How Joe Yoon Became Instagram Famous
The best way to succeed is to learn from people who already have that success. They have made the mistakes, found solutions, and ultimately achieved what you’re striving toward.
Joe Yoon is a perfect role model for anyone building their brand, even if it has nothing to do with personal training and fitness. It’s the reason I was so keen to get him on the show and I am confident that anyone building their personal brand and looking for Instagram follower growth can learn from him.
1. First Few Weeks
That initial step requires the most effort. You have no momentum behind you, only doubt, and you’re often driven purely by curiosity or hope, and not expectation.
One of the first steps is to understand who your target market is and what your goals are. For Joe, this was easy.
He was a personal trainer and his goal was to get customers. He wanted to target people in his local area who needed to get fitter, stronger, and healthier.
What about you? What are your goals, what is your demographic?
A few weeks ago, I had a chat with Paul Butler about strategic thinking. One of the things we discussed was the importance of challenging assumptions.
We all make assumptions about certain things and this applies as much to business and personal branding as it does anything else. We assume that we know what our demographic is and whether we’re targeting that demographic or not.
Most of the time, we’re wrong.
Just because you’re selling weight loss programs, doesn’t mean you’re targeting only overweight people; just because you’re focusing on the weightlifting market, doesn’t mean all of your followers are male.
Understanding your exact demographic is key, as that’s the only you can create content that appeals to them.
As for your goals, they don’t have to be exact, but they should be more defined than, “I want to be Instagram famous”.
Why do you want to be Instagram famous, what happens when you achieve that goal? Do you want to write a book, launch a company, sell sponsorship?
Clarity will help you to refine your approach and adapt to the challenges that you face.
2. Collaborate And Experiment
Collaborating with another creator is one of the best things you can do for your personal branding.
As an example, a few months ago, the YouTube fitness community became obsessed with food challenges. On the surface, it seems like a complete mismatch; one is about losing weight and staying healthy, the other is about eating bad food to excess.
However, those fitness experts had done their research.
They knew that a large percentage of their audience was from the bodybuilding community, where eating 3,000+ calories a day is the norm. For the rest of the audience, the ones on a calorie-restricted diet, there was an element of fantasy about it. They were forced to cut their calories, and so they wanted to watch others eat to excess while they desperately waited for their own cheat day.
Not only did this give those YouTubers a new angle, but it allowed them to collaborate with an entirely different community. The world of fitness, bodybuilding, and competitive eating came together, became intertwined, and everyone profited.
This is an extreme example of how beneficial collaboration can be, but the great thing about them is that you don’t need to leave your comfort zone and venture into a new industry.
Every time you collaborate with someone, you expose that person’s followers to your content. They get to see you in the flesh, and if they like what you bring to the table, they will start following you as well.
Obviously, this isn’t easy when you’re just starting. It’s a collaboration, which means it’s a joint effort, and if you don’t have followers then you don’t have anything to bring to the table.
But there are ways to make it work.
One of the things that Joe did was to offer his services free of charge. He would give someone a massage, they would post it to Instagram, and he would be tagged. By offering a few minutes of his time, he received a big boost on a larger Instagram account.
As he did this for more and more clients, he began to achieve a following of his own, at which point collaborations became easier.
If you can provide a service for free, one that doesn’t damage your reputation or your finances, and one that places you in a good light, go for it.
3. Help, Don’t Sell
One of the golden rules of content marketing is that you should be helping 97% of the time and selling 3% of the time.
It’s something that Joe understood from day one and it played a major part in his meteoric rise.
Joe, just like Kristina Bucaram, who I recently had on the show, wanted to help people. His Instagram account became a vehicle for good, one that he used to recommend massaging techniques, stretches, and other helpful techniques.
He is a highly qualified and experienced personal trainer, and a lot of people wanted to hear what he had to say.
He produced his free content and in return, his following grew.
When you don’t force your products or your business down people’s throats, they are more inclined to listen to you. And if you maintain that relationship and keep providing them with valuable content, they will be happy to buy anything that you’re selling.
As Joe states in our interview, when he published his first book, many of his followers bought it just so they could support him.
It’s something that is unique to personal branding and to influencers. You wouldn’t get that with a major brand. No one goes out and buys a crate of Coca-Cola just so they can support the brand. That’s preposterous, and yet it’s commonplace in this industry.
