tl;dr Growing an Instagram Channel is time consuming. I built a Channel from 0 to 9000 real followers in about 5 months using simple script. Bot's are like people, but without minimum wages. Oh and they don't get bored by doing the same thing thousands of times. Yet, like every employee they have to be trained to be effective.
In January 2018 I first started playing around with different methods on how to grow on Instagram - by far the most efficient (cost / results) method is to run a script that automatically likes, follows and comments on other images.
Step 1: Specify your niche
Search for some account like the one you want to build and scrape all the hashtags they use into one big list. Cross out all the generic hashtags.
Run a script to extract how often each hashtag was used and sort your list accordingly. Now you can choose the most relevant ones to use for your own postings. They should not have a super huge volume of new posts per day, otherwise you will have a hard time being discovered. Those with a huge volume are great for your bot, as there is a constant supply of new accounts it can interact with.
Step 2: Setup your bot
Now it's time to get technical. There are many bots out there - I prefer InstaPy which is completely open source and allows for easy automation.
Your bot should interact with images posted under the hashtags in your list. You can exclude certain hashtags and words from any interactions to further niche down your target audience (and exclude inappropriate content).
Make sure to only interact with small accounts, as those tend to be real humans and no businesses or bots. If you like to, you can clean up who is following you every now and then. Just export your followerlist and block those with a bad follow/following ratio or too many followers.
The settings for the interaction rates depend on the size and activity of your niche and should be carefully tweaked as not to overdo it and like every image of some accounts. Your comments should be generic, but seem specific. This works particularly well if your niche is homogenous. But it is an art in itself and very much like writing a horoscope. You also should rewrite those every now and then (as not to be noticed for being repetitive).
Don't forget to unfollow (and don't overdo follow-unfollow! but who do I have to tell ...).
Step 3: Run your bot
Schedule your bot in sync with your postings. In the beginning I used to post twice daily. My bot was already running for one hour when the post went live - this helped with the initial engagement.
If you are optimizing for high engagement rates, you should slow down your posting frequency until you are satisfied with the amount of engagement each post gets. Keep in mind that you still need killer content. Your bot just lifts the weight of interacting with other accounts off of your shoulders.
Keep a close eye to the responses you get on your comments - this is where you can step in to boost your account with real human interaction (but it's also time consuming).
Once the bot runs stable it's time to find a more permanent home for it - like a digitalocean micro-server (if you signup through this affiliate link you get 10€/$ credit which allows you to run the bot for two months).
Step 4: Linear growth
Once your bot is properly set up, you can expect some kind of linear growth which is slowly increasing. It's also worth mentioning that uploading new media and growth do not have a significant correlation. Unless you go viral, all your traffic will be coming from people wanting to know who liked / commented / followed them. This is strictly correlated to your bots activity and nothing else. Once you reach a certain size you will have enough engagement through your bot to get featured on the explore page and a second growth channel will emerge. This will remain small in comparison, unless you create a hype about your account (e.g. be the first with floating pictures).
(You would like to build a dashboard like this? Here is how I track my stats.)
Running a script is no magic cure, without great content you are just annoying people by running a bot. If you complement great artworks and good community management with a bot to grow your audience you should be on the right track.
P.S.: As you might have already guessed - I stopped running this bot a few weeks ago, but I'm still running bot's on other projects. Shoot me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to know more about how I can help you grow your social media
P.P.S.: Oh, and this is the channel I was talking about all along:
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