What we learned from our first 1,000 followers


We started 2020 with a question — could you use Instagram to improve Canadians’ financial literacy?

We started @pineapplefinance to find out and 1,130 followers later, we’ve learned more about social media, human psychology, and personal finance than we anticipated. We’re going to start with 4 things they don’t tell you about being a Creator on Instagram, and follow up with the challenges unsuspecting Canadians face in trying to sort out personal finance.

4 things they don’t tell you about Instagram

  1. DM’ing new followers is more insightful than ‘Instagram Insights’

Mid way through our Instagram adventure, we started DM’ing our new followers to ask what topics they were most interested in and how they found us. What we learned significantly shaped our growth tactics:

· Our followers shared the topics they wanted to learn about most — primarily how much to save for retirement and how to tell if they were on track, how to get started investing, and a surprising number of technical questions on the finer points of tax advantaged savings accounts

· The majority of our followers found us by seeing our comments on other accounts. That insight steered us towards commenting as a traffic generating tool vs. agonizing over hashtags

· A distinctive username is really important — many followers checked out our profile because they liked our name. They then stayed for the content

Instagram’s insights told us how our posts performed historically but messaging new followers pointed us towards content that would propel us forward.

2. You don’t own your followers, and Instagram support is a Work In Progress

At around the 750 follower mark, our Instagram account disappeared. Inexplicably and without warning the account no longer appeared on Instagram, and we couldn’t log in.

While we thought we could easily rectify this glitch with a quick support ticket, we were ironically unable to register any help request because Instagram didn’t recognize our username anymore. We were further dismayed when Google searches revealed many other Creators had experienced a similar ‘disappearing account’ phenomenon.

Suddenly we realized one of the biggest pitfalls of Instagram — you don’t own your followers. Unlike an email list that you can take with you to a different mailing service, Instagram has ultimate control over access to your followers and your content. Yet at the same time, it hasn’t built out the support infrastructure to handle hiccups.

We ended up cold-emailing the CEO of Facebook Canada as a last-ditch effort to get our account back. Thankfully he responded and our account was restored 48 hours later. It was a scary wakeup call about the limits of Instagram for Creators looking to build a community.

3. Amplifying content creates a win-win

Our biggest jumps in followers came from re-sharing content from larger influencers while branding it to fit our style. These larger influencers then re-shared our content, boosting our follower base in the process.

We weren’t sure how influencers would react to a small fish asking to borrow their content. However, we were delighted that every influencer we approached gave us their blessing and some even offered giveaways to add to our posts.

We heard over and over that the key was asking permission. Giving influencers the opportunity to personally review and approve our re-branded version gave them an added incentive to re-share our post.

4. Beware of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation

We started Pineapple Finance 100% intrinsically motivated — excited to learn about personal finance and to see what it was really like building a following.

Up until the first 100 followers, we enjoyed posting for posting’s sake. We reveled in the hunt for what topics to cover and the surprise of learning something new ourselves. Even if no one was looking at our posts (which they weren’t!) we were proud of what we were doing.

But as we crossed over that 100 mark, something changed. On our quest for that extra 0, we experimented with tracking more metrics. We doubled down on DM’ing new followers, commenting on accounts, searching for content from larger creators to amplify. We were chasing followers, and posting suddenly became a lot less fun.

We were focused on what was going to grow our audience or drive engagement vs. what was most interesting for us to research or helpful for our followers to know. Whenever we had a post that didn’t do as well as anticipated, we felt less motivated to post the next day. This spiral continued until we put ourselves on the ‘1,000 and then retire’ path.

We had unknowingly experienced first-hand the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. As soon as we were rewarded for doing great posts with engagement and a growing follower base, our motivation for posting suddenly became completely based on receiving those rewards, rather than our initial inherent appreciation for the craft.

The Biggest Takeaway

For us, our biggest learning has been to zero-in on your personal ‘why’ for doing something, and not getting distracted by extrinsic motivators that will actually hold you back on your mission.

Whether it’s building an Instagram account or a Retirement account, it is paramount to clearly define why it is important to you, and craft a plan to stay focused on those factors and those factors alone.