How to develop your Instagram style & grow your following #BlogCampVibe Part Three
An Update (22/11/15)
I would like to reiterate that these How to Develop Your Instagram Style & Grow Your Following posts (parts one, two, three) are a summary of my talk at BlogCamp Vibe, which was a development of my earlier guest post at Ebabee about Instagram, and my sessions at BlogCamp River Cottage, as well as being informed by other guidance on Instagram published online.
It has been such a pleasure to share this mini series with you. Today is the final post and it's full of hints and tips that I hope will help you fall even more in love with your Instagram account. But I think the important thing is to stay in love with it. Like any social media platform, there are peaks and troughs in excitement and interest from both us and brands alike and right now it feels like the world has gone Insta crazy!
I think this is a craze that has been around for a long time, I've just been late to the game. Finding a way to be truly myself online has been a revelation. In some ways I feel I can be myself more on my Instagram feed than on my blog. If I feel like sharing a photo of some flowers I can, if I want to ignore the washing up, the mountain of ironing, the pile of wrestling boys in the corner and the muddy paw marks all over the carpet I can, and in an instant I can share a photo of a little corner of my home that makes me smile and boom, I connect with a whole lot of people who appreciate my random moment in time.
This post is a beefy one, which is why it's taken a while to write. On my new year's resolution list is to get better at shorter posts - I just don't seem to have mastered it. I have so much to share from the last couple of months, yes months, but each post has 50 or so photos for me to choose from and I find it so hard not to want to share it all!
So here goes... let's talk about hashtags.
#HASHTAGS #ILOVEHASHTAGS #HASHTAGSFOREVER
Who doesn’t like a hashtag?! Well apart from Facebook and Pinterest of course where they just seem a bit odd. There’s a definite best practise for using hashtags that can help you connect with and reach your target audience. BUT GENERIC hashtags are hopeless! They will not help your #yummy #yum #yummyinmytummy #foodie #dinner be found. It’s too general!
SPECIFIC, RELEVANT, SUPPORTIVE
Be more specific, be relevant - you want your photo to be found not lost in a sea of other images, and seek out new community hashtags that interest you. So one of the ways I have grown my following in Australia is joining in with the hashtag #7Vignettes. A wonderful monthly styling challenge with 7 days of daily prompts hosted by a leading interiors blogger @interiorsaddict. It's a specific community who love the same type of photo styling that I do, has a good number of people who join in and there is an opportunity to be featured on the host account who has 63k plus followers. But I join in because I love finding new accounts to follow, I comment on posts I find through the general #7Vignettes stream, I hope I am a supportive member of the gallery, I make time to seek out images that catch my eye, find beautiful new inspiring accounts to follow and spread the love.
It's simple really, support the people you love and admire, support the brands you want to work with and highlight the brands whose products you buy without hankering for a freebie.
There are some hashtag communities that I am very loyal to. That I naturally think of when sharing my photos.
I have had great support for #capturingcolour over the last year and more recently, several new colour loving hashtags have sprung up in my Instagram circle. Now I could pretend they don't exist, be unsupportive of friends and accounts I love, but I choose to do the opposite, and I tag their hashtags with mine. So you will often see me post #capturingcolour followed by #colourmyjoy #InspirationIsColour #BBColourful and #colorcolourlovers. It's good to share the love!
Hashtags are a great way to look to work with brands that will naturally fit into your feed. The worst thing about using your Instagram feed as a commercial extension to your blog is to make the sponsored or featured content feel alien. By joining in with a brand's unique hashtag your photos become part of their feed and most brands repost the images that catch their eye. Let that be yours!
I am always conscious of photographing products or events or press days in my style. So that when I link up my post with the hashtag being used for a specific campaign it stands out as mine. Do your research, check out the other posts linked up, look at how you can see a different angle, show the wider Instagram community why they should click and like your photo instead.
DON'T BE AFRAID TO GET THE SHOT YOU WANT
At events don't be afraid to take your camera rather than your phone. I am ALWAYS the one dragging a DSLR to events and I never regret it. Don't ever be embarrassed to want to shoot the highest quality imagery you can.
