It’s no big secret, I am all kinds of obsessed with Instagram, and have been since 2012, ever since I downloaded it onto my old iPod touch while living in Logroño, Spain.
Those were the days!
But once I moved back home and tried to get my life into ship shape by working for a year and building my blog to the point that it could be my full-time job, I realized I need to get serious about social media.
While I toy around with Facebook and Twitter because they were, well, obligatory, I wholeheartedly gave up on Google + in favor of Instagram. Instagram is awesome. It’s simple. It’s pretty pictures. Google +, well, I’m not even big enough of a geek to hop on that bandwagon.
3.5 years ago I threw a good portion of my effort into building my profile and audience on Instagram, and I’m sure glad I did.
Not only is Instagram one of the fastest growing social networks (source), it’s also one of the biggest. If you’re going to focus on building a following on one network, consider Instagram.
December 2014 was massive for Instagram. First they announced on their blog that there are now more than 300 million active monthly users. Holy cow, is that big! It’s actually bigger than Twitter so if you were looking for a sign to tell you to get cracking on sharing photos, now’s it.
Personally, I also got extremely lucky and Forbes mentioned me this week as a travel Instagrammer to watch in 2015. What what! So now I have a legitimate reason to spend more time on my favorite app and less tweeting. Phew!
Then shit hit the fan this morning.
Over the years I’ve managed to somehow end up with over 100,000 followers! I remember when I had 34,000 and lost 2,000 of them overnight. Crap.
In the same announcement sharing that Instagram reached the 300 million milestone and they would roll out verified accounts, they also casually let us know they would be eliminating bot and fake accounts that violated their T’s and C’s. Fair enough.
As everyone waited with bated breath for the hammer stroke to fall, virtually excited to see who had been buying followers all these years, I think many of us were in for a rude awakening when we woke up to see that almost everyone lost followers!
Though I’ve never bought followers I figure my loss was related to the fact that I’ve been featured a lot on big profiles and in articles online, so not everyone following me was legit.
Then I saw people like Kim K, Justin Bieber and even the official Instagram itself lost millions in the purge, so I started to feel better (source).
Anywho, where was I?
Now more than ever Instagram has become more and more relevant, whether you are a blogger, a business or just someone who likes sharing pictures.
Sometimes my current followers haven’t felt like a lot because I know people and follow accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers, or even in the millions. But I do often get asked how I’ve managed to get so many followers, so I thought I would share some ideas.
I have also been very observant with Instagram trends over the past three years and have paid attention and taken an active role in building my following. It didn’t just happen, I made it happen. I’ve also been part of several Instagram campaigns with brands and business around the world and have learned a lot through those experiences. I’ve shared my experiences in talks and webinars, and also in Super Star Blogging.
Of course, this is what’s worked for me and what matches my values and ethics. Other people feel differently, as is to be expected.
I’ve asked my friend Melissa Findley, a talented photographer and Instagrammer from Australia to chime in with some tips and ideas as well. She’s done lots of Instagram projects, has great experience and has worked with some of the best in the business, not to mention her Instagram feed will make you want to hop on a plane somewhere beautiful immediately.
Everyone has different things that have worked for them and what haven’t. I’m just sharing my experience here.
So here are my best do’s and don’ts for Instagram.
1. Don’t – post crappy photos
I’ll just start off bright and bold.
Nobody wants to see your crappy photos. Not even Martha Stewart can get away with it. One of the best (and probably the worst) things about the internet is that people can AND will say what they think with little regard to your self-esteem. Listen.
Does that mean you have to be a top photographer? Definitely not. I don’t consider myself to be a professional photographer by any means even though I sell my photos sometimes. That being said what I do do, and what you can do it is work on improving and taking better pictures all the time, which I enjoy.
Now every time I go out and shoot, I ask myself, how can I make this even better?
Does that mean you have to use a “proper” camera for Instagram? Nope, definitely not.
There are some very successful iPhone-only accounts out there that fits with their profile’s style and theme. That’s what matters. You have to figure out what works best for you. But if you want to boost your follower count, you need to post your best shots, I mean your BEST shots. That also means editing and fixing your pictures before posting.
Seriously, quality over quantity really matters on Instagram.
Straighten your horizon. Play with the brightness. Don’t put those annoying white borders up. And for the love of god, don’t use Instagram’s filters. Or watermarks.
My go-to apps are Snapseed, Pro HDR and Mextures. They rock. Melissa also uses Snapseed and VSCOcam.
Sing it with me – “The hills are alive with the sound of muuuuuuusic!” @christchurchnz A photo posted by Liz Carlson (@youngadventuress) on
2. Do – focus on engagement not follower numbers
Though I was bummed to see my follower number drop a bit during the Instagram purge, especially because I was hoping to reach 40K by the new year, the reality is that I actually don’t really care that much.
I’ve spent the past year working on improving the number of likes and comments I get on my photos and bringing the average level of engagement up and up. Seriously, I was stuck on 800 likes a photo for over 6 months. It was frustrating as hell. This is actually the hardest thing you can do on Instagram. It’s really difficult to keep your engagement level the same over a long period of time, let alone increase it.
