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Tips For Growing Your Instagram Following + Taking Better Photos

September 2, 2015


Erin Schrader

It’s no secret that Instagram has been and continues to be my favorite social media platform. I am by far way more active on IG than I am any other channel, including this blog. With hundreds of millions of users, I would venture to say that many of you feel the same way. Instagram itself is turning into a cash making business for many people while it continues to be a great way for both brands and people to reach their audience in a more personable, real way. While I am definitely no expert in this industry, I have learned a few things that have helped me build a solid audience on Instagram that I’d love to throw out there today! Because I assume you are way wiser than I am, I would love to also hear what you would suggest in the comments below for people like myself hoping to continue to grow this platform.
Lets jump right in….
1. Think of your photos as a representation of your brand – keep a similar aesthetic and feel to your IG feed. You want your followers to scroll through their feeds and easily be able to know that it’s your photo without having to look at the user name.  While I know that filters can be fun to play with, if every photo of yours looks totally different (some dark, some light, some warm tones, some cold tones, etc), it’s hard for your followers to place your feed with you. There are several bloggers who do an awesome job of creating a “feel” to their feed – Aubrey Kinch, Summer Alvarez and Casey Wiegand to name a few. I personally love vibrant colors so that’s what I try to aim for when posting.
2. On the flip side, be picky of what you post but don’t be too picky where it takes the “real” out of your feed. Often times I take photos at night hanging out with friends when the lighting isn’t ideal or I ask somebody else to take a photo and they didn’t get it quite clear enough, etc. Some of the best memories aren’t always the best photos – be selective of what you put out there. While others are much more disciplined about only posting top quality photos, I sometimes feel and do otherwise. Life isn’t always crystal clear, well lit and has flowers popping out of every corner. If it’s something that I want to show up in my timehop app 3 years from now I’ll post it any ways.
3. Clean off your camera lens frequently. Or in my case, always. You will be amazed at how much clearer your photos are after a nice rub of the lens with a cloth or the inside of your shirt. This is the first thing that I do when somebody hands me their phone to take a photo. Clarity is key and this helps get you there so much quicker than any filter.
4. Lighting matters. Whenever possible, try to take your photos in well lit natural light. After moving into our house I made it a point to go around to every corner snapping photos so I knew where the best spots were. In one of our living rooms we have great natural light at almost any time in the day so this is where I shoot all of my IG food photos rather than my kitchen. People are much more apt to “like” something that they can see well as opposed to something you have to squint your eyes at.
5. Interact with your audience regularly. When people comment, comment back. When scrolling through your feed, don’t just like something – write something. This will make you a lot more visible to other IG’ers audiences which may attract more people to your profile. Challenge yourself to set time aside in your day to comment on “x” amount of photos a day or to write back to those who have commented on yours. A little chatter can go a long way.
6. Encourage engagement on your IG photos. Don’t always just post a witty little sentence that doesn’t prompt your followers to respond. Ask questions, promote the sharing of your posts, etc. Instead of posting a photo of tonight’s dinner and saying “tonight’s dinner!” try “tonight’s dinner! looking for new recipes, what are you serving up?” or something similar.
7. Create original hashtags that draw an audience back to you. Looking at the example in number six with the whole dinner thing, we could take it one step further. For example “Tonight’s dinner – copycat chick-fil-a nuggets with fries!” [share the quick recipe] and then “what are you serving up tonight? Use the hashtag #LIYdinnertonight, snap a photo and write the recipe in your caption. It will be like one giant live IG cook book tonight!” I have done this several times which has attributed to much of my growth. Both #LIYlookoftheday and #1800MinuteChallenge have been used thousands of times which ultimately lands back to me. Spend time thinking about what unique ideas you have that could be turned into hashtags on Instagram. The whole 1800 Minute Challenge was formed when I was trying to come up with ways to grow my IG audience. Get creative and try it – it may flop or it may be a huge success, you never know until you do it.
8. Collaborate with other IG’ers that you admire. Several times I have joined forces with others to create an IG challenge, offer a giveaway, or simply introduce our audiences to the other. I am currently partnering with seven other awesome IG’ers to host #DecorCrushSunday. This has brought me hundreds of new followers as they all bring new eyes my way weekly and vice versa. Don’t depend on only yourself to grow. There are greater forces in numbers – reach out to your favorites and have fun!
9. Think outside of the box when snapping your shots. Change up your perspective when shooting a photo, instead of looking at it straight on why not go over head? Or instead of photographing the whole item, why not get a little closer and do a snippet of it? For example…
