First off, I realise that this title is rather pathetic. There are people with hundreds of thousands of followers, millions even. Heck, most of my blogging friends have more than a thousand. Thing is, I really struggled with Instagram for the longest time. I didn’t understand it and I couldn’t figure out how to get my head around it.
For ages I had about 30 followers. I would only log in once every three months if I could be bothered, post a bad, random photo, get confused then pop out again. At some point (a year ago, maybe?) I decided to make more of an effort. I made sure I was following all my blogging friends to begin with (hopefully I have achieved that objective, or I’ll be rather shamefaced).
I also started posting better photos, ones taken on my DSLR, not my iPhone potato camera. However, as my camera is very old and doesn’t have Wi-Fi, this meant taking photos, putting them onto my computer, retouching if need be, putting them into Dropbox, downloading them onto my phone and then remembering to log into Instagram every now and then to post a photo. I work full time and it really ground my gears that I couldn’t schedule in posts like you can with Facebook and Twitter. After this I had about 200 followers and it was slowly growing. But I just didn’t feel that I had the time for Instagram.
Finally, I read this post by Jasmin Charlotte and decided to make Instagram my pet project and sort my shit out. This was in August 2015. If I was smart I would have noted the date and my follower count, but I’m not so it was late August with vaguely 200 followers, now it’s early November with vaguely 1000 followers. Roughly 11 weeks. How did I do it? Well:
1. Get your head around hashtags
I hate typing on my phone, and I found it really hard to think of good hashtags when I posted a photo. This in turn made it really hard for prospective new followers to find and follow my feed. JC recommended #TagsForLikes app, and I too think this is a great place to start. You tell the app the “theme” of your photo (food, fashion, architecture) and it gives you a list of great hashtags to use. This is then copied to your phone so you can paste it as the Instagram photo caption. You can edit the list of hashtags if not all of them are applicable.
Remember: Instagram now only lets you use 30 hashtags. That may seem a lot if you’re like me and didn’t hashtag much in the first place, but you’ve got space for 30 so try and use them. It means more people will see your shit.
Remember remember: Instagram now orders their search results from the time you posted the image, not from the time you added the hashtag. So there’s no point in adding amazing hashtags to photos you posted six weeks ago. Add all of your hashtags as soon as you post your photo.
2. Choose your Instagram spirit animals
You need role models. People you look up to on Instagram that you can use as a kind of virtual mentor, stalking their account and trying to second guess their Instagram strategy. You can change and update these as often as you need to, once you feel you’ve sucked the life force out of an account, or if you find someone new and shiny.
I recommend not choosing a celebrity or a person with a million followers, as they don’t have to work for the likes. You want someone successful, with a little bit of hustle left in their game. Three is a good number. I chose:
I’ve met all these people in real life, so I know they’re not unicorns. They’re just magic at Instagram.
Now you need to really follow these people. Don’t just click the green button and casually add a like every now and then. Look at how often they post. Look at what hashtags they use. Look at what kind of accounts they follow. Look at the quality of their photographs, how they caption them. Don’t copy them so much that your feed begins to look like a clone of theirs, but work out what actions they take that are key to their success that you can start working into your everyday strategy.
3. Schedule your shit
This might not be for everyone, but I work full time. If I was going to live update everyone on my life you’d have a lot of photos of my chipped nail polish typing on a grubby keyboard. That’s not a real like-grabber. I was always reading stories in the news about people who create these immaculate lives on Instagram and it’s all a big facade that blocks out the mundane reality of a real, every day life. I realised with glee that I could be one of those people!
I use Hootsuite to schedule my Instagram posts, but it’s not as simple as scheduling Twitter. Basically, you choose the time, the photo and the caption (including hashtags) you schedule it and Hootsuite sends a reminder to your phone when the time comes to post. You physically have to push the buttons in Instagram to post it, but it’s not as much hassle as the photo is already chosen (no need to load it onto your phone) and you just paste in your caption and hashtags with the click of a button. If your scheduled post alerts you and you’re in a work meeting, it’s ok. The alert isn’t going anywhere, so you can just go back into Hootsuite later on when you’re free and post then.
I decided to post three times a day. Once in the morning, once in the middle of the day and once in the evening. I try and experiment with times, but I mainly choose by when I’m going to have access to Wi-Fi. No point in blowing your month’s allocation of 3G with a week’s Instagramming, or planning a post that coincides with the hour you’re underground on the tube.
One downside of Hootsuite is that you can only post square photos and I’ve never been able to choose my own crop. So I now have a folder on my laptop with lots of photos I intend to share on Instagram that I’ve cropped to square exactly how I want them.
There’s also a Word doc in that folder with lists of hashtags to use, all in groups of around thirty so I can copy and paste direct to Hootsuite. I never quite list thirty because I need space to include a couple of hashtags that are more specific to the image being posted. But they are in groups arranged by the kinds of photos I usually post. There are food hashtags, including a group specifically for cocktails, or specifically for dessert. There are travel hashtags, London hashtags, street art hashtags, architecture hashtags, art hashtags.
If I want to post a photo that doesn’t really fit with any of the hashtag groups I’ve already created I can always refer back to #TagsForLikes for a starting idea, or see what hashtags other people are using by doing a search on Instagram. Keep updating your hashtag list, keep growing it, keep joining in on new tags in order to share your work with more people.
Buffer and Latergram offer a similar service to Hootsuite, but I’ve never used them. Maybe they’re a better fit for you, it’s worth a try.
4. Get shared by famous people
This advice seemed very silly when I first heard it. A lot of people with big accounts seemed to say they received lots of new follows when some huge account shared one of their pics. This made it all seem like luck, not a strategy that’s easy to follow. But there are ways to get noticed! Tag brands and companies that appear in your photos. Clothing, food, beauty products, stores, make sure they see your beautiful shots!
Also, there are many huge accounts dedicated to sharing their followers best photos. Use their hashtags and tag those accounts in the photos to make sure they see your pics and consider them for sharing. Some of these accounts:
Food: @top_london_restaurants, @food52, @infatuation, @igmeals
Travel: @bbc_travel, @guardiantravelsnaps, @traveldudes, @passionpassport
Art: @arts_help, @top.draw, @worldofartists, @justartspiration
London: @prettycitylondon, @timeoutlondon, @london, @londonforyou
There are plenty more, but this post is long enough!
5. Be nice, be pretty
Keep learning. Learn about what people like. It’s not necessarily what you like. This is my most liked photo on Instagram. It took me ages to put it on because I don’t really like it, the focus is a bit off. But people go mental for oozing, melting chocolate. You’ve also got to think a little bit about the order you post in, and how your feed looks when viewed as a grid. Is it colourful enough? Does it look messy? Are there a few bad pics that are letting you down? This is all very subjective, but make sure you’re happy with it.
Lastly, make sure you’re active with other people. Reply to comments. Comment on other people’s photos. Like, like, like, because love is free. It’s not all just about you and your feed. You’ll enjoy Instagram much more if you really do like the stuff you click the heart on, and your genuine love will shine like a beacon in the night.
That’s it. I don’t now claim to be an Instagram expert. I’m clearly not and I still learn something different every day. Sometimes I follow the wrong person and a mob of spammers descends upon me. Sometimes I use the wrong hashtag. It happens. I’m always open to new tips and tricks if you have them! Hopefully this helps the people who are struggling trying to balance it all and just not getting it, like I was.