People love looking at pretty things. This is why Instagram is so vastly popular, and also why it quickly changed from people sharing random pictures from their day to stylized photographs with professional lighting. I know that I myself could spend hours on end just going through and liking pretty pictures (and sometimes I do). And since I’m not the only one, using Instagram for your business, and using it well, is incredibly important. Also, I just did an Instagram 101 consult with a client last week and did a crazy amount of research, so I’m feeling incredibly knowledgeable on this subject. So let’s do this.
Shameless plug: Follow me and my pretty pictures and yummy Charleston food pics by clicking the picture below.
Alright, let’s start talking strategy. In order to get any good traction from your Instagram account, you need people to see your content and follow you, right?
WAIT. Not just any people, though. You want people who are actually going to interact with your content, read your blog, and buy your products/services. Otherwise your followers are nothing more than a pointless number. So let’s talk about how to gain more Instagram followers that will actually engage with what you post and buy from you.
1. Take bright, quality images. Edit them.
Your first step is to always, always, always take quality photos. Sure this sounds geeky, but if you want to be successful, do this: create your own little Instagram setup for each time you take an image. Maybe it’s a white posterboard or some other makeshift white surface. When you have a free afternoon, take your props and your Instagram setup outside so that you can take your images in natural light.
Personally, I keep a piece of white posterboard on hand and just use my back porch as my photo studio so that I can get natural light. If you absolutely cannot get natural light for your images, the bathroom lighting is the next best thing (but don’t settle).
Don’t just leave it at that, though. Edit your photos. Natural light already gives you a pretty satisfying image, but if you run it through an editing app and mess with some of the settings, you’ll be able to make it even better. Brightness and contrast are your friends, people. My favorite editing app is Afterlight, but I’ve also heard high praise for VSCOcam, Snapseed, and A Color Story. There are a lot of different options, so look around to see which one gives you the look you want.
When editing your photos, make sure they stay on brand. You want to use the same type of editing for each image so that they all have a similar look. I have a “To Instagram” photo album on my phone that I add all of my pictures to before I post them to make sure that they all mesh well together. If one’s coloring is a little off, then I go back and re-edit it until it matches the rest better.
2. Post regularly.
I absolutely love Instagram. But sometimes it is the hardest social media platform for me to post to. Not only do I have to come up with something to take a picture of, but I have to caption it and then find the best hashtags to use. It can be quite the ordeal by the end of it and sometimes I feel like I’ve taken close to an hour just for one Instagram photo.
Do yourself a favor and keep an editorial calendar for your Instagram. This way, you can plan your images ahead of time, know what you want to take a picture of and talk about for its caption, and set aside time to take a week’s worth of photos at once. Use a scheduling platform or a Google Doc to help you create captions and put together hashtags ahead of time so that you simply have to copy and paste when it’s time to post. A couple of hours of strategic work will make your life so much easier in the long run.
This will help to ensure that you can stay consistent in your posting. Every day, or every other day, instead of four times one week and nothing for the next three weeks. Consistency is key. The more often you post, the more often new content will find its way in front of new eyes, resulting in new likes and new follows.
Bonus tip: Post when your audience is online.
3. Write engaging captions.
I love how Devan Danielle uses her Instagram captions. First of all, she has gorgeous photos and branding, but she absolutely takes advantage of her caption space. You can say a lot of words in an Instagram caption. It’s awesome. She uses her captions for tips, to tell a story, to engage her audience, to ask a question, and so many other things. And it works because all of her images have a ton of comments and I’ve seen her following grow like crazy.
Take notes, people, so that you can incorporate some of this into your own Instagram strategy. Use your own voice in your captions and write them so that people want to talk back to you. That’s what social media is all about, my friends.
4. Research your hashtags.
And don’t be afraid to go hashtag crazy. Studies have shown that Instagram engagement peaks around 11 hashtags, so yes, it’s okay. Hashtag away.
But Chloe, how in the hell do I figure out which hashtags to use?
Y’all. It is so easy. There are also a lot of different ways to find all of the best hashtags, and I recommend that you use all of them.
First of all, take a few super common hashtags that your target audience would look at and type them in the search bar. Make sure you’re searching only Tags. Click the hashtag to go to the results.
At the very top of the search results, Instagram itself will show you related hashtags. You will also want to include these when you hashtag your image. You can click through to these to see other related hashtags. If you happen to click through to a hashtag that doesn’t list any other related hashtags, then it’s not quite as popular, so you probably won’t want to include it in your hashtags.
Another good way to find popular and relevant hashtags to use is to start typing them into your caption and surf through the search results.
This gives you a list of popular hashtags and it tells you right off the bat how many posts are using those hashtags. If the number is high, then you know that this is a high-volume hashtag and you’re going to want to use it. If the number is in the hundreds or one-thousands, then you’re probably not going to get much from including that hashtag and you may want to just toss it out the mix.
The third suggestion for finding relevant hashtags is to look at your competitors and also people in your target market to find out which hashtags they’re using. Maybe you’ll find a new niche-y hashtag or a hashtag that could possibly get you regrammed and featured on a big account.
Always make sure that you’re diligent and strategic about your hashtags because this is how your account is going to get found by potential customers.
5. Like a ton of photos using your hashtags.
Once you’ve done some hashtag research, search through those hashtags regularly and like a ton of pictures tagging them. People who are in your target market are using those hashtags and therefore liking their images is going to get your name in front of their eyes.
Not much explaining to go into this one. Like their pictures, they’ll look at your profile, like what they see, and follow you.
6. Follow your target audience.
There are many, many ways to go about this. You want to go cuh-razzzyy and follow all of the people who need your business and need it yesterday.
If you’re a brick-and-mortar business, then one thing that you should do is to search for similar businesses nearby or businesses whose customers might also need your business and look under Places. Find the location you’re looking for and click to see the search results. There, you’ll see images that people have tagged at that location. This is a goldmine because you’re finding people who have used your competition (or possibly even a complementary business) and might like you better. Like all of the pictures. If you’re so inclined, follow the people who posted them.
Second, go to your competitor’s Instagram accounts. Follow their followers. It’s pretty basic knowledge that if they’re interested in your competitors, they’re probably going to be equally interested in you. Go check out their profiles to see if they post images that you want in your feed. But the quick and dirty way to do it is to literally go to their followers and just go down the list clicking follow on every single damn account on there. (This is typically how I begin to build up an Instagram account. So if you’re starting from scratch, this is a good way to go.)
Other ways are to follow your competitors and follow people using popular hashtags in your niche (the same ones you found doing hashtag research and that you go through routinely to like images of).
Instagram is definitely up there on my list of favorite social networks because it’s so much fun. It’s legitimately fun to go through and do all of these things to grow your following. So follow these guidelines and be strategic with your Instagram account and you’ll start to see those follows rolling in soon!