By shooting only the corner, it makes the photo look a little more creative and provides a different viewpoint of that box sitting on your living room coffee table.
10. Add in props. Because a bowl of macaroni and cheese all by itself is just a bowl of macaroni and cheese. But a bowl of mac and cheese sitting on a cute plate with some peaches and fake greenery around it…now THAT is some mac and cheese my friends.
11. Your profile is a big deal. Don’t overlook what you have written in your bio, what your profile pic is, what links you are using, etc. Tell people who you are, what they can expect to see from you and where they may find you away from there. Make it fun and be you!
12. Use this platform to drive traffic to others. Because the majority of my followers are found on Instagram you better believe I am going to promote other items [ie: daily blog posts] on my feed to bring eyes that direction. As long as the photos you are using to drive that traffic fit in well with your natural IG feed, post away. Because you can’t post clickable links in your caption or comments make sure to utilize the link space in your profile for whatever it is you are wanting to drive traffic to that day.
13. Spend time on the photos you are posting. I understand that my husband thinks I am absolutely crazy when I spend a solid 15 minutes getting that little square photo to look just how I want it to, but when you want things to look good a little effort goes a long way. My favorite editing apps are Camera+ (this app has the best flash filter that I have found to lighten up photos), VSCO Cam (love the different filters they offer – much different than IG’s offering), Pic Tap Go (I use this whenever I have a photo that I am not making a perfect square but rather having a white border on the sides), A Beautiful Mess (great for adding texts on photos) and Pic Jointer (when creating a collage). I almost always straighten my photos, crop, add a filter [but not at 100%], up the contrast and up the brightness. You can see what a difference some editing can do below – the photos on the left are unedited and the ones on the right have been touched up.
Also remember how important cropping is in your photos [and straightening! a crooked photo drives me crazy]. On the left you can see the photo in its original state – on the right I have taken out the “ugly” parts of the photo allowing your audience to focus on what you wanted them to see in the first place.
14. Don’t think only about your current followers when posting a single photo – think about what your future followers will see when looking at your feed. It’s easy to get caught up in each single photo however, when a potential new follower clicks on your profile they are seeing your entire feed [or at least the last 9-12 photos you’ve posted]. This somewhat ties into what I was saying in item number one up top, however a greater example of this would be Sugar Bee Crafts. Do you see how she purposely plans circular photos to make a pattern in her feed? Consistently be checking your feed to make sure that the photos you are posting blend well together or create a strong visual as a whole.
15. When applicable tag brands and businesses in your photos. Doing this alone has brought me a fair share of followers. The reason this is so important [other than being able to easily tell your followers where something is from] is that the brand or business may decide to use your photo to share on their feed which puts you in front of a new set of eyes. Here are three examples of recent photos that I have posted where I tagged a company and they ended up sharing the photo on their IG feed. I tag the Beer brand I am drinking, the yogurt I am eating, the shoes I’m wearing, etc. You just never know what they may do with it! On this same note, when working on a sponsored IG post really study the feed of the brand you are promoting. Try to mimic a similar feel in your photo which will increase your chances of them sharing it on their own feed. One other thing on this – use those hashtags that you know have large audiences looking at them! Whenever I post a photo of me in a Stitch Fix item I use the #stitchfix hashtag as it brings me a lot of new eyes!
16. Back those photos up. We all know our phones can only store so many photos before you start getting the dreaded “no more storage” warning. My favorite way to do this in the electronic format is to use Google Photos. I have the app on my phone, simply upload them to my drive to stay with me forever and then clear them off my phone!
17. Get those photos in your hand forever and ever. While it’s fun to have your photos all over the internet (grandparents are gasping everywhere) it’s more fun to have them right in your hands. My favorite way to print them out I have found is to use My Social Book. The reason this is my favorite is because it not only prints all of your Facebook and/or IG photos into a book, it also includes all of the comments you received on the photos. I love looking back at my memories and being able to see what others had to say about it! The quality is top notch and I couldn’t be happier with my books.
18. Know when to take a break. This is probably my biggest IG downfall – it is easy to get sucked into the notion that we need to share everything all of the time, in the moment and so on. Instagram can be exhausting and the impact it has on us to compare lives is silly. When feeling a little IG’ed out take a break. It’s okay to take a few days [or week] off if it’s starting to get a little much. At the end of the day, your audience is there because they enjoy you. Keep doing you and the rest will come.
And there we have it – the longest post on Instagram in the history of ever. Again, leave any tips/tricks/etc in the comments below and until next time, see you over here 😉

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