If there’s one thing I’ve found while researching the tips and tricks to ‘making it’ on Instagram, it’s that all the articles I’ve read, and all the videos I’ve watched, basically say the same thing, just in different orders.
So what can I do as an article author, to bring something new to the table?
Well, I’m going to go about it a different way, I’m going to be blunt and keep this as grounded in reality as possible, so that if you’re new to Instagram, the first thing you see will be hard coded into your brain for the rest of time, and you’ll have some stable ground to stand on.
1. You need to give it time.
Amazon.com wasn’t built in a day
Jeff Bezos is currently the richest man living on Planet Earth (2018). With a net worth of around $130 billion, he’ll never have to worry about money ever again. The thing is, even Bezos had to start somewhere.
(I’d highly recommend reading The Everything Store by Brad Stone to get an idea of just how driven Bezos is. And yes, I’m seeing the humour in linking to Amazon for a book about Amazon.)
How is that paragraph relevant to you and your business?
Well, the world is fast paced, everybody wants everything yesterday, and you want to start your career right this second – that attitude is good, however, like everything in life, perspective and moderation is key.
If you expect instant success, not only are you not going to find it, but you’re going to get very bored and very depressed, very quickly, and stop.
As mentioned in the first paragraph of this piece, all the articles and videos for growth on Instagram say the same thing, but the one thing I’ve never heard mentioned in any reinforced form, is that growing a following on anyplatform, takes a lot of time, and a heck of a lot of work and perseverance. This work and perseverance is also known as ‘the grind’, memorise that phrase, because it’s going to be the theme in a lot of your early professional career.
They who thoweth the most at the wall, will eventually get something to stick
It’s easy to look at the titans of industry with large followings, and get incredibly deflated. They have succeeded in every way that you want to succeed, with a loyal and engaged audience. But what most of us forget, is that it takes time, effort, dedication, adaptability, discipline, drive, and the occasional despairing emptiness, to achieve that.
Whenever you look at somebody you follow, always check their early work, a lot of the time their archive goes back years. YouTubers like PewDiePie, Casey Neistat, and Lilly Singh go all the way back to 2010, Jackfilms even goes back to 2006. Outside of youtube, Twitch streamer Richard ‘Ninja’ Blevins has been a professional gamer since 2011, that’s 7 years at the time of writing this article. Brandon Woelfel, arguably one of Instagram’s most influential photographers, with a following of over 2m, has been on the platform since around 2012, meaning that he has had 6 years to build up his audience.
The point is, things take time, you cannot expect instant success, and even when something seems like it came out of nowhere and is now the ‘biggest thing in the world’, there’s likely a lot more going on behind the scenes.
2. Giving value
Why do you consume what you consume? It’s because you like it, and it’s enjoyable to you – it gives value to you.
This is where I feel that the biggest pitfall that countless people fall into, comes from. In order to get any kind of an audience, you need to create content that gives value to other people. You need to give people content that they want to see, content that will give them some serious FOMO (fear of missing out), if they don’t follow you.
This is why selfies do so badly when it comes to engagement, not because of any inate hate towards selfies, but because the only people that care about selfies, are the people who take them, and that person’s social circle.
Put it this way: you come across a selfie, you have no idea who that person is, you’ve never seen them before, the selfie is just a standard picture of them, maybe they’re not even looking at the camera, maybe they’re not even smiling. Do you care about this picture? Do you want to see more pictures like this? It’s highly unlikely that most people would, unless you are already extremely well established like Kendall Jenner.
3. A consistent theme
Having a consistent theme means sticking to one specific niche. Let’s take Chris Hau for example. Hau is a travel photographer, his niche is taking interesting pictures in interesting places. Whenever somebody new stumbles across one of his pictures, they may decide to check out his profile to see if they like it enough to follow him. When they see his feed in ‘The Grid’ (we’ll get to why that’s capitalised later on), they will see one consistent theme: high quality travel photography. So now that they know what he’s about, the decision to follow him becomes infinitely easier. They know exactly what they’ll be getting.
It may feel like sticking to one very specific niche is creative death, but you need to remember that you need to treat social media like a business, because that’s how you should be thinking about it.
