the growth hacking edition

How to get real followers
for Instagram in 2020

Written by Rafaella Aguiar
Vector Smart Object
With 25 million business profiles on Instagram, we’re living in a time where it is not enough to simply have a social media presence to get real followers on Instagram. You have to attract the right kind of Instagram users to gain that crucial social proof to help your brand stand out.

Whether we like to admit it or not, you could have the best product in the world but if you only have a few Instagram followers, people will immediately begin to discredit it.

At the same time, your competitor could have a mediocre product, but be driving more sales than you because of the social validation they’ve gotten from their followers on Instagram.

Don’t worry, we get it 💪

Growing your account can feel like a tedious and time-consuming task. But whether you're a musician looking to go further in music promotion or a business, Instagram is a great way too expand your audience. With 60% of users finding products via Instagram, your brand simply CANNOT afford to ignore Instagram as a marketing channel. You need to attract the right Instagram users that are going to convert into more likes, comments, clicks, and most importantly, fans of your brand.

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Today, we’re breaking down the 12 crucial categories you need to focus on to simplify using Instagram for business and get real followers on Instagram in 2020. Here’s what we’ll cover:

1. Optimizing your Instagram bio

1. Optimizing Your Instagram Bio

First impressions are everything. When it comes to Instagram, impressions are made in two-tenths of a second. To grow your Instagram organically and gain the right kind of followers, your potential followers need to know exactly who you are, what you do, and why they should care.

"People only care about what you can do for them, so use this to your advantage with your Instagram Profile. Do not use this precious space to make a laundry list of random things about yourself. This is valuable real estate. As soon as someone lands on your profile, they should be able to know immediately what it is you do and what problem you solve.” -Roxanne Ray, @roxanneraylive

Your Instagram bio is the first thing people see when they land on your page, so make sure your bio section captures your visitors’ attention from the get-go. Do this right and you'll be ahead of 95% of brands out there on IG.

Here’s what you’ll want to include in your bio to get more Instagram followers:

Headline & Keyword

Clearly state your brand name and then add a keyword that describes who you are. Adding a particular niche, job title, or interest to your headline helps your users get to know you and understand what you do.

@Planoly uses the keywords “Planner for Insta” to clearly showcase their scheduler tool and drive traffic from anyone that might be searching for their type of service via the Instagram app.

The headline is also searchable, so make sure you choose a keyword that your followers would associate with your page to increase organic traffic.

Body section

The body section is the bulk of your Instagram bio and should contain the majority of your description. Keep it clean and organized with a bullet point format, while clearly describing who you are in your brand’s voice.

Call to action 📢

About you

Add a call-to-action button so users can easily contact you! The following are the action buttons you can include: 
- Email
- Message
- Call
- Book (to book an appointment)
- Reserve (For making reservations at a restaurant)

Entice the click

Try adding some emojis like @Puravidabraceltets to really catch the eye of your followers and drive them to your link!

Social proof

Be sure to include a line that gives your page credibility. This can be a feature in a publication, a certification you’ve achieved, or a social cause your brand gives back to.

The body section of @Sugarbearhair’s bio clearly states exactly what their product is, while speaking to their audience and showing social proof.


This is the only section you have to place a link on Instagram, so use it wisely. Typically, you’ll want to provide a direct link to your website, blog, or specific landing page that coordinates with your call-to-action.

If you can’t decide which link to use, try to cleanly list multiple, clickable links right in your Insta bio!

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2. Creating quality Instagram content

2. Creating Quality Instagram Content

With now over one billion users, Instagram is THE visual platform. Every post you share on Instagram should be high-quality and complement your brand image. Never sacrifice quality for quantity (just save those for Instagram stories 😉).

Nowadays however, it isn’t as simple as posting an “Insta-worthy” photo. Because new potential followers are going to get their first impression of your brand from your Instagram’s aesthetic, the quality of your individual posts have to reflect throughout your entire grid consistently.

To get real followers on Instagram, keep these two key concepts in mind:

Signature style

First and foremost, your brand should be the focus of your page. Whether you are a business or an influencer, you’ll want to make sure that each and every image you post reflects the purpose of your page. Even one random image can ruin a grid.

