As of September 2017, Instagram had 800 million active users per month. Let that sink in, 800 million users. That’s a lot!
Following Facebook and YouTube, Instagram (which is actually owned by Facebook) is the third most popular social media platform. So, for anyone trying to display content to as many people as possible, these three big players are the way to go.
Check this infographic to get an idea of the many different platforms. Each of them has a different purpose and therefore requires different strategies:
You can see there is a platform for almost anything, you just have to make sure to use the right one(s). However, since this post is related to photography I assume most of us are photographers and in that case Instagram is a must-have platform.
In one of my Instagram stories a couple of days ago, I shared a few tips on how to adjust your strategy according to some recent changes in Instagram’s algorithm. These changes are extremely annoying and they always come unexpected. Just when you think you have figured out a good strategy for yourself, Instagram comes along with new changes and you have to start all over. ALMOST!
Here is the good news! There are some basic things that no algorithm can affect in any way. Why? Because you have full control over them. They are rather obvious and are often overlooked and/or ignored. It is, or should be the core of your Instagram growth strategy.
Let's have a look:
Authenticity always wins. People don’t like being fooled and it usually doesn’t take them long to figure out you are faking it. So, what do you do? You stay who you are. Own your individuality. We are all different and we all have different perspectives on things. Don’t be afraid of sharing yours, nine times out of ten there is value in it. Don’t worry about that one time you may say or do something wrong, we all make mistakes. In the past decade we have witnessed the growth of an internet phenomenon. Some people just seem to have more luck than others; their lives only consist of sunshine, laughter, fun, happiness, nice vacations and so on and so forth. Somehow, they never have to deal with bad days, stress, problems, sickness, bad weather, bad moods, etc.. It might be a bit exaggerated, but everyone knows that life is full of ups and downs. You should be confident enough to share your flaws and mistakes, we all have them, it’s normal. It’s authentic.
You just came back from a week-long safari and your Lightroom catalogue is filled with lots of great new images from your trip. It’s tempting to get them in front of your audience as quick as possible. You might want to keep calm and come up with a posting schedule instead. Many sources suggest no more than 2-3 posts a day, anything above that can quickly make your audience feel spammed or annoyed. More importantly though, is consistency. By using a free scheduler, like Later, you can easily come up with a consistent posting schedule for a whole month. Whether it means two posts a day or one post every third day, it’s all up to you and it depends on your content. It is important to stick to this time plan as it allows your audience to get used to and adapt to your posting schedule. After a while they know the times you post and actively start looking for your content. However, to find out what YOUR best times to post are you will need to do a lot of testing. If you use an Instagram business account, you can find some analytics that will help you to determine when your audience is most active. Otherwise, you’ll find analytics in the free Later account.
Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of being active for a couple of days and then having a break for six weeks.
That’s not difficult, right? Just be kind and polite. Replying to someone’s comment on your posts takes 15 seconds. There’s no excuse not to reply. Shoot your latest followers a quick thank you message and wish them a nice day. If someone takes time out of their day to engage with you, be thankful and let them know you are.
Be honest about what you are doing. One of your biggest goals is to build a trusting relationship with your audience. Give people your honest opinion/feedback. If the recipient has the right attitude he/she will benefit.
5. Expect less, give more
I have come along a lot of people on Instagram with the wrong attitude. First, they go wild on my account by liking almost every single post just to send a very furious DM five minutes later because I didn’t do the same on their account. That’s just wrong and reveals there intent immediately. Don’t be that person! Don’t expect anything from anybody. Just like I said in the previous point, be honest and let people know you like their content. If you like a picture, then show some love. If you don’t ever hear a thank you from the person who’s picture you liked don’t be upset. It’s okay! Whenever I find an account that I really like, I send the owner a quick message that says something like “Hey NAME. I just came across your account. I just had a look at your gallery and I really like it. Your portraits of xyz are awesome! Keep it up. Have a great day! Cheers. Patrick”. Done. It takes less than a minute and it’ll hopefully make the recipient happy. Sometimes I get a reply, which is the start of a conversation in some cases, but more often than not I don’t get a reply and I am absolutely fine with it.