To get to that point, you need to establish a relationship of trust. Give your followers free content, help them, engage with them, and eventually, they will be ready to give a little something back.
4. Hook Them In
As Joe’s reputation grew, he became known as “the tennis ball guy”.
It’s a story he relates during our interview and one that essentially evolved from a gimmick. The tennis ball was a tool he used when recommending massage techniques, but as these were the videos that went viral, it ultimately became a big part of JoeTherapy.
It makes for an interesting story and, in Joe’s case, it was also one of the reasons he became Instagram famous.
The tennis ball was unusual, and that was enough to attract the attention of his viewers.
As any successful content marketer will attest, you have around 3 seconds to grab a viewer’s attention. It’s a few quick frames, a soundbite, a few images, and if you don’t engage them in that brief timeframe, you’ll lose the opportunity.
This is why you should never begin a YouTube video with a long intro. It’s why many successful YouTubers take the most interesting 3 to 5-second clip from their video, play it first, and then roll the intro.
It’s one of those stats that’s hard to wrap your head around. After all, 3-seconds is nothing. And every time I quote this statistic, I can see people’s minds working as they try to reason with it.
Some of them insist that it can’t be true, because all movies have about 5 minutes of logos and intros these days. But that actually proves my point.
When you’re in a movie theatre, you’ve already decided to watch the film; you’ve already paid your money. The movie itself is not the thing that captured your attention—it’s not the place where the 3-second rule applies.
That comes down to the teaser trailer, and if you watch movie trailers, you’ll see this 3-second rule in effect. Many trailers begin with a curious question, an explosion, a recognizable actor or fictional character—something that will instantly grab your attention and ultimately lead to a sale.
To replicate this on Instagram, you need a thumbnail that catches the eye, a headline that promotes curiosity, and a video that begins with a bang.
As an example, let’s imagine that you’re an aspiring personal trainer. You want to follow in JoeTherapy’s footsteps, and you create a video on “10 Tips to Cure Muscle Pain”.
Rather than beginning the video with a monotone intro and a request for people to like, subscribe, and comment, why not begin with a question?
“What if I told you I could cure your shoulder pain in 5 minutes?”
Imagine how much more interesting that would be to someone who has only just been introduced to your content and is watching you for the first time.
5. Establishing And Maintaining Momentum
It’s important to build momentum when utilizing content marketing.
You start with 1 post every 3 days, you persist, remain consistent, and when things begin to take off, you expend more time and effort and eventually increase it to every 2 days and then every day.
It’s a strategy that helps for several reasons.
Firstly, it means you don’t need to go all-out straight away.
When you’re just getting started, you don’t need to post content every single day. No one is there to consume it and all that hard work will be for nothing if you eventually discover that it’s not the platform for you.
Secondly, it allows you to cement yourself in the algorithm. Social media algorithms love consistency. They value users who post regularly and are reliable, and the same applies to your followers.
Start slow, maintain consistency, and when things start picking up and you see more engagement and a greater return, increase your efforts.
You’ll also find it easier to maintain a regular schedule. If you simply post when you feel like it, you’ll have a few good weeks or months and will then start to post less frequently. Procrastination will take over, your content will suffer, and eventually, you’ll give up.
But, if you’re posting every few days, it will become a habit, one that is much easier to maintain.
6. Start Posting In Batches
Batch posting is something that Joe Yoon didn’t do in the beginning, but something he has adopted now he has more responsibilities.
In simple terms, it’s the process of scheduling lots of posts in batches. It allows you to post content more consistently without working every single day.
If you decide to post content every day and set a schedule that sets aside 2 hours to create, edit, and post new content, what happens when you fall ill? What happens when you’re called away on business or just feel like taking a break?
One of the biggest misunderstandings about self-employed individuals is that they have all the time in the world and can do what they want.
After all, they are setting their own hours, and if they feel like it, they can fly to Europe at the drop of a hat and enjoy a few days in Paris or London.
In reality, it’s rarely like this. Working for yourself means juggling a lot of responsibilities, never knowing when the next opportunity will come, and always making yourself available for your customers, clients, and even your followers.
By batch posting, you can buy yourself some breathing space and add some structure to this otherwise chaotic and demanding process.
The easiest way to do this is to create large pieces of “pillar” content and then adapt these as needed. I can use This Week With Sabir as an example.
My interview with Joe Yoon lasted for just over an hour. From that video, I have created this blog post, which goes into depth about the topics that we discussed.
