Some brands and influencers are starting to change their public Instagram accounts to private, or create new accounts that are private from the get-go.
Adding a barrier to fans wanting to follow you might seem like a strange idea, but it’s gaining traction. So, we decided to find out why—and whether it’s something you should consider doing for you brand.
Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps a lifestyle photographer used to grow from 0 to 600,000 followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear.
Why brands are making their Instagram accounts private
Setting your account to private on Instagram means that only people who follow you can see and engage with your content. Even if you’re using popular hashtags, your posts will still be hidden from those searches.
It also means that any non-followers who want to see your content have to submit a follow request.
In an interview with The Atlantic, Reid Hailey, the founder of Doing Things—an agency that manages Instagram pages with a total of over 14 million followers—said that when one of his large accounts was public it was growing at a rate of 10,000 new followers per week. Once he switched the account to private, that number jumped to 100,000—an impressive increase.
Hailey sees it as a way around Instagram’s algorithm change and stagnating follower counts.
“If you’re public, people just always see your stuff and they don’t feel the need to follow you,” he told The Atlantic. “It didn’t really become a mainstream thing until the algorithm started hitting hard I would say about six months ago or so. People are hurting for growth. A lot of meme pages aren’t really growing.”
If your brand is considering making the move to a private account, consider these benefits:
1. There’s already a trend toward privacy and personalized content
The private Instagram account trend could be a result of the broader trend of users and brands moving towards smaller, closed groups. We’ve seen this happen with the rising popularity of Facebook Groups.
By limiting the amount of people who can see your posts, you’re suggesting to the audience that you care more about quality content than reach. Followers will also feel the content you share is tailored just for them, as they’re a member of the private space you’ve set up for them.
2. It creates a sense of exclusivity
Why have you put a bouncer on the door to your content? Why is it so exclusive? Why? Tell me!
The FOMO is real.
Making your Instagram private can help make your current followers feel valued, but also make new followers curious. FOMO might come in handy if you’re launching new products, for example. You’re rewarding your most loyal followers with an exclusive first look, and giving newbies a reason to follow you.
Everyone loves to feel that they’re getting a deal or an exclusive look.
3. It might help you get more followers
As mentioned earlier in this article, by going private people have to follow you to find out what kind of content you’re posting. Brands have struggled to see their follower numbers rise since Instagram’s algorithm change, so going private serves as a way to navigate those updates.
There’s a reason this private Instagram account trend has been picked up by meme accounts. They know their content is highly shareable between friends. By going private, any time one of their followers shares a post with a non-follower, that non-follower will be enticed to follow the account in order to see the content their friend shared with them.
4. Keep those followers you’ve gained since going private (potentially)
Just like having to request to follow you, there’s also an extra notification that pops up if a fan tries to unfollow you.
Unlike a public page, where it’s a one-click button to unfollow someone, private pages ask fans if they’re really sure that they want to unfollow you.
This little extra step could potentially have an influence on your retention rates when it comes to follower numbers, making people think twice before unfollowing you.
5. It gives you more control
This might seem like a strange argument, but bear with me.
By going private you can cultivate the kind of followers and fans you want to have as a brand. Social for brands should be about genuine connections and offering value to your audience.
Social media by its very definition is public—but fans might not be willing to give honest feedback or share a connection with you as a brand in those open spaces. By having a small, private space, you can give your brand the room and control it needs to facilitate those genuine connections and offer value to fans on that 1:1 level.
Plus you can weed out and ban any trolls immediately.
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Why switching to a private Instagram account may not be right for you
So we’ve told you the reasons you should consider taking your Instagram account private as a brand, but what are the catches?
You can’t switch a business account to private
You have to switch your business account back to a personal one in order to make it private. This means you lose analytics and the ability to run Instagram ads and promoted content.
It’s especially telling that Instagram don’t allow business accounts to be private—suggesting it’s not a trend that they want to promote. It could also mean that Instagram might penalize accounts they deem are ‘gaming’ the system by switching their accounts private.
This is probably the biggest downside to switching your profile to private.
Potential followers might be turned off
People have no reason to follow you beyond a FOMO factor—and you run the risk of annoying people by hiding your content behind a follow request.
This is especially true if you give someone access to your account, only for them to find out your content isn’t what they were looking for. Some people might feel duped into following you, which could result in a longer-term dislike of your brand.
Your content won’t show up in searches
As mentioned before, even if you use hashtags on a private account, your content will not show up in public feeds, including the Explore page. You also won’t be able to embed your content on a website, or link to it either.
All this can have a dramatic effect on your brand’s ability to increase exposure to potential new fans and customers.
So, should your brand switch its Instagram account to private?
Turning private could be used as a short-term strategy (for example, when you’re launching a new product) to help build excitement and exclusivity.
It could also work long-term if you’re a smaller, niche brand with a following that you want to cultivate into a community, or a meme account that thrives on FOMO.
But for the vast majority of brands, social media should be a place to be discovered by a new audience. You can miss out on new and enthusiastic fans, and potentially annoy those who are looking for you. Which is a lose, lose for everyone.
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