How I Grew My Instagram Following
I had the idea for this post as I spent an extra 30 min yesterday filming a video about farmer cheese, picking up a grilled cheese sandwich as part of an exchange to promote National Grilled Cheese today (it’s today), and buying a $9 sushi donut because it’s the first place I’ve seen them in Chicago.
I did all of this for Instagram.
If you don’t use your Instagram as a marketing tool or as an extension of your blog or other online presence, this may seem absurd. For me, I absolutely love it. Ever since I started my blog in 2014 I have loved taking and sharing pictures of food, although at that time they were horribly unappetizing. I love finding new products, I love sharing them, and I love eating them.
I started putting serious work into growing my Instagram account in October of 2015. At that time I had around 600 followers and to date I have a little over 19,100. I have in no way exploded in growth as I’ve seen other accounts do, but I’m proud of the work I’ve put in and I love my colorful pictures of food.
I have reached a point where I am able to charge for images (should I choose to), which is another reason I take it so seriously. It is now a (small) part of my income, but when that shift happened it became more than slapping up a picture whenever I felt like it — it became a job. A job I love and treat with respect.
I wanted to share the steps I took to invest in and grow my account. Different people have different strategies and what works for one genre may not work for another. Based on conferences I’ve been to and information I’ve gleaned from others, many of these steps are basic and should help you out in your own journey. If you have no desire to use your account for anything besides personal entertainment and sharing with friends, there’s no reason for you to put this much work into it — remember, you do you.
1. Figure out your goal
What do you want your feed to portray? Do you share pictures of food? Do you want to focus on fitness and workout videos? Lifestyle? Whatever you choose to focus on, do that really well.
My feed was originally only food. My intent was to show people that it’s possible to live a happy, healthy, and balanced life and still enjoy donuts and cookies. I love healthy food and I also love desserts. So often people think the key to being healthy is to ONLY eat healthy food. I wanted to show that that isn’t the case.
Over time, I felt like my Instagram was becoming more separate from this blog itself, which obviously talks about more than food. I started to put more of myself up and share more of my story to those followers who may not even know who I am (not everyone follows you on all channels). That helped get a more positive response, which in turn helped things grow further.
2. Post consistently
When I started posting more than once a day, my engagement increased. I currently post twice a day — once when I wake up and once in the evening. If I have extra photos I’ll post one around the lunch hour as well.
If you have a business page set up, you can check your insights to see when the best times are to post and what pictures are getting the most engagement. Figure out a schedule that works for you and stick to it.
3. Think ahead
Posting consistently means that you need to have enough material to do so. Since I post twice a day, I need to make sure I have at least two pictures ready to go. This means that I know what photos I have in my arsenal and when I need to shoot more. This means also paying attention to the time of day and the weather since I take my pictures with natural light. Once I had absolutely no idea what to post and took a picture of an overripe banana, asking people what they do with them. I’ve never gotten so many comments on a picture. Ha.
On some occasions when I have absolutely no material, I will reuse a photo from a long time ago. Don’t worry, no one remembers. 🙂
When it comes to actually taking the picture, think about what looks best. When I take my pictures, I don’t only think about the picture itself, but how the entire feed will look once the image is posted. For me, that means a lot of white or light backgrounds to really highlight what I’m trying to share while also not cluttering up the entire feed.
There are tons of tips on how to arrange your photo, but this is unique to each person’s style and genre, so experiment until you find what works for you.
5. Edit pictures
This is probably one of my biggest pieces of advice. Once I started editing my pictures, it became a whole new ballgame. Several people didn’t believe I only used my phone to take them. Honestly, I’ve only used a DSLR once and it terrified me.
Two of the biggest photo editing apps are VSCO and Snapseed. I only use VSCO, but know several people who use both or more. VSCO is not the most intuitive app to use, but once you figure out what settings you want for your images, editing them becomes super easy and quick. I had to look up some tutorials to figure it out at first, but now I am done editing a picture in less than 30 seconds.
I used to not leave any captions or just a very literal one telling what the picture was. This didn’t have the best results.
When you write captions for your photos, make them personal. That doesn’t mean go into some long story about your personal life, but let your personality shine through. Sometimes I write the most absurd captions, sometimes they’re serious and meant to convey a point I think is important, and sometimes it’s about how I’m eating sliced turkey for dinner.
Find your voice and people will respond.
Hashtags are important in that they allow new people to find you. You are allowed up to 30, so feel free to use them all. I have different blocks of hashtags that I use with different types of photos. If I post a food that I’ve gotten in Chicago, I use the hashtags pertinent to that. If I post a fitness picture, I have a different set of hashtags focusing on fitness.
Do some research and see what people in your niche are using for hashtags. Keep them saved on your phone so that you don’t always have to type them all out when you post.
Tag everything you can in a photo. I have been contacted by brands after I’ve tagged them in a photo or featured on that brand’s page, increasing my exposure to a different audience. If I’ve made a smoothie, I make sure to tag Vitamix because that’s what I made it in. From that, some of my smoothie photos were featured on The FeedFeed’s page which has over a million followers.
One thing I would advise against is tagging people or brands that have nothing to do with your photo. Often, I will get tagged by another Instagrammer in what I’m assuming is a way to get my attention for me to like or repost the photo as some accounts do. I don’t, so it’s actually more annoying than anything. Just tag things affiliated with what’s in your photo.
Instagram is a SOCIAL network. I find that interacting with other people helps a lot in forming new relationships and keeping people coming back. I don’t comment for the sake of commenting since I’m usually trying to scroll through while walking around the city, but if it’s a friend or something I really want to comment on, I will.
I also try and take the time to respond to comments on my own photos. If someone has taken the time to write something to me, I almost always write back. If it’s obviously a bot comment or something like three hearts emojis, I probably won’t, but actual comments are the jam.
10. Get some help
*update: since this post was published, Instagram has cracked down on automated software and Archie has been discontinued
There are many ways to cheat the system these days with Instagram. You can buy followers and pay for software that will leave random comments on posts. These are pretty easy to tell because they are either super generic (“nice one!”) or are just so absurd I don’t know why anyone would click on them (“you’d be great to rep our brand! contact us!”).
I don’t advocate for either approach, but I do use a program called Archie that likes photos using certain hashtags. That’s all it does — likes the photo. No annoying comments, no requests for follows, just a like. It’s the same thing I would be doing if I had 13214547567 hours to explore the “you might like” page (which I still do from time to time). Sometimes these likes convert to followers and sometimes they don’t, but I don’t have time to sit on one social media account and search for every picture I might like.
Instagram is one of my favorite tools and I’ve met so many amazing people through it. If you have any questions about anything I didn’t cover, let me know in the comments!