Now let’s switch things up, and I’ll use myself as an example this time. Let’s say that I didn’t have a consistent theme, instead, I decided to upload anything I liked, without regard to lighting and editing, or my audience for that matter: pictures of my dog, pictures of clouds, pictures of a half empty energy drink, pictures of snow, pictures of my friends and I hanging out – rapidly changing qualities, inconsistent topics, and generally low tier pictures.
That hashtag-surfer would instead come across my image, click on my profile, and see a jumbled mess. That potential follower would see that I didn’t really have any idea of what I was doing, and the decision to not follow me, would be an easy one.
Now there’s nothing wrong with simply using Instagram or social media in general, just for entertainment purposes, if that’s what you want to do. If you want to upload 25 selfies a day followed by 7 videos of your dogs chasing bubbles – have at it. But if you’re going for business, you need to think and act like a business.
Here’s an example of trying to build a business without thinking like a business:
Let’s look at Apple, they make technology, both hardware and software. Hardware in the form of phones, tablets, and computers. Software in the form of MacOS and iOS (and probably WatchOS). If Apple suddenly decided to expand into the travel industry, building airports and flying customers to and from holiday destinations, not only would it be met with an immense amount of confusion by the public, and the person or persons who pitched the idea, fired on the spot, but it would also do something else in terms of public perception: it would be extremely detrimental to what Apple have built themselves up to be, a technology company.
You can still be creative in all the ways you want to be, just remember to only upload the content relevant to your niche.
Every article I’ve ever come across, every video I’ve ever watched, has had one thing in common: none of them can agree on how many hashtags are effective. Is it 7? Is it 11? Is it 30? The truth is likely that it doesn’t really matter.
I personally have a rule that every one of my posts gets 30 hashtags, which is the maximum amount that Instagram allows, and plenty, if used effectively. Even if I’m really struggling to find decent quality, decently populated, decently active hashtags, I’ll find a way to get it to 30, because it matters to me to do so.
Think of it like this, each hashtag is a digital marketplace, each marketplace contains varying amount of people looking for a variety of different content, you’d want to maximise the amount of people that see your content, wouldn’t you? So if you’ve got the opportunity to put your content in thirty different marketplaces, you wouldn’t stop half way and be done with it, you’d take every opportunity and throw your content into as many places as you could.
So how do we go about finding relevant hashtags?
First of all, I think the best place to start is in the big hashtags. If you’ve taken your picture on a Canon camera, a good place to start might be a hashtag like #canonphotography, which has 8.5m posts, from the big hashtags you can find the smaller, more niche hashtags.
Next, click on all of the top 9 featured posts, and cherry pick the best ones by click on them and checking their quality, population, and activity: quality refers to the visual look of the images both on their own and in The Grid (yes hashtags can have The Grid as well), population refers to the size of the hashtag, and activity refers to the age of the most recent image(s) submitted. You can check how active a hashtag is by clicking on the most recent post submitted and checking the date. Anything older than say 1 or 2 weeks, I’d consider dead.
Personally I’d stick to using hashtag with under 1m posts, because the bigger the hashtag, the higher the chances that your content will get lost in the sheer volume being submitted.
After clicking on the second image, I’ve come across the hashtag #canonlover, with 96k posts, it’s niche, it looks high quality, it’s got a good amount of posts, and it’s got The Grid, so I’ll use it. Now I’ve got two hashtags, 28 more to go! Rinse and repeat.
When you’re scouting for hashtags, it’s good to remember that your post will be appearing alongside all of these posts, so ask yourself, do you want your content appearing alongside those images? Do they reflect what you’re striving for?
Also to note! If you’re using hashtags in with your captions to form a sentence, remember to count those as well, because otherwise you’ll be in a situation where you count the hashtags at the bottom of your post, but completely forget about the one(s) in your caption, so you’ll go to submit your post and Instagram won’t let you because you have more than 30 without realising!
I’d recommend limiting the amount of hashtags with over 1m posts to around 2 or 3 per post, the ideal Goldilocks zone would be hashtags with between ~3,000 and ~800,000 posts. You can go lower if the hashtag is to your liking.
Finding niche hashtags is simply achieved through hashtag-surfing, I do it every day at around 7:00pm, roughly 1 to 2 hours before my post is due to go up. Those of you who want it the most, will do the same. Every day.
I also think that creating your own hashtag is very beneficial in the long run. My hashtag is #lynxcordeau, it’s the name of my account, and it was available.
