Puno Dostres | Growing a Brand on Instagram

Hello La Femme Collective! My name is Puno. I’m the Founder of Ilovecreatives, PeopleMap & @madewithmap. I'm here to chat about how we grew our Instagram account @madewithmap with real and relevant followers.

When Instagram was blowing up, “I didn’t get it”. Sure, I created a username and poked around, but I was really thinking, "Meh, I don't need this." That all changed for me when my husband and I decided to quit our jobs and start our own business. Like many entrepreneurs, we didn’t have money to promote it. Social media started looking at lot less “meh” and a lot more, “Ok… what’s this about?”.

It took me about six months to figure Instagram out, but I ended up growing to 80,000 followers in a year. True story! I didn’t have the luxury of being a Featured Instagrammer or get a ton of press. And, I did not buy followers. I created a system called the Mine & Grind that allowed us to pro-actively grow through targeted comments. 

But! Before you can even start, you should understand one thing - how to find your followers. You can’t just post a pretty photo and think your target market is going to see it. Especially, with Instagram’s new algorithm. You’ll need to go out there and drag them over to your account. If you have the budget for paid advertising, this is a great way to test your theories. 

Finding your target market is NOT easy. Honestly, it’s the hardest part. There over 500 million monthly active Instagram accounts and it’s easy to get lost and overwhelmed. I’m all about tools and process so I’ve got you covered.

Save Time with PeopleMap

When I first started, I used to screenshot all these accounts on my phone. Then, I created a spreadsheet and put hundreds of Instagram usernames on there. It was a super manual process and quickly got outdated. Fortunately, my husband is a progammer so we built PeopleMap.co to save us time. I know that Instagram is a mobile app, but you can get so much more work done with a mouse and keyboard. I promise, your computer wins! 

Creating Lists on PeopleMap

Step 1: Sign Up for PeopleMap.co and start your trial (no credit card necessary).

Step 2: Click the link from the invite email and create your password.

Step 3: In the Search field, type “lafemmecollective” and hit enter. Then click on the user profile. 
Wa-lah! You should see this:


Step 4: On the right, click on Add to Lists and type “Awesome Companies” then hit Create.


Step 5: You can add people to multiple lists. Make two more lists: “NYC” and “Creative”. 

Building Strategic Lists

Now that you know how to add instagrammers to lists, you’ll need to actually put Instagram accounts in it that makes sense for your brand. 

Analyze your Competitors

Who are your competitors and what are their Instagram accounts? Don't pick competitors who aren't on Instagram. Who cares about them right now, they aren’t competing for the same followers. Your competitors are brands that you are usually a little bit jealous of. That’s good. It means they’re successful, you respect them, and it’s smart to study them.

Whether you have multiple services or products, your competitors don’t have to offer the exact same things, just similar things. For example, let’s say you’re a design agency that offers web design and social media. One of your competitors might be a social media agency, another might be a freelance web designer.

If you’re new to Instagram, it might be hard to think of an Instagram account. Head to Google! Find your competitors there. If you are really stumped by this one, move on to Partners below.

What’s next? Yep! Add your competitors to a “Competitors” list. Make sure your lists are organized! You took the time to find these people, so make sure you can find them again.


Answer the questions below and take notes as you work! This is really great market research and a good way for you to begin structuring your Instagram content strategy.

  • What type of content do they produce?
  • Which content gets them the highest and lowest engagement (likes or comments)? With PeopleMap, you can see the Average Likes Per Post and then use that as a benchmark.
  • Look at the comments on these posts closely. Are people @mentioning friends in the comments?
  • Do they regram photos from fans or is it all original content?
  • Are their photos mostly product shots or lifestyle shots?
  • Read the captions on the photos. What’s the tone; friendly, fun, inspiring? Read the comments to see how their followers interact. Read the brand’s replies to see who they reply to and how they talk to their followers. 

Now, for the fun part. Click on the Analyze button. This may take a few minutes, but you’ll get an email when it’s finished.


Once PeopleMap is ready with your results, you’ll be able to search, sort, and filter everyone that has recently engaged with that account. 

