Have I ever told you guys the origin story of my Instagram account? I don’t think so. So here goes.
Two years ago, I was just a happy little wannabe blogger who spent a month trying to figure out WordPress and themes. I knew eventually I’d need to find a way to share what I was writing with the world, but it wasn’t until I saw that my theme had an Instagram widget that I really gave it any thought.
At the time, I didn’t really have any experience with Instagram. I had a personal account that I created just so I could upload photos of my trip to London, and that was about it.
But man, did I want to know what that widget would look like.
In a fit of curiosity and inspiration, I decided to create an Instagram account for my not-yet-launched blog. All I put on it was a screenshot of a Dratini from Pokémon Go, followed shortly by a terrible phone picture of Whimsydale in Diablo 3.
Then, Shane promoted it on his own profile. Overnight, I gained 1,000 followers—and I figured I was officially committed to figuring out what the heck I was doing on Instagram.
So without further ado, here’s what I’ve learned about building an Instagram profile!
Image quality matters.
In the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about image quality and how it means something different on Instagram than it does pretty much anywhere else. If you aren’t sure what I mean, check out a few feeds from popular influencers and Instagrammers. There are a few traits they usually have in common:
- They’re physically high-quality images, usually well-framed, with good depth of field, clarity and similar lighting across the board
- They’re usually edited to present a united, cohesive aesthetic
- They’re usually meticulously arranged and suited perfectly to what their audience wants to see
At first, those seemed like really intimidating benchmarks for someone who had never managed to take a straight landscape picture in her life. And of the first few pictures I posted, not a single one met any of those benchmarks. They were all darkly lit, super zoomed in, and inconsistently edited.
It wasn’t until I started posting with a consistent editing style and better lighting that I started to get real engagement and traction. And as I got more comfortable working with what I already had, instead of worrying about matching all the trends, it got much, much easier!
The algorithm...is kind of a lie.
One of the biggest things that Instagrammers talk about is The Algorithm. It’s evolved beyond a method that Instagram uses to show people content and turned into the biggest nightmare that some people have. I’ve legitimately seen people take breaks from the platform because they were depressed about things like the algorithm limiting them to 7% of their audience.
That really bothers me, because it doesn’t even do that.
In fact, most of the things we hear about the Instagram algorithm—like how it punishes us for not replying to comments, or that comments have to be more than three words to “count”—are just rumours. Some of them stemmed from the rise of pods, where people were required to leave comments on others’ posts to boost engagement, and just leaving emojis on dozens of posts in a short amount of time would get them banned for being spam accounts.
Some of them came from misinformation, because while you don’t get punished for not answering comments, you don’t get the uplift in engagement for answering them because Instagram doesn’t filter out your own comments on posts when it does its algorithm-ing.
And some of them have been actively debunked by Instagram itself.
The algorithm does exist, and it does affect how many people see your content. But one of the easiest ways to work with the algorithm, instead of getting stressed out about how it’s limiting you, is to use the appropriate tags on your stuff.
Hashtags are the lifeblood of Instagram, and the bane of many a content creator. They’re finicky things, and they’re surrounded by almost as many rumours as the algorithm. Here’s what I’ve learned about them:
- Mixing up the hashtags you use is a smart idea. Using the same ones over and over limits your exposure and makes you look spammy. I keep four sets of regular hashtags that I circulate on my posts, and add image-specific ones as necessary.
- Using account-specific hashtags, rather than image-specific hashtags, will help you reach more of the right people in the long run. Even if that one picture isn’t #gamingblog-related, people who click through to your profile will see that’s what you’re all about.
- Using hashtags with more than 500,000 posts associated with them is a bad idea. Yes, they’re popular—but that means your content will quickly get lost in a sea of other posts. Stick to tags with over 5,000 and under 500,000 posts to get the best results.
- Use as many hashtags as you can. Instagram lets you use 30 hashtags on each post, and I hear a lot of people saying not to use them all because people don’t want to read them. There are all kinds of ways to hide your hashtags so your readers don’t have to see them, and there’s no reason not to use a free resource like that, right?
Location tags are a relatively new thing, and although it can seem weird to do, tagging a location on your post is basically a free hashtag. It puts your post on another page, similar to what a hashtag does, and it can appear in searches for that location.
You can take it literally and use your actual location (that option is really popular with bloggers), but I’ve also seen people use it to tag silly locations that work for the context of each post.
And most importantly…
It's a community, not an audience.
As a full-time content marketer, I hear a lot of people talk about audiences on social media platforms. Heck, I’ve been known to think of it that way myself. But it’s important to remember that followers aren’t numbers in an audience; they’re all valuable members of a community, just like you.
Talking to your audience like it’s a community means you’ll make friends, build relationships, and ultimately enjoy using social media. Thinking of them as numbers will get you caught up worrying about the numbers, which will stress you out and make you forget about the social part of social media.
Been there. Never again.