If there is one question I get the most, it’s “How did you grow on Instagram”. But the answer to this question is not as easy as one line or even a few to summarize all the steps I have taken in the last year to get started and grow my account @vagablonde_laura on Instagram.
It has taken me a full year to gain traction on Instagram and in the following article, I will share with you 12 of my “secret-not-so-secret” tips that have helped me get started.
If you think the answer is something simple like “buying followers” this article is probably not for you. But if you are ready to put in a lot of hard work, dedication and time to learn about social media and photography, this mini guide will cover all the tips that have helped me grow on Instagram and can help you too.
Some of the items covered in this article might seem basic and obvious at first but can have a lot more impact on your account than you might think.
Tips on how to get started on Instagram:
- Pick a Theme
- Update Your Bio, Picture, Name and Description
- Upgrade Your Camera
- Learn About Photography
- Learn How To Edit
- Take Instaworthy Pictures
- Clean Up Your Feed
- Use Hashtags
- Write Good Captions
- Start Posting Consistently
- Get Noticed
- Keep Up With The Trends
1. Pick a Theme
Let’s get started with the basics. Before diving into any details about photography or growing strategies, the first thing you should do is pick a theme for your account. From there on the rest of your account will be built around this theme.
Picking a great theme is setting the foundation for what type of photos you will share with your audience. A theme could include anything from:
- And many more
Each of these sections could be defined even more. For example “outdoors” could be:
- Rock climbing
- Hiking with dogs
- Etc etc etc
Your theme should represent what you love to do and what type of photos you plan to share. If you are managing a business account, it should represent the type of products your company sells and your target audience.
Why is picking a theme so important? Because it will determine what type of followers you are trying to connect with. It should represent what drives you, your passion and interests. There are so many different themes you could pick from, but once you do, make sure to stick with it and stay consistent. The more you vary off your theme, the more you will confuse your followers.
You wouldn’t expect me to post a photo of me lifting weights at the gym, although that is one of my other passions besides traveling.
And you wouldn’t expect @dogsofinstagram to post a photo of their morning coffee because that has nothing to do with dogs. Instagram engagement works best when an account has a well-defined theme and followers know what type of photos they can expect to see in their feeds.
2. Update Your Bio Picture, Name and Description
After you have picked your account theme, make sure to update your bio picture, name and description to match your new theme.
Make sure your photo is simple, clean and easily recognizable. Sometimes light or solid backgrounds work the best, but this part is also up to your creativity. Try not to change your bio picture too often, because often people will recognize your account by your bio picture.
If you use anything besides your real name as your Instagram account name, your Instagram handle name should also represent your account theme. Your account name can also serve as a keyword in the Instagram search box so keep that in mind when you pick it. Some Instagram username examples to help you choose a good travel username are:
You could use these usernames in combination with your real name or on their own. Picking a good Instagram name is important because if somebody is searching for outdoors travel accounts to follow and your Instagram handle name is “Johnny.Fit”, they probably wouldn’t click on it.
Some of the best Instagram names are simple and easy to remember. Names like “Laura_7482.405PNW” wouldn’t work as good because it’s complicated and hard to remember. Try to keep your handle name easy for people to type and remember in case anyone wants to find your page or share it with others.
When it comes to Instagram, first impressions do matter. Whenever somebody clicks into your account, they will decide within minutes or even seconds if your account is one to follow or move on to the next one.
In your bio, you only have one or two lines to convince your audience why they should follow you so make those lines count. The description area in the bio is where you can get a bit creative but make sure you also describe what your account is all about. Your bio should even further define the theme of your account and what type of photos your followers can expect to see.
3. Upgrade Your Camera
If you are really committed to improving your Instagram feed, at one point or another you might want to consider upgrading your camera. The latest iPhones or Androids are great for taking selfies, but not so great for outdoors photography or more serious portrait photography.
I’m not talking about purchasing a $5000 full frame, top of the line DSLR camera, but something that will help you take better photos without breaking your wallet. My favorite beginner camera is the Sony Alpha a5000 Mirrorless Camera which is under $500 with a lens (about the same cost of a new phone) but will greatly improve your photos.
I like the Sony cameras because they are lightweight, small and easy to carry around. This is a great beginner camera for those who are just starting off and don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on a camera yet. This camera comes with a preview screen, wireless transfer option and can even record great videos.