I want to share where I buy home accessories, where I buy the children's clothes. It helps followers get a feel for who we are as a family, the kind of home we live in and I look at the hashtags those companies use on social media. When I share a photo that features one of their products I have bought I tag them both in the photo and in the comment line. People don’t always tap the photo as the little tag icon as it is quite subtle and I've formed some great new contacts this way. Remember lots of brands don't monitor their Instagram feed at weekends and the posts you see may be scheduled. So if you share over the weekend, tag them in the photo on the Monday so it pops up in their notifications when their social media guru is in the office!
I've cultivated lots of very natural working relationships with brands that are in my home. It's not been a calculated process, we have sort of found each other if that makes any sense. I like their products, they like the way I share their products, it's a natural fit.
Look at the type of photography your best loved brands share, does yours fit in with their feed? If it does then make sure you join in with their hashtags!
And remember... if you auto share to Facebook 6 hashtags can look a bit silly. You know the ones... #drink #cocktail #chocolate #love #lovecocktails #nightin #nightout on a Saturday night. No one will see it!
The number of hashtags is a good debate subject. I did a lot of research for this presentation, looked at lots of advice shared by great Instagrammers and 11 seemed to be a consensus. I know some have heard from Instagram officials that a smaller number is a better strategy but, I have a set 10 or so that I like to join in with, that fit almost all of my photos, so I use the first comment line instead of clogging up the caption and then as lovely followers leave a comment, my raft of hashtags disappear. But the thing is, often I want people to see them, I want to shout out about these niche emerging mini communities within the wider Instagram community. So I will often add a few into the caption line, with no shame whatsoever!
At the heart of Instagram is the want to create a meaningful user experience in a passionate community environment. I feel it took me a while to “get it” but now I couldn’t imagine life without it. And when you are genuinely passionate about a platform it shows.
You can see when people are inspired, and more importantly it's obvious when they are not, when they are posting for the sake of posting. Resist the urge.
Its not just about beautiful photos it's about engaging the people who follow you and letting the people who you’d like to follow you, know are there!
Find and follow people. There’s this kind of assumption that a lower following count is impressive and that might work on Twitter but it’s not like that on Instagram. You know there are bloggers who purposely keep their follow number disproportionately low, or suddenly have a cull! I'm not so keen on that. One minute they follow thousands the next a few hundred. It doesn’t show you are embracing the community. So whilst you don’t have to follow everyone back, showing you are engaged with the community is so important.
Make time to comment - I heard Ella Woodward - @deliciouslyella speak at a conference back in the summer and she said it’s hard to explain to “outsiders” that she often spends 3 hours a day replying to comments. but it has absolutely helped grow her highly engaged audience.
I feel like it seems easier to comment on Instagram don’t you?! It feels easier to reply to comments too? So set your notifications so you don’t miss comments on older posts too.
I know bloggers group reply to general “that’s a lovely photo” type comments with a thank you or comment at end of the thread saying thank you and then replying specifically to questions, that need an individual answer, like where did you buy that, or how can I make that etc. And I think that is a great practise to follow.
Do you read the official Instagram blog? If not why not?! There is a wealth of information, you can join in with their WHP (weekend hashtag project) themes I am constantly finding so many new accounts to follow through that hashtag!
Find out when the Insta meets are and go along! They all love it as much as you do remember.
I think Instagram is a unique way to be able to have a direct communication with a brand. If they don't follow you they do have to accept your message but if they are socially savvy they will be checking their messages.
Lots of brands are still figuring out Instagram message and there are bloggers with incredible followings that are much larger than some national and international companies. So check out who you want to work with, can you come up with a creative Instagram campaign? Instagram takeovers seem popular now, but think of what else you could do? How can you connect your readers with their products? Look at their most liked photos, what do their audience seem to love and how could you adapt that to your style?
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
Be a courteous user - if something inspired your photo let that person know! People like to know they are inspiring other people. It’s not copying, it’s being inspired and taking an idea and making it your own.
I loved joining in with the magazine Oh Comley's perfect strangers project. A parcel swap for £10 with readers of the magazine. But I realised, whilst taking part, that actually making the project more accessible to my readers, making the budget a little more affordable and bringing mu audience together through a different take on a swap project was a way I could take that idea and make it my own.
And the surpriseproject.com website was born. I blogged about my inspiration and now my swap project is in it's third season the #autumntimesurpriseproject!
Look at starting your own hashtag or if you run a linky on your blog look at how you can ping that over to your Instagram feed. I find it so much more inclusive to make it as easy to join in with a linky as possible. Look at collaborating - #capturingcolour started as a collaboration between 6 bloggers. Talk to the people you trust the most in the blogging world, people you would like to join forces with. Pitch to them.
