Instagram Dreams; Part Deux

See? I cannot be less annoying about these blog titles. I just can't.

As promised, we're gonna chat about what I did to help my Instagram growth. And I will try to be as transparent (bc that's a cool buzz word) and forthcoming as I can about my motivations. I suppose I feel the need to discuss them first because I haven't always been very intentional about my Instagram use. At first it was just fun to take snaps of whatever was in front of my face and filter the crap out of them, and then it was about photo prompts and contests, and tagging games. We all seem to go through these similar stages of instagram use. (Remember the first time a stranger liked your photo? or even worse, commented? A small moment of terror and then, you get over it, and then you become the crazy stranger commenting and liking strangers' photos. See? Fun for everyone.) And then the more I explored Instagram, and saw what people were doing, I wanted to produce better images. It was probably just naivety, but I assumed everyone was posting photos they'd taken with their phones and some of them were frickin amazing. It seems like the majority of users now post dslr photos almost exclusively, but four years ago, that was seen as the biggest cheat. Or at least I saw it as cheating, because to me the point was using your phone. That was the medium. I started out as a purist bc 1) it leveled the playing field and 2) the challenge of producing a great image with the phone in your pocket felt like mission impossible. The photography aspect of it took over my mindset completely. I knew I could take more than just snapshot variety photos and I wanted to prove that. It's THE CHALLENGE.

Also, I'm lazy and I was tired of carrying my stupid heavy dslr.

The only goal I ever set for myself was 1000 followers. That seemed like a huge number to me. If one thousand people were checking out my photos, I thought that would be a reflection of their quality. I was on instagram for 2.5 years before I reached the one thousand mark. (In all fairness, I wasn't really actively trying to create growth my first year. In fact, my account was private for most of that year.) My first attempt at trying to get more followers was trying to get featured on the popular curated accounts, using their hashtags. (I was dying to get a feature on VSCO, and that was back when they only had about 20k. I've given up that dream, bc now they're 2.3 million strong and I believe, allergic to anyone over the age of 32.) I had somewhat moderate success getting featured, but that rarely produced a large boost in numbers for me. So what did work? I think it was a combination of these things:

Good Content - The bottom line is Instagram is a photo sharing app. Unless you're famous for something else, you really need to have decent images. You'll need some thought about what you're posting, some continuity, and a noticeable style. I don't think you have to be a professional photographer to achieve this. But you do need to make sure your shots are in focus and not edited in a crazy way. (I'm looking at you, Miley Cyrus, oh wait...) Obviously having a background in photography is helpful, it made editing a lot easier for me to figure out, but editing apps are still much more intuitive and user friendly than photoshop.

Hash tagging - this is another topic that I could probably write about for days. Using hashtags is incredibly important if you want to get your photos noticed. I cannot say it enough. I feel the need to explain this from the beginning.

I LOVE HASHTAGS. But I haven't always loved them.

At first, I found them really annoying and desperate looking, but I knew that it was the only way to get my account noticed. I knew people were looking at the hashtag feeds to find and like photos. So, I would use a maximum of 4 hashtags. Never more. My understanding at the time was very limited, I knew that hashtags worked as a filing system, putting your photos in a group with all the other photos with that tag. Beyond that, I thought people were just trying to create obscure tags to be funny. So, I was drawn to the most popular tags and used those. (I have to interrupt this to say that Instagram has changed the hashtagging system a few times, the biggest change coming when hashtags became tied to your posting time. Before that, you could throw a hashtag on your photo 3-4 days after you'd posted it and get it bumped to the top of that feed and (Yes!) get more likes. It was like a time release effect, dropping a hashtag every few hours. But now, as you know, you have to get them on your post pretty quickly or they're pointless.) It took me some time to figure out that those tags, do not help you much because they spend so little time at the top of the hashtag feed and with a small account, they weren't making it to the best tool for attracting people - Top Posts, AKA, the leader boards around my house. (I blame my gamer son for that addition to my vocabulary.)

I know you still want to know why - WHY? WHY? Why are they so important? Because hashtags get you the audience you want. People use their aesthetics to decide who to follow and most hashtags are associated with a certain look or style.

#kinfolk #liveauthentic #slowliving

You know just what you're getting into even when you just see these right? How about these?

