Instagram allows you to reach a vast and highly engaged audience. It is also an entirely visual platform. This combination represents a huge opportunity for photographers.
However, while it is easy to see Instagram’s potential, it can be hard to figure out how to grow your following. I certainly struggled with this in the beginning.
I started focusing on my Instagram growth seriously in around March 2014. At that point my account was already more than three years old and I had around 500 followers – most of these people already followed me on Facebook or Twitter.
I started by analysing what seemed to be working for other Instagram users and then began experimenting. Below are some of the strategies that I have found to work. Using these techniques I was able to grow my following by more than 15,000 real, engaged people in the space of a few months.
Bonus: I have compiled a free document revealing my five most popular Instagram images of all time and my analysis of why each was successful. Click here to get it.
1. Post content on a regular basis
Posting regularly will give your audience more opportunities to engage with your photos. However, you might annoy followers by posting too often or by posting low-quality images. I have found that posting around one or two photos per day works for me but I suggest you experiment and see what works for you.
2. Be consistent
Your followers will follow you because they want to see a certain type of content. My followers expect to see wildlife photos and a bit of behind-the-scenes content. They don’t care about what I had for breakfast – that’s not why they are following me! You need to post varied content but you should also try to stick to a theme so that your followers know what to expect from you.
3. Post photos that get shared
One of the ways new people find your account is when their friends @ mention them in a comment. For example, they may leave a comment on a photo such as “hey @willbl, checkout this photo” or “hey @willbl, this photo reminds me of you!” I would then get a notification in my feed telling me that I had been tagged.
Look back through your posts and see which ones had the most engagement in the comments. How many non-followers were @ mentioned? What factors do you think made these posts popular? Was it your caption or simply the content of the images? See if you can replicate these factors in future posts.
4. Follow and engage with other Instagram users
Instagram, just like any social network, is about engaging with people. Look for other Instagram users to follow. Make sure they a relevant to your niche and engage with them by commenting and liking their photos. Comments should be well considered and useful (i.e. they should add to the conversation). If you do this well then there is a good chance that the person you are interacting with will eventually follow you back. In addition, members of their audience will see your comments and may also end up following you.
5. Tap into current trends and news
Your content will get an extra boost if you tap into trends and current affairs. For example, post content relating to news stories, holiday celebrations, the weather, or a global event such as the World Cup. You can also take advantage of social media trends such as the “selfie”, or Throwback Thursday (#tbt). By doing this you will appear more relevant, you will be exposed to new people browsing for related content and your posts are more likely to be shared.
6. Use relevant Hashtags
Hashtags (e.g. #tags) allow you to categorise your posts so that random people can find them when searching for related content. They are a useful way to get your images seen by new potential followers.
You should try to make your hashtags relevant and targeted. Try to think of hashtags that people might actually use in order to find a photo like yours. This works particularly well for events and news-related posts where a particular hashtag may become synonymous with that event. Check out Hashtags.org for popular and trending tags.
I recommend using a few hashtags on each post (3 or 4 will do), but not too many because in my opinion that can start to look a bit spammy or desperate.
7. Don’t limit yourself to phone photos
Some people may think that Instagram should only be used to show-off photos taken with a phone. However, we are photographers and most of us take our best images using larger cameras. You should be sharing your best work with your followers. Most people on Instagram won’t care what you used to take the image. I have found that higher-quality images taken with my DSLR always receive better engagement than phone snaps of similar subjects.
8. Promote your Instagram account on your website and social media pages
Tell your Facebook fans, Twitter followers and followers on other social networks that you are on Instagram. You can also cross-promote your best performing Instagram images on other networks (share a link to the photo on Instagram rather than re-uploading it). Here’s an example.
Adding a “Follow me on Instagram” button to your website is another easy win. Instagram Follow Button is a tool that lets you add an interactive button to your website. I’m currently using it on my website.
If you ever get featured or guest post on other websites and blogs then ask for a link to your Instagram account as well as your website.
9. Try to get your images shared on popular Instagram accounts
There are many popular Instagram accounts that rely on sharing the content of others. The good ones will always credit the photographer by including their Instagram handle in the caption.
Being featured on a popular account can result in a nice bump in followers. After one of my photographs was posted on @animals (700k+ followers), I received hundreds of new followers.
You can submit your photos to some of these accounts by tagging them in your images. Alternatively, you maybe able to contact the admins of the accounts via email or Facebook. Give them permission to share your images and see what happens…
10. Post Exclusive Behind the Scenes Content
Give your followers exclusive content that can’t be found on your website or other social network. For example, behind-the-scenes photos, sneak peeks of future projects and videos. This will reward them for following you on Instagram. Giving your followers a behind-the-scenes perspective can also help you build a more personal connection with them. If your followers start to feel like they know you then they will become more loyal and engaged.
See my five most popular Instagram posts of all time plus my analysis of why each was successful in this free report.
Follow me (@willbl) on Instagram to see how I am using the service to help build my brand.