For food bloggers, Instagram is one of the most important social media platforms when it comes to audience building and even potential brand partnerships. Today we’re breaking down how to build a vibrant community on Instagram.
Game changer. Transformative. Big freakin’ deal. Yup. Those are the words I’d use to describe what Instagram is for bloggers, especially food bloggers. But I’m taking a wild guess that if you’re reading this, you already know that (or you probably wouldn’t be here right?)
For my blog, In it 4 the Long Run, Instagram hasn’t just been a branding tool, or a way to engage with readers, it’s been a gateway for so many opportunities, it’s been the platform that people find my blog on first, oh and it does drive real traffic to the site. But all that fun stuff didn’t happen over night or by accident.
It’s taken a big investment of time, energy, trial and error to learn what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to growing an engaged audience/tribe/squad/community on Instagram.
In less than I year, I grew my account (@init4thelongrunblog) from 1,000 followers to 25,000 followers. Using the same strategies I helped grow a healthy food company’s Instagram presence from 2,000 followers to 22,000 followers. I’m not saying this to toot my own horn but to illustrate that these strategies work. No sketchy liking-bots, no sleezy hacks.
Hopefully I can save you some time and insta-angst by sharing what I believe are the key elements to kicking ass on Instagram. I’m going to break it down by the 3 big strategies for success then the tactics you can use to implement them.
Strategy 1: Develop Your Unique Style
Create a Unique Look and Voice For Your Account
I can easily identify some of my favorite ‘grammers’ photos without even looking at their handles. Why? They have a distinct look to their photos and voice in their captions. Maybe you’re known for your bright and vibrant food pics or maybe you have these light and airy shots that have a special morning light, maybe it’s the hilarious food puns or the inspirational quotes every morning. Whatever your thing is, find it and rock it. People will notice and come back for more.
When you first start out is totally ok to experiment, in fact that’s the best way to learn what you love and don’t love. Look everywhere for inspiration, not just other bloggers and Instagrammers. Play with your subject, how you compose a photo, how you edit. What you say. There are so many ways to infuse your unique sensibility and taste into what you do, it would be a shame to try and fit in. (Plus it won’t get you very far.)
If you’re feeling a little lost when it comes to the photography and brand development on Instagram, I created a 29-page step by step eBook all about Instagram Photography and creating remarkable images with just your smartphone.
Take Advantage of Your Bio
When you see an image you love on Instagram what do you do? You go to that person’s account. That first 10 seconds is a big deal. What do you see? Their profile photo, their bio and their 9 most recent photos. That’s your first impression and will help you decide whether or not to follow that person. So how you use that space is important.
Your Profile Photo:
This is what people will see in their feeds when they follow you, but you know how tiny those images are, so try to make it a clear picture of your face and shoulders. In general it’s good practice to keep your profile photo consistent across platforms to help followers make that visual connection between your accounts.
This is your chance to tell the (insta) world who you are. Take at least a sentence or two to share that you’re a blogger, what you love, where you are, what you do in your own unique voice.
If you’re open to doing collaborations with brands or other bloggers definitely include your email address in your bio. It makes it WAY easier to get in touch with you (trust me I’ve been on the brand side and it’s saved me a ton of time when bloggers would put their emails in their bios)
If you’re looking to get the right spacing in your bio, type it out in the “Notes” app on your phone then copy and paste. This way you can have the correct spacing, including returns, which you can’t do on the Instagram app itself.
Your Clickable Link:
You can either use this space to drive users to your homepage or promote a specific link on your blog. However traffic coming from Instagram will register in your Google Analytics as direct traffic (because the Instagram App opens safari to that link).
To make sure you are getting a good idea of whether people are clicking on your links you can use a service like bit.ly to shorten and track the links you put in your bio.
When I started doing this I realized that Instagram was driving way more traffic than I realized.
Your Last 9 Photos:
When you go to your homepage and you look at your last 9 photos is it immediately obvious the kind and style of content you share? Is there any kind of visual unity or do the images look a little scattered and disconnected? Going back and auditing yourself is a really helpful practice to make sure you’re staying true to your unique visual style. Having a cohesive image helps your potential followers understand in an instant if they want more.
Strategy 2: Be Consistent
One of the biggest hurdles I see with bloggers growing their Instagram audience is also one of the easiest to get over. It’s about showing up and showing up often.
Be Consistent with Posting
As Instagram as a platform grows, and there is more and more accounts, creating consistent content is more important than ever. In order to be seen by the people who follow you, or find your through hashtags it’s crucial to post consistently and frequently.
One of the biggest inflection points in my own growth definitely came from my shift of posting 3-4x a week to posting 1-3x a day. I know it sounds like a big jump, but it doesn’t have to happen overnight.