Most importantly when you get a new camera, make sure to take the time to learn how to use all of its functions. A camera will not help you much if you don’t know how to fully operate it. Which leads to my next section…
4. Learn About Photography
No matter how well defined your theme or account is, it all won’t matter if your photos aren’t top-notch. Instagram is a visual app so one of the most important aspects of growing on Instagram is to post amazing photos and content. The only way to get better at photography is by putting in a lot of work, taking tons of photos and always keep learning and practicing. It’s especially important now because there are more users on Instagram than ever and that means more competition to stand out.
But getting better at photography is easier said than done. How do you become better and where do you start?
For me, I started off by watching endless YouTube tutorials, reading blog posts and most importantly, taking a Photography 101 course online by SLR Lounge. Before this course, I only took photos with automatic settings and I struggled a lot. After watching all the lessons I was able to take my skills to the next level and operate my camera in manual settings. The courses are relatively short, entertaining and cover all the basics from lighting to manual functions and composition. The course is only $100 and it was by far the best $100 I have invested into photography so far.
If spending the money on this course is a problem, YouTube is filled with many amazing free tutorials. They might not always have the exact information you are looking for but take it one step at a time. Learn about ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed, Lighting, Composition, Manual Focus, Histogram and then get out there and practice. Before you know it, it will become like second nature to you. The information is out there, it just takes a lot of time and practice to learn the basic skills of operating a camera.
5. Learn How To Edit
Another aspect of photography that many beginners might overlook is editing. When I first started taking photos on my Sony camera I couldn’t figure out why they never looked as good as the ones other Instagrammers were posting. After watching many YouTube videos and personally reaching out to various Instagram Influencers I realized that they usually spend hours editing each photo or video until they have that “wow” effect.
When it comes to editing, knowledge is key. The more you learn about editing tools and how to use them, the more diverse photos you will be able to create. This is especially handy if you plan to work with various companies in the future. Some companies might be interested in light, clean and crisp photos but others might want moody, darker shots. All of this can be manipulated in post-production by using editing applications.
Phone Editing Apps
Some of the most popular editing phone apps are VSCO and Snapseed. A while back I wrote an article on how I use Snapseed to edit my pictures and why it’s one of my favorite phone editing apps.
Computer Editing Apps
Beyond phone editing apps, most professionals use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to edit their photos on a computer before uploading to Instagram. My favorite is Adobe Lightroom because it is easy to use and can help you push your photography editing skills to the next level. I use Adobe Lightroom to edit 99% of my Instagram posts prior to uploading. Adobe Lightroom is amazing for editing but it is also a great tool organize all of your photos in one neat library.
Various companies also sell “Presets” which are filters you can apply to your photos. Some of the most popular preset stores are Filtergrade and VSCO, but these presets can cost anywhere from $30-$60 per pack.
Filtergrade is a great website to purchase presets made by other popular Instagram Influencers like @taylorcutfilms @noel.alva @eljackson @runawayueli and many more. This website is great if you are curious how other specific people edit their photos and want to apply similar filters to yours.
VSCO is very popular amongst Instagrammers that like the gloomy or moody look. Both preset stores offer great presets to apply to your photos but eventually, you should learn how to create your own presets that fit your style.
Free filters are also available online at various websites but my favorite is Freelightroompresets.co. This website offers 34 free filters and all you need to do is sign up with an email address in order to be able to download all 34 filters.
6. Take Instaworthy Pictures
Taking Instaworthy pictures is not always easy. Often times that means scouting out cool locations, setting your alarm clock at the crack of dawn for optimal lighting and editing photos for hours after the hike or trip. As a fair warning, all of these things can take a ton of effort and become like a part (or full) time job.
Try to find locations that are remote and get there before the sun comes up. This is helpful for lighting and also to avoid crowds that usually start showing up around 10 am. It is possible to remove people from a photo in post-production by using Photoshop, but it’s much easier to take photos in a location without anyone around.
Taking Instaworthy photos sometimes also means bringing along some props like a cute outfit, hat or a colorful blanket. It might be a bit awkward at first to “set up” a photo but just try to have fun with it. In the end, you will have an awesome photo to keep for a memory.
If you are unsure how to get started with taking awesome photos, check out what other people are doing on Instagram and get some inspiration from your peers. You can get a lot of great ideas on Instagram but at the same time don’t just copy others style and instead develop your own.