Once you pinpoint your focus, take your page to the next level by centralizing around a theme with at least one consistent element that links all of your photos together.

"Engaging photos and video is absolutely essential on Instagram. Not only should your content be high quality but it should also communicate something interesting and important to you. When you create content that you are excited about you will naturally find an audience that is excited about it too."

Emma Chapman, Color Story Co-Founder

Digital design kit and mobile application

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Apply the same filter to all of your photos for a quick and easy way to create flow and cohesion.
We love the apps A Color Story, VSCO and Instasize.

Color scheme

Find a distinct color scheme that works for you and sprinkle it in throughout your grid.

"It’s all about the aesthetic, and if you can't afford to purchase Lightroom settings like the pro you can use the much cheaper and easier alternative VSCO cam app in order to make your feed coherent. You can really see a difference when someone is using their own filter! Don't forget that lighter images, in general, get a lot more likes so always bump up the brightness!" -Yasmine Akermark, @sharehive

Variety of content

With Instagram, you want to create a sense of community and lifestyle around your brand so that new followers can easily identify and picture themselves using what you have to offer. No one wants to look at a product catalog, so be sure to mix it up with both lifestyle and product photos!

Creating Your Content

Variety is KEY! You’ll want to create different types of photos like detail shots, flatlays, and lifestyle images to keep each post feeling new and exciting. Any opportunity you get to show your product on a model or in action, take it!

Adding to Your Mix

Once you have gathered all of your own original content, enhance your grid by cycling in stock photos, relatable quotes, and user-generated content. These can be a lifesaver for making your content last much longer, especially if you have a non-visual brand or service.

Instagram is a platform for visual storytelling. Instead of trying to stand out, just be authentic. We shoot the photography in-house and hand-curate what we post; we don't recycle content from our Facebook or Twitter feeds. Instagram should be its own, unique channel.

Laura Casanova, VP, Creative at ONTRAPORT

Business automation software

Organizing Your Grid

Ensure that all of your high-quality images will look #flawless together on your feed by using a scheduling app like Planoly or Later. These apps give you a preview of how all your photos will look before you post them! Mix and match until you get a well-balanced grid.

Creating a cohesive Instagram brand is one of the best ways to attract your target audience and get more followers. Pre-planning your Instagram aesthetic with a visual Instagram planner like Later is key, it helps you make sure your feed flows by allowing you to see all of your upcoming content at-a-glance.

Taylor Loren, Head of Marketing at Later

A far-famed Instagram Posts Scheduler

60 / 40 rule

At least 60% of your grid should include your product or service directly. The other 40% can be lifestyle shots, stock images, or quotes that all speak to your community.

@originalgrain built their community of “the travel seaking gentleman” by complimenting their product shots with scenic stock images and user generated content.

"One of the challenges with Instagram as a marketing tactic is the lack of clickable links in captions. Driving traffic from Instagram is a challenge, especially if you haven't crossed the threshold to have swipe-to-click in your IG Stories. One way to get around this is to use a tool like that allows you to have multiple links in your bio, so you can drive your followers to several locations at once. Set up your multi-link and be strategic about the few links you include there so you can make Instagram more of a traffic source for you and your business!" -Melanie Deziel , @meldeziel

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3. Crafting Instagram captions

3. Crafting Instagram Captions

The money is made in the captions.

Your Instagram captions should enhance your post by giving more context, value, and insight into what is happening beyond the image. Let your audience get to know your brand on a higher level.

Rather than describing what is in the picture, try telling the story behind it, why is it you do what you do, or news regarding your brand.

"Once you make an effort to put the 'personal' back in personal brand, you will experience an incredible increase in engagement with your followers. No one wants more noise, but everyone craves more connection." -Amy Vandeputte,@fastforwardamy

Brand Personality

Show some personality behind those captions! The more your brand’s voice shines through, the easier it will be for your followers to connect with your post.


Include some type of call-to-action to entice users to comment and get the conversation started! Comments are weighed heavily in the Instagram algorithm, so the more comments the better.

