How to develop your Instagram style & grow your following #BlogCampVibe Part Two
An Update (22/11/15)
I would like to reiterate that these How to Develop Your Instagram Style & Grow Your Following posts (parts one, two, three) are a summary of my talk at BlogCamp Vibe, which was a development of my earlier guest post at Ebabee about Instagram, and my sessions at BlogCamp River Cottage, as well as being informed by other guidance on Instagram published online.
Thank you so much for all the love for Part One of this series of posts designed to help you find your own style on Instagram and fall in love with everything the platform has to offer. These posts are for people who want to proactively develop a recognisable style, to compliment their blog or business and consciously look to engage a wider following.
Part Two is all about that elusive rhythm that some accounts seem to effortlessly exude and how you can find your own flow for your feed.
These aren't do or don't posts. They are observations from my personal experience and from my research from the Instagram blog, journals and articles published by passionate users. I've worked really hard over the last year to grow my following, taking time over my styling, capturing moments on the go in a more considered way to share the best quality photography from my phone and Canon as I can.
If there is only one thing you take away from this post - let it be this. Quality is waaaaaaaay more important than quantity. It may sound obvious but I want you to view your feed with a much more critical eye.
TREAT YOUR FEED LIKE A MAGAZINE - A MAGAZINE ABOUT YOU
You want people to feel like your gallery is one of their favourite books that never ends. That everyday there might be a new chapter.
I view mine just like my blog. In fact over the summer it literally kept my blog alive! I found this summer particularly challenging in terms of juggling the school summer holidays, photography work deadlines and we had a silly number of holiday commitments for big family birthdays so my Instagram account became my saviour. There were times when I just couldn’t keep up with even a weekly post on my blog but I used my feed as a mini blog. A daily journal of all our adventures. I still need to blog our trip to New York and Paris. And that will be almost 3 months after the event!
It may not sound very attractive but photo snobbery is essential! Blurry, badly light, orangey photos are not for your feed. Resist the urge to post them. If you want to use your account as an extension of your blog or brand, to promote your work and grow your following then you need to view your account like your showreel. It's a platform of highlights, it's not like Facebook where you can share an album of 75 holiday photos or 25 pictures from a trip to the zoo. You want to pick your best to share, and only your best. How many times do you tweet the same link? 3 times a day?! You wouldn’t share the same photo 3 times in a day or three from the same post to Instagram - it’s just not right for the platform. If you have great photos from a blog post spread them out over a period of time, encourage people to read or re read the post!
Be mindful that people catch up on their favourite accounts at certain times of the day. You don't want them to see three in a row of the same recipe, the same trip to the beach, or the same event. I have photos in mind I want to share over a week, and I use them to break up the "instant content", photos from where I am at that exact moment. Styled floral shots, photos from a blog post I'd like to highlight.
Your feed is your gallery - an exhibition. It’s like a blog post in just one photo.
I hope that I give people added value - a reason to follow me because I post a lot of exclusive content. I'd hazard a guess that 90% of my feed won’t be shared elsewhere. Now I know you can link your accounts, and now that Instagram has moved outside just the square crop you can share the same photo without needing to re edit for a specific platform, (Portrait for Pinterest, landscape for Twitter and Facebook) but I wouldn’t do that every single time.
Sometimes I see people’s Twitter feeds that are just auto tweets saying "I just posted a photo on Instagram..." Instead pick and choose and watch your engagement go up!
I have lovely blogger friends who share the same photo at the same time, to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and then it might pop up on their blog a few days later. And I just won’t comment or like them all, or engage with them. Think about whether you have a high crossover of followers, if you do, be more picky about which you share to several platforms, give people an extra reason to be curious about what you might have posted that day, not a reason to scroll past without hitting that like button because they saw it on Facebook earlier in the day.
Take your time. Don’t post in a rush. Ok so we don’t have to be like Kim Kardashian who reportedly has taken 300 selfies before she gets the magic one! But do take a few. I can set up a flat lay (everything laid out on a surface, all at similar heights) and take 20 or so snapshots on my phone of the same set up. That gives me weeks worth of first thing in the morning cheerful images!
Move washing out of the background, look at what else you can see in the reflection of a mirror. And whilst I am on the subject of selfies... I've noticed that the super popular accounts feature less of the photographer themselves and far more about their view on the world from behind the lens. Sure people want to see who you are, but perhaps not everyday.
We all know this but we still ignore it sometimes!!!
Everything and everyone looks better in natural even daylight. Living rooms look dark and orangey if you snap a photo of X Factor whilst you are watching it! Keep those photos for your Facebook, where the audience is generally less discerning.
I look back at some of my early photos and cringe. Physically cringe.