5. Hierarchy of Hashtags
Now this is something that I personally do, that many people may not. There’s no practical purpose for it, its purely for aesthetics: I enjoy putting my hashtags in alphabetical order with my hashtag taking precedence over every other hashtag. It’s not just content, it’s my content.
So when people tap ‘more’, the first thing they’ll see will be the caption, and 15 dots down, they’ll see my hashtag. Constant exposure to hashtags can make them just become a block of tightly wound blue links before your eyes, but mine will be easiest to find for the eyes, as it’s on top.
What I’m doing right now is called diversification, I’m writing an article for Medium, which I hope gets published. It’s an article about Instagram, which I hope will drive traffic to my Instagram, which I hope will grow my audience.
(The value I’m bringing to Medium is that of people who want to make Instagram their full time job. Medium hopes that articles like this are thrown up on the first pages of search engine results, creating more traffic for their website, giving them more exposure, generating them more revenue, and possibly even catching a few people who’ll start writing articles themselves. It all comes full circle. So my goal is to write such amazing content that the editor will get FOMO if they don’t publish my article. That’s my value on this platform. Now we’re getting meta…)
Every article you read about growing on social media, and every video you watch about succeeding in business will tell you a little bit about the author both at the bottom of the article and in the description of the video, linking off to their work.
If you’re doing Instagram or any other social media platform, I don’t care if you’ve been doing it for one day or five years, you need to be doing something else which will expose you to a wider audience. Start writing articles, start making YouTube videos, start tweeting, start a Facebook page, start a podcast (yes, even with just you), start connecting with others, start doing something. If you’re flashy and like attention, print out a bunch of business cards and just leave them around a major city and do a silly dance while having somebody film it. If that sounds like social suicide, utilise something else, like the internet.
Your work should not exist in a vacuum, you should support yourself. It’s really easy to let it sit there , it’s really easy to just upload it to the internet and sit and wait for the platform to do the heavy lifting for you. But things gets better, and you feel so much more in control when its you whose putting your work out there.
Theyeth who want it the most, will never stop trying.
I want it, and I want it badly, I’m sitting here on a hot summers day in the UK, in my underwear, on my bed, throwing things out into the world with this article and my Instagram account.
Start thinking like an entrepreneur, don’t take the opportunity, make the opportunity.
7. The Grid
The Grid is simple: it’s the cohesive look of your feed when viewed as a collective.
This one can be difficult, very difficult, one that I struggle with a lot, and while it may seem insignificant, it’s actually one of the most important aspects of Instagram. Remember, Instagram is a visual platform, your pictures not only need to look good by themselves, they need to look good together.
Let’s take a look at some examples of great feed aesthetic!
All of the people mentioned above create varying styles of content, however, the one consistent thread throughout, is that all of their feeds are visually pleasing, their work looks good on its own, and as a whole.
Some creators such as Vigo Krumins do The Grid in a very specific way. His feed is so centred on one theme that his catalogue can look almost identical. It all depends on what you’re going for. After all, why would somebody want to stare at something (on a visual platform) that doesn’t look nice?
8. Multiple accounts
Instagram comes with a standard feature that allows its users to easily switch between accounts, perhaps you’re a creative person in a multitude of ways, and can sustain producing valued content to multiple streams on a regular basis, if you can do this – do it.
However, if you’re new to Instagram, it might be best to learn the platform before making those accounts and committing to creating a smorgasbord of content, because otherwise you could end up wasting a lot of time and giving yourself a lot of unnecessary stress. Especially when you’re left scratching your head wondering why your accounts aren’t growing.
At the beginning of this list I mentioned Jeff Bezos and the book The Everything Store. The one thing that the book showcases that countlessmovies don’t when it comes to the origin stories of successful people, is that they didn’t do it alone. It’s conveniently left out of nearly all media due to the fact that filmmakers – and perhaps audiences as well – love the romanticised idea of one person doing it all while everybody else doubted them.
(Why would you continue to doubt someone when they’ve proven they have the skills and smarts to go far? That’s one thing the movies definitely get wrong. When they start generating profit, investors will flock and you’ll become everybody’s best friend, perhaps even before you start generating profit, if you’re a good salesperson.)
