I realise the title of this post won’t be particularly impressive to some of you: in fact, some of you are probably getting way more than 100 new Instagram followers per day, aren’t you?
Er, this post obviously isn’t for you, if that’s the case. And it’s not for those of you who just use Instagram as a hobby, either, just to get that out of the way upfront. I, however, DON’T just use Instagram for fun, but as I’ve mentioned a few times recently, although I do enjoy the platform, and spend way more time on it than is probably good for me, it’s never been something I’ve felt had a real benefit to my blog or my brand.
Over the course of the last year, my follower number has barely budged, for instance: I was faithfully following all of the Instagram tips I’d read about (sticking to a theme, posting at least once a day, only uploading images at the optimal times, tagging brands, etc etc…), but I wasn’t getting any kind of return from it. Every day, I’d gain a few new followers, but lose a few old ones… so the total number remained static for months on end, which was pretty dispiriting, really.
Around a month ago, though, I decided it was time to start getting serious about Instagram, and see if I could find a way to grow my following there. The main reason I wanted to do this is simply that social media is seen as a really important part of blogging these days, and brands will usually check out a blogger’s social media following before deciding whether or not they want to work with them. I was really aware that my social stats don’t really reflect the popularity of my blog, so I decided to try and do something about that.
The results, as you can see from my Instagram itself, aren’t spectacular: I mean, it’s not like I’ve doubled my following and become Instagram besties with Taylor Swift or something. I have, however, gained a few hundred followers over the past few weeks, and am currently averaging at least 100 new followers per week – sometimes more, if I’m really lucky. What’s more, those followers are sticking around, too: they’re not just following me out of politeness, or because they want me to follow them back, which means that, for the first time in almost a year – A YEAR, people – my Instagram following has started to grow again.
What follows, then, is not a set of Instagram “rules” – in fact, I think some of these kind of fly in the face of accepted practice somewhat – they’re just a few things I’ve learned about Instagram lately: starting off with this…
If you want to use Instagram for business, you have you change the way you think about the platform.
So, again, I’ll start off here by saying that if you’re using Instagram purely for fun, or you’re one of those people who likes to go around talking about how it’s “not all about the numbers!” then, respectfully, this post is not aimed at you. I know I shouldn’t have to say this, but on almost all of my blog tips posts, I get comments from people saying, “Well, I just blog as I hobby, so I’m not going to do any of this!” Obviously if that’s your deal, then that’s totally fine: but if you’re using Instagram for business, or as an adjunct to a for-profit blog, then unfortunately you DO have to think about “the numbers” – and you have to think really hard about what you’re hoping to achieve with Instagram, too.
For most of my Instagram “life”, for instance, I viewed my feed almost as an ‘added extra’ to my blog: it was a way to document my life, and to give my followers a bit of a “behind the scenes” look at what I was getting up to every day. Now, that’s all well and good, but the first thing I learned when I started to take Instagram a little more seriously was that my followers didn’t actually WANT a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day life. Ouch.
How did I know this? By looking at “the numbers” – i.e. Instagram Analytics.
Using Instagram Analytics to grow your following
The first thing I did when I decided I wanted to try to grow my Instagram following was to upgrade to a business account (You’ll find this option in the settings of the app, and, as far as I know, you don’t have to own an actual business to use it…), which gave me access to Instagram analytics.
Instagram Analytics is a nifty little tool which basically lets you dive beneath the hood of your account, and see what’s going on there. It tells you how many followers you have, which photos are the most popular, wha time of day your followers are online, etc, etc. Now, some of this information is stuff you can work out for yourself, obviously, and I know there are other third-party sites which will do a similar thing. Because Instagram’s own analytics are located within the app itself, however, I found them much easier to use – or much easier to REMEMBER to use, rather, because every time I’ve signed up for another website promising to give me an insight into my Instagram activity, I’ve almost immediately forgotten to use it: whoops!
Anyway, once I’d upgraded my account, I got into the habit of checking the stats regularly, and what I found was pretty interesting. You obviously get a rough idea of which images are doing well on Instagram when you’re using the app, but seeing my ‘most popular’ all laid out in a row told me something really important: almost all of them were fashion-based.
Yep, as hard as it was to admit it, it seems my Instagram followers are not interested in that ‘behind the scenes’ look at my life which I thought I was providing them with. They don’t really care about the pretty scenery, the tasty meals, or the random uploads that don’t really have any context at all: nope, my Instagram followers are mostly there for fashion – so, outfit shots, flatlays and photos of new purchases were all amongst the most popular images.
Once I realised this, I started to change the way I used Instagram. I still take all of those other types of photos (and I still sometimes post them to my feed, too, if I particularly like them), but these days I mostly save them for Instagram Stories, and keep my main feed focused mostly (although not exclusively) on fashion and beauty – which is, after all, what my followers are most interested in.
(I’m writing this knowing that someone’s about to comment telling me they HATE the fashion photos, and have unfollowed me now, because they were just there for the landscapes. So I guess another good lesson to throw in here is that you can’t please everyone…)
I think this is the kind of “theme” that works best on Instagram – for me, anyway. I ALSO have a visual theme for my feed, but to be totally honest, I have it mostly because once I’d started it, I couldn’t bring myself to break the continuity by uploading something that didn’t “fit”. I am determined to break this habit, though, because while it’s nice to look at someone’s grid, and see how pretty and colour-coded it all is, I honestly can’t see I’ve noticed any growth in followers since I’ve had mine – and I’ve had the same theme for months now.