You see this a lot with people who become featured Instagram users. They’ll gain like 10,000 followers in a week, they’re engagement will shoot through the roof, and then it will drop again back to where it was a month later. I think this is where many of the bots come in, and while I wasn’t a featured user, Instagram did share one of my photos on their profile and blog two years ago bringing me a 5 thousand new followers in 24 hours.
This means you have to get people talking, get them to care. Ask a question, post a funny joke as the caption.
Post an image that makes people think or question something.
3. Don’t – be spammy
Be real. Be authentic. Be you. And do not ask people to follow you back, for the love of god.
You have to be genuine on Instagram to be successful. Go look and interact with people who have similar interests as you and if they are interested in you, they will follow you back organically. This also means you can’t have too much “activity” in too short a period of time or Instagram will think you’re a bot (a fake profile that is automatically liking people’s stuff) and you risk getting banned. Instagram seriously cracks down on this type of behavior.
Nobody likes spammers, and remember, people want to be amused, not solicited.
4. Do – be consistent
Melissa agreed with me on this one too, it’s really important to be consistent on Instagram.
Don’t go long periods of time without posting anything and then post 10 photos in a row. Actually, now that I mention it, never posts photos in a row, space them out at least 3 hours in between if you can. I try to post 3 photos a day, and I rarely go a day with out posting if I can help it.
I’ve used scheduling services before when I was offline in Mongolia but in general, I don’t think they are worth the money or the risk. This also means posting at optimal times. Don’t share your best shot when your followers are all asleep.
You can use Iconosquare to see your optimal posting times.
What an emotional moment. Over two million people throughout the world have seen and shared my last image of Larry, a 95 year old, Pearl Harbor survivor on his first and final journey back to the U.S.S. Arizona in 73 years. Words can not express my emotions at this time. Bless all who endured December 7, 1941. @letsneverforget #Letsneverforget #tggf #pearlharbor
A photo posted by Melissa Findley (@melissafindley) on
If you are trying to take your Instagram to the next level in terms of work and building a brand, then it’s also really important to have consistency in the types and style of your images.
Your style can and will likely change and evolve over the years, but it’s important to not be too random or erratic, otherwise you will have a very divided following.
Your feed itself should look consistent and beautiful, with colors and style. When people click on your profile when deciding whether or not to follow you back, they will look at your feed as a whole first before clicking on individual images, they need to look good. You have about 2 seconds to convert them into followers – make it count!
And of course that means not selling out and posting really random ads in your feed that don’t fit your brand because you were paid to.
5. Don’t – play games
People love to “game” social media and it really, really bothers me. Why put all that time and energy in tricking the numbers when you could be creating really good content that will stand on its own and do well? Priorities people!
Don’t do the follow/unfollow game – it’s so obvious when people do it because they follow thousands and thousands of people then periodically go through and unfollow whoever doesn’t follow them back. What a waste of time!
Though I follow way too many people at the moment, most of them are cat profiles. Cat profiles are the best.
The same people will go through and like 50 of my photos and not follow me. Um, thanks? That’s not how it works guys.
Another popular way people trick the system on Instagram is by buying a bot that will auto-like heaps of photos for you on specific hashtags. That is one really good way to get your account banned, and again it’s very obvious when a high profile person who doesn’t follow me starts to like everything that I use a certain hashtag on. Doing that will get you followers but they are people who are not going to stick around and engage with you in the long run or they are fake profiles.
Of course the biggest game of them all is buying followers but look how that turned out. Just be real guys and put that time and money into building a really awesome profile.
6. Do – be an authority
I’ve talked about this with blogging before too. I firmly believe that to be really successful at Instagram or travel blogging, you need to be an authority on something. And travel is way way way too vague. Everyone and their mother is an authority on travel. Be more specific. Have a niche.
One of my niches is New Zealand travel. I’ve been here over a year and I post a hell of a lot of New Zealand photos. While I don’t have a NZ specific account, I’ve spent a year building my profile to be an authority on New Zealand, and I’ve made sure that if people are interested in coming here, they find me. That’s the best way to build a community.
The best Instagram profiles have some kind of niche, theme or style, be sure to find yours whatever it is.
7. Don’t – abuse hashtags
In my opinion your goal should be to have real followers, create a real loyal community of people who are interested in what you’re posting. I always think about if I were to not use any hashtags at all, I would still get the same amount of likes on my pictures. And it does happen, I’ve left off hashtags on purpose before to see. I’ve tried a lot of things over the years and I’ve found that specific, very relevant hashtags work the best. I tend to use the place where I am, the country, and really relevant hashtags around it or ones from bigger profiles that feature other users.
Do not waste your time with using the most popular hashtags out there because it’s usually not real people who are engaging on it. I know some “top bloggers” who use the copy, paste, delete, copy, paste method of going through mass hashtags, 30 at a time to build the number of likes on each photo, but that’s just another way to trick the system and can get you in trouble.
For example #IGTravelThursday was created by my friend Katja at Skimbaco and that is a great, specific one you can use for travel. It’s way more effective than using #travel. Same goes for Iceland. My friend Inga at Tiny Iceland created #TripInIceland that has been really successful.