Try asking a question or having users tag a friend to get even more traffic and engagement back to your page.

@Toneitup has the right idea! They speak to their fitness community in a laid-back, yet personal tone and ask users to tag a friend to join their workout.

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4. How to hashtag on Instagram

4. How to Hashtag on Instagram

Instagram posts with at least one hashtag have 12.6% more engagement than those without.

The best way to expand your reach on Instagram: HASHTAGS. We know hashtag research can seem a little daunting, but stick to these easy steps and you’ll have a perfect set of hashtags in no time!

Reverse Engineering

Karl Kangur, founder of marketing agency Business Media, shared with us: “One of the best kept secrets of Instagram marketing is reverse engineering hashtags from people with few followers but a lot of likes on their specific photos. Let’s say I had a video about home workouts that I’d want to get more attention to. I’d search on Instagram for home workouts, go through the top 20 results and note down their follower count as well as the number of views on their video or likes on their photo. The once that have a higher ratio, may’ve attained them because of those hashtags. Copy them into your list and evaluate them based on the rest of the tips in this article.”


Think of words your customers would use to describe your product or service. Since they are the ones that will be searching these hashtags, it is important to get into the mind of your audience.

Is there a certain community you are trying to tap into?

Using hashtags like #brooklynlife or #mommystyle are great niche specific hashtags that will link you directly to your ideal target audience.

If you’re really stuck, check out what your direct competitors are using to generate some ideas.

Generate Lists

To get hashtags ideas quickly, use our hashtag generator to automatically find hashtags that are commonly used together


The biggest mistake with hashtags is using ones that have way too much or far too little traffic. You’ll want to find hashtags that have about 4K-800K posts associated with them to get the optimal amount of exposure.

The more specific a hashtag is to your industry the better. You want the hashtags to be big enough that people are actually searching for it, but not so big that your post will be lost in the clutter.

Keep in mind that users can now follow a hashtag, similar to following a brand’s Instagram account, making hashtags even more essential to get real followers on Instagram.

Store & Save

Once you start compiling your qualified hashtags, break them up into 5-7 sets of about 10-20 niche specific tags. Store them in the note section of your phone for easy access and be sure to switch them out every so often.


When it comes time to post, copy and paste your list of hashtags into the first comment of your image. This helps to keep your post looking clean while still tagging the picture and getting you more exposure. Although we recommend around 10-20, you can include up to 30 hashtags per post, so add a few more hashtags specific to this image and hit share. And that’s it! Easy enough, right?

"Hashtag strategy is key to growing your Instagram account. You're allowed 30 per post, so use 10 that are relevant to the post topic, 10 that are for the people you are targeting with the post, and 10 for the location of the post or the brands relevant to the post. Making every hashtag count and never repeating the same 30 will help to get your account in front of new IG users on a regular basis." -Katie Hornor, @katiehornor

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5. Using Instagram stories

5. Using Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories are quickly becoming one of the 36 Hacks for Maximizing Your Instagram For Business. From behind the scenes check-ins to exclusive sales, you can use this feature to build brand identity and connect in real-time with updates beyond the scope of your IG Grid.

"Utilising IG stories is a game changer right now. Not just because it is a great way to promote content on your newsfeed or website but also because it has the most reach...for now!" -Andrew Davis


Just like your Instagram grid, your IG stories should be cohesive with your brand imagery and voice, but with a “live view” feel. This is your chance to be sporadic and authentic with your followers. Since stories only stay up on your page for 24-hours, you have a little more wiggle room to play around with.


Using the Stickers Feature, tag your story at a certain location or include a relevant hashtag. This allows your story to pop up on the corresponding explore page, giving you another opportunity to increase your story’s reach!

@Socialstatic interacts with their followers by utilizing the question feature and maximizes exposure using the location sticker. Win-win!

"Behind the scenes videos are a fantastic way to get your fans excited about what you're creating. These don't have to be polished or perfect - don't be afraid to show the messy parts. People love feeling like they're part of the process - and they'll feel more invested in you and your creations." -Michelle Martello, @minimadesigns


Instagram Highlights are collections of Stories that give new potential followers an idea of what your page is all about. Rather than disappearing after 24-hours, Highlights are saved right under your bio and act as a more interactive “about you” description.

