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That Golden Ticket on Instagram

I admit it. I've sometimes dreamed of waking to see my Instagram following has suddenly shot through the roof by the tens of thousands and I know some of you might admit the same. Yeah I'm all for organic growth, great content, engagement and community... I love that about Instagram but come on, what if?! So when I got the chance to ask someone at Instagram recently if that could still happen... if that golden ticket still existed I didn't actually expect to get an answer.


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I have actually woken to see my followers go through the roof once... I literally reached across and picked up my phone from the bedside table and as I cleared my bleary eyes witnessed a blur of notification streaming up my screen!

This time-lapse street Cinemagraph I captured in Taipei got picked up by @instagram and featured on their main feed to over 50 million people! Within 24 hours I'd gained nearly 5000 new followers... it was insanely exciting to watch. For me that was the golden ticket and although it wasn't tens of thousands, 5000 new followers was nothing to be sneezed at.

But that's not the golden ticket I'm talking about... it's the elusive 'Suggested User List.


For those who don't know what this is... you would unexpectedly get an email and a DM from Instagram to say you've been included in a list of suggested users for people to follow. The result of this would see people gain a massive following over what was usually a period of weeks until the list is recycled to new users again. Some say once you'd been on that list it wasn't uncommon to be cycled back onto it again at some point.

So after my feature on the Instagram feed and Blog I thought maybe... just maybe I'll get on that list too. So I started googling... how do I get on instagrams suggested user list? I was pleased to find I was doing all the right things.

1.) Engaging with the Instagram community

2.) Taking part in the Weekend Hashtag Project run by @instagram every weekend (weekly photo challenges)

3.) Holding Instameets

Point 3. was the one I wasn't doing but it was something I was keen to try... so I emailed the person on the Instagram community team who had been in touch about the feature and they hooked me up to be the Auckland (NZ) host of the Worldwide Instameet which happened to be in a few weeks time! They sent all the goodies and although they didn't arrive in time we had a great meet up and I got to connect with lots of amazing local photographers.

I didn't hold the instameet with the sole purpose of trying to get on the Suggested User List but it did keep coming to mind after. Not long after that I won a video competition with the Instagram Business Team for this seagull Cinemagraph below. That was quite an honour and saw my work showcased in an installation they did in Cannes, France... along with winning a Canon 80D and a stack of Instagram hoodies and shirts. The official Instagram business account is actually really cool but it gets surprisingly little engagement so not much came from that in the way of followers but I was happy man.


Another lovely surprise came recently when I saw an email in my inbox from Instagram... a spark of excitement, was this it? It wasn't... but it was a request to feature my work on a wall of screens at the entrance of the new Instagram campus in Menlo Park, California.

Along with an enthusiastic "Of course you can!" I decided to be cheeky and ask....

"Does the Suggested User List still exist?"

I didn't actually expect him to give an answer... it has always been rather an elusive subject, so I was surprised and at the same time secretly disappointed to get the following in his friendly reply... "The suggested user list is a feature that is no longer available within the app. It has been replaced with a personalized account recommender which provides users a list of accounts based on who they follow!"

So there it is. I missed the boat.


From the stories I read, gaining such a huge following in the early days of the suggested user list came with it's drawbacks. Managing your account became a full time job and was fraught with idiots spamming you. It came with opportunity no doubt, but at a cost.

The good news is that by following the same steps I gave earlier you will get noticed, the most active people take part in the WHP so check the weekend challenges on @instagram and enter... but check out others entries, like, comment and follow others and you'll make some great connections. Even if @instagram doesn't notice at first... I suspect the algorithms will favour you my friends 😉

Now it's about quality not quantity... when it comes to the value of your account in commercial terms as an influencer, social media manager or photographer it's now the engagement that people are looking at. A huge account might be only 1% and a really organically grown and focussed interest account might be 10% which in social media terms is massive, hard to acheive and valued. The simple number of followers is often looked at now with suspicion. You must have bought those or used a bot! Even if you genuinely got them through features and being on the suggested user list you would naturally end up with less engagement as a percentage of followers.

Oh and don't forget follow active people like me!

I'll write up more Instagram tips in future but in the meantime here's a great article published by Flixel this week: "7 Instagram Tips to Get More Followers"


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