04 May 2023 |

Social Files: Declassified; Volume 1


How Zach Pogrob went from 0 → 1.2M Instagram Followers Using Animation

Zach Pogrob is building a cult.

Well. Kind of.

He’s been able to build a highly engaged army of 1.2M Instagram followers around the idea of “obsession.”

And I got to sit down with him for 30 minutes to grill him on topics like:

  • His IG origin story and exactly what led to his rapid growth (1M+ followers gained in 6 months)
  • How to ‘own’ a word and use it to build your own brand
  • How to convert IG followers into newsletter subscribers

Let’s open the file… 🗃

Tommy: Alright so first question here. Just tell me a bit about the backstory of your Instagram page. How did you get it? What prompted you to start it?

Zach: Yeah, so when I was in college I always loved watching creators like Casey Neistat and Christian Guzman. Those guys were more YouTubers than Instagram creators, but I knew I wanted to make content in some way.

I also saw these accounts that were doing these very simple infographic posts and were blowing up off of them. They had like, 100,000 followers (which later I learned were mostly bots).

But regardless, that got me in the arena where I was like, “all right, I could do something like this.”

So in 2019 I just made the decision that if I just do this every day for 10 years, things will work out.

Tommy: Did you start off dialed in and focusing on the topic of “obsession?” Or was that an idea you stumbled upon later on in your journey?

Zach: The account was not about Obsession from the beginning.

Early on, it was super cheesy. I would post things like infographics about ‘six healthy habits,’ workout routines… the most cheesy stuff possible that everyone else was posting.

I would use other people’s quotes most of the time because I didn’t really know how to write. I didn’t have a voice of my own.

Over time just iterated on ideas and tried to find new styles that I thought would work and then doubled down on what hit.

But over time…and this is actually a really important point…

You can use other people’s voices to kind of find your own. And I totally did that.

In the beginning, it was basically like 100% other people’s quotes. I sprinkle my quotes in there, sprinkle my own stuff over time and to now it’s 100% my stuff for the past year or so.

And now, obviously, it’s progressed from simple infographics.

Now I do more like kind of poetic style writing on Instagram as well as animations in the Reels format, which I’m sure we’ll get into — and the animations are what really blew up my account around November of last year.

Tommy: Speak a little bit more about that inflection point that you hit with the animations and just with your account in general. When things really started to take off, at what point did that happen and how did that feel when you started to see things just really take off with your content?

Zach: Across Instagram and TikTok, we gained 1.6 million followers did close to 700 million views in 6 months, which is kind of unheard of.

All that started to happen around last November.

So, here’s how the animations came to be. I saw Naval Ravikant, had experimented with some animations — but he wasn’t doing many of them. He’d only posted three or four.

And I said, “You know what, screw it. I’m going to try it.”

I created the first one myself. This is hilarious, but I went on Canva and ripped this basic animation. Published it.

Then got some help to make some of the more advanced stuff I started putting out. This was November of last year. I posted a few of them, and they did okay. I probably posted around six of them and something just hit where it hit the algorithm.

One video went extremely viral and it was transferring momentum to all the other videos.

And I went from gaining a few hundred a week to thousands of followers every minute. It was crazy.

Tommy: What about the animations do you think triggered that growth? Are there anything just with the format in general or specific things you were doing within the format?

Zach: The one thing is I had years of writing to go off of.

And so the first 30 animations I did were just my best-performing written posts. I didn’t change a word.

And luckily I’d already kind of written in that poetic, motivational style. So it worked.

As for trends, I will say I’ve noticed two ways these Reels go viral.

My best-performing Reels are either they are insanely great [the animation or production quality] or they’re insanely divisive.

It’s really hard to be insanely great and it’s still hard to be divisive, but it’s a little easier. Does that make sense?

Tommy: Yeah makes sense. It’s super interesting. Anything else you noticed that you think drove the virality of the Reels?

Zach: It was also timing. Instagram was really prioritizing Reels and I was one of the first to take advantage of this trend at scale.