One of the most important parts of this strategy. You MUST be active and engage with your audience on a daily basis. It’s very time consuming and it can get overwhelming at times, but there is no way around it. Building a good following is always a long-term engagement. Therefore, I suggest you also look at it long-term and it’ll become a bit less daunting. If you commit to actively engaging with people every day for 30 minutes, it would be a good start. Whether you do it in one go or split it up, that’s up to you. Go and find accounts that inspire you, find content that you want to have in your feed. Find people in your niche, find people with experience that can help you grow. Follow them and start commenting on their posts, send them a DM. But here’s the catch, engage with meaningful comments and don’t copy and paste “Great shot” to as many posts as possible. Let people know what exactly it was that made you like their picture. Was it the lighting? Was is the posture of the animal? Did it remind you of something? You can also ask questions. “Hey, I have been to the same lodge last year, how did you like it?” Trust me, comments like this will stand out of any comment section because it shows your engagement, interest and effort. Anyone can quickly click on a picture and like it but commenting in a meaningful way takes a bit of thinking and time.
Do yourself a favour and look up the “$1.80 Instagram strategy” by Gary Vaynerchuck. Apply it and you WILL see results.
7. Create Valuable Quality Content
Being authentic, consistent, kind and engaging means nothing if you can’t produce and deliver valuable quality content. The audience you will or have already built wants something in return for following you. In short, we can break it down into three categories: entertainment, information and education. You have to make sure that your content fits in at least one of these categories. As photographers we are lucky because we (shouldn’t) run out of content and we are in the position to create it specifically for one of the above categories.
Valuable quality content always has to be original. You want to create content that stands out from the crowd and adds to the conversation, instead of just repeating old news. We are living in 2018 and you can be sure that by now most topics from any field have been covered at least once before. It is your job now, to find a way to add your individual personality to it. If you do it right and you give the content your character, people often won’t even notice that that topic has been discussed before.
Valuable quality content also means to let the consumer benefit from it in any way. He/she must feel like they gained something from reading/viewing your content. If done right, people will link your name/brand with the feeling of gaining value from you and start coming back if they need information, entertainment or education.
8. Stay on top of things
The previous eight tips work because you have full control. But you still need to take into consideration that there are factors beyond your control such as changes in IG’s algorithm. Only if you stay up to date can you adjust your strategies accordingly in order to keep getting the results you want.
9. Don’t get obsessed with how many likes and followers you get
This is more of a well-meant suggestion rather than part of a strategy. When I started out with Instagram, I had the wrong mindset. I was after followers and likes, because followers = success and likes = popularity, right? No. That’s a misconception. Numbers don’t matter, influence does. What do you get from 100.000 followers when only 5.000 of them actively consume your content because the rest is not related to your niche in any way. A “small” group of 500 followers, from which 300 are actively engaging with you because they are all in the same niche as you is worth gold compared to the 100.000.
The eight tips I gave you form your basic strategy. Everyone can apply it at any given time. Why? Because you have full control. If you are patient and approach it with the right attitude you will see results. In addition to your basic strategy, you’ll have to figure out how to frequently adjust to the changes Instagram implements from time to time and build a second strategy around that.
I know the feeling of impatience very well. I also want things to happen immediately. But in the case of building/growing your name/brand nothing happens fast. It is a long process and requires perseverance. An alleged shortcut on Instagram is to buy your “audience” but I can only advise you to avoid that at all costs. Other than having a nice number to look at you won’t get any benefit from it, it’ll damage your success and credibility if anything. Patience is key, and the process can be fun if you stick to your strategy and attitude. Compared to many unrelated and fake followers it is a great feeling when you realise you have created a community with people that all share the same interest and passion.