Pinky filters, distorting true colours, whites that look cream and not in a good way. The heavy borders, lots of different text fonts all over your photos that were hugely popular a few years ago, that aren’t so much now. Remember when the A Beautiful Mess app came out?! Ummm hellooooooo 20 different text fonts, symbols and illustrations! But have you seen them even on Elsie and Emma's feeds lately? Nope.
Save your fancy fonts for annotating your blog photos for Pinterest. Let your photos breathe. Use the new Instagram Layout to share collages rather than use funky coloured and patterned collage apps. They instantly make your photo look less polished. Simple white or black borders can be effective - but use them sparingly. You want people to see your content, your beautifully composed image, not be swallowed by a border!
The really heavy vintage filters can look outdated so be filter aware! Take a piece of white paper and hold it next to your photo if you take something on a white board and see how close it is to true life.
Find one or two that suit your style and stick to them! I got carried away with suffocating my photos with illustrations. I shared photos of my gorgeous niece but you could hardly see her for all the hearts and script font quotes plastered all over the image. Now I just wouldn’t clutter the photo - I want the photo to tell that story not a great big caption all over it!
I tweak almost every single photo, now that may sound over the top but my feed is my living cv, for new photography clients to find me and like my styling and editing style.
My favourite app is Faded which is for iPhone but I’ve seen great write ups about Camera FV-5 for Android and other popular apps include PIC TAP GO, Afterlight and VSCO Cam. I use the same two filters on Faded which help brighten and lighten, like having control over exposure if I was using my DSLR.
TELL STORIES WITH CAPTIONS
Really think about your captions, the limit on Instagram is much less restrictive so if you have a story to tell which enhances the users experience of the photo tap away! The food photographer and blogger @marte_marie_forsberg does this so well. Romantic language, whimsical story telling which her followers can’t get enough of! Some write in poetic verse, this is definitely a platform where you can flirt with the English language. The super cool seem to start their captions with a single word which encapsulates the image then expand with a few sentences.
Do you have a read more option on your blog - where you see just an excerpt first that entices your reader to click through? Think of your caption like that. It’s another way to share your unique voice.
Do what feels natural to you. Don't try too hard.
If it's not really use to use quotations or folksy terms then that's fine! Sometimes I have a lot to say and other times I keep it short and sweet. Stick to your authentic voice and your integrity with attract followers from far and wide.
DON'T COMPROMISE YOUR FEED!
Don’t post for the sake of it, I’ve felt the pressure at an event to post, or had zero signal and then wanted to share a number in the evening but no photo is better than a poor quality photo! Don’t let rogue photos spoil your feed! Like typos, when you see them correct them! Both in your blog copy and in your captions!
Resist the urge to blast your feed when you log onto a wifi signal. Save them, tease your audience with one. Your best one.
I went to an event with a lovely interiors company recently and we were taken to a beautiful restaurant for afternoon tea. A dark restaurant! Beautiful flowers, amazing food, dreadful lighting. I ended taking about 20 photos of the pretty cakes before I felt I had one I could share that just about fit with the quality of the brand. I still am not 100% happy with it every time I see it. Then I waited until the morning and styled some bunting from the goody bag and shared a much nicer, much better quality photo which I know was more in keeping with the style of the brand’s own photography!
HOW TO USE YOUR FEED TO CONNECT WITH BRANDS YOU LOVE
If you want to engage and be noticed by the brands you respect and admire, you want to show them that your photos would sit comfortably on their feeds too. Mobile phone shots can still look professional you just need to be smart with your composition, lighting and editing. Look at their professional photographs, look at how they style their products. Use their feed as inspiration.
TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE
WHEN you post is so important and although I take my feed quite seriously, I am still haphazard with my posting. I don't have a morning routine where I post at almost the same time every day. If the school run preparations are going to plan I normally post around 7/7.30am if we are behind and I am clucking at the boys to get out of the house like mother hen it can be 8.30am or later before I share the first image of the day!
And it definitely has an effect on my engagement.
Out of interest how many times a day do you check your feed? Honestly, how many times? 10 times? more than 10?! More than 20?!
There are natural peeks in user activity - think about the general demographic. so on the east coast of America a study showed that 2am and 5pm are the best times to post where users are at their highest! Young-uns still up in the early hours and the "just clocked off work" catch up on your news feed.
But who are you followers? I have a strong parent following - so I see a natural surge in likes if I post early in the morning but not too close to the school run, after lunch time and then around 9pm, when my followers in America get home from work or Australia when they wake up!
You want to give your followers a feed to rely on - they follow you because they like what you post! So if you look at someone like @emilyquinton she starts everyday with a floral “good morning”.
