Although only discovering Instagram in 2014 (a little late to the party, we'll admit), we've learned in a short space of time what makes for a successful account, having built a substantial following. Below is a short summary of what we've gleaned so far about the mysterious and ever-growing world of Instagram.
1) It's not all about you
Although we're living through 'the age of the selfie', it is often best to resist posting endless photographs of yourself (unless, of course, you're Kim K). For example, if you're wishing to use Instagram to promote your travel blog, then keep it focused on just that: travel. What we learned very quickly is that people had very little interest in us, and much more interest in the places we visited. And why wouldn't they? Stick to your topic and you'll quickly grow a community of followers, brought together by one shared interest.
2) Pick a style and stick to it
The most popular Instagram accounts have a clear and distinct style, which will be religiously maintained. Like any good gallery, they have been carefully curated and thought about. For us, we love colourful, HDR photography. Although this style perhaps goes against the grain of the muted, loco-photography that Instagram itself promotes, it's a style we stick to through thick and thin. This provides us with a clear branding and ensures a consistent aesthetic appeal throughout our entire feed.
3) Keep it visual
Pinterest may be the Mecca of uplifting quotes, but Instagram is not the best platform for text. Instagram is, and always will be, a place for photography lovers and the 'visual' side of social media. If you want to communicate verbally, then your best option is Twitter. Beautiful, thoughtful and carefully curated photographs will keep your followers engaged, and will ensure the continued growth of your community.
4) Keep it real
In the early days of creating an Instagram account, it's easy to become disappointed with your number of followers. You go to bed with 100 followers and wake up with 93. It's at this point that you might consider 'buying' followers to boost things along. Do not do this. Not only is it obvious to both followers new and old (if you have 50,000 followers but only 20 likes, it suggests something is amiss!), but it also causes problems in the long run. Instagram regularly culls fake accounts and it is likely you'll find yourself swiftly losing numbers just as quickly as you bought them. Stay authentic and your account will grow. It just takes patience, and a little love and TLC!
The desire to add endless hashtags to the bottom of a photograph to improve your reach can be strong. Again, avoid this if you can. Adding common hashtags such as #like4like or #followme will only attract 'ghost' followers (fake accounts), or people after their own gain. Although you might gain a few hundred more likes on a photo, they won't mean much. Any followers you do gain won't stick around for long and hashtagging #boobs may not endow you or your 'brand' with the integrity you're after. Instead, pick a few (i.e. 3-5) relevant hashtags for your photographs. This will ensure anyone looking at your photo will have a genuine interest in its content. Instagram is about building communities of like-minded people and this is what you should focus on, rather than 'likes' or 'followers'. The stronger the community, the stronger your account and influence.
6) Regular content
This seems obvious, but it's surprisingly over-looked. We know the feeling, you've had a few boring days at work and posting an exciting photograph on Instagram is difficult. This is where preparation is key. As travel bloggers, we stockpile photos, ready for those rainy, uninspiring days. This means we always have access to regular and popular content.
Sometimes, the exact opposite happens: you've just visited somewhere incredible and you want to show the world. Over fifteen consecutive posts. Bombarding your followers with photograph after photograph will only overwhelm them, culminating in them potentially unfollowing you. Aim to post content once a day, to ensure continuity, and your followers will eagerly be awaiting your updates! Little and often is the key.
7) Engage, engage, engage!
Finally and perhaps the most important rule of Instagram: engagement. Instagram was created as a community-based platform. From sharing photos with people, to creating community hashtags - Instagram is all about the social element. It can be easy to forget this when you're on a one-woman crusade to amass followers, but it's key to your account's growth. Over the two years in which we've created our Instagram account, we've created genuine, trusted relationships with our followers. Not only do I trust what our followers say (often visiting places they do, or investing in the brands they do), but they trust us. And this is integral in this fast-paced and often shallow world of social media.
Ultimately, as any good marketeer will know: content is King. That fuzzy, murky photo of your roast dinner would never find its way into your brand book, so why would you put it onto the world's fastest growing social media platform? Keep it professional, with an inspiring twist and you're onto a winner.