My friends and coworkers kind of know me as the Instagram queen.
My boss jokingly refers to me as “white background” because of my white-washed aesthetic and I’m part of an Instagram-focused chat on Facebook.
And, of course, I’m routinely complimented on my content and approached for tips when it comes to one of my favorite social networking sites. So, I figured I would take some time to jot down some of the things I’ve learned about building and growing your personal brand on Instagram.
Defining your brand
I set a goal for myself at the end of 2015 to start taking my Instagram brand seriously, and to start treating it more as a marketing tool. That sounds so boring and sterile, doesn’t it? But, when you work in social media, every single profile you have online serves as part of your portfolio. So, I started building my brand and growing it. Within the last eight months, I grew my following by 493 percent. No joke. Here’s how.
- Find your niche. Think about the accounts you’re following and why you’re following them. For me, I follow @corgistagram because I love corgis. I follow @westelm because I love quality interiors. I follow @puremichigan because I love artistic shots of my home state. So… what makes people want to follow you? Go through and look at your posts that have garnered the most engagement — meaning likes and comments. Instagram analytics makes this easy, but before it existed, I did it manually. Figure out what all those photos have in common. Then, tie all those things together. Maybe photos of your cat get the most likes. Maybe your fitness photos do. Either way, note the similarities between the photos, and then create a basic formula. My formula is close-cropped, well-composed detail shots with bright lighting and symmetry. So, when I post, I always try to stick to that formula. I make sure my horizontal and vertical lines are even. I try to use photos that have been taken in the daylight. I make sure my photo backgrounds are clean. I try my hardest to make sure every single photo on my Instagram profile echoes the “vibe” of all the other photos.
- Make sure you are easy to find and identify. Maybe your niche is photos of your labrador. A handle like “@leothelab” would be much easier to find than a handle like “@L30o0th3L4b.” For me, my name is my brand, so my username is @randimshaffer — which is my handle on everything I use! Include a bio as well, which can also help identify your content. If your niche is New York City street art, make sure “New York City” is in your bio.
Growing your brand
Great! Now you know that you should only post photos of avocado art and ramen noodles. So, what next? Now that you have a clearly defined aesthetic for your feed, you have to seek out people who are interested in that aesthetic. Basically, you have to figure out who actually wants to see your avocado ramen photos. Here’s how.
- Keep the following you have by engaging your followers. The biggest part of building your own personal brand is engaging with your audience, and Instagram is no exception. Like the posts of those you follow. Reply to all the comments you get on your posts. Remember to check your message requests — while you’ll likely see a lot of spam (no I am not interested in your wraps I promise), you will also occasionally see an important message or two.
- Engage your potential followers. This is a big one! Go like and/ or comment on photos posted by users that might be interested in your comment. Did you just post a photo of your Starbucks? Great! Scroll through related hashtags — such as #starbucks or #coffee — and engage with those users. It’s a way of getting your handle and your content out there to someone who didn’t know you existed until you liked their photo. Just a heads up, though: Instagram does not like spam. If you like too many photos at once, you will be blocked by the app for a period of time. I’ll usually get around this by liking photos in spurts of a few dozen, giving at least an hour break in between activity.
- Make your posts easy to find on Instagram. What does this mean? Hashtags and geotags. Include a geotag on all relevant posts. Include hashtags relevant to your content. Just don’t get spammy with it. I usually try to use between three and eight on all my posts, but I have friends that post a ton of hashtags underneath their caption so they don’t get too distracting. This is fine too!
- Game the algorithm. Ah, the algorithm. This is a new piece of the puzzle that everyone is still trying to deal with. But, the Instagram algorithm is not the end of the world. The algorithm’s purpose is to ensure every user has a cleaner feed filled with content that he or she wants to see. Which can be great. I’m definitely seeing less screenshots and baby photos in my feed, so it seems to be working for me. Assuming you’ve done the whole “define your brand” thing, you’re at a good point: Your followers definitely want to see your content. So… how do you prove to Instagram that your photos are worthy? Well… make sure people are engaging with them! This piece is actually a fantastic — albeit drastic — example of how to do that. You totally do not have to stalk a Kardashian’s feed to get engagement… but you do have to give a little to get a little. Scroll through your own home feed and like the photos of friends that usually reciprocate your engagement efforts.
- Do not resort to shady tactics. You likely know people who employ these tactics. An account follows you… you follow them back… two days later, they’ve unfollowed you. What? Yeah… don’t do that. It may build your following, but that’s not good engagement. People should want to follow you because they like your content — not because you’re following them. More things to avoid? Loop giveaways. These spam up the feeds of your followers. And, what’s there really to gain? Sure, you’ll get a few follows because you’re giving away an iPad and some lipstick, but you’ll probably see your following decline as well because users (that followed you for your stellar content) get sick of seeing the seven posts a day about that MacBook. And when your giveaway is over? Many of your new followers will likely unfollow as well.
And, that’s about it! What tips do you use to grow your Instagram following? Let me know in the comments!