Almost four months ago I opened the ‘Not About the Kids’ Instagram account. I did this with two aims in mind. Firstly, I wanted to understand how Instagram ‘works’ when you are fully engaged with the platform (I thought that I might like a career in social media management). Second, I wanted to launch a blog and felt that I needed a respectable following on Instagram in order to drive readers towards it.
In that time the account has gone from zero to just over a thousand followers, and I have learnt a few things along the way.
I have done a fair bit of reading around the subject, and a course or two. There are many, many Instagrammers out there who know much, much more than me. This is intended as a guide from one beginner to another.
In this post, I will share some tips on Instagram growth strategy, engagement and photography. I’ve tried to put in some helpful links to further reading, and pointers towards Apps that I’ve found useful.
Who are your people?
So you want to get serious about Instagram? Then first, spend a bit of time really thinking about why you are on the platform. What are your goals, and who would you like your followers to be?
If you have a business, then these are your customers. If you are developing a personal brand, then the answer will often be ‘people like me’. In either case, you need to figure out what your people like, what are they interested in, and what they aspire to. Dig as deep as you can to try and understand how you can appeal to them. Look at the big accounts and influencers that aspire you, whether it’s in food, fashion, lifestyle or travel. Why are they successful? Follow them and start commenting on their pictures. Try and connect with their followers too.
Some Instagrammers have virtual followers in mind when they write and create a post (i.e I’m talking to Helen, who’s 41. She has a couple of kids and likes clothes, wine and going on holiday to Italy). I don’t do this, but think it’s a great idea. Once you know who you are talking to, it is much easier to start generating content that they will be interested in.
How often to post on Instagram is an area of hot debate. The most common rule of thumb I have found is ‘at least once a day’. The thinking is that, at least while you are growing a following, this will let people get to know you. Be consistent. If you disappear for a couple of weeks, your followers may forget about you and move on to other feeds.
But. Posting every day can be daunting and time-consuming. For the time being, I have gone with the ‘post everyday’ strategy. However, I think that it is absolutely fine, and maybe even preferable, to be more relaxed about your schedule. There has been the odd day when I’ve posted a picture I don’t love and am not pleased with, just because I felt I needed to put something up on the grid. I am also concerned that I might be driving people bonkers with too many photos! I’d love to know your thoughts on this.
However, I do agree that you need to keep turning up regularly. I find it very helpful to plan what I am going to post each day, around a week in advance. You can download Social Media Calendars, but I just use an Excel spreadsheet.
If you don’t have a great picture for your grid one day, there is always Stories, which can be much quicker, fun and more casual. More about Stories later.
It’s not all about you
A great, great piece of advice I got when starting my Instagram adventure was to ‘spend at least half your time on IG getting involved with other people’s content’. Which, of course, is called…
Are we sick of this word yet? Engagement, engagement, engagement……the measure of success on Instagram and why the platform is so popular with advertisers.
We are talking about liking, following, commenting on and sharing other people’s content. It is the way to become visible on Instagram, and of course what everyone is hoping will happen on their feeds.
It doesn’t matter how fantastic your pictures and captions are if you don’t get out there and engage with the Instagram community, the only people who will ever see them are your handful of followers. There are hundreds of millions of people using Instagram every week, you need to get out there and let everyone know that you are there.
Writing ‘great pic’ and leaving a heart emoji is not good engagement. I’ve tried to engage with people on Instagram, the way I do in real life. Be polite and friendly. If someone leaves a comment on your image, reply thoughtfully and perhaps consider going over to their feed to leave a comment on one of their photos. The one thing that I would say I am most pleased with in the early days of my account is that I have made some brilliant connections, with fantastic, real people. It’s fun and rewarding.
Bad news, this can be very time-consuming. There is no point denying it, you could spend all day chatting away.
If you would like to encourage engagement on your posts, then captions are the way to do it. When you are writing a caption to go with your pictures, try and start a conversation. Try and get to know your followers. Ask for their opinions, advice and recommendations. They are real people who can tell you so much! Of course, you don’t have to do this every day, for every photo. Sometimes it is perfect just to let a great shot speak for itself.