A big part of posting more frequently, without sacrificing quality means a lot more planning. Often I plan a day or two in advance what I want to post, whether it line’s up with a blog post I’m promoting and when and how I’ll take the images I need. Once you start thinking ahead, you’ll find tons of opportunities to create more content. Often if I have a window of time when the light is good I’ll take 4 or 5 photos. If I don’t use them that week I can save them for a rainy day when I run out of good content to post.
Be Consistent With When You Post
Another element of being consistent with your posting is finding what times work best for you. This might vary where you live and the kind of content you’re sharing but I’ve personally found that 9am and 8pm EST work great for the kind of food/health content I share.
Your followers will get used to seeing you every morning and as they scroll through their feed before bed. Showing up often helps you form stronger relationships with your audience faster than if you only posted once or twice a week.
Be Consistent With Style
A huge piece of success on Instagram is not just from having a unique style but really being consistent with it. When I think of accounts that I love to follow the first ones that come to mind are those that have a very distinct look and stick with that style. This kind of consistency is important when you think about those first impressions and developing a cohesive feed.
Examples of Amazing Feeds:
Consistency isn’t just about having the same background but having a cohesive feed. Below are a couple examples of Instagrammers who do an amazing job at keeping their feeds uniquely them
The 90/10 Rule
The 90/10 rule is something I apply to my own feed that I’ve found very successful. Basically it breaks down to 90% of the content I share is very inline with my style and my subject: healthy, approachable vegetarian food. However I do think having 10% of your content have a little more “behind the scenes” and personal touch can give you an edge and help develop that tribe connection with your followers. For me that means 1 out of every 10 or so posts I’ll share a picture of myself with a little fun update about my life or something goofy or inspirational.
If you’re a food blogger don’t feel bad if you share a selfie or a picture of your cat every once in a while just make sure it’s not more than 10% of your content or your followers will get confused and lose interest.
Strategy 3: Engage with Your Community
Hands down one of the biggest ways I grew the amount of engagement on my page was being generous with how much I engaged with others. I call it #InstaKarma. “Instagram with others the way you’d like to be Instagram’d with.” Pretty sure that’s what Confucius would have wanted.
If you’re fun, friendly, supportive and genuine with the people you follow AND even accounts you don’t follow, people will reciprocate. Instagram is just WAY more fun when you’re generous with your support. Yup, it takes time, but it’s 100% worth it. I have a growing handful of Insta-friends whose accounts inspire me, make me laugh, think and often drool on my phone and I’m not afraid to tell them.I don’t like looking at it as a competition, to me it’s a collaborative creative environment. This is your chance to built others up. Finally when people show you love don’t forget to thank them!
Be careful though, Instagram limits users to 400 actions a day. I know that sounds like a lot but if you’re not careful you could me marked as a spammer if you go on a random liking/following binge.
Interact with Your Favorite Hashtags
Ok, so you’ve been killin’ it with the hashtags but what to take it to the next level? Go to one of your favorites and engage with those photos and users. If you like a picture check out that user’s page. Like and comment on a couple of their photos, chances are they’ll return the favor. If not, it’s still good #instakarma.
Follow Other Accounts with a Strategy
Growing your following, especially when you’re relatively new, involves some proactive outreach, which means following the right accounts (fellow users in your niche). One of my favorite ways to find new accounts – that I want to follow or interact with – is to go to an account I admire, within the same niche, and check out both the accounts that they’re following and the accounts that follows that user.
Click through to different pages and interact with their photos by liking and leaving meaningful comments. And no, Instagram won’t let you copy and paste, which is a good thing! If you really like their account, give them a follow (and in a nice, creative way let them know that you love their account.) If you do this people will almost always follow back. This takes time, but it also ensures that your followers are quality and the kind of users who will engage with your photos in the future. I can’t emphasize enough how important QUALITY and ENGAGEMENT are when it comes to Instagram (and any social media for that matter.)
I mean, what’s the point of having 20,000 followers if you’re only getting 100 likes? #NoBueno
Share a Shoutout
Community is one of the best parts of Instagram! You can use this to your advantage big time. After you’ve made some insta-friends don’t be afraid to reach out to them for a shoutout swap. Ask if they’d be interested in posting one of your photos, mentioning your account and encouraging their following check you out and you’ll do the same in return. It’s best to approach users with followings close to your own so it’s a fair trade.
I suggest doing this with accounts that you’ve already established a great relationship with, but don’t take it personally if they say no. You’ll have a good feel for the right people to reach out to. It can be a great way to extend your reach to a new audience.
When I first started out I did this maybe twice a month and it was a great way to build my network of followers and friends, just be careful not to over-do it. Remember the 90/10 rule. You don’t want more than 10% of your content not to be your own.
Ready to grow your brand with the ‘Gram?
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What do you think?
- Did we leave anything out? What strategies have you used to grow your Instagram?