If I wanted to take things further, I could condense the video into multiple points and soundbites, highlighting specific tips from Joe Yoon and myself. I could do the same with this blog post, turning it into multiple long-form pieces or dozens of short blurbs. By taking some still images from the video, and adding pieces of text from the interview, I can create quote-based images.
In the end, from a single 1-hour interview, I could have dozen of videos, blogs, and images, leaving me with enough content for weeks. Not only that, but due to the wide range of content, I’d have something to use on all platforms and could recycle and reuse as needed.
This would make my job much easier, allow me to prolong the value of my content, and if I wanted to buy myself some free time at a later date, I could just keep one of these batches on the backburner.
Content marketing requires the creation of endless videos, blogs, snippets, and soundbites, and if you’re going to do all of this in a reasonable amount of time and while maintaining your sanity, you need to think about batch content creation.
7. See What Others Are Doing
Stop trying to be 100% original, stop blinding yourself to what others are doing, and start looking to your fellow influencers and business owners for ideas.
What are they doing that really seems to be working for them, why is it working for them, is there any way to adapt and improve? You should never just copy what someone else is doing, but there’s nothing wrong with borrowing the same ideas and adding your own spin.
As an example, if a fellow creator starts doing list-based videos and they really seem to be working for them, then by all means do the same thing, but don’t copy their lists and items; don’t steal their content.
Nothing will destroy your career and reputation faster than being accused of plagiarism. It’s something that’s taken very seriously with content creators, and rightly so. It’s also pointless because you’re effectively trying to re-write a bestselling novel and then hoping that everyone buys your version and not the better-known and more popular original.
8. Engage With Followers
Engagement is key to your success. The more that people engage with your content, the more exposure it will get. Getting people to engage with your videos isn’t easy, but there are a few tricks you can use.
- Push for Engagement: Create videos, posts, and pictures that promote engagement; content that will encourage your followers to leave comments. For instance, you could ask them a question about the topic of the video, run a promotion that requires them to comment, or even just ask them to comment and tell you things.
- Communicate During Livestreams: On a livestream, take the time to field questions directly from your viewers and to respond to these during the stream. It’s a great way of getting a conversation going and it also rewards your viewers, making them more likely to comment in the future.
- Reply Directly: Spend some time responding to your viewers. Answer their questions, address their issues, and thank them for commenting. It’s important, however, that you don’t simply spam the same comment to all of them. Take the time to make it personal and you’ll promote more of a dialogue and encourage others to comment.
- Take Their Ideas: Ask your viewers for content ideas, follow through with those ideas, and then shout out the viewer that suggested them. You get a content idea, your viewer feels like they have made a difference, and all other viewers will be more inclined to follow suit. It’s a win-win, and it works incredibly well for promoting your personal brand.
9. Don’t Expect Overnight Success
Overnight success happens, but it’s rare. It is the exception.
For many people, success comes after years of hard work and struggle. Just because you haven’t achieved your goals in a few weeks or months, doesn’t mean you should give up and it definitely doesn’t mean that success won’t come eventually.
It’s easy to look at someone like Joe Yoon and assume that success came naturally and easily. But his “overnight success” came after 3 and a half years of tireless work, experimentation, and struggle.
He didn’t give up and that persistence meant he eventually attained his goals.
If you maintain a regular output and engage often with your customers, then every day is a chance for your channel to blow up.
It’s one more chance that a big page will promote your content or that you’ll be given a push in the algorithm. For Joe, the big break came when a massive Instagram aggregate account posted one of his videos.
There was no warning, no request, nothing to suggest what was to come, and yet in three days, he got an extra 100,000 followers.
10. Beating The Doubt
Doubt is often the thing that stops people from taking a chance and achieving the success they so desperately want.
They think to themselves, if all of this is true, and all these tips really work, why isn’t everyone Instagram famous? If it really is about a solid content marketing strategy and consistency, why hasn’t everyone made it?
The answer is not as simple as you might hope.
For one thing, this is a thought process that many aspiring influencers have and it’s one that prevents them from doing the things they should be doing. They doubt that hard work will pay off, worry that they will waste their time trying, and so they look for that quick fix instead.
They indulge in black hat techniques, waste time and money on things that don’t work, and then give up. Alternatively, they spend a few weeks doing the right things, get frustrated, and then call it a day.
