Nowadays, Instagram has joined (and perhaps surpassed) Facebook and Twitter as the most important social networks for influencers. But how do you get the most out of the platform?
Instagram has only been around since 2010 – but since its acquisition by Facebook in 2012 it has grown fast, now boasting of 600 million users. Of these users, over 400 million are active every single day – and it's not just Joe Bloggs sharing snaps of his cat. There are 8 million registered businesses using Instagram for advertising – and, more and more, Instagram is where influencers who are just starting out are finding their following.
Feeling daunted by the big numbers? Don't be…
So, you've signed up to Instagram. There are a few basic things you can do before you get down to business.
Instagram getting started checklist
Choose a good username. This should either directly reflect your real name, or the name of your blog. You want to be searchable, and you want to have a clear brand.
Fill in your profile. You get 150 characters to get this right, so make sure it's clear and concise. A location and a link to your blog is also a sensible idea.
Pick a profile picture. 400 × 400 pixels is the best size – and Instagram is a visual medium, so choose a good one!
Get following! Friends, bloggers you admire, Instagram big hitters – anyone whose content you enjoy, and from whom you might hope for a follow.
Start engaging. With @mentions and #hashtags, if you're a Twitter user, you'll quickly become familiar with the format. Likes and comments are a great way to show that you're an active and interested user.
Getting more followers
If you've been on the network for a few weeks, you've probably racked up some followers – family, friends, readers, a few bots, a few weight-loss accounts (it's inevitable, sadly), maybe a few you've accumulated through comments and likes and social behaviour.
It's easy to hit a watershed, though – so here are a few tips for boosting follower numbers (without engaging in the frowned-up behaviour of follower-purchasing, which can get your account deleted, so avoid the temptation!).
There are plenty of widely-used hashtags that enable you to get followers – as long as you do a bit of following yourself. Experiment with #FF (Follow Friday), #instafollow, #l4l (like for like) and #followback – but remember that you might end up with followers who aren't hugely interested in your content, and don't engage.
General use of hashtags will also help – tagging your posts with relevant hashtags (#food, #family, #photooftheday) will send them into a feed of pictures with the same tag, enabling other users to discover your content.
It's common sense, really – the more you engage with people in your networks, the wider your net will grow. Seek out accounts with content you admire and show it with a double-tap – it might not have immediate pay-offs, but it gets your username in their head.
Use the Mayfair filter!
No one knows why, but according to this study, it's the most effective filter for advertisers. Can't argue with data!
Go outside Insta
You might be new to Insta – but that doesn't mean you don't have an established audience elsewhere. Get your Insta link in your Twitter bio and on your blog homepage. Cross-posting any Instagram comment to Facebook is very easy to do, and will draw followers from one profile to the other.
Use your mates
If you know somebody with a substantial Instagram following, invite them to post a guest post on your account. This is a great way to procure new followers, especially if they share it back on their own account.
Crafting an aesthetic
There are lots of tips and tricks to using Instagram but it is, at heart, a feed of beautiful images. So as an influencer, it's simply not good enough to fill your feed with haphazard shots of breakfast and babies – you're going to need a strategy.
Here are a few tools you can employ to keep people scrolling and double-tapping…
Light is everything
The best photos will always happen in daylight – but thanks to Instagram, you can fiddle with light and shadow on your pictures, even if you didn't manage to leave your house. Bright, sharp images will always catch the eye, so stay away from moody, unfocused pictures, even if that's an accurate reflection of your mind…
Straighten your snaps
When you upload a shot to Instagram, there are all manner of ways in which you can edit it before you post, right inside the app. It'll take you a while to master saturation, but the image straightening tool is easy and essential, and will make your images look much more professional.
Backgrounds are key
When in doubt, go white: you only have to look at the Instagram feeds of fashion bloggers and designers to know that minimalism is in. Go for block colours, or add interesting texture in the form of a brick wall. Remember that when a follower is scrolling, the background will often take up the majority of the picture – it needs to draw the eye. There's a reason why you'll see so much marble and wood when scrolling.
Look at your feed as a whole
It's easy to think picture-by-picture, but the true Instagrammer knows that it's an elegantly constructed feed that keeps a follower scrolling. Try to mix up your content (don't post 34 pics of your baby in a row). Intersperse family shots with close-ups; mix up pictures of food with a bit of scenery.
Choose a colour palette or filter
If you're feeling a bit more ambitious, take the above tip and apply it more directly. If you want to have a “pink” theme to your feed, make sure every snap has a hint of the hue – it doesn't have to be obvious to be striking. Alternatively, turn your feed into something a bit more elegant by always using the same filter, so even dissimilar images appear to be part of a set.
Instagram introduced Stories to compete with Snapchat and have, arguably, stolen the show. With over 200 million people using the feature every day, Stories has become an essential part of the app – but it can be confusing. Here's how to master it.
Why would I post to Stories?
The most important thing to know about Instagram Stories is that your content will disappear after 24 hours. It doesn't get stored anywhere; you can't get it back, and followers can never see it again. It's therefore a great place to post content that you find amusing or exciting or simply have to share – but which doesn't fit in with the general theme or feel of your feed.
You can find Stories located at the top of your app – flipping through them is easy, and lots of Instagram users prefer it as a way to browse the app.
What sort of things should I post?
Anything! You can post videos or images – and it doesn't have to be content that you're recording in the moment. You can post from your Camera Roll, meaning that you can edit or doctor snaps before they go up. If you put up more than one piece of content, they'll load in chronological order, so you can tell a story.
Instagram is slowly adding more features to Stories, but there's already plenty to play with – you can record Boomerangs (a 2 second video that loops, giving you a shareable GIF), add time, date, location and weather filters, and you can add drawings and stickers to your content.
Think of it as the less-polished version of your Instagram feed – and remember, if your content is terrible, it'll be gone in a day anyway!
What about Snapchat?
Snapchat still has exceptionally high user numbers, especially among teenagers – but as more and more brands move their content to Instagram, it's hard to make a case for using Snapchat over Instagram. It's simply more user-friendly – plus, the smarties at Facebook are pretty quick to appropriate anything cool that Snapchat comes up with.
Extra for experts
For some of you, the majority of this will be old news. However, the platform is constantly changing, and the users of the platform are constantly coming up with innovative ways to use it. Here are a few extra bits and pieces you can try to keep your content and fresh and your follower numbers up.
- Try flatlays: The most popular accounts play around with angles and composition. If you're going on a trip or just preparing for a busy day, try creating a flatlay by positioning articles on an attractive background, and snapping it from above. Brands often find that flatlays perform better on social than faces – it's not intuitive, but it does work!
- Change your bio link: Way too many Instagram users keep that link as click-through to their blog homepage. This is great as a starting point, but mixing it up week to week (or day to day), directly people to your latest post, or something you reference in a recent image, will keep people clicking.
- Add extra apps: Diptic and Photo Grid will let you create collages; Camera+ and Camera Zoom both use better editing software than Instagram. If you're serious about your pictures, bringing in some extra expertise can only help!
- Get notifications when your favourite people post: In your settings you can turn on notifications for a specific user. This means you'll never miss a post – plus you can be among the first to like and comment.
- Insert line breaks into your captions: If you've got a lot to say, but the chunk of text looks daunting, here's how to break it up – press the “123” key while writing, and the return key will appear. It seems simple, but lots of people miss it!