Long term monetizable growth on Instagram depends on your understanding of niches, their four phases, and your ability to pivot between them as your niche evolves over time. If your account has recently stopped growing, the most likely culprit isn’t the algorithm or what hashtags you use, or even whether you’re using Reels (check out my article about Is Instagram dying? to learn more about why). The solution to your growth problems lies in identifying your niche’s phase and taking the corresponding course-of-action (you can read my article on how to find the most valuable Instagram niche for that). By understanding niches and their phases, understanding what you need to do to grow your account will become clear.
What Is an Instagram Niche?
An Instagram niche is a term used to describe topics on Instagram.
They are generally encapsulated by one or several main hashtags that describe and aggregate the content created about that topic.
How niches are used
Content creators tag niche hashtags so their content can be discovered by people interested in a particular topic. This generates traffic to their accounts and grows their audience.
Content consumers actively search through niche hashtags or through accounts and explorer pages to discover content and accounts to follow about particular topics they are interested in.
How to measure the size of a niche
The size of a niche is usually measured in two ways:
The number of posts within the largest hashtag of that niche
The number of followers of the most popular account of that niche
The larger the number of posts in that hashtag, the larger the number of people interested in consuming content about it, and therefore the larger the number of content creators making content about it. When there are more creators making content, the content variety and quality within a niche increases, resulting in a lower likelihood of successfully growing and monetizing an account in that niche due to the high level of competition.
The larger the number of followers of the most popular account within a niche, the less likely it is for average content creators to successfully grow and monetize an account in that niche. Generally speaking, only the most popular creators within a niche are able to monetize their audience over a long period of time.
Usually, the broader the topic is, the more accounts there are creating content about it, but content consumers tend to be less passionate about it because it is general and broad. The more specific the topic is, the fewer accounts there are creating content about it (because it is more esoteric), but the more passionate the content consumers tend to be because it is specific and detailed. A more specific topic can also be called a sub-niche.
What are sub-niches?
Sub-niches are a sub-topic that only exist within the context of the large topic or a new topic that is created when the topics of two or more niches intersect.
A sub-niche can be created out of an almost infinite number of topics and intersections of topics, so keep your mind open! All of the characteristics of a niche also apply to a sub-niche. See the example section in this article for reference.
The Life Cycle of a Niche
All Instagram niches and sub-niches have a lifecycle that can be broken down into four phases: the Introduction Phase, the Growth Phase, the Maturity Phase, and the Decline Phase.This is how they work.The Introduction Phase: This phase involves the start of a community interested in creating and consuming content about a new topic on Instagram. It’s usually an esoteric interest. Information about the topic and the people in it is limited and it’s considered to be inaccessible to general audiences because it’s so obscure. The number of content creators is very small and the content they create is usually not polished, but the people interested in the topic are very passionate about it. For a content creator, their rate of growth is fast within the community, their content is highly engaged with, but their ceiling of growth is low because the community is so small.
How to measure it:
On average, the largest and most popular accounts within the niche will have between 1,000–50,000 followers and the main hashtag will have between 1,000–300,000 posts at this phase.
Keys to growing your account in this phase: This type of community is usually so obscure that the key to growth at this phase is simply being in the niche as well as picking an introduction niche that’s likely to grow! This is the optimal phase to start an account in a niche (if it’ll grow in the future), since the quality of content needed to succeed is low due to low competition, and the likelihood of long term growth is high because they were one of the first few accounts and will grow as the community grows.
The Growth Phase: In this phase, a previously esoteric topic becomes popular and the number of content creators and consumers in the niche grows rapidly. Professional content creators previously unaware or uninterested in the topic enter the niche in an effort to capture a part of this fast-growing audience. Early-adopter businesses begin sponsoring content creators within the niche, as well as creating products to sell within it. The previously established content creators in the topic compete with new, more professional content creators to attract the largest audience within the niche and monetize it. The quality of the content greatly increases, the algorithm surfaces the content of this topic more, which multiplies the rate of growth of the niche. New sub-topics are developed and new sub-niches in introductory phases are created. For a content creator, their rate of growth is the fastest at this phase but depends on their ability to create highly engaging content about the topic. Their ceiling of growth is higher because the community is growing at such a fast pace. For most people, this is the second-best phase to start an account within a particular niche.
How to measure it: On average, the largest and most popular accounts within the niche will have between 50,000–500,000 followers and the main hashtag will have between 300,000 and 1 million posts in it.
Keys to growing your account in this phase: The key to long term success is being able to create high quality, differentiated content that is perceived as better than the content created by accounts established in the Introduction Phase, because the new consumers entering the niche will favor content over seniority (all else being equal). If you are not one of the highest quality content creators in this phase, it’s very unlikely that you will succeed in it long-term, so the best course of action would be to pivot into a sub-niche that is in the Introductory Phase.
Example: Art Dolls. The largest hashtag within that niche (#artdoll) has 1 million posts and one of the most popular accounts (@awesome_oso) has 150k followers.
The Maturity Phase: In this phase, interest in the topic begins to slow and decline, and the number of people in the niche grows at a much slower pace or even plateaus. Most of the value is captured by the accounts that became the most popular in the niche during the Growth Phase. The type of content created about the topic is commodified, as a litany of low-quality accounts flood the niche and copy the content style of the large, popular creators in an effort to grow an audience and earn money easily (just as they believe popular accounts did during the Growth Phase.) The competition from an ever-increasing number of content creators trying to capture the attention of a plateaued audience triggers a shakeout period. Growth slows or stops for most accounts creating content about the topic and audiences consolidate around a handful of popular creators who are perceived as the highest quality and most differentiated within the niche. The growth and monetization potential for these popular accounts is unmatchable by newly formed accounts in this phase. Sub-niches within this niche reach their own Growth Phase.