#eatyourfeelings #carblover #nomnom #foodporn

Choosing tags relevant to your aesthetic is key. Find the people with the same interests as you through hashtags and then pay attention to the hashtags they're using. Do your research. That's it.

Engagement - this is another thing that happened very naturally for me, I became accustomed to chatting with people I didn't know to get to know them. Especially on my own account- I reply and I answer questions. That's just human decency in my book. The thing is, yes, engagement is important, but the real truth here is that people are important. I actually really hate that we refer to each other as "followers." I want to be treated as though I have feelings and my own experiences, and I hope that I do the same for other people. (Except those damn tourists.) People want to be noticed and valued. That is a life approach for me, not an instagram strategy. Don't post photos and put your phone away, "Put the social back in your social media." (Yes, I just quoted myself, and I can only hope this is engraved on my tombstone as my legacy. JK. We all know my tombstone will be covered in carbs.) Talk to the people that run your favorite accounts. They see the comments, but not always the likes, so keep that in mind. Try to post at a time when you can chat with people about what they're up to, your photo, or your caption.

Which brings me to another point, putting some effort into your captions is a great way to get people to engage. Great photos are cool, but at certain point, people want to know about the personality behind the photos. (My snarky captions were never part of a plan, that's just the charming personality i was born with.) It doesn't have to be funny or fact filled, and honestly, I can't handle it when people post inspirational quotes, but it does need to spark interest. Like the photos you post, try to find your own caption style and don't try to mimic someone else, because people will notice. My thing is I try to tell people something new - either about me or about the photo, something relatable about life. That said, remember that people probably don't want to know every single detail about you. Because #narcissist.

Networking - I do not like the idea of networking. The premise feels slimy to me, but when I moved to London, I started considering instameets. It was a social decision because I didn't know anyone and I figured that if I found the people that like to take photos of their food, I could maybe make some friends. (Instameets are just an set day/time/place where people get together, socialize, and take photos that they can post for instagram.) I had no idea what to expect from these gatherings, and I seriously expected that I would be the oldest person attending. Instameets vary widely - some are invite only, some are huge throngs of people where you don't know anyone, and some are hosted by apps, or cafes, or museums, or whatever. They are more common in certain locations - bigger cities obviously having the most to choose from, but it can be done anywhere. You can host your own and try to find other people interested in gramming near you. The point is, you need some facetime to get to know other instagrammers. If it's not possible to do that in person, find a way to collaborate, or take a holiday and find someone!

The first instameet I went to was horrible, and I am surprised I decided to try another one, but I did after I noticed the IG interactions of the people hosting it. They seemed nice and the group was smaller and the meet was designed for food and photos, not talking about monetizing or how to get as many followers as possible. It was a complete reversal of my first experience. I found my place and found some terrific friends. I will be honest with you, I've met a some instagrammers that think they are very important and entitled to adoration. They also think they deserve everything and everyone else is just lucky, which is not a problem limited only to instagram, but it definitely exists. These are people that will only talk with you if you have X number of followers or know the right people.  And I've also met some that are genuinely caring and interesting people that prefer real human interaction. This is just being realistic about some of the pitfalls of gaining a large following, and I don't feel the need to white wash the subject for you. There's a fair amount of competition on Instagram, some of it good and some of it just petty. I believe in good work and being nice - that's how I play.

Obsessing (aka attention to detail) - a lot of people use analytics for their feeds. I've tried a few and found that I don't need most of the information they provide and not really any info that I hadn't already noticed myself. There are times of day that are definitely better than others, and there are better days for posting as well. It depends on where you live and where the majority of your followers live.

Bonus - Living in London. Yes, London is a fabulous city and people love it. I am very aware of the fact that a huge draw to my feed is my location, which provides me with great material. BUT, I also know that there are huge accounts that are solely comprised of photos inside someone's carefully edited home. The material rarely changes, just the angle and the day. A consistent style and good images can make up for what you lack in location.

And now for the bad news. All of this is subject to change. At any time. Who knows how long until the new algorithms will roll out? You'll notice that there are constantly little tweaks being made by Instagram that affect your user experience. As I said in the previous post, it's a game, and if you're gonna play, you'll have to take the time to figure out what works.

May the odds be ever in your favor.