The possibilities for Instagram Highlights are truly endless, but some commonly used categories include: how it works, new products, and behind-the-scenes.

"The number 1 way to protect your business is to treat people well and build relationships."-Nathan Hirsch, >@freeeup_

Take it up a level by adding matching covers to all of your Instagram Highlights to ensure your page stays organized and on brand!

Not much of a designer? Go to and pay $5 for a professional designer to get your Instagram Highlights looking fresh.

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6. Instagram giveaways

6. Instagram Giveaways

Instagram accounts that hold contests can achieve 70% faster follower growth compared to those that don’t hold contests.

Hosting an Instagram contest is a tried and true method to not only reward your loyal followers, but also gain exposure and get new real followers on Instagram.

There is a lot of planning that goes into running a successful Instagram giveaway. You’ll want to consider things like budget, picking the right incentive, and most importantly the goal of your Instagram contest.

If your goal is to grow your following with an Instagram giveaway, these are the four best entry methods.


These contests require your Instagram followers to comment on your contest photo. Then, winners are chosen from the pool of commenters.

To increase exposure, have the requirement be to tag a friend (or two) in their comment. Voila: double the Instagram exposure. You can even go as far as counting each tag as an entry, further incentivizing your followers to tag more friends for a better chance to win.


For this type of contest, consider collaborating with another complimentary brand (or group of brands) in your niche. Contest participants can enter by following all of the accounts involved in the giveaway.

Because your page will be exposed to the followers of the brands you are collaborating with, you’ll want to make sure you pick a brand that has your ideal target audience. This will help ensure that these new followers will have a genuine connection to your page and stick around long after your contest is over.

Double up on a couple of tactics like @nenaandco to maximize engagement.

Post to win

Participants re-post a picture that you provide or share their own original content showcasing your brand to their feed. By sharing these pictures, your fans are grabbing the attention of their own followers to give you a mini-shoutout.

This gives your followers a chance to get creative and gives you lots of free user-generated content.

However, you’ll want to make sure you already receive high engagement on your page to confirm there is enough brand loyalty to ensure participation.

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"When you collect media via a contest you shouldn’t leave it sitting on Instagram for no-one to see. You can build a Gallery and embed it on your site so users can see the content and engage with it. This is more likely to drive sales of your products. Gleam offers a beautiful UGC Gallery app to allow you to do just this."

Stuart Mackeown, Gleam Co-Founder

Business Growth Platform

Remember this? Sunny Clothing Co hosted a post-to-win contest where users had to repost this now infamous red bikini picture to receive a free swimsuit. Soon enough, everyone's feed was flooded with this picture, which exponentially increased their brand awareness.

Unfortunately, the brand received far more entries than expected and did not have enough inventory to handle the high volume of participants.

Take Away: Post-to-win giveaways can do tremendous things for your brand awareness, but make sure you have the right requirements and are prepared to live up to your promise.


Similar to post-to-win, participants post their own image or an image you provide on their feed, but also include a certain branded hashtag.

While this can be the toughest type of giveaway to pull off, if the hashtag trends, the exposure can be pretty substantial. You’ll want to make sure you pick a unique hashtag specific to your contest, ideally centralized around your contest theme.

Tracking the success of your giveaway is almost as important as the giveaway itself. Save yourself some time and get clear insights from Gleam’s Instagram contest tool that simplifies the entry process and make tracking participant an breeze.

7. Instagram influencer marketing

7. Instagram Influencer Marketing

More than 90% of marketers who use an influencer marketing strategy today believe it’s effective for increasing customer engagement.

Here’s our go-to-guide for how to find influencers:

Set your budget

Determine your budget and what level influencer you want to target. A general rate is $1,000 per 100,000 followers, but can vary depending on industry. If you have a lower budget, you may consider going after a micro-influencer who may have a bit of a smaller following, but who’s audience is very niche specific and value said influencer’s opinion highly.

