In the last year, I made a switch.
I stopped viewing my Instagram account as a personal library of the weird and random visual musings of my brain.
While it was fun to play with the filters and sometimes go without posting for months, in 2016 I realized that I had been neglecting a key component of Instagram all along: it's a powerful visual storytelling platform.
And when the day came that I wanted to share more of my personal story, Instagram was my platform of choice.
I was already in the app each day for clients. So why not see if I could *walk my own talk* on my personal profile? Challenge accepted.
I joined Instagram in November of 2012 (the old posts are still there if you're curious)
In 2013, I started working with clients to grow their Instagram accounts
My first client was Shelfies and in less than a year, we hit 100,000 followers!
On my personal account, where I did much of my experimenting, my followers had reached ~3,000 by the spring of 2016
In the early summer of 2016, I made the switch and committed to growing my personal Instagram
In July 2016, I had 5,000 followers. Today, there are over 45,000.
(P.S. I don't share these numbers as some #humblebrag vanity metric. I share them because Instagram has proven to be an *amazing* generator of traffic – in this case, to my website. Now what you do with the traffic is a whole other topic...)
So how did I do it? Here are 3 key takeaways.
1. Committed to a specific niche, theme, and voice.
The day this lightbulb went off in my head was a monumental day.
Seriously. Thinking of a theme in terms of my personal profile changed everything.
Now I know a person is multi-faceted with many interests and sides to them. But when it comes to attracting new people to a personal feed or brand, you still want to present a cohesive, consistent and somewhat predictable feed.
New visitors will land on your feed and make a snap judgment based on the birds-eye view of your profile.
Are you sending a clear message of what you're all about and what they can expect by following you?
In reality, I wasn't. I had a mix of travel photos, family pics, random nights out with friends and of course, my cat (go on, take a peek – they're aaaall still there).
These are all lovely things, but when I started to think of myself in terms of a personal, public brand, I had to ask: what did I want people to immediately associate with me?
While I had absolutely no long-term plan for a personal brand or what my Instagram feed might evolve to, I chose "travel" as my #1 theme – an obvious choice since I was already traveling while working on the road.
The old me? I'd post a random travel pic here and there with an elusive, (often) one-line caption that really didn't say much at all.
The new me? I made the switch and started treating Instagram like a micro-blogging platform while capturing attention with a fun, travel-related visual.
If you're looking to build your following for your brand, business, blog or yourself, look at your account through the eyes of a visitor: is there a clear theme and purpose seen in your feed?
2. Started using hashtags properly.
I get it. Some people can't be bothered with hashtags. And their account still grows.
Well, I never really used hashtags before making "the switch" and my account did not organically grow all that well.
Once I embraced hashtags instead of scoffing at them for looking spammy, silly and lame (I mean, what's the point of #LostMySocksAgainSorryMom unless used facetiously?), my growth game exploded.
But first, research.
Yes, homework is key here.
When my account was at 3,000 followers, my posts with #travel would not have had a chance at all to trend in the Top Posts section for the hashtag (which is #goals for being discovered by new followers).
So, instead of tagging my posts with #travel, I researched travel-related hashtags that I could reasonably trend in. I looked for specific travel hashtags that had between 10,000-30,000 posts. And then as my account began to pick up steam and I continued posting daily, I bumped my hashtag search up to 50,000-100,000.
Each time I'd search, I'd write down 30 travel-related hashtags that weren't overly used, and I'd save them in Notes on my phone. Then, when I'd post on Instagram, I'd copy the saved hashtags into the first comment of my post.
I gave myself bonus points if I took the time to click on each hashtag (right after posting) and engage (meaning, like and/or comment) with recent posts that ALSO just used that hashtag.
3. Spent wayyy more time in the app
Which brings me to point #3.
(Did you catch my last bonus tip about hashtags just a few lines up?)
It sounds simple in theory (which it totally is). But what's surprising is the amount of time it takes to click through your 30 hashtags and leave meaningful comments on other posts that are also using that hashtag.
"Did 40 minutes just pass by?" YEP.
What's the saying? "I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it."
If you're looking for real Instagram growth with real, engaged followers, do be prepared to spend more time than usual in the app. Think: less scrolling for fun, and more strategic thoughts and actions.
So where did my time go? I'd spend probably 20-30 minutes each day just crafting my image and caption. Then, onto the hashtag exercise (another 20-30 minutes). And on top of that, it's really nice to reply to the comments that pop up on your post asap (nice for the people leaving comments and nice for your account to be more effective in (against?) Instagram's algorithm).
In July 2016, I had 5,000 followers. Six months later in January, I hit 40,000 followers. Today, I have over 45,000.
Growing a personal brand on Instagram has been a whole other experience compared to growing business brands, but the same principles can truly apply for all.
And now, Instagram is the #1 source for new traffic to my website!
Overall, it's an awesome tool for anyone who's looking to drive traffic to their blog or business.