7. Clean Up Your Feed
Once you start creating a more defined theme and taking better photos, consider going back in your account and deleting any old photos that don’t fit your theme anymore. Over a year ago my Insta feed consisted of selfies, friends, dinners and other personal photos. If anyone scrolled down on my feed it was confusing and didn’t fit my account anymore. At that point, I saved all of those pictures on my laptop for memories and deleted them from my feed. I wanted to keep my Insta feed consistent with my new travel theme and that meant cleaning up my old photos.
This is something that is completely optional because it might be very hard for some people to delete old photos and memories from their accounts. It also depends on what your intention is with your Instagram account. If you are doing all of this for fun, there might not be much benefit to deleting old photos. But if you are managing a business account or want to work with companies in the future, this might be more of a priority for you to improve your overall account.
8. Use Hashtags
Hashtags are very critical to growing on Instagram because they can help other users find your account. But with millions of hashtags that are available on Instagram, how do you choose which ones to use? Check out my full article on how to choose the best hashtags for your account theme.
9. Write Good Captions
The best way to connect and engage with your audience is through post captions. Instead of using emojis or one-word captions, put extra effort into them. Your followers are following you because they are interested in your life so share some of it with them. Whether it’s describing your journey, the places you travel to, experiences or your emotions give your audience meaningful captions.
Of course, we all get those moments when nothing creative comes to mind and we resort to a cute quote or one liner to describe our caption, there is nothing wrong with that either. But once in a while give your audience a bit of an insight into who you are and make yourself relatable.
10. Start Posting Consistently
In order to grow on Instagram, you will need to post a good amount to keep your audience engaged. A typical Instagram influencer will post once a day or every few days depending on how much material you have ready to go.
If you recently went on the most amazing trip, don’t post all of your photos the same day but instead spread them out over a few days or weeks. Posting more than few photos a day can take up your follower feed and can be seen as spammy behavior. On the other hand, not posting for a few weeks will hurt you too because your followers might forget who you are or why they followed you in the first place.
The time of the day that you choose to post can also affect your engagement. Many Instagram influencers post their photos early in the morning or late at night for best engagement. The optimal posting time might depend on your time zone and your followers.
Various tools like Iconosquare are available with free trials to find out your optimal posting time. These applications will connect to your Instagram account and monitor your activity over a period of time to analyze best posting times and provide other statistics and engagement rates.
11. Get Noticed
So you have put in tons of effort to improve your photography, captions and your account, but you still feel like your account is not growing and you don’t know what to do.
Part of growing on social media is by being social. What does that mean? It means that you will need to put in an effort to get noticed by other accounts, influencers, companies, and feature accounts by networking.
Use all the tools Instagram offers to socialize. It could be tagging other feature accounts in your photos, commenting on other photos, sending DM’s and interacting with influencers, Instagram takeovers, writing guest blog posts that link back to your profile, liking photos, joining a group, sending emails to get featured, using hashtags and much more.
It could also mean trying to connect with other influencers outside of Instagram. If you have a blog or YouTube channel, invite them to participate in an interview. If there is a meetup being organized, attend the meetup. Support other people in their journey and they will most likely support you back. Consistently engage with other influencers and accounts on Instagram and it might bring you more opportunities than you might think. Often times you will need to take that first step, say hi and be social.
If you don’t see results right away, don’t be discouraged. Keep working on your photography and creating an amazing feed. Eventually, feature accounts and companies will notice you, but it will take some time.
12. Keep Up With The Trends
Instagram is changing all the time. It seems as if new functions are being added daily and it’s important to keep up with all the new trends and to stay ahead of the game.
One of the biggest trends right now is the Instagram Stories function. If you are not posting to Instagram stories already, you should. Sometimes I get more views on Instagram stories than on my feed photos because it’s less controlled by the complicated Instagram algorithm (for now).
Similar to your Instagram feed, put extra effort into what you post to Instagram Stories. Use apps like Snapseed and VSCO to edit photos before uploading to Instagram stories. I also like to use the app Adobe Clip to edit short video clips with music before uploading. Treat the stories like you would your Instagram feed by only posting entertaining material that your audience would enjoy and is in line with your theme.
With all the new trends that happen on Instagram, it can often be hard to keep up with it all. Make sure to set aside a little bit of time every once in a while to read articles about the changes that Instagram keeps adding.
Not everyone will have the same route to growing on Instagram. Find out what works best for you and just stick with it. With time it will get easier and like second nature. It will take a lot of effort and time, but the more effort you put it, the better results you will see.
If you have any questions, drop a comment below and I will be more than happy to answer them for you.