Our Test to Revive a Dead Instagram Account

Last Updated on by Jeremy

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One of the unfortunate side effects of being a travel blogger that only travels periodically is that I do not generate enough content to have a continual “live” feed from where I am in any given day.

Before going full-time at this site I used my library of photos from the past to compensate for this with various themed photo sets, but at times I slacked off in my posting schedule (and at one point only posted about three weeks out of an entire year). 

Over time this added up, and I concluded that my account was more or less dead in the water. I had to do something, and my test to revive it was born.

How We Knew Our Instagram Was Dead


I knew there was an issue when our account of 16,000+ very real followers went from 150-300 likes per update and 5%-15% user reach to a paltry 25-50 likes per update and 1%-2% reach- and that was if we were lucky.

Nothing changed except for our posting frequency, and we knew we were in trouble with the algorithm (even more so than a typical algorithm change). How we were in trouble, well, we don't know much beyond this as we always tried to be right by conventional best practices and knew we weren't “shadow banned” as well.

Not wanting to put resign ourselves to having terrible reach, and knowing that high engagement is still somewhat possible for Instagram (our local blog continually gets 40% reach and 10%-20% engaged), we put together a test to see if we could bring our account back to an acceptable level versus the alternatives of giving up or starting over.

Today, we want to share the process we used and the results.

Reviving a Dead Instagram Account Steps


We took a multi-step process to revive our dead Instagram account, which adhered to the following plan:

  • Curate a set of 200+ photos known as our #BestOfSet (a unique hashtag for our photos).
    • These were our best and most engaging photos out of 200,000+ in our collection. Some shared on Instagram before, some not.
  • Post up to three times per day with our Best of Set, such that the entire test took 2-3 months to post.
  • Including the hashtag #BestOfSet in every photo with periodic prompts to encourage people to look at more there.
  • Tagging relevant accounts and tourist boards who would be interested in the set (official accounts only, three max).
  • Adding relevant travel and destination specific hashtags and location tags onto every update.
  • Periodically we would go through and like recent updates on the location specific tags and destination feeds.
    • When we commented, it was real comments. None of that bot generated ‘great shot' or ‘100' / fire emoji crap. This was a lot of effort, and did not get done as much as I would've liked.
  • Boosting the posts with $1/day, for up to five days, to users in the US who like travel and travel photography to encourage profile visits.
    • We did not boost every post but tried to hit most of them to at least get to 150+ engaged per update.
  • Unfollowed everyone except those accounts we personally know (and like) to curate our feed and make it easier to engage in real accounts in good standing on Instagram.

Now, before we get into the results, I want to take some time to explain the logic for the steps above as there are a few important things about the Instagram algorithm we want to highlight.

To us, the Instagram algorithm is all about engaging content being seen more, and unpopular content being seen less. The more an individual user likes your photos, the more they're going to see them in the future. The more people (in general) see and engage with your photos, the more other followers will see them as well.

This is, to us, why popular accounts maintain a huge run of likes and account growth whereas smaller users (and dead accounts) get stuck. Instagram is built on momentum, and when you lose it you're in a tough spot to turn it around.

So the entire design of the above test was to continually produce engaging content in our feed (our best photos), target users who would likely engage (via destination tags, hashtags, and advertising), and create an environment to encourage them to do this over and over again (#BestOfSet tag in every update with periodic prompts to go look at the photos there).

In a way, this is not different than the current Instagram best practicesWe just did it on overdrive.

The ultimate goal of this was to re-engage our followers, find new followers, purge those on our end who we follow that are also dead weight, and build the organic engagement of our account back up to levels that we view as acceptable for a profile with 16,000 fans.

Results of Our Test to Revive a Dead Account


The starting point of this study was 1%-2% reach per update (150-300) and 25-50 engaged per update.

By the end, we had increased our average organic reach to 500-1,000 and 75-150 engaged per update before promotion. This is baseline organic performance. So more or less a 300% increase.

Not significantly better, but a notable uptick all the same.

With including boosting the updates to our target above, with about $5 spend per photo, we saw a jump to 2,000-4,000 reach and 200-600 engaged per update- plus new followers trickling in we did not see before. So for a few dollars in advertising spend we could easily increase our performance another 200%-800%- or upwards of 10x from where we started.

A lot better, but unfortunately requiring ad spend!

What these numbers don't tell, however, is that most of the new organic engagements that we saw were also from new followers picked up during the test (which were, of course, mostly through the paid boosts)

No matter what we tried, re-engaging our existing followers did not happen. Short of going through each account individually and commenting on their content hoping they'd do the same in return, the people who had followed us before this test, but were not actively engaging, were more or less lost. 

Whether this is because they were not using Instagram anymore (quite likely, we found thousands that hadn't updated in years) or the algorithm just doesn't show it to them since they haven't engaged in ages (also possible) is unclear.

What we do know is that those who consistently liked and commented on updates organically seemed to be the people we picked up from boosting posts within this test, and no matter what we did, new follower growth is what triggered our increase in organic performance.

So, sad to say, the best result we had in reviving our Instagram account was boosting content, picking up new followers, and getting them to engage with our content moving forward. 

As a result, if you have a dead Instagram account your quest will likely be getting new followers at all costs. Boosting, following active users, and reaching people with tags are still among the popular methods and may be your only course of action- if you care, at least.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, once you do start seeing growth don't take long pauses in between updates. We let our account sit for a few weeks at a time, but apart from these significantly shorter breaks (mostly thanks to my newfound ability to travel more), we try and update as regularly as possible.

Is Reviving an Instagram Account Worth It?

I personally believe Instagram's glory days are behind us, and it is quickly becoming a money sink to gain as much advertising revenue as possible. My local account still rocks the network, and I'll take the free organic reach as long as I can. Heck, I'll even pay for boosting when the time warrants it, but it is no longer a main priority.

When it comes down to it, I'm not certain if the effort to revive a dead Instagram account is worth it as social updates are only a vanity part of our business and not where we earn our money. But as with all things, your mileage may vary. 

So before doing anything to work on your account, the first question you have to ask yourself is simply this: why do you want to do this?

If you can't answer that you're going to simply be throwing money away to look popular, and that is simply not worth it at all.

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About Jeremy

Jeremy from Living the Dream

About the Author: Jeremy is a full-time travel writer based in Pittsburgh and primary author of this site. He has been to 70+ countries on five continents and seeks out new food, adventure activities, and off-the-beaten-path experiences wherever he travels.

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