We’ve all heard the story of one person in their garage, slaving away on their work, until somebody notices them, and then they make it. It’s such a romantic version of events and its easy to become intoxicated by the emotion of it: one day you’ll make it, just you wait and see! But it’s actually so so toxic if you actually believe that’s how it happens.
The truth of the matter is that everybody who has ever been successful, is either very good at networking, or they are very good at getting themselves into positions of being introduced to key people. Also a good sprinkling of luck didn’t hurt either.
What would Amazon look like today if Bezos had started 10 years later in 2004, instead of 1994? Would it be nearly as successful? Would we even know who Jeff Bezos is?
Networking in business means meeting/being introduced to the right people, and making a positive impression in the hopes that you can persuade them to invest in your idea. Ideas are scary, ideas aren’t real, ideas are thoughts in your head, ideas don’t make money, ideas don’t have cold, hard data and empirical evidence to back themselves up with.
Why should they invest in you and your ideas? When they look at you, do they see the romance in your eyes? Or do they see grounded reality followed by ruthless ambition? You better learn how to be a good salesperson, luckily we have the internet so you can.
How does this relate to Instagram?
Because you’re a business, you need to think about how to make friends on Instagram, a great way to do this is through DM. DM stands for Direct Messaging. But before you start DMing, I’d suggest having at least 10 images already uploaded to Instagram, images that fit your niche and showcase your skill, otherwise you’re likely to be ignored because nobody wants to interact with an account that barely has anything uploaded, and nobody wants to interact with an account that is barely a few months old.
So again, the grind. Upload everyday. Use relevant hashtags. Follow people who motivate you. Be honest with yourself. Account not growing? Take a look at your content and ask yourself if what you’re doing is giving people value, if not, change.
The best businesspeople can adapt like a gymnast doing a backflip.
But you also need to be ruthlessly stubborn, it’s all about finding the perfect balance. If haven’t thought something out, or drop an idea simply because you’re too soft to defend it against criticism, or you just haven’t started because you’re lazy, you’re not going to cut it. Get teeth. Salivate.
Think of an idea and then try to find the holes. Maybe you have a fantastic idea for a post but you cannot logistically produce it. You don’t have enough people. You haven’t got the space. The weather is bad. How are you going to adapt? Are you going to drop it? Put it away for later? Are you going to find a different way to achieve it? What are you going to do?
Another way to network is through using branded hashtags, and tagging. First of all, what’s the difference? Hashtags are pure categorisation, you put a hashtag on your post, like #canonphotography, and your post will appear in the ‘most recent’ section of that hashtag. If it gets enough love on that specific hashtag, it’ll appear among the top 9. Submitting to hashtags happens in real time as well, so you can refresh once posted, and see your content there amongst the world.
Branded hashtags like #beautyoftechnology allow the account associated to browse through the hashtag and see your work. When you get sponsored, you’ll be doing this a lot for anybody you have worked with, the more you do it, the more you’ll be earning.
Hashtags do not notify new content, they simply place the content in the ‘most recent’ section of the hashtag.
Tagging is slightly more next level, when you tag somebody in your post, a small ‘default avatar’ will appear in the bottom left of that post, much like when you’re a new user to a forum and haven’t uploaded a profile picture yet. You can add as many tags as you’d like.
Tagging will notify an account that they have been tagged in an image. When you start getting sponsorships, you’ll be both tagging them, and using their hashtag (as well as using their physical gear which they send to you for a paid post)
Anybody can see who you have tagged simply by tapping once on your image. Which is good because it means more exposure for everyone involved. Tapping once shows all of the tagged accounts, tapping again gets rid of the tags altogether as well as the ‘default avatar’ in the bottom left, and tapping once more brings the ‘default avatar’ back.
Doing anything like Instagram requires you to be critical of your own work. Can you see what makes a good post? Can you see why that one post sucks so badly? Do you get too attached to your work and then get offended when you ask somebody for their opinion, and it perhaps isn’t what you hoped?
Thinking like a business means both loving what you do, and being able to view it objectively at the same time.
So I’ll ask you, what do you look like when operating at 100%? Start now and you’ll probably surprise yourself with what you can do.
I’m Lynx Cordeau, I do product and tech photography on Instagram, I look good in shades and I like coffee and cats. You can find me on Instagram at Lynx Cordeau.
Have a productive day, peace.
by Lynx Cordeau (@lynxcordeau)