Like I said, Naval had done a few animations — but he didn’t really lean into them super aggressively.

And this is another important point:

Find someone who’s doing something unique that’s working but not doing it at scale.

Then think of how you can put your own spin on the idea and run it at scale.

Tommy: Ok, so I still see you posting your traditional writing and different types of content. What do you think about the role that each different type of content plays?

Zach: Your reels are your top-of-funnel growth. They’re meant to get in front of a large target audience.

I like to make them pretty general because the way those grow, your account is people who’ve never seen you before find them on their for you page and see them and follow you.

So if you make your Reel super niche, it’ll be hard for new people to find you.

I’ve found that the videos that perform best are more general, and have a large target audience.

But it’s not empty engagement. That growth on Reels will transfer over to your written posts if your content is high quality.

And so I’ve seen my engagement on carousels and written posts skyrocket as a result of the viral Reels I’ve made in the past few months, and it’s amazing.

And the carousels are really where you can really drive whatever your offer is — whether that’s newsletter subscribers, course sales, product sales, whatever.

So, to break down my Instagram funnel in simple terms:

You have the Reels bring in all the traffic and then you had to do the carousel posts which drive traffic to the newsletter. Simple.

Tommy: What about Stories? Are those pivotal in your strategy at all or how do those fit in the picture?

Zach: Yeah, Stories are great for sending traffic and getting newsletter subscribers.

I don’t honestly use Stories the best. I should use them more, and now I’m trying to use them to be a lot more personal and build a deeper relationship with the large community I’ve amassed.

Tommy: Let’s talk about the strategy of “owning a word.” I know you’ve talked about this a lot. Where did that come from and what inspired you to try to own a phrase as part of your marketing strategy?

Zach: Yeah, so it didn’t start with me like just having this genius insight.

I was just writing every day, and then I had one post that did really well that happened to be talking about this idea of “obsession.”

I think it said ‘never apologize for being obsessed. Stay up pulling all night or working, stay in the gym for 3 hours…”

The post did really good.

Tom Bilyeu, you know, that is big entrepreneur? Yeah. He was following.

And he used to do these posts with whiteboard quotes. I don’t know if he still does it, but he wrote my quote and share it with an insanely large audience and I was like, damn, this quote is really resonating.

Over time it just became more obvious to me that this idea of “Follow Obsession” was what I cared about — this is who I am and this also happened to be a unique angle.

Before that, I had a different motto: “Take the hard route.”

So that’s a good example of how it’s hard to just sit down and think of these phrases to ‘own.’ I think they have to come from putting a lot of content and angles out there, and then seeing what resonates.

Another note. If you try to ‘own’ a word, you have to make it so that it’s common enough that it’s like in culture and people recognize it.

For example, people see these Reels of Kobe and Michael Jordan speaking about obsession, and they tag me in the comments.

On the flip side, it has to be rare enough that you could still have a chance to own it. There’s a thin line.

Tommy: The last topic I want to sort of dive into is the rest of your strategy. Obviously, you’ve had a lot of success on Instagram. You’ve been able to run that up to over 1M followers in a handful of months. Same thing with TikTok and other short-form video. What’s your approach with other channels? Are you trying to diversify?

Zach: The last few months, I focused on how I wanted to monetize, and I feel like I’m in a good place now.

We’re doing it in a really unique way with these sponsorships. We just closed another one last week. And these are big numbers. These are YouTuber numbers for what we’re doing.

So in that way, focusing has been smart. I’ve been able to build this pretty big platform. But now that I feel like I’m a little more comfortable there, I do want to diversify.

What I’m actually focused on is diversifying the animations I’m doing. I think that is like the biggest edge in the world. That’s why you’re seeing everyone do them now.

And so what I’m going to be doing more of is testing out different formats on my main page, using it as an instant feedback loop.

I’ll literally know in an hour whether a concept works and use that to launch some other media channels on Instagram.

That’s all I’ve got for you today. If you enjoyed this inside look at how Zach blew up on IG, I think you’ll love his newsletter — Ten Bullets.