8. Do – try and get featured by bigger profiles
This one is tricky and difficult to manage, but it works. If you can get yourself featured by bigger profiles, it will get you a lot of followers quickly. That being said, you need to get featured by RELEVANT big profiles so it matches.
Maybe it’s a country’s page that reshares the best photos, or it’s a clothing brand you like or an airline. Maybe it’s one of those big travel ones that just share amazing travel photos by other people. Whatever, try and get featured by them by participating on their hashtags and interacting with them. Tag them in your photo as a picture of themselves as well, don’t tag them in a comment as they likely won’t see that. They will see pictures they are tagged in.
That’s a great way to get a brand’s attention, again, as long as it’s very relevant to what you’re posting.
Hobbiton is a real place you can visit in New Zealand – would you like to live here? Picture by ✨✨@YoungAdventuress✨✨ follow her journey traveling the world!!! A photo posted by wonderful_places (@wonderful_places) on
9. Don’t – be afraid to be creative
Instagram rewards creativity. If you come up with a creative idea or project, most likely it will be successful. Remember that Follow Me To guy? Murad Osman? He’s huge now. His idea of being led around the world by his (super hot russian model) girlfriend was brilliant. And he went viral.
That happens a lot on Instagram, often on a much smaller but still successful scale. These are the types of profiles that Instagram loves to feature on their main page.
I remember years ago when I started following @Tianapix who takes the most beautiful iPhone shots around Florence. She then started a second account called Not My Nonni -featuring adorable street shots of grandparents around Italy which went on to be featured by Instagram.
This also works because oftentimes the best accounts are ones where the pictures tell a story.
It’s really important to know your voice and know your brand when your trying to build a following on Instagram.
Like Melissa says, this is YOUR platform after all. It’s YOUR voice. But, DO NOT copy others.
Inspiration is totally acceptable, we all use it in our own ways but try not to copy what other people are doing. It pays to think outside the box and be creative, and that can lead to a serious bump in followers.
In the meantime it’s really important to stay true to your voice and your brand and not take on jobs that do not match up with your core ideas. Same goes for blogging.
I released the second part of ‘IKnowAPlace…’ ‘#IllTakeYouThere’ last night. And wow! Half gone, in 12 hours… Thank you so so much. ☺️☺️ ‘I’ll Take You There’ is 60 pages filled with my experiences travelling, road-tripping and exploring over the last year. Made in Australia. Shipping worldwide – please choose which option (standard, express for Christmas or international) ❤️ http://melissa-findley.com/zine-ii/ (link in bio) A photo posted by Melissa Findley (@melissafindley) on
10. Do – keep at and don’t give up
Finally keep at it and don’t give up. Don’t expect a change overnight. It takes a lot of time to build a following on Instagram, so be patient.
Your profile will grow if you keep at it and don’t give up and stop posting for a week. In the grand scheme of things, I am pretty lazy and I really don’t put that much time into all of this. Once you figure out a system, it’s very very easy.
Like all things that are worth it, you have to work for it. Success and Instagram fame isn’t going to just fall into your lap.
Do you have any Instagram tips to share? What are your thoughts? Would you like to gain more followers on social media? Oh yeah, and don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and Melissa too! Leave your profile in the comments and I’ll follow you back!
**If you’re interested in learning more about Instagram tactics and to hear more details and ideas about how to build a following, be sure to join Super Star Blogging and listen to my Instagram webinar; it’s the only travel community online that I participate in, and it’s a positive happy space where you can learn how to turn your blog and social media into a business and get paid to travel like me.
337 Comments on “The Do’s and Don’ts of Instagram”
great post Liz, I’ve saved this for later so I can keep coming back to it as loads of great info here! Also why don’t you recommend the Instagram filters?
Ah I should have clarified, all the instagram stats show that the pictures that do the best don’t have filters
Liz, I love this article! I enjoy using hashtags to be featured by travel companies or magazines, and although it’s tough–it can work! Just this week, I was featured twice by Travel + Leisure Magazine and once by Expedia! It sure does take a lot of time and persistence though. Thanks for filling my Instagram feed with so much color and know that I’ve really take all of your advice to heart. Cheers!
wicked! that’s awesome!
I agree so much about the whole creativity thing. I started off posting ‘grams from my travels but soon found out there were much MUCH better travel photographers out there taking much better pictures than me. So, I unleashed my creativity and now use my design skills to create mixed media collages of places I’ve been. It’s different and (hopefully) aesthetically pleasing and, what’s more, my following and engagement count has shot up 🙂
that’s so smart! what’s your handle?
My handle is @Wanderfulworld1 🙂
I absolutely love Instagram and havr done so from Day 1 🙂 No, it is nit a big driver of traffic to my blog (a question that people often ask in bewliderment) but it is an end in itself – a daily creative challenge and a tremendously authentic and sociable platform. I know that I have to find more focus and a more recognisable style for my IG account – a goal for the coming year! Great post – so inspiring and very much aligned with my own views on Instagram! I am http://instagram.com/cooksister
style is good to have in terms of growing a dedicated following, it definitely helps!