Are you frustrated at your lack of growth on Instagram? I often get asked about how to be successful on Instagram. The truth is, I'm still figuring it out. But I'm happy to share what my experience has been so far.
I've had quite the journey on Instagram. Back in 2012, I reluctantly agreed to start posting on it based on a recommendation from a friend. In late 2014, my feed got more serious as I started to hone in on my style and really focus on growth. In May 2016, Instagram featured one of my photos on their feed, which garnered me a nice boost in followers and engagement (still under 6,000 with the boost at the time).
Later in 2016, Instagram started following me. This seems to be the new version of being a "suggested user." While this has significantly helped my follower growth, unfortunately it has decreased my engagement rate (number of likes & comments per photo).
The problem is, many bots are programmed to follow the users Instagram is following, so it makes my audience less authentic. I'm not trying to sound like I'm whining about having nearly 40K followers, but I'm pointing out the fact that you can't always take numbers at face value. There are people with 6,000 followers getting 1,000-2,000 likes per post, which is AMAZING. I have nearly 40K and I only get 400-500 likes on average. Pretty lame, huh?
However, I am happy with how my engagement has grown over the years. I love when people comment, and I love answering them back. It does take a lot of work to keep up those relationships, but I think maintaining that conversation is important!
In order to build an engaged, authentic following, I recommend using these tips as you grow your account.
1) Be consistent. I'm a huge advocate for consistency - consistency in editing style, the type of content you post, and the choices you make when creating your work (i.e., colors, types of light). In fact, I think some of the most successful photographers are the ones that only post photos based around a single theme - for example, @thebroccolitree only posts photos of the same tree captured at different times. I imagine that taking these photos must get boring after a while, but it's a successful concept: the people who follow @thebroccolitree LOVE seeing pictures of that tree, and they know that what they see is what they get. The intent behind the feed is transparent. (Read more about consistency by downloading my free guide!)
Without taking that concept quite so literally, think about how you can ensure your audience that what they see is what they get. It doesn't mean that you have to have the same subject all the time, but what is an element that can act as a thread of consistency weaving through your work? I use the same yellow hat in a lot of my photos, and I have a color palette that I try not to stray from (learn more about how I work with color here). I try to explore repeated themes throughout my work, such as multiples (5 of a Kind, twins, etc.) and older people (a fairly new series).
2) Plan out your grid. I try to be thoughtful about the order in which I post photos. I use the app UNUM to preview my layout; it's really helpful for seeing the "big picture" when you're trying to figure out how to share a bunch of work. I usually try to alternate composition styles - one close-up, one wide shot, one medium shot, for example. I also try to be conscious of the color palette of the photos that surround each other and not inundate my feed with just one color. Often I'll post 3 photos from a new shoot, and then continue to sprinkle them throughout other photos so that I don't spam my audience with all the photos from one shoot. I like to spread out my work, which is why I use UNUM to see what will look good next to each other.
3) Don't post irrelevant content. There's always been a big debate about whether or not to post personal photos to your Instagram. Personally I believe that you should never post personal photos if they don't fit well with your feed. Don't throw in a grainy picture of your cat in between beautiful editorial images - that will instantly make me not want to follow you. If you recently took fancy self-portraits that do fit in well with your feed, sure, go right ahead! But keep your content in line with what your audience is expecting. You can be personal with people and let them into your lives through your blog, your captions, and other social media venues (i.e., Snapchat, Instagram Stories, Facebook), but try to avoid polluting your Instagram feed with irrelevant photos. You want to treat your Instagram feed like your portfolio - would you put up a picture of your new shower curtain on your front page slider on your website?
4) Focus on creating amazing content. This one's pretty obvious, but I'm not sure how many people really internalize it. Stop worrying about how to grow your Instagram, and start worrying about how to make your work amazing. It doesn't matter if you're posting 5 images a day if all of them are the regurgitated leftovers of old shoots you don't really care about. Focus on quality over quantity. How can you make every shoot AMAZING? What are the wildest ideas in your head that are waiting to come to life? Master whatever it is you love shooting, and push your limits when it comes to imagining what you can create. Don't be afraid to bring your ideas to life. Then share them with the world!
TL;DR Above all, consistently creating great content is your golden ticket to success. Even if Instagram disappears within 10 years, this will always be true. No matter where you're sharing your content, it has to be good, and it has to be consistent for people to pay attention.
I'd like to close by saying that no social media platform is worth obsessing over. A lot of it is a constructed reality that takes us away from things that really matter (i.e., spending time with people, self-development, etc.). However, for many of us, social media is the core of our business: it brings us bookings, acts as a portfolio, and spreads awareness about our work. Just like a normal office job, though, it's necessary to set boundaries that allow us to leave likes and followers behind for a while.
I'm guilty of fretting over my engagement rate, feeling discouraged when a post gets below-average likes, and spending too much time hovering over my phone waiting for notifications. I'm still working on making myself step away from social media more often.
What are your thoughts on social media? Is there anything else you wish you knew about Instagram?