Instagram is the fastest growing social network yadda yadda you’ve heard it before. You know you should be on Instagram but you’re not sure how or what you have to offer. I was in that place a year ago. In April 2018 I’d get super excited when I got more than 20 likes on a pic.
I’m still small fry, but here are some things I’ve learned in a year of taking Instagram seriously. They’re easy to implement and make a world of difference.
What to post
The keyword (and you’ll hear it again soon) is consistency. It doesn’t matter what you post, but you’re going to attract followers who are interested in that thing and they’ll get disappointed when you stop posting about that thing. Post about your family, post about books, post about your travels, or your pets, or your art, or your cooking… you get the idea. But choose one thing to theme your feed on.
This was a mistake I made. I treated my Instagram feed like Twitter but for photos. I’d take snaps of everything from my art, to my halloween costume, to my trip to Tulbugh, to my fingernails, and I’d do so haphazardly. This was fine for people who knew me already and were keen to get insight into my life, but it was super confusing for strangers who came and landed on my feed. They were unable to tell what my feed was about and bounced right off again.
You can build a successful feed posting about your life if it’s interesting, but you need to post about it often enough and in a similar enough style that new people arriving on your feed immediately know what it’s all about.
Many Instagrammers take this consistency to the next level by choosing a visual theme as well as a content theme. They’ll take the same types of photos, or apply the same types of filters, or even colour-code their feeds so that new visitors have something impressive to look at and they can tell the account is well maintained from the get go.
Now my feed is themed around books (and at time of posting this I’m using a colour theme alternating warm and cool tones). I still post all the personal things, but I post them to my stories for followers only – more on that in a bit.
Use hashtags… ALL of them
On Twitter, the birthplace of hashtags, these conversation markers have become semi-ironic. We use them to make little in jokes and it’s a real faux pas to use more than two or three.
Instagram is different. You see, while you can search content on Twitter using any ol’ word, Instagram relies on hashtags. In fact, you can even follow hashtags now. It’s a world of hashtags. And you get 30 of them per post. It stands to reason that you’d use all of them, as each hashtag is a chance for someone new to find your content.
How do I find which hashtags to use on Instagram?
- Go check out what other people who are posting similar content use
- Click on a hashtag and check the related hashtags at the top of the results page
- Use an app that has a built in hashtag search functionality
- Use a combo of super popular hashtags and niche hashtags. When you put the hashtag into search you’ll be able to see how many people have used it. If you only go for popular hashtags, your posts will get lost in the crowd.
- Keep a mega list of hashtags and copy a new combo for every post – Instagram doesn’t like it if you use the same hashtags all the time.
- Avoid banned hashtags by putting all hashtags into search before you use them. If there are no results, the hashtag might be banned by Instagram!
Instagram is a SOCIAL network and Facebook (who owns Instagram) takes this aspect very seriously. Facebook is all about people building communities, and they reward users who they see attempting to make friends.
Both Instagram and Facebook are guided by algorithms that determine who sees which posts on their feeds. One of the best ways to get in good with the algorithm is to interact a lot on other people’s posts. Time spent liking and commenting shows Facebook that you’re not on Instagram for selfish reasons and that you’re really there to make new connections. In addition, it makes those humans more likely to check out your content too.
There are other ways to make friends on Instagram – and I’ll cover some below under Stories and DMs, but one thing that really helped me get involved in the bookstagram community was taking part in monthly challenges that give you ideas for things to post and introduce you to others with similar interests. You can usually find them by searching for hashtags with the word “challenge” in them.
Filters and photo quality
I thought I was the worst photographer in the world, but it turns out that I didn’t know the best kept Instagram secret: filters (okay it’s like the opposite of a secret, but hear me out.)
Everyone knows that Instagram lets you choose filters before you post, but did you know that most people use separate apps to improve the quality of their pictures before they even get there? My favourite is called Colorstory, but there are a number of popular ones for all devices, including one from Photoshop!
When you find a filter you like, save it and use it again and again to give your feed that consistent look.
Other photography tips for Instagram
- Find a spot with good lighting to take pics, or wait until a good time of day (the struggle is real but good lighting makes a huge difference to the quality of photos)
- Look into simple composition techniques like the rule of thirds and balance of colour
- Pay attention to everything that’s in frame – odd bits, bobs and body parts sticking into the picture can be distracting
- My digital photos always come out yellow, so even if I don’t use a filter app I always drop the temperature in Instagram itself to get the whites looking white.
- If you’re going to be taking a lot of top down pics (for e.g. of books or meals), get yourself some pretty props or backgrounds so you can arrange the photos nicely. Fake plants, twinkle lights, textured scarves and scrapbooking paper are some popular props I’ve seen.
Stories and DMs
I mentioned before how important socialising is to Facebook. This doesn’t just count for the feed, but the more private functions of Stories and DMs (direct messages). Stories are posts that only go out to your followers and they expire after 24 hours (but you can access them in an archive forever, don’t worry). Stories are pretty nifty – there are all sorts of filters and stickers you can apply. There are also quite a few ways to encourage interaction such as polls and question boxes. Use these as much as possible!
Replies to Stories go to DMs and enable you to chat one-on-one with your followers. Anyone you tag in a story is automatically DMed that you tagged them, so it’s a great conversation starter.
Instagram also allows multi-member DMs, or groups, although there is a limit to how many people you can invite. These group chats are a great way to network with people with similar interests and to send Facebook crazy “I’m being social, okay!” signals.
Even though you want your feed to look consistent, you’re more likely to get comments and follows if you’re yourself. Talk about your chosen topic, yes, but also talk about your day, your life, your family. Give your followers insight into who you are. That’s something unique that only you can offer.
This doesn’t mean you have to share everything, or even risky personal details. It just means that you can be relateable. Give them someone to bond with.
There’s that word again. This is less to do with the type of content you post, but about how often you post. Don’t bite off more than you can chew and post every day for a few weeks only to get tired and burnt out later and not post for months.
While the Instagram algorithm doesn’t seem to be as concerned with consistency as the Facebook one, it is still a factor. But more importantly, it’s a factor for your human followers. They’ll get used to seeing you on their feeds and out of sight = out of mind.
If you’re concerned about not having enough content to post consistently, produce it in bulk and stockpile it. This is my favourite strategy. In fact, it’s what I’m doing right now with blog posts! (It’s midnight on a Friday while I type this, if you’re curious. You’ll probably see it in a few weeks on a Monday morning).
Slow and steady wins the race
You’re going to notice something annoying in your first few weeks of Instagram. People will follow you and then, after a few days, they’ll unfollow you. They’re just hoping that you’ll follow them back and whether you do or don’t they’ll unfollow you anyway. Super rude. Probably bots. Or misguided marketing interns. Anyway, it’s a thing and there’s no way to stop it.
Don’t pay attention to the numbers to start with. Rather pay attention to getting into the rhythm of posting constantly and making new friends. Your numbers will improve over time, and the followers you get then will be more likely to hang around.
You’ll often see people on Instagram putting QOTD in their captions. This stands for “question of the day” and there’s a very good reason for it. I’ll bet you can guess what it is.
Come on, you know the answer.
That’s right: it encourages interactions. People are unlikely to comment on a post unless you give them something to say! Keep the question simple to answer, but something they’ll likely have a strong opinion about. This has the added benefit of giving you insight into who your followers are.
Respond to every comment, even if it’s just to say thanks. Again, I don’t have to explain why 🙂 Facebook wants to see you making friends. Get out there and make friends, already!