As a photographer, Instagram is likely to be one of the main ways of sharing your photography with the world. But building a large and engaged following is no easy feat. Sure, you could buy followers, follow/un-follow thousands of people until you start to get good numbers, or spend all your hard-earned money on Instagram advertising, but it won’t get you engaged followers. And if they aren’t engaging with your profile, what is the point? To build engagement, you need to be engaging with your audience.
As a disclaimer, I am no Instagram guru. I do not have thousands of followers. What I have done is grow my following organically from a little over 100 to nearly 1000 engaged followers in the space of six months. Now this might not sound like much, but I haven’t cheated the system, bought followers, asked for promotions, or followed and un-followed thousands of people. I’ve done it by being engaged with my target audience. I am going to share with you how I did this in this article along with some things to avoid.
1. Set-up a business account
Setting up a business account is very easy, free, and gives you access to analytics you do not get on a regular account. With a business account you can see:
- Number of interactions on your account
- Profile visits
- Accounts reached
- Engagement for each post
- Audience statistics (such as age, location, gender, and when active)
All these analytics are available for free with a business account and are worth taking advantage of. For example, I use statistics around when my followers are most active, both days and times to plan my posts. This way I can make sure that they are getting the maximum engagement. This is just one thing you can use these for.
2. Post Consistently
Consistency is the main thing when it comes to posting on Instagram. I typically aim for a new photo every two days, but it can sometimes be longer than that. You need to decide your posting frequency and stick to it where possible. Being in full time employment I do not have the time to take enough quality photos to post, and sometimes struggle to post every two days.
One thing you will want to avoid is reposting old photographs in order to keep this consistency. You might think people will not notice, but when you have built a group of engaged followers they will. I’ve a lot of London based photographers who must post every day regardless of whether it is a repeat or poor-quality image. This will only slow down your growth My message is really to post new quality photographs consistently where you can.
3. Use #Hashtags
If you are not using hashtags you are missing the best opportunity you have of building a following for your account. Not using them is like Apple launching a new phone and not telling anyone about it and not stocking it in their stores. No one will know about it and in your case, no one will come across your photographs and profile. You get to use up to 30 hashtags per post so make sure you use them. Don’t worry about appearing spammy it is very much expected that posts will have hashtags these days. Plus, you can take steps to structure your descriptions to include them. Here is an example of one of my posts. You can see I’ve broken the description up into sections. When someone comes across my photograph, they can read my description and press “see more” if they want to expand it.
4. Use the right #hashtags
Following on from my point above, using hashtags is important but using the right ones is critical. Not all hashtags are created equal and simply using ones with the highest number of posts isn’t the right strategy. The problem with hashtags with a high number of posts is that your photograph will quickly get buried under the sheer amount of new content that is assigned that hashtag after yours. To get around that, you need to use a mix of hashtags with varying popularity. There are a lot of online resources to research hashtags, but I typically use Fstoppers who have a list of popular hashtags by type of photo.
Typically, I will use a combination of:
- Hashtags that describe the location – (for example – #London, #Towerbridge, #UK)
- Hashtags that describe the scene – (for example – #Sunset, #nightphotography, #reflections etc)
- Popular hashtags from the Fstoppers list – (#instaphoto, #photograph, #ig_shotz)
- Community hashtags – You will need to research these as they will be either location specific such as #What_I_Saw_In_NYC for example, or more general like #lensbible or #leagueoflenses
By using 30 hashtags and taking the above into account, you will give your images the best chance of being seen and subsequently gaining a following.
5. Write detailed description for your photos
It is extremely important to write a good description of your photograph. Too many times I see people post a photo with a line of poetry or with an emoji which tells me nothing about the photograph. It might be personal preference, but it is something that I really don’t like because its lazy. Your description should describe what you took a photograph of, how you came across it, and why you decided to take it. It doesn’t have to be a life story, but you should aim to describe you photograph in 1-2 sentences.
6. Interact with your audience
Social media is not a one-way street. You will not gain an engaged following by simply firing out many images and waiting for the likes and followers to roll in. You need to engage with your audience. You will get likes and comments on your photos and it is important to interact with the people who post them. For comments, a simple thank you in response to a comment can sometimes turn a comment into a follow. This is quite simple to do and doesn’t take much time. When people are liking your photos, take a visit to their profile and see what they have and maybe like a photo or two. I am not saying do this for every like and comment you get, but it shows there is a real person behind the profile.
7. Interact with the wider community
In addition to interacting with people who visit your profile, you need to do this with the wider community. Visit the hashtags from your posts and do what you expect people visiting your images to do: Like and comment on photographs you find interesting, and follow people you genuinely want to see more from. You’ll find that people will visit your profile and even like and follow you back all because you engaged with them.
What you shouldn’t do however, is comment with an emoji or something generic. I see this too often and it is normally the work of bots. It doesn’t show that you’ve paid any thought to the photo and you are only commenting to try and get followers. Do you want to come across like a bot? I thought not…
Three things to avoid
1. Do not use Instagram advertising
If I got a pound for every time I saw a sponsored post for a profile that had less than 200 followers, I’d be living on a beach somewhere. I’ve experimented with this myself and learnt the hard way that Instagram advertising doesn’t work for gaining followers. Sure, it can be a great platform for launching a product or directing people to a website. But it isn’t designed for building a following. It pains me to see people separated with their hard-earned money throwing it away in hope of building a following. You can’t buy engaged followers, you must make them by engaging with them yourself.
2. Do not Follow/Un-Follow People for followers
This is quite a common tactic used by some accounts to create a large following. They will follow absolutely anyone in the hope of getting a follower back. But if that follower isn’t going to engage with your profile, what’s the point? These accounts are quite easy to spot. Look for the accounts which are following significantly more people than they have following. I have these accounts follow me all the time, and within a week they have un-followed me because I didn’t follow them back. Don’t become one of those accounts!
3. Avoid posting the same image twice
Lastly, where you can, avoid posting the same image twice. I’ve seen a lot of photographers begin reposting images they posted a few months ago with new captions because they have simply run out of content. If you have an engaged audience, they will notice this, and do it enough, they will unfollow you. If you genuinely have run out of photographs to share, then there are a few things you can do. Firstly, go out and take more photographs! That should go without saying. And secondly, take advantage of Instagram stories to share what is going on with you. People do appreciate the personal side, even if you don’t have new images to post just yet.
So, remember to use hashtags and engage with your audience and wider community and be genuine. If you do these things you will begin to build an engaged following.
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