Define your niche

Figure out who has a voice in the community. When in doubt, a simple Google search of the top Instagram accounts in your field can be a great place to start. Platforms like Famebit and Tribe Group help you discover and connect with influencers by interest or category.


Once you have your list of prospective influencers, make sure they are going to be a good fit. Note how many followers they have, their average likes & comments, and what social platforms they are on to pick the best influencer to collaborate with.

"With so many influencers now looking for product, experiences AND payment for the posts, it can very quickly drain your budget. My tip is to leverage off something they are ALREADY working on. For instance if you represent a swimwear company, find an influencer who also reps a sunscreen company or vice versa. They NEED your product to help promote the other product and it becomes a natural crossover and usually without the bigger budget. Also, make sure you're really familiar with the influencers audience. Big numbers don't equate to big sales for you unless the audience is the right fit!" -Emily Taffel

Build your community

Engage with their content so they are familiar with your name. Once a bit of a relationship is established, reach out with a genuine message that states why you both would work well together.

Don't be afraid to test multiple forms of outreach such as direct messages or cold emails. The key is to clearly explain what a partnership with your brand would look like and how it can be mutually beneficial to you and the influencer.

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8. Knowing the Best Time to Post

8. Knowing the Best Time to Post

If you can determine the best time to post for your audience, you can improve the chances that your followers will see your posts in their feed. You’ll also increase your chances of being found on hashtag pages, which can lead to getting new real followers.

We have some industry standards below, but even those can vary. The best thing we can recommend is that you spend time in your analytics to figure out what works for your audience.

Whether you use Instagram’s native analytics tab or if you use a third-party option, you can understand when you’re getting the most interactions or which days you have the highest reach. To get you started here are the best posting times, according to Later. (All times listed are EST.)

- Monday: 6am, 10am and 10pm
- Tuesday: 2am, 4am and 9am
- Wednesday: 7am, 8am and 11pm
- Thursday: 9am, 12pm and 7pm
- Friday: 5am, 1pm and 3pm
-Saturday: 11am, 7pm and 8pm
-Sunday: 7am, 8am and 4pm

Again, these are general guidelines, and these best practices change depending on industry and even each individual audience. If you’re trying to find the absolute best time to post on Instagram for you and your followers, it’s time to start experimenting!

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9. Maximizing User-Generated Content

9. Maximizing User-Generated Content

Did you know that some users trust user-generated content (UGC) more than the carefully-crafted posts made my brands themselves? It’s true. Happy customers who share their experience with and love for your brand are your best advocates. People are more open to trusting these posts because they believe other users would be honest about whether or not they liked a product or service.

User-generated content can help you get more real followers, because these users post their content to their own pages - showing off your brand to their friends and audiences. Chances are at least one of their followers doesn’t know about your brand. After they see their friend’s post about you, they might be interested in visiting your profile.

“At Wavve & Zubtitle, user-generated content has been a critical aspect of our marketing strategy from day one. Allowing users to tell their story and show off their success is much more powerful to prospective buyers compared to traditional marketing channels. These effects are amplified when UGC is shared on social media.”

Baird Hall, Founder of Wavve & Zubtitle

You can encourage your followers to create UGC in a few different ways. If you’ve got an awesome product, they might already be sharing about it - who knows! But if your audience needs a little coaxing, consider hosting a contest or creating a new, brand-based hashtag to inspire people to share.

Another way to use UGC to get more Instagram followers is to work with Influencers:
-Influencers often have strong relationships with their followers. Those followers may be eager to create content about your product based on that influencer’s recommendation.
-Or have them host an Instagram takeover! - These can be fun and gives your audience something a little different from the regularly scheduled programming.

Are you using UGC in your content plan? If not, now is a great time to get started.

By using UGC:
- You can expand your organic reach through the posts people are creating for you
- You’re able to share their stories with your audience (many people create content just for a chance to receive a shoutout from one of their favorite brands.)

10. Using IGTV

10. Using IGTV

When IGTV came onto the scene, people were skeptical at first. It felt like just another platform trying to copy Youtube. But after it got started, IGTV began to pick up steam and now it’s an incredibly valuable tool to have in your marketing plan when you’re looking to get more Instagram followers.