There’s a lot of fun things you can do at this point: 

  • Search for a city or any word that someone might put in their profile description (i.e. blogger or social media agency). 
  • Filter by Follower count. If you’re looking for Micro-Influencers, filter by 50K and 1K. 
  • Sort by:
    • Most Tagged - see who this account associates themselves with. If you’re an influencer looking for brands to work with, Analyze an influencer and see which brands they tag. 
    • Top Commenters - see who actively comments, great for finding active Instagrammers.
    • Top Likers - see the people most engaged!
    • Engagement
    • Average Likes
    • Followers

Find your Future Partners

Partners are a great way for you to extend your reach on Instagram. Your partners are people or brands you plan on collaborating with in the future. They aren’t necessarily your competitors because they don’t offer the same services, but serve the same people. 
One way to find your partners is to ask yourself, if you could take anyone’s followers, whose followers would you take? Not because they have lots of followers, but because their followers are exactly the types of people you think will love your brand. 

Another way to find your partners is to think about your ideal followers, and then look at what other products or services they might buy. Pick products that are complementary to what you’re offering, but not competitive. For example, Map is a travel photography focused brand, so our audience uses Airbnb and buys Langly camera bags.


You can also reverse this technique. Find some Instagrammers who you think are your ideal followers and check out which brands they are following. Those brands might be your partners.

Reality check each partner you’ve picked by analyzing their profile style. When you approach them about collaborating, you want to it to be a no-brainer. Do their photos look like your photos? Do you have a similar aesthetic? Look through their followers and commenters and see if these look like your ideal followers. The last thing you want to do is partner with someone and not like the people that came from their community.  

See if you can find posts where your partners have publicly worked with other brands on their account. If you can’t find any examples, that might limit the ways you can work with them. Maybe they won’t be up for regramming your photos, for example.

Try to think about what these partners need and whether you can offer it. People love having their problems solved for them. By thinking about what a potential partner needs, you’re putting yourself in the right mindset. Do they need more followers, sales, mailing list subscribers? Are they promoting a new product or event? One of the easiest ways to help a potential partner is to promote their event.

The goal is to eventually partner with each of these brands. Not immediately, but at some point. So make sure they really match your brand aesthetic. This is how they’ll be assessing you when you ask them to partner. If you change your aesthetic later, you’ll want to do this exercise over.

It’s OK if your brand doesn’t seem as big as theirs. What matters most is that your style and community are aligned and that you’ll be attracting similar followers. But be reasonable. There’s Oprah and there’s you. We’d all love to work with the biggest brands right outta the gate. Few of us will get the chance. Luckily, Instagram is full of great up and coming brands! Start with the ones that are closer to your level.

Who are your muses? Your Influencers.

Your muses represent your ideal followers. You’ll have lots of followers later, but if you could only pick 3, who would those followers be? Who would totally “get” your brand? Those are your muses. Choose 3 Instagrammers as your muses and add them to your “Influencers” List.


To figure out who your muses are, start by looking at your partners and competitors. Who do they follow and feature? Influencers don’t need to have 50K followers, they can have as little as 1K followers. You’re going to hunt through Instagram to find thousands of people who look like your influencers. You need to be able to quickly identify them.

Similarly to partners, your goal is to get your influencers to follow you and support your brand. If your influencers follow you, you’ve done a great job with your Instagram account. Goodness, don’t ask them to follow you! They’ll follow you if they want to, it’s not about asking. 


There are a lot of different types of categories you can put people in, but Competitors, Partners, and Influencers is a good place to start. I’ve had students that own design agencies and they will make a list of “Potential Clients” and/or “Clients”. 

With @madewithmap, we added thousands of people to lists, everyday. If we didn’t do this exercise, we would be wasting so much time engaging with people that didn’t affect our business goals. And the last thing you want to do when you’ve got a small business is waste time.

In my course, this is the most important first step before you can grow. Also, it’s a great way to do market research and help structure your Instagram content strategy. Most importantly, it gets you closer to your potential customer!

Want to learn more about Instagram? Enroll in Puno’s online video course Instagram Marketing: Grow Real Followers where she walks through step-by-step on how to pro-actively and aggressively grow with real followers.

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