I did, however, notice a big uptick in follower numbers when I started to focus the subject of my photos a little more closely: what I came to realise is that the people who follow me on Instagram are not, necessarily, the same people who follow my blog. They’re not, therefore, always interested in the myriad of other subjects I write about here – instead, as Instagram is (obviously) a visual platform, they’re interested in simply seeing the clothes without all of the rest of the stuff they’ll get on the blog. Sounds obvious, but it took me a long time to realise it: oh well!
Here’s another thing it took me a while to realise…
Quality is more important than quantity.
Absolutely every Instagram tips post I read on this subject told me I had to be uploading as regularly as possible: at least once a day, but possibly more, if I could manage it. Now, that IS good advice, as it happens – but only if the images you’re uploading are the best quality they can be. If you’re able to take enough top-quality images to be able to upload every day, or multiple times per day, then you probably don’t need this post, because it sounds like you’re the one who should be giving ME tips, to be honest.
In my case, however, I just can’t manage to post daily – or not without resorting to uploading any old thing, purely for the sake of having something new on my feed. Since I started this experiment, however, I’ve been uploading less frequently than ever – mostly because the gloomy days and early nights of autumn make it almost impossible to get decent photos right now. Despite this, my follower numbers have continued to rise – even on days when I have nothing new to post – because I’m thinking much more carefully about every single image, and whether it’s worth posting or not. This is the most important point of all when you’re using Instagram for business, and it’s this:
Every single photo has to be your best work
I used to roll my eyes at the idea of setting up a photo shoot just for Instagram, or using my DSLR to take the photos, but the fact is, if you REALLY want to grow your following, every single photo has to be the best possible quality you can manage – and that can mean putting in some extra effort. I won’t lie: I still use my iPhone to take a lot of my Instagram photos, but I will edit them outside of Instagram (I know most people swear by VSCO, but I much prefer A Colour Story, which is so much better than Instagram itself for editing…), and if I have time to shoot the images with my DSLR, I will, knowing that I’ll get a much better image – and a much better response – as a result.
Speaking of photo editing apps, I persevered with VSCO for ages – even although I absolutely hated it – purely because every single blogger/Instagram ‘expert’ I read swore by it. I assumed it must therefore definitively be the best, and it took me a while to realise this:
Different things work for different people.
Again, this is so obvious that I completely missed it, but I think one of the best things you can do with Instagram is to ignore all the ‘rules’ and experiment to find out what works best for you. Just as an example, I kept reading about how I should be posting only at the times most of my followers were online, so when I first got access to Instagram Analytics, I diligently did my research, and started uploading new images only when the app told me it was the “optimal” time.
The result? Er, there wasn’t one. Actually, I’ve found that it doesn’t really matter when I post my images: as long as the images themselves are good ones, they’ll get the same kind of engagement, regardless of the time of day they were uploaded. Another ‘rule’ that doesn’t work for me? Tagging brands. Again, everyone tells you to do it, and I DO… but only so that followers can find out where I got something without having to ask. I rarely get a response from brands these days, and when I do, I don’t get many new followers as a result of it: maybe both of these tactics work for other people, but they don’t work well for me, and I only know that through trial and error. One tip that DOES work, however?
Use hashtags: but use them wisely.
A few months ago, I got a snarky comment from someone about the number of hashtags I’d added to a photo, and I was so embarrassed, I stopped using them for a while. The fact is, though, hashtags work – as long as you use them wisely. There’s almost no point, for instance, in using very popular tags, like #cute or #selfie – there are so many people using them that your photo will disappear within seconds. I have much more success with lesser-known hashtags, which have more of a community around them: for instance, I use a few hashtags aimed at either 30+ bloggers, or Scottish/UK bloggers – not only are my photos more likely to be seen on those feeds, they’re also more likely to be seen by people I have something in common with, and who are therefore more likely to follow me. Speaking of people…
You have to engage with people.
By this I mean meaningful engagement, not simply following people in the hope they’ll follow back, and then unfollowing again when they don’t: that’s just plain annoying. No, I mean actually following accounts you’re interested in, and then interacting with them as often as you can without starting to make yourself look like a scary stalker. I used to be very guilty of the ‘hit and run’ technique, where I’d upload an image in a hurry, then not bother scrolling through my feed to see what everyone else was posting, too. Over the past few weeks, I’ve really pared down my ‘following’ list to only those accounts I’m genuinely interested in, which means I’m now much more likely to like/comment on those people’s photos. I still don’t have as much time as I’d like for this, but with Instagram I find the more you put in, the more you get out – so it’s worth the effort.
If you want people to follow you, you sometimes have to ask them to follow you.
After getting a couple of comments from people saying they hadn’t realised I was even ON Instagram until I mentioned it in a post one day, I realised that although I have social buttons in the header of my site, I wasn’t really doing much else to encourage people to follow me. I installed an Instagram pop-up, which almost immediately started bringing in new followers (yes, I know everyone hates pop-ups, but sometimes they’re a necessary evil…), and I also have a widget in my sidebar, publicising my feed. Because if you don’t ask, you don’t get…