How IGTV works

Videos range from up to 10 minutes to up to an hour, depending on the type of account you have and whether you’re uploading from mobile or desktop. If you’re worried about needing to create more regular content, don’t stress.

You don’t necessarily have to create brand new content - IGTV is a great platform for repurposing. For instance, consider re-posting YouTube videos, pieces of Facebook videos, or even clips from ads.

Once you get your video uploaded, make sure you maximize all that work you did by promoting it across the app. Create some stories that send people to your IGTV video. Use a feed post or two to showcase a teaser of the video, and then send them to the full-length version. You could even do an Instagram Live talking about your video on IGTV.

Types of Content

If you do choose to create brand new content, make sure you’re creating the best type of content for IGTV. You could:

- Create behind-the-scenes videos.
- Use UGC (like we mentioned earlier) to put together a video montage.
- Create a tutorial to educate your followers about a product or service.
- Showcase a product demo to explain your product or service more fully.

No matter what you choose to do though, now is the time to jump into IGTV. The market isn’t saturated yet, and your followers are ready to watch your videos and share them with their friends who might not already be following you.

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11. Using Instagram DM's

11. Using Instagram DM's

Instagram Direct Messages are the best way for you to be able to reach out to and interact with your followers individually. You can build personal relationships, learn more about their struggles (and how you can solve them) and use them to encourage your followers.

Tips for engagement

Scroll through your most recent posts and see if there’s someone who is always liking and commenting on your posts. Take a minute to send them a quick DM and thank them for their support. Bonus points if you ask them a question or otherwise show that you want to keep the conversation going!

You can also use Instagram stories help you attract messages and find people to reach out to personally. At the end of the day, it comes down to one simple word:
- Ask them to send you a DM by replying to your story
- Use engagement stickers in your stories that merit a response (i.e. Question box, Polls, Quiz Sticker, or Chat Box).

By talking with your followers one-on-one, you can learn a lot about what they do or don’t want to see from you, what products or services they need, and general feedback.

People are often excited to chat in DMs because they know that there’s someone real on the other side of that brand account. So much of social media is automated these days, but for the most part DMs are still written in real-time.

Users who trust you can turn into customers and promoters of your brand.

12. Paid Promotion

12. Paid Promotion

Just like many other social media platforms, Instagram is offering more pay-to-play options. Like with Facebook or another social site, if you choose to serve ads, you want to make sure they look natural and fit in with the platform.

Instagram ads generally see 2.5x more clicks than any other social media sites, and regular Instagram posts see up to 10x more engagement than Facebook posts.

Types of Instagram Ads

There are many different types of advertising options, beginning with either feed or story. Story ads are 15 seconds long, but you can put three together, giving you a total of 45 seconds to share with your viewer. Keep in mind though, that it’s easy for people to skip through ads if they don’t want to see it. Make sure you have a compelling hook to stop them from tapping right past.

Other types of ads; video ads, a carousel of images, photo ad, collections ads, and ads in explore. They each have their benefits, but it will really depend on your product or service, and what you’re trying to show in your ad.

Pro tip: Carousel ads typically perform the best, and they’re often cheaper than single-image ads!

Calculating Cost

The cost of Instagram ads varies greatly, depending on who you’re targeting, which ad type you’re using, and where your audience is located. The more specifically you can focus your audience, the less your ads will typically cost. You can also set what type of bidding and whether you want to run a CPM (impression-based) or CPC (click-based) campaign.

If you decide to run Instagram ads, you’ll actually create your ads in your Facebook Ads Manager account, since they own Instagram. This can be convenient if you’re planning on running similar ads on Facebook. When you’re creating your ads, make sure you include a call- to-action to easily show your viewers what their next step should be. This way you can usher them down your funnel to becoming followers, fans, and eventually customers.

And that’s it! Twelve easy steps to optimize your business’ Instagram account for growth. Implement even just a few of these tips and you’ll be well on your way to getting more real followers on Instagram and becoming an Instagram marketing expert.

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12. Paid Promotion

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We'd love to hear about your experience using this guide. Please email us at [email protected]

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