Oh Instagram: How I go from 0 to 1,000 followers in less than a year and to 10,000 in less than 2 years!
Oh hello there! I blogged on why I owe my business to Instagram in my last post and as promised, here's the HOW ;)
Yes, it's no secret that everyone wants to have as many Instagram followers as possible! They bring a certain cache and for those who actually run a business account; clients!! Plus, it's such a visible reward for all the hours I spend on this platform (which is A LOT). With that in mind, I have no use of paid followers/likes. In order to keep a steady stream of potential clients, I need a trifecta of organic followers and high engagements in likes and comments. I basically managed to narrow it down to a pretty loose science and a clock-work routine.
So here are my (not-so secret) tips on how I got to my current follower count which hopefully you can incorporate into your bag-tricks!
1. Make sure each post is as engaging as possible - from image, to caption and even the hashtags!
Yes, this is pretty obvious but let's break it down using each element of the post. Obviously, image quality of your post is important! I got lucky that half of my feed comes from styled shoots or weddings. These photographers take way better picture than I do! Although, sometimes I take my own photographs because I can't flood my feed with too many “in progress” photos with me and my messy desk! I try to take photos in natural, indirect light (read: my shaded patios), make sure everything is styled perfectly and effortlessly (lots of layered of fabrics with Silk and Willow ribbons, straighten out all the edges, perhaps some vintage stamps and make sure there's not too much stuff), frame each photos carefully with a clear focal point and when in doubt, utilize rule of thirds. Some additional technical points for the amateur photographers, I love using a lens with a shallow focal point and edit from the RAW camera files.
Next, it's the caption! For those with business account, think of Instagram's caption as an small window that lets your viewers peek into your life. It's a call to action to participate in conversation with you, showcase your personality, and express your excitement about your project. Make it personal, make it YOU! There was a learning curve at first. Just because I have a business Instagram account, doesn't mean that every other post should be "Buy this at my Etsy Store" or "Come and check this out". Also with captioning, make sure you credit everyone properly, especially photos that come from collaborative efforts. I mention everyone in my caption along with tagging whoever’s work is being featured in the photo.
Last but not least, you have to utilize the hashtag! It's so helpful especially now that Instagram has a "top post" section in each hashtag. So if you did good, you'll make it to the top and more people will find you! You want to mix the common (for that off-chance the photo actually goes viral) and specific hashtags. But stay away for something too general (I'm looking at you #instagood). There's a limit on the amount of hashtags so you need to prioritize.
2. Timing, timing, timing.
It's my take on "location, location, location", for me Instagram posts are all about timing which is even more important with Instagram’s new filtering algorithm. So many people nail down their photos, captions and hashtags but still do not see significant results. To put is simply, you want to post at a time where you have as many as captive followers. For me personally, weekends and holidays are a “no go”. Instead of a captive audience, people are out and about doing their activities and there's too much competition with friends and family posts. I found that weekdays around 5 P.M. have the best results. The Goldilocks hours will be different based on your timezone and where your followers are, so experiment! Once you know the magic time, post regularly.
3. Put in the "Social" in Social Media.
So you've put in the work creating awesome content and figured out when the best time to post is. This is great first step, but that's not the end of the line! When I was starting out, there's no "audience" for me just yet so I have to reach out to people so they know that I'm around and what I have to offer. After posting something new, I will check my feed for anyone who's more established that also posted something similar, check who likes their post, click on each profile and see if there's any photos that I like from their feed. I also spent more time on the explore tab in order to find new people to follow. From this technique, I get a few people that might check out my profile and like or comment on my posts. If I get lucky, I get new followers, and when I get really lucky, I get invitations for collaborations!
Now that you know how to actively look for your audience, you still need to put in the work to keep them engaged. This means reply to comments on your post, spread more likes to other people's post, comment and participate in different conversations, check your DM (direct message) when possible, and support the community. Spread out the social media karma to keep the likes going, give the much deserved shout out to your favorite accounts and don't be shy to complement other people work. Seriously though, the calligraphy community in Instagram is literally THE sweetest group of people! So don’t be shy!
Lastly, (and this is the most important to build rapport) turn your online relationships into real life relationships. Anything from sending cards/gifts on holidays to setting up lunch/coffee dates. I love to participate and help out with styled shoot days because I learn so many tricks. I'll be a good sport too, anything from becoming a human coat rack, a part-time mover, florist assistant, and even the assistant's assistant! It's fun, you get to know everyone and nothing online can beat that real time, in person connections.
4. Curate your personal AND news feed!
Personal feed is very obvious, you need to make sure your feed looks consistent especially when you're not a photographer. I work in many collaborations with many different photographers so I have to selectively pick who I collaborate with. For me, I tend to like film photographers which have a pretty consistent color theme. I tried to post more than one photo consecutively per project for better flow once it's been published. I like to space out my own photos that are too similar with each other.
The second part is less obvious but it's still pretty important. Like it or not, what you see will influence you're aesthetic so you want to keep your following list to inspirational accounts that fit your aesthetic (with occasional cat and hedgehog account). Not saying you should delete all your friends and families, that will make some real awkward Thanksgiving dinners, but make sure you purposely follow the rest of the accounts. Ask yourself - How does this affect me? Obviously, they inspire me and help erode my design block. I have to take my own stationary and product photos on many occasion so I'll edit them in with color and brightness to have the film aesthetic. And there's so many styling tricks that I picked up from other calligraphers/photographers/florists/stylists accounts!
Other than the basics, there are a few more popular techniques that one can use to gain more followers. However, these should be done with caution especially for business accounts:
Yes, I did a couple of them and they did get me some new followers. But many of the new followers ended up unfollowing me once the winner(s) was announce. And #giveaway attract followers who care more about freebies and less about your work.
Basically, unless you want to do this regularly to prevent your newly acquired followers from performing a mass exodus, schedule them form special occasions. While we're at it, make the rules as simple as possible. Totally understand the "follow and tag X amount of people" as the requirement to participate in the giveaway. But just because Instagram lets you mentioned 5 people, doesn't mean you need do utilize them all for your giveaway. If you want them to post certain giveaway photos, don't make it mandatory since people who carefully curated their feed are less likely to participate.
Lastly, make them fun! I used to only do simple comments and tagging for my giveaway but I changed it up a bit. Instead of random comments and tagging, I asked them to answer a simple question on what drink they want to enjoy with the coffee mug. It was so much fun to read the answers! I found so much fellow coffee lovers, what basically a recipe with very specific tea or flavoring, and some that will make my hubby proud (I'm talking about @sannys_designs who use their mug to drink water and @fab_details who drink green tea kombucha!).
2. Selfies and Personal posts
Double yes; I love seeing the face behind their beautiful works and definitely love reading that they are humans who make mistakes, harbor self-doubts, and be amazed on how strong of a person some of these ladies are despite the heavy burden they carry. I'm here to support and encourage you, be the first to send online hug with triple kissy-face emojis, giving career advice when possible, and mesmerized by your strength. But just like sugar, spice, and everything nice; you want to sprinkle them throughout.. Lightly (But I take all the baby and puppy post you can post, I LOVE BABIES, WHITE PUPPIES, AND CORGIES)!
Let me know your thoughts and if you have a success story or your own tips and tricks, feel free to comment or email me directly!