I just love the magical world of Instragramoland – where effortlessly stylish women sashay down cobblestoned streets, and stare over clifftops while clutching wide-brimmed hats to their heads.
Where breakfast is never Marmite on toast, but artfully arranged plates of pastries. Where traffic jams and frantic school runs cease to exist; where life is full of pretty stationery you’d never spoil by actually using, and perpetually laughing children are framed in golden light.
Yes, I know it’s not real, that for every stunning shot there have probably been 20 ‘meh’ ones, that filters and editing software have been used to achieve that perfect vista, but I don’t care. Instagram has become the modern-day glossy magazine – you know, the ridiculously-priced uber-trendy one you’d buy just to leave on your coffee table and marvel at its prettiness?
I don’t claim to know everything there is to know about Instagram, but I have figured a few things over the past few months that have worked well for me over at JAXFORTYNORTH, and that you might find useful too.
MY TOP 10 INSTAGRAM TIPS
• MAKE SURE YOUR PHOTOS ARE IN FOCUS. I know this might sound completely obvious, but you’d be surprised how many photos I see that are blurry, or grainy (either from taking photos in low light or by using the zoom function on their camera phone).
And make sure you have a general theme that pulls all your photos together. Some people recommend a super-tight focus (The Balloon Diary consists mostly of photos of Anna Dawson wandering the streets of Paris with a pink helium balloon). Personally, I prefer a wider mix of photos that capture and reflect our day-to-day life, but I still try to keep an overall feel and complementary colour palette.
If I post a photo and it just doesn’t look quite right in the mix, I delete it.
• DON’T USE POINTLESS HASHTAGS: These are a valuable way for people to find your photos so don’t waste them! Avoid the really popular generic ones, such as #instapretty and #travel, as they have such a massive volume of photos that yours will get lost in the crowd. Instead, research your hashtags to find ones that truly complement your photo and the style of your feed, and build a list of your favourite ones.
The smaller the number of photos in the hashtag, the better chance you have of standing out or even being highlighted in the Top Posts section (which effectively ‘pins’ your image to the stop and gives it greater visibility).
Extra tip: Visit Instagram Queen ME AND ORLA and sign up to her newsletter, and you’ll receive her seven-day email tutorial and a monthly round-up of her favourite hashtags, for free.
• USE NATURAL LIGHT WHEN YOU’RE INDOORS. The moment you turn on internal lights you turn all your photos a rather sickly shade of yellow. If you’re planning a photo or flat lay, plan ahead and make sure you do it when the light is at its brightest (especially important in winter, when daylight is at a premium). Pull up the blinds and take your flat lays as near to a door or window as you can. It that’s impossible, use filters and editing apps to brighten and enhance your photos.
Extra tip: Sign up for Emily Quinton’s MAKELIGHT newsletters and join her Facebook group – she is an amazing flat lay photographer, and regularly offers free video tutorials.
• ENGAGE, ENGAGE, ENGAGE! It’s the oldest rule in the Instagram book, but for good reason. You have to put in the work to see the rewards, and that means investing your time.
I try to spend 15 or 20 minutes each day scrolling through my feed and liking and commenting on the photos that really catch my attention. I usually spend a bit of time in the morning and a little bit more in bed at night, but this is literally something you can do while you’re killing time on the school run, or standing in a queue at the post office.
Find your tribe – Instagrammers you admire who seem to have similar interests – and comment on them regularly. People are much more likely to pop over and give you some social love if they can see you’re supporting them too.
• INVEST IN A BOOSTING BUDGET EACH MONTH. It doesn’t have to be huge – £10, £20, £30, whatever you can spare – and start to experiment with post promotions to find out what works for you (alternatively, try boosting a photo post on Facebook and tick the box to also run across Instagram).
I’ve been trialling this over a couple of months – just popping a few pounds on selected posts – and the increase in likes has been quite dramatic (although not a huge impact on follower numbers). Which leads me to think that, when supplemented alongside your usual organic promotion, this can really increase exposure and give your profile a good kickstart.