How to measure it: On average, the largest and most popular accounts within the niche will have between 500,000 and millions of followers, and the main hashtag will have between 1 million to 50 million posts in it.
Keys to growing your account in this phase: Unless you are already established as one of the most prominent accounts, the likelihood of having a successful, fast-growing, and monetizable account starting in this phase is very small. The only way to grow quickly would be to create content that’s incredibly differentiated and of higher quality than the most popular accounts in the niche and that is very unlikely given the number of talented and professional accounts you’ll be competing within a niche of this size. The wisest pivot here would be to transition into a sub-niche that’s in an Introductory Phase or a sub-niche that’s in a Growth Phase, in which you can be one of the highest quality creators.
The Decline Phase: The Decline Phase marks the end of a niche’s ability to support growth. Obsolescence and the evolution of tastes lead to a mass exodus of content consumers in the niche. Because of this, the great majority of content creators, even the popular ones, begin to lose followers. Most fledgling content creators stop posting, since the efforts are not worth the return, and move on to other niches. Further consolidation happens towards the few popular accounts left in the niche, but there is no new growth in audiences or money to be made. Sub-niches reach their own Maturity Phase.
How to measure it: On average, the largest and most popular accounts within the niche will have millions of followers and the main hashtag will have 50+ million posts in it.
Keys to growing your account in this phase: The likelihood of significant growth for any account is slim to none, so the only course-of-action is to pivot into a sub-niche that’s in an Introductory Phase or a sub-niche that’s in a Growth Phase, in which you can be one of the highest quality creators.
Example: Enamel Pins. The largest hashtag within that niche (#pingame) has 1 million+ posts and one of the most popular accounts (@pinlord) in that niche has 140k followers. Although this niche doesn’t fit into the measurements, I run @pinlord, and it’s losing followers and all of the characteristics of the Decline Phase niche are present. A large number of people are losing followers and exiting the niche.
Since the number of people interested in topics varies, it’s important to note that not all niches will be able to be accurately measured based on the number of followers of the most popular accounts or the number of posts within the main hashtag. That being said, the characteristics of each phase will remain the same regardless of the size of the niche.
Understanding niches through an example
Let’s use the topic of pottery on Instagram to understand niches. Keep in mind these numbers were true at the time this article was published. They have likely changed by now.
Topic: Pottery-related content on Instagram.
Size of the Niche: #ceramics is the largest one of the two with 12.2 million posts. In comparison to other crafts niches on Instagram, the pottery niche is larger than the #macrame niche, which has 5 million posts, but smaller than the #crochet or #illustration niches, which have 31 million posts and 147 million posts, respectively.
Sub-niches: An example of a pottery encapsulated sub-niche would be #wheelthrownpottery (320k posts) which encapsulates pottery made specifically with a pottery wheel or #ceramicartist (558k posts) which encapsulates ceramic content focused specifically on the artist who made it. Examples of sub-niches created when two niches (topics) intersect would be #kawaiiceramics (718 posts), made in the intersection of #kawaii and #ceramics, or #minimalceramics (5.3k posts) made in the intersection of #minimalism and #ceramics, or #pinkceramics (2k posts) made in the intersection of the topic of #ceramics and the color #pink.
Niche phase: The largest, most popular accounts in this niche have around 200–300k followers (@potteryforall), which indicates that it’s in the Growth Phase, but its main hashtag has around 12 million posts which indicate it’s in the Maturity Phase. The key to understanding this discrepancy is that it’s likely in a transition period between the Growth and Maturity Phases.
Keys to growth: The key to growth in this niche is being able to create high quality, differentiated pottery pieces and content that is perceived as more engaging than the content created by the accounts that were established in the Introduction Phase. New consumers entering the niche will favor content over seniority (all else being equal.) If you are not one of the highest quality content creators in this phase it’s very unlikely that you will monetize long-term, so the best course-of-action would be to pivot into a pottery sub-niche that is in an Introductory Phase.
This is one example, but there are an almost infinite number of niches and sub-niches and the great majority of Instagram accounts are in one.
What’s your niche?
Now that you know what niches are and what phases they have, it’s important to understand which niche and phase your account is in because it is the most important determinant of how much your account can grow over time (if you want to learn the details of the exact activities you should perform to grow your small business, you can check out my Instagram Small Business Class). No matter how valuable or good you consider your content and products to be, the characteristics of niche phases are unchangeable — the Introduction Phase provides the highest likelihood of long term growth (if the niche grows at all) given the lack of competition, as well as the trust you will be able to build with the community. The Growth Phase provides the second-highest likelihood of long-term growth given that its community is rapidly increasing, but the only way to achieve growth is to be one of the accounts that creates the most differentiated and highest-quality content within the niche. There is a very small likelihood of long term, monetizable growth, if you start an account in a Mature niche and slim to none if you start it in a Declining niche.
If you value the time and energy you put into Instagram, it’s important to be realistic about this. Instead of trying to find short term growth hacks that will magically change the course of your account growth, realize that they won’t make a long-term difference and take the correct course-of-action based on what phase your niche is in. Pivot into an Introduction Phase niche or make sure you’re creating the highest-value content in a Growth niche. It’s the only way to truly grow an account in the current Instagram landscape.