevie Dillon: Three tips, okay. I think probably number one, and the biggest one I see is that so many businesses are obsessed with the tools. So, things like whether their hashtags are right, and whether all of that sort of thing. When often the problem, when I look at an account that's not growing, is nothing to do with the tools, but it comes back to their brand. So, it actually has nothing to do with social media, at all. It's really, really important. So, absolutely nailing who your target audience is, who you're talking to, and having really good quality photography. So, no dark and blurry images. Making sure the aesthetic is right. Getting all of that sorted, I think is just absolute key before you look at anything else. 

Stevie Dillon: Number two, collaborations. I just think if you're collaborating with other people it gives you an opportunity to get in front of another audience of people that have never, ever heard about you before. All, of the amazing content that you're posting on your Instagram, if you're collaborating with someone, you're getting the attention of that audience. They come back and see your account, and they're like, "Great," and they'll follow you. You know what I mean?

Casey: Yes.

Stevie Dillon: It's so important. And then I think quality content off Instagram. So, I think a lot of the things to do with building an authentic following, actually have nothing to do with what you're doing on Instagram. I think that if you can concentrate on a high quality blog, or a podcast, or a youtube channel, or whatever your jam is, and you can really capture people's attention off Instagram, it's a great way of bringing people over to your Instagram. And, that's literally what I've done with mine. I don't think I would have had any growth, if I didn't have some sort of platform off Instagram, for people to go, "Cool, I actually like what she's saying, I'll come back and follow." Does that make sense?

Casey: Definitely. I think as well, a thing that you do well, which obviously you would, because this is your job. But, you show yourself, you have your face as the brand.

Stevie Dillon: Yes, actually how did I not mention that. It is really, really important. Sorry to cut you off. 

Casey: It's okay, it's exciting!

Stevie Dillon: It's so important. So, having connection content is a huge one. And so many people hide behind pictures that aren't of themselves. They don't tell personal stories. They don't do anything for people to connect with them. And, it makes them exactly the same as any other account. I actually can say, so I've got a professional photography shoot done about six months ago. The growth in my account from when I actually started showing my face, and being more personal with the content I was putting out, was next level. 

Casey: That's awesome. Do you have any tips on how someone can maybe ... Because I'm nervous, I only just started putting my face to my Instastories. I get really shy and anxious. So, do you have any tips for how you can be a little bit more brave, and put yourself out there and show your audience who you are? 

Stevie Dillon: Just do it. Because, I was exactly in your boat. I absolutely hated the idea of doing it. I'm quite a shy person. You get the feeling that you're putting yourself on show. And, you wonder what people are going to think, and that sort of thing. You just have to do it. And, actually a friend of mine, Anita from Wordfetti, has got a copywriting business in Brisbane. She had never really put a photo of herself on her Instagram, and she got a photo shoot done a little while ago. And, put one photo up of herself. And, the amount of comments on that post, was absolutely out of this world. 

Casey: Yeah, that's awesome. 

Stevie Dillon: It makes a huge difference. I think if you just do it, and you see the reaction and the feedback from the people that are following you. It's kind of a good ...

Casey: Boost. 

Stevie Dillon: Yeah, a little boost for you to get going, and do it more. Yeah.

Casey: Cool, so if you could give any advice to your younger self when you were starting Stevie Says Social, what would that be? 

Stevie Dillon: My year ago self? 

Casey: Yeah. True haha

Stevie Dillon: I would actually say though ... I wouldn't say, probably everything I've done from quitting my job, right through until now, I can genuinely say that I've been quite brave in the decisions that I've made. Actually getting the courage to start a blog, and to make it my full time business. And, then every step from there, I don't think there's anything I would change. But, what I would say in terms of advice, the pre-me, so basically before I had gotten to the point where I started the blog, was I thought about doing it for so, so, so long. And, just never, ever started. And, It was because I thought it had to be perfect. I made all these plans about what I wanted to do, and was researching these super expensive websites, and all this sort of stuff. When, really the way that you actually get traction, is literally doing the smallest things. 

Stevie Dillon: If you want to start a business, write one blog. Or, google how to put together your own website. And, I just think that's so, so important. Because, so many people think about doing something forever. And, don't do it. Whereas, just taking the smallest little action it starts to snowball. 

Casey: Yes, definitely. Well, thank you so much, I've just got a couple of more questions for you. Where can people get more helpful information on this topic? Especially, Instagram, or anything social media. I know you have an E-book, is that correct? 

Stevie Dillon: I do, I have several E-books. If you go to, there is a 100 free social media tips, and then it's also got a link there for how to get your first 5000 Instagram followers. 

Casey: Awesome, cool. And, how can followers get in contact with you? 

Stevie Dillon: Probably Instagram, because I love Instagram, so @steviesayssocial and send me a message, because I reply to every message as well.

Casey: Cool. Well, thank you so much for joining me, and having a little chat. It was awesome.

Stevie Dillon: Thank you so much for having me on. 

Casey: You're so full of knowledge. 

Stevie Dillon: I really appreciate it, thank you so much.  

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Stevie Dillon

Stevie is the face behind Stevie Says Social which provides social media advice for service based business. She is also the voice behind a hugely successful podcast which has helped over 50,000 people to date! Stevie is your go to expert on all things social media.