INCORPORATE YOUR FEED INTO YOUR DESIGN
Spread the word - has anyone seen this trend coming through in blog design to have your Instagram feed as your blog footer on your homepage? Everyone is doing it from American interiors and fashion blogs to UK parenting and lifestyle blogs.
And it's really effective. So much more engaging than squeezing it into your sidebar like I have at the moment!
Add it to your newsletter if you have one, tweet out a few times a week letting people know how to find you.
The accounts I love are the ones that post regularly and tell stories, I can spot their photos a mile off and I actively search for them when I go to bed iPhone in hand.
They are accounts that have established and developed their own aesthetic and are really proud of it. And so they should be.
Keep in mind that original content is what makes the world a more inspiring place. You can be whoever you want to be on Instagram. You can be in front of the camera or inordinately successful staying firmly behind it. For me, I would never flood my feed with selfies. It feels almost cringey to take endless pictures of myself. Eek did I actually write that... don't shoot me! We have all done it, take 10 until we have the one we like the best. But am I the only one who by the time you get to the 10th feel so silly you never actually post it?! I agree you need a balance of you and the world around you, but for me, I am so much more engaged with a person's observations, their creative photographic eye, rather than what-I-wore-in-a-mirror type shot.
Be mindful that people are following you, and filling your feed with “found on Pinterest” posts loses that connection with you. If you want people to follow you on Pinterest great, promote that, but think about your Instagram feed as it's own platform, in it's own right.
These are some of my personal favourites - distinctive, natural colours, high quality sharp images, people who curate their feed. And its not that they contrive a fantasy life, they are consciously creating a nicer experience for you.
Go find and follow them ;)
FIND YOUR VOICE
I am absolutely convinced that your following can grown organically and consistently if you really love it. Don't try too hard, don't force it.
If you feel in a rut create some content in advance, schedule it and take a break. Come back when you feel refreshed!
Don't try and force yourself to to be someone you are not. It's easy to be "inspired" by your favourite accounts and emulate them for a period of time but finding your own way of telling your visual stories is so much more engaging, even if it takes a little longer to gain some traction.
There are some accounts lucky enough to be hand picked by Instagram to be one of their suggested users and their followings have shot up! BUT look at the engagement - because it’s not an organic growth their likes to total followers is below 1.5% which is an indication that their following is not as engaged as you might hope it to be.
Don't chase that illusive suggested user status. I don't think that's what decides your Instagram fate.
Be consistent, be supportive, be you. If you want to start your captions with single words with whimsical connotations then great but do it all the time. If you find your audience respond to you posting first thing in the morning and last thing at night be smart and schedule your posts. And if you feel strongly about something or someone, don't be afraid to share it. I know my following love home interiors and florals but I still want to share all the aspects of my life that make my gallery mine. They might not get as many likes but it's important to me. Not to just go for numbers. To take people on my journey. Some will stay, some won't and I've learnt to be ok with that.
And if every you just need a good laugh or popular content ideas check out @socalitybarbie! Embrace the clichés, embrace the community, embrace the wonderful positive and inspiring community that is Instagram.
I've shared a lot of information over these three posts, nothing is gospel, you can pick and choose if any of it is relevant to you and remember these are my opinions, based on all that I have read and experienced. You don't have to agree with it all! But if there is anything you'd like to know and I might be able to help, just leave a comment, let's all help and inspire each other.
People say knowledge is power but I think it's much more powerful to share what you know.
There are people that are really generous with their advice. I read as much as possible before the session, looking at common themes, tried and tested tips from those who have built up incredible accounts, looked at Pinterest tutorials and slideshows. Here are some great resources for Instagram advice - Annie shared how you can find your photographic style, Emily Quinton - who runs a Makelight taster course, Sara at Me and Orla who shares The Insta Retreat both of which I hugely respect and admire. Latergramme shares invaluable help from their social sessions, the Kissmetrics blog shared this great post on how to boost your brand with Instagram, The Sit Girls blog has some fantastic posts on growing your following and photography, Super Spicy Media shares great knowledge about all the platforms, Wonderlass has a wonderful post on 11 ways to grow you Instagram, Love Plus Colour has some great advice to find your Instagram voice as has World of Wanderlust.