• DON’T FALL INTO THE FOLLOW-BACK TRAP. This is when you agree to follow account purely so they will follow you too; it may seem like an easy way to build up your numbers quickly, but it’s a false economy for several reasons.
Firstly, people are following you out of obligation rather than because they genuinely enjoy seeing your images, so chances are they won’t engage much with you afterwards. If your engagement levels are super low (ie: 5000 people follow you, but you only get a handful of likes or comments) it doesn’t look good to brands who might be looking to partner with you, as it indicates that you’re not connecting or resonating with your followers.
Similarly, keep the total number of accounts you follow under 1000, regardless of how many people follow you. This – according to my contact in a big Instagram influencer agency – is the ‘magic number’ they look for; any more and it it’s a red flag that your followers might not be authentic, or that you’ve been joining in with follow chains.
• GET YOUR FACE IN YOUR FEED. I’m actually quite bad at this myself (have you read my post on why family photos matter?), but – without fail – the photos I also appear in always get the best results. I think it’s because people like to see the ‘real’ person behind the pics; it helps them to connect with you and makes your photos seem more real.
So get over your shyness, and get in front of that camera, pronto!
• POST REGULARLY. When you start to gain traction with your feed, it’s important to keep your momentum going. I’ve heard people say that putting a new photo up every day is the key, but I certainly don’t have the time for that level of commitment! Plus, I often find that – since the new algorithm was introduced – some photos take a little while to pick up speed: if you flood your feed with images, you might not give each one enough time to get the attention they deserve.
Also, I choose to post when I have something good enough to go up on my feed, rather feeling obliged to stick to a timetable. If that means a two-week break in between new images, then so be it. I’m sure I’d grow my followers more quickly if I posted more often, but Instagram is my ‘pretty place’ and I like to preserve it for my very favourite photos.
• EXPERIMENT WITH INSTAGRAM STORIES. For me, my stories are completely different from pics in my feed; it’s here that I can have a bit more fun. I like to tell little tales about what we’ve been up to or post about things that have amused me. The creative challenge is to tell your story in one minute or less: have a play around with all the filters and different functions – my new favourite is the super-dramatic superzoom (try it to see what it does). Stories are much more relaxed – they can even be a bit silly – and they’re gone again in 24 hours, so there’s less pressure to make them perfect.
I’ve seen research that says you can put as many stories up as you like, but, personally, I try not to put more than four or five up in one single day. People generally have limited time and low attention spans, so – unless your series is completely and utterly gripping – the reality is they’re going to switch off part-way through, which means your later stories might go unseen.
If you need longer than one minute to tell your story I often see people segueing one into another, so one single conversation gets split up over two or three stories. I’m not sure if I like this or not, as part of the fun of the challenge is to fit everything into that one-minute slot, but it’s an option.
• GET INSPIRED BY OTHERS. Look at other people’s Instagram accounts and see which photos take your breath away. If it’s relevant to your own feed, emulate them on your own. Seeing the creative ways people have styled their flat lays, framed their photos and posed their fashion shots always gives me fresh ideas and new ways to style my own.
This is a great way to fire you back up if you’re feeling a bit ‘blah’ about your account.
There are also some great tips on what does and doesn’t work for travel-based accounts on this post by VENNGAGE.
So there they are – my top 10 Instagram tips. What would you add?
Hoping to eventually make money from your Instagram account? Here are five things you need to do RIGHT NOW, according to top Instagram influencer agency, TAKUMI:
• don’t apply unless you’re a public account with at least 50 photos
• make sure you’re following less than 1000 accounts, and have over 1000 followers – the bigger the difference between the number you follow and the number that follow you, the better.
• ensure these followers are real people and have been built up organically. Accounts that have used artificial inflation software or #followback techniques won’t be accepted (yes, there are ways clients can check the authenticity of your followers).
• only post original content; don’t flood your feed with memes, quotes, screenshots or reposts.
• put effort into every image on your feed: be creative and make sure they’re classy, high-quality shots. Photos covered with stickers and filters might be fun, but they could cause you to lose out on paid collaborations – keep them for Instagram Stories instead.