Instagram is home to millions of users, all hoping for their slice of virality, but the number of individuals who have worked as hard as Joe and have made the right moves is probably in the thousands.
Coincidentally, the number of users with more than 1 million followers is over 5,000, and that doesn’t include the countless influencers who are on their way to 1 million and are still making a good living.
In other words, these methods do work, and all the successful people are already using them. The reason that everyone is not a success is because only a very small percentage actually make that commitment.
The Black Hat Side Of Instagram Hacking
Content marketing is the real trick to Instagram follower growth. The problem is, it’s not really a “trick”. People want a magic wand, they don’t want to hear that the secret is hard work, patience, and endless rejection and strife.
Inevitably, they are led toward black hat Instagram hacking.
Some of these techniques work. In fact, to an extent, they all do, otherwise, they wouldn’t be popular in the first place.
The problem is, you have to be pretty loose with your definition of success for them to provide any value.
Here are a few of the most common black hat Instagram hacking methods and the reasons you should stay clear of them:
1. Buying Followers
Have you ever stumbled across an Instagram account with only a handful of posts, a massive number of followers, but very little engagement?
Chances are, that account purchased those followers.
They pay money to be followed by fake “bot” accounts, ones that use stock images, post nonsense, and never engage. The sole purpose of these accounts is to follow.
This industry has become so popular in recent years that you can now purchase tens of thousands of followers for a couple of hundred bucks. Theoretically, you could make yourself “Instagram famous” with less than $10,000.
The problem is, those followers are not real, they won’t engage, and there is absolutely no benefit to having them.
Some users purchase followers because they want to trick sponsors. Sometimes, entrepreneurs and business owners do it to increase their prestige and appeal more to clients.
Some even purchase followers because they believe that doing so will increase their position in the algorithm and lead to genuine growth.
The truth is, your clients are very good at spotting fake followers, and so is Instagram. It will not improve your status or your position and will only hurt your business in the long run.
Accounts with more followers are indeed more likely to appear on trending pages and to get a bigger push in the algorithm, but it has nothing to do with their followers.
Accounts that have a lot of followers also have a lot of comments, likes, and general engagements. More people watch their videos and see their posts; more people share that content. All of this paints a picture of popularity for the algorithm.
If you buy followers, you don’t get any of that. No one is watching your videos or reading your posts; no one is paying any attention to your content.
Of course, you could also fake engagement, but social media networks know this, and they have been working to prevent it for years. You might think that you’ve found an easy way to achieve online fame, but the platforms are always one step ahead of you.
2. Follow Back
A popular trend on Twitter, “follow back” simply means that you follow people on the promise that they follow you back.
It works, but it takes a lot of time and effort and it’s easy to spot people who have done this. For one thing, while they may have thousands of followers, they are also following thousands of accounts.
The main issue with follow back is that it doesn’t work as you might expect. The timeline of someone with 10,000+ followers is inundated with posts. It’s an avalanche of nonsense, and there’s no way that any of your marketing or engagement posts are slipping through that net.
What’s the point of having 10,000 followers if none of them even see your posts? Sure, they’re real, but they’re also blind to everything that you say and do, which means they can’t interact, they can’t engage, and they can’t help you climb the rankings.
3. Engagement Swaps
Algorithms love engagement. Having people like, comment, and share can do a lot for your social media status and, if it happens enough times and with enough people, it could make you Instagram famous.
A few years ago, many engagement groups were created to exploit this system. A group of aspiring influencers would get together and agree to share, like, and comment on everyone’s posts at a specific time.
The idea was sound, but it wasn’t really that effective.
It takes a lot of time to like and share everyone’s posts. For something like that to be effective, you need to have a lot of people in the group, but when those numbers grow, so does the work that you do, and before long, it becomes a full-time job.
Instead of wasting your time giving false likes to other users, focus on creating good content and engaging with real followers.
Joe admits to using one of these groups in the past, but quickly gave it up after a week. It’s a story that countless influencers tell. Everyone has looked at the quick fixes, everyone’s tried something, and more often than not, they gave up and realized how pointless it was.
The Importance Of Building A Targeted Following
Many successful Instagram influencers focus on one thing and one thing only: Followers.
It’s a no-brainer, right? After all, success is measured in followers, and the higher that number climbs, the more successful you are and the more of an impact your messages will be.
The problem is, that’s only the case for someone who doesn’t have a business to build and a brand to promote. For them, only the numbers matter because that’s all that sponsors care about.