A few people have asked me whether I think that Stories are important. Yes, I reckon they are. They are a new and very popular feature. Update them regularly, and you put your little circle front and centre on your followers feed. They are a brilliant way of allowing people to get to know you better by revealing more about your everyday life, and sharing your sense of humour. Also, consider spending more time commenting and engaging with other people’s Stories if you would like to get to know them. It’s an opportunity to be really fun and creative.
Good photographs are what Instagram is all about. Great quality images are always going to see better engagement than blurry horrible ones. So, don’t post things you are not proud of and consider investing some time improving your photography skills.
I have always enjoyed taking photographs, and have done a tiny bit of studying over the years. I appreciate great photos and would love to create better ones.
If you feel a bit at sea in this department, here is my advice. Spend time looking at what your favourite Instagrammers are doing with their pictures. Take inspiration from lots of different accounts, then try and put your own spin on it.
Nobody needs fancy equipment to create amazing photos nowadays. Our phone cameras are brilliant. There are lots of tutorials to find online if you would like to improve your phone photography. Just Google away or jump on to Pinterest.
Also, you don’t have to use original images. There are many accounts that do well sharing great images (get permission!). You can also run hashtag competitions to share other peoples shots. There are lots of fashion, interiors and travel accounts that do this very effectively.
When it comes to your own pictures, I would highly recommend using the VSCO photo editing app. Highly, highly recommend. I find it far better than the editing options available on Instagram itself. As a rule of thumb, I tend to adjust the exposure, contrast, sharpness and saturation of each picture before I upload it to IG. There are lots of functions and filters on there to play with.
It seems that when it comes to their Instagram accounts, people like what they like. Whether it is pictures of dogs, flowers, flat lay or fashion, they are following you because they like to know what they are getting. If you want to post about interiors, don’t drop in a family holiday shot. If you want to post about family holidays, then your followers probably don’t want to see Wednesday night’s dinner. Be consistent.
Planning your grid
I don’t think I have quite nailed the look of my grid yet. Many of the most successful Instagrammers spend an awful lot of time curating the overall look of their feed. Especially focusing on the top 6-12 shots in the grid. This because it’s often all anyone will look at before they decide whether or not to follow you.
To help with this there are a number of ‘preview Apps’ available. They allow you to check how photos will look on your feed before you publish them. I use UNUM. It also offers some analytics (information about which are your best and worst performing pictures).
Hashtags are another window to your feed, they make your content more discoverable. People can search for pictures using hashtags, and can now follow them too.
You can use up to 30 on each image. If you don’t like the way they look in your caption, then perhaps consider ‘hiding’ them in the first comment underneath.
Generally, the advice is that you shouldn’t use the super popular ones, such as #love or #picofheday, as your post will get lost among millions of others. So have a look at which hashtags influencers and other popular accounts are using, to try and find some ideas.
Listen, being new to this game, I don’t know lots about the algorithm. But I know that people love to hate it, and this is how I understand it works…..
The Instagram algorithm detects engagement on your post, most importantly engagement that happens soon after it is posted. The more engagement it is getting, the more your picture will show up on your followers feeds. Therefore garnering more likes and comments. And so on, and so on. I’m not sure that we should spend a lot of time worrying about something that we cannot control. If you feel you can enlighten us more on this mystery, please comment at the end of the feed.
Training and further reading
There are lots of people out there offering social media training, online and in real life. If that is something that you are interested in, then here are a few suggestions.
I attended a Guardian Masterclass in London given by travel blogger and Instagrammer Julie Falconer. Her Instagram account @aladyinlondon has more than 120,000 followers. I found her insights and experience a very helpful starting point.
Instagram influencer and growth mentor Sarah Tasker offers very popular Instagram courses. Her Instagram account is @me_and_orla. There is also lots of good stuff to read on her website and listen to on her podcast.
I would love it if you would share your thoughts and advice so that we can help each other understand this weird and wonderful Instagram world together. Also, let me know if there is something that I haven’t covered, and I will update the post with more information.