Instagram is the fastest growing social network in the world with the most active users. It is easy to see just why when you scroll through the visual platform. Everything you can imagine from photos of cute puppies to a peek into a day-in-the-life of your favorite celebrities is at your fingertips. For brands and businesses, it is a highly targeted advertising channel for their products and work.
I have not been using Instagram very long for @MakenaBeachCafe, a fashion and lifestyle blog. In less than 8 months, I have been able to grow my followers to 23K+. I hope the lessons I learned are useful to anyone looking for more success with their Instagram.
1. Post High Quality Photos
Instagram is purely visual where the quality of your content matters most. I am a fashion blogger – not a photographer. Many of my pictures require detailed product shots of outfits, shoes and accessories. So it is important for them to be crisp and colorful. You don’t need the best camera or to hire a photographer. I take many photos with my iPhone camera and enhance them with free photo editing tools on Instagram and VSCO. It is easy to turn average photos into something standout. For example, if you love taking pictures of your morning coffee, get creative with camera angles and composition. Perhaps set your mug against a windowpane with Fall red leaves in the background. The key is to have fun.
Studies show that filtered photos are 21% more likely to be viewed and 45% more likely to be commented on than unfiltered ones. Which filter should you use to drive engagement? The most popular ones seem to be Normal (no filter), Valencia and Earlybird. Experiment and see what works for you, and stick with it. Because pictures are stacked right next to each other, being consistent with your photo style will help your gallery look cohesive.
Try to post daily and no more than 4 photos in a 24-hour period. People like seeing fresh content in their feed, but too much can come across spammy. I aim to post 1-2 quality photos each day, and seriously commend those who do 3, 4 or more. It’s hard work.
2. Inspire Others
Now for the big question, “what photos should I post?” I have posted hundreds of photos in my Instagram gallery. You’d think I could do this in my sleep, yet I sometimes struggle with this. So you are not alone. Start by deciding on a theme that interests you – whether it is fashion, food, your children or something else – and create images around this central idea.
While the focus of @MakenaBeachCafe is on personal fashion, I love using Instagram to get personal with my audience by sharing a glimpse into my day and family life. You will see pictures like artfully crafted foamy lattes, a fun lakeside picnic with my family and snuggles with my Bernese Mountain Dog.
Ultimately, I am endlessly inspired by my little girl Adalyn and so many wonderful bloggers, brands and individuals. Don’t be afraid to seek inspiration from others. In putting out good work, I hope in turn to inspire others.
3. Use Hashtags
When I first started using Instagram earlier this year, I would post a photo and sit back eagerly waiting for new followers to pour in. When this did not happen and the only new followers trickling in were my friends or co-workers, I knew I wasn’t doing something right. Does this sound familiar?
Hashtags (e.g., #fashion) are extremely important for getting your photos discovered by new people. Unless you are a Kardashian, we all could use a little help getting followers. The primary way to do this on Instagram is to use the right hashtag keywords to describe your image. Instagram organizes its enormous library of images according to hashtags, and allows a maximum of 30 tags per post.
To get started, think about what keywords someone would use to find your photo. You might also want to check out similar accounts to get ideas on what hashtags they are using. Also check out the free tool Websta to come up with related tags. For @MakenaBeachCafe, I used Websta to research #fashion and got several other good keywords to include in my list:
For each photo, I generally use 5-10 popular hashtags that describe my brand, 5-10 tags that describe what is featured and a few geographic ones. Keep experimenting to see what works.
4. Engage with Your Followers and Other Instagrammers
If someone leaves a comment on my photo, I try my best to reply even if it is a simple “thanks so much!” And I almost always reciprocate by visiting their profile. I have met and become friends with some of the nicest, coolest people starting with a simple “hello”.
When I first started using Instagram, I thought liking others’ photos would help increase my followers. But I quickly learned that likes get drowned out and didn’t do much for my profile. It is way easier to double-tap to like than to spend the time to leave a nice comment, which is why photos typically get way more likes than comments. I started leaving comments on accounts that were interesting to me, and immediately saw a reciprocal interest in my profile. When you make the extra effort, it usually doesn’t go unnoticed and people are more likely to check out your Instagram and follow back.
Instagram is not the only thing I focus on. It is an important channel for awareness and traffic to my blog Makena Beach Cafe. I spend a lot of time growing my blog and other marketing channels, which in turn drives new traffic to my Instagram.
For brands and businesses, Instagram has proven its worth in terms of brand awareness and product placement. It allows people to look at pretty photos and be inspired, but it still lacks the ability to tell a full story no matter how good a photo and it’s caption are.
I also collaborate regularly with brands and other bloggers. It’s not only fun, but also helps me get exposure with new audiences and gain new followers.
6. Give Away Gifts
Everyone likes getting nice things for free. I gained over a thousand followers in one day by giving away a big Nordstrom gift card. While I lost a few hundred followers after the giveaway – which is to be expected since some people just enter for the prize – I was surprised to still have around a thousand new followers. You can do giveaways by yourself, or the more popular route is to participate in multi-person Loops.
These are just some of many ways to boost your Instagram followers. There are plenty of other tactics like posting photos at certain times of the day/week, sponsoring posts, etc. If you have any other suggestions or tips, please leave me a comment below.