The more people that follow you, the more sponsors will be interested in you, and the greater your income will be as a result.
When you have a business to promote, it’s a different story.
You need followers in your specific industry, ones that will actually be interested in what you’re selling and will frequently engage with your content.
This is something I discussed with branding expert Habib Salo in a previous This Week with Sabir episode. His B2B business had a massive following and was getting a lot of views and likes, but it wasn’t specific, it wasn’t targeted.
When he changed tact and focused more on topics relating to his business, the YouTube views dropped significantly, but the engagement rate and ROI increased substantially.
100 targeted followers are often better than 10,000 general ones.
When Joe Yoon created his JoeTherapy brand, his ultimate goal was not to get the highest numbers and appeal to sponsors. It was all about free marketing for his business as a personal trainer.
He admits that he had a lot of debt at the time and couldn’t afford traditional marketing. Not only was Instagram a great alternative, but it was one of the few options that he had.
If he could create an account, post some content, and get a few customers, he was happy.
And that’s exactly what he did.
Today, not only does the JoeTherapy account have a staggering 1.3 million followers, but they are all specific to the health and fitness industry and they provide Joe with an incredible amount of engagement.
To put that into perspective, imagine that you have 1 million general followers attained by posting memes and other generic content proven to attract followers. Your goal is to sell supplements targeted at young women in the US. You assume that if you grow a large enough following, you’ll have a sizeable target demographic amongst them.
Makes sense, right?
The problem is, only 50% of those followers are in the United States, 50% of US followers are female, and only 25% of those are aged between 18 and 50 (purely hypothetical). That 1 million following is now just 62,500, but then you have to consider how many of those are overweight or unhealthy and how many have enough of a disposable income to spend money on supplements.
In the end, your 1 million general followers could equate to just 10,000 targeted followers. It was easier to get there, but the result is a massively inflated following that is nowhere near as impressive as it looks.
If you had done what Joe did, you would have a more transparent, honest, and ultimately worthwhile following.
Explore Other Options But Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin
Joe admits to going all-in with Instagram right from the start. That’s where he spent his time posting content, engaging with followers, and building his personal brand. It’s a great strategy, and it worked very well for him, but you might not be as fortunate.
Hard work and good content are not always a guarantee of success on these platforms, especially today, when Instagram is more saturated.
To give yourself a chance, you need to look into other social media platforms. At the same time, however, it’s important not to spread yourself too thin.
Countless influencers have generated huge followings on YouTube, but struggle to break 6 digits on Instagram, and then you have the glut of Twitter celebs who can’t seem to catch a break on Facebook.
Sometimes, a platform just works for you. Maybe it’s more suited to your content marketing plan or the way that you engage. Maybe it has a higher number of individuals in your target market. For whatever reason, the algorithm favors you more on that platform, you get a push in the right direction, and that’s how you make your fortune.
To begin with, pick a platform, work hard to build a following, and see what happens. Once you settle into the process of regularly producing content and engaging with your followers, and you find that you have a little more free time, you can move onto the next step, focusing on additional platforms.
As long as that initial platform is still getting your full attention, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t sign up for other options and take your chances elsewhere.
The $100,000 Question
At the end of my discussion with Joe Yoon, I asked him the $100,000 question—the single piece of advice he would give to people looking to follow in his footsteps.
He told me that it all comes down to the content.
Put the content first and the success will follow.
Every new piece of content is an opportunity to gain a new follower, a chance to teach someone something new. In the beginning, you may be limited to just a few people, but over time, your audience will grow.
You will impact more people and put your brand in front of a wider audience.
You never know who you’re going to reach, and that’s not limited to followers and potential customers, either.
Your content could also be placed in front of a potential collaborator, or a new friend who can take your business to the next level.
Never give up, because, in Joe’s words, You never know who’s watching your posts.
Meet Our Guest: Joe Yoon (@JoeTherapy)
Joe is a certified personal trainer, licensed massage therapist, published author, and founder of the fitness training business JoeTherapy. Yoon graduated from Quinnipiac University in 2009 with a BS degree in Health & Science Studies and was certified as a personal trainer by the National Academy of Sports Medicine in 2011. Joe has 1.3 million followers on Instagram. Joe shares his $100,000+ Expert Insights into the building and balancing your personal brand and running a personal training business. Follow Joe on Instagram @joetherapy