THEMED ACCOUNT SUCCESS
There’s a reason themed accounts do so well, but repeating the same theme doesn’t mean it has to be stale or samey. Look at how Emily plays with florals, changes the atmosphere with backdrops and props or check out another favourite of mine is @booksandteacups - you can guess what she shares a lot of! @gingerlillytea is a great example from our Tots100 community - her style is so distinctive I can spot a photo of hers a mile off. Kerri-Anne shares fairytale images, featuring woodland, her children and doesn't compromise her curated feed with snapshots of "everyday life". Of course it is her life, but she saves her snapshots for another platform.
Themes come in all shapes and sizes. There's famous accounts for pigs, dogs, pet hedgehogs. matching breakfasts and if they posted lots of times in a day you might think it's too much! But a single photo can have such cheer. If you see your followers really respond to a particular theme, florals, food, family, why not try and week where you concentrate more on sharing similar content?
Some consistently share DSLR images and that's ok too. Don't feel like you are cheating if you share a photo from your "big camera" It's your feed and if you are proud of a photo share it! I actively shared more photos over the summer from my Canon to join in the official Canon hashtag. Don't feel like a fraud if it's not from your phone.
I don’t feel pigeon holed to one type of theme - flat lays or white negative space - in fact most of my photos lack that illusive negative space!!!
I want my feed to reflect me and my true life, we live a hectic life my husband and I both run our own businesses, but I HOPE my photos have my consistent style over them. Sharp, in natural light, styled and colourful! I clear backgrounds, move the the piles of Lego, school uniform ready to be ironed and hide the recycling on the side of the sink. I promise it is there, (Here's the proof) it’s just not appropriate for my Instagram feed. I sometimes play with muted tones later in the day but they always stand out to me as experiments rather than my natural style.
CONSCIOUSLY PLAN YOUR FEED
Like your blog have a strategy, I like a mix of "here's one I shot earlier" content, seasonal floral still life photos that I have queued up in my camera roll and room for spontaneity.
I went on a food photography course with Emily Quinton and Catherine Frawley and it was a bit of a wake up call. Emily is open about her desire to grow her following significantly and she talked about how she really started taking her Instagram seriously this year. She’s seen her following grow from 10k to over 58k and she is open that one of her goals is to grow it beyond 75k And this is all organically! That is amazing.
She’s honed her style - she knows what her following wants and gives it to them 3 times a day.
So when you post - don’t blast people! People will unfollow if you clutter their feeds too often.
I try to not post more than once every two hours now (Unless I am joining in with #1day12pics) and this definitely helps with engagement. I'm experimenting with sharing just three images a day even though I have to physically force myself not to share more!
So don’t be tempted, if you are at an event with no wifi (I mean who would send bloggers on a event with dodgy wifi?!!!!) to get home and upload 5 in a row, even two in a row. Think NO NO TO POSTING IN A ROW!
Sara from @me_and_orla has a distinctive colour palette and when you scroll through her feed you can see her aesthetic coming through. She runs 1:1 coaching as well as the Insta Retreat which is a great source of Instagram advice and one I have learnt so much from.
Does everyone look at their analytics?! Where your blog traffic comes from etc? Ok great, but we should all be doing the same for Instagram. Your statistics can help you see which photos were most popular, which got the most comments, the most likes, who your demographic are, where they live etc etc.
I know that if I just posted florals and our home my engagement would be greater but my feed is an extension of my blog, it’s a way I collaborate with brands and I want to be able to share all my interests with my audience, rather than just work with listed building officers and florists! I also want my daily feed to be a way that my followers get to know me. The way I see a street or capture a moment, not just what I know will get the most likes. I've decided to share photos that I know won't be the most popular but ones that I'm proud of, or ones that connect me with a new audience. Like joining in with a specific community outside my comfort zone - #myseethroughiphone.
When you use your Instagram account as a way of featuring a brand’s products or promote a particular campaign you don’t want a post that’s part of a collaboration to stick out like a sore thumb. Bloggers are such a powerful group, we create lifestyle content in real homes, as real families and that is something so valuable to brands and companies. I work for lots of different brands now to create that “blog” style content for them for their websites and my Instagram feed is another way to show them my style of lifestyle content.
Latergramme shares some amazing posts on takeaways from their social sessions for growing your feed like this one, with great advice from long term users.
It's not about being a slave to numbers it's about gathering all the information that is available and making a conscious choice. I have chosen not to go back and delete the photos that rather embarrass me now because they tell my unique story. I can see what influenced me at the time, the fashions and trends and it's all part of a steep 18 month learning curve.
If you want to go back and edit your account feel free! There is no right or wrong answer. And maybe think twice before sharing those Timehop photos to your feed, pop them on Facebook instead! Photography skills improve with practise so don't spoil your quality images of today with a random image from 3 years ago.
Be mindful, be proud.
Tomorrow is all about the great hashtag debate. To hashtag or not to hashtag that is the question. Or rather how many hashtags should you hashtag!!