Back in February 2015 (Late to the party, I know) I reluctantly signed up to yet another social media stream, one where you post square photo’s of what looked to be what one had for dinner or the antics from the weekend. So being a photographer I started posting a mixture of things from my personal photography and certain life moments etc. and time went on, not much happened and I got bored of it pretty quickly, truth be told, I just wasn’t looking closely enough. Fast forward a year and I started doing my research into social media streams and how to seriously start extending my reach and influence and the one thing that kept coming back to me was Instagram, its potential and the beast of a machine that it can be, so the game began…
Just as a disclaimer, I am by no means a professional at Instagram, I am not “Instafamous” nor do I think I will be there anytime soon (Yet), this is simply my observations on starting out on the journey of utilizing the shear force that Instagram can harness.
To say it started slow is an understatement, I was at first unaware at how much attention it needs, how many seeds you have to sow to start growing saplings, how you have to get into the gears of the mechanism to start them moving. At the time I had a newborn baby so it was very hard to dedicate as much time as I wanted or that it needed, so it was a very slow process. It was only until around September last year that I started to have some time to dedicate to myself to it and really learning how to grow my reach and influence. I have listed below some of the main components of Instagram and my thoughts on the importance of them:
FOLLOWERS FOLLOWERS FOLLOWERS
Addictive, isn’t it? looking down at your phone and seeing them little Instagram notifications telling you that you have some engagement, or better still, a few people have given you a follow. It’s a love hate relationship and damn can it take some energy, a lot of energy.
When I first started my Instagram push I was desperate to get a decent foot in the follower number door. I got lucky at first with a couple of features on very large accounts which boosted me a bit, then there’s all your other social media family that you can ask to give you follow, then there is the finger crunching task of liking lots of images and leaving comments on random people’s work (I go into more detail with this in ‘Engagement’). You gain some momentum, bagging several followers a day then boom, you gain 10 and loose 20, then your count starts going the opposite direction of north, it can become ridiculously frustrating, but that’s only if you let it. In my opinion and from 1st hand experience, you just have to let go of it, forget the numbers and just concentrate on being active, producing decent work and the main thing here is what I like to call ‘Enriched Engagement’, so read on to the next section and we can make a start on that.
When I started I was quite desperate to gain a decent sized following, I done all the research into different strategies and there is definitely something to take from all of the great articles that have been written about the subject. I never really like the idea of L4L (Like for like), or follow backs etc. If I was to gain followers or likes then I wanted that on the merit of my work, not on a false pretense, although I did try out a particular shortcut, so to speak, I liked other people’s work, and LOTS of it. Everyday I was on Instagram, scrolling random tags and double tapping away for hours, I was even liking work that wasn’t even relevant to my tastes which is slightly hypocritical but this was a simple game plan to make people aware of my presence, and it worked, it worked quite well.
I was gaining followers from all over the place and a lot of people were liking my work, so on with it I went and admittedly it took over a bit and took me away from shooting to simply scrolling through Instagram. My account reached a certain level and was receiving what I thought was healthy engagement, so I pulled myself away from this strategy and to be fair, it was taking up far too much of my time. I prepared myself for a drop in engagement and of course this was the case, it dropped off a lot and over the last few months I have learnt a lesson from what I recognise now as a mistake in my strategy, I was in too much of a rush to get followers, I wasn’t engaging within Instagram communities and my page growth wasn’t really organic, it felt like it was forced.
So what have I learnt from the above? To not rely on just showing your presence to people, to take your time. What I was also noticing by now is other Instagrammers with far less followers than me, but with really enriched engagement, meaningful comments, questions, engagement from people that share a passion in the work that they were posting and photography as a whole. As a result my numbers now go down on some days, but I am immersing myself within photo communities, talking with people and going to meet ups, it’s so more meaningful and lot more rewarding, engage with people and they will engage back. This just means that my growth has gone from explosive, to slowly but surely, but I’m certainly enjoying Instagram a lot more because of it, gaining more insightful engagement and learning how to utilise all the tools available.
In the previous section I mentioned the utilization of all the tools available, tags are one of them and if used correctly, can be very powerful. Again I’m not claiming here that I am an expert, these are simply my opinions and what I am learning along the way.
My early posts contained a few tags such as #sunset, #london, #city etc. Yes they will work, but they are very commonly used words and will be swallowed in a microsecond amongst the other 52 million photo’s posted to Instagram daily.
If you’re serious about gaining meaningful engagement and likes on your photo’s, then you will want to target people and pages that are going to love your work. Follow people that inspire you, follow hubs that post content from other photographers, look into their posts, read their bio’s and you will soon be able to start building tag sets that are unique to the work that you’re into. Sometimes the tags will make no sense, so click on them and try and track the pages that use them as their unique tag identifiers, when you find the page, follow it, engage on their content and start targeting them. A little research will go a long way.
When you start utilising tags as mentioned above, then you may just be lucky enough to be recognized by one of your favorite hubs and they will feature your work. Getting featured on hubs is going to help your reach to no end, it’s essential to gaining more followers, also the bigger the hub then obviously the larger the reach. Now to gain features is another story, sometimes I get quite a few, sometimes I go weeks without any, but when you do, it’s very rewarding.
This is still a learning curve for me and I think first and foremost, you need very well executed photography and something that’s a bit different from your everyday shot. Secondly we come back to engagement (You noticing a pattern here?) Engage on the hubs you follow, like the work they post, ask questions to the person’s work that has been featured and congratulate them, engage with the community and you will certainly get some love back and this isn’t just for getting noticed, it makes the whole community a better place to be.
Be inspired, be a fan, I guarantee you that it will push you beyond your own photographic boundaries and get your brain thinking up all sorts of new shoot ideas. It’s great to have people to follow and look up to in anything we do, it’s what drives us forward. Of course don’t go as far as ripping off their ideas completely, just take aspects of their work you like and put your own unique spin on it. Instagram is a fantastic place to find inspiration, especially when you engage with hubs you love and start to learn new techniques.
So that brings me to the end of this post, I really hope it has helped you with making a start on Instagram, it really is a fantastic community with some ridiculously talented photographers, not only do you learn from it, but you get to meet some awesome people along the way. If there’s anything you think I’ve missed, or if you agree or disagree with anything, add it in the comments below 🙂
I wish you happy and fruitful shooting.