Many of you may know that in March 2016, my personal Instagram account took a major change from sharing personal images of my daily life to a refined travel blog. I had been planning to make this change for a while, but wanted to be fully prepared for the shift. I was able to make this change because I did countless amounts of research on how to engage viewers with my new content, how to gain a larger following, how to create a brand, and I looked at examples of other successful Instagram bloggers who were producing similar content (travel/lifestyle imagery) to see what they were doing that made their blogs so successful.
I will say, that this was a long process and I am still working on it. So you have to be prepared for a lot of hard work, persistence, and a large amount of your time spent on producing and editing content as well as engaging with your viewers. There is no easy way to gain a following that is actually going to look at your work and give you positive feedback about it. If you are looking for an easy way out, you can purchase followers, but none of these followers will be engaged in your posts and it will be obvious to your viewers and your clients that these were paid followers.
This post is to help new instagram bloggers or existing bloggers gain a larger following. The process is pretty self-explanatory and there are many resources online to help you, but it really is a task that you have to be 100% involved in if you want to be successful.
Tips for building an instagram following:
1. Find the best time of day to post
From my research I have found that the best times to post are 5pm and 2am EST.
My guess is that these times are the best because 5pm is when most people get off of work and 2am is when most night owls are getting into bed. I often check instagram when I wake up, after I get off of school/work, and when I go to bed or if I cannot sleep I will check instagram until I can. That puts me on instagram around these times, as well.
If you think of these times globally, you will also notice that they are effective times in various time zones:
5pm EST is equivalent to: 7am in Japan (JST), 9am in Australia (AEST), 2pm in California (PST), 10pm in the UK (UTC +0:00), and 11pm in Europe (UTC +01:00).
2am EST is: 7am in the UK (UTC +0:00), 8am in Europe (UTC +01:00), 4pm in Japan (JST), 6pm in Australia (AEST),and 11pm in California (PST).
The trick is to know where your audience primarily resides and choose a time zone to work with. Even when I was in Europe, I was operating under EST to post my photos because I knew that the majority of my followers lived on the East Coast (this is primarily because the followers I started with were my friends from high school or college, which all resided on the East Coast).
If you do not know where your followers primarily reside then you can do one of two things. The first is to test various times of the day by posting an image every hour in your selected range. My suggestion would be to post in the morning between 7-9am, midday between 11am-2pm, and in the evening 5-7pm. I would also suggest posting between 1-3am. I have found in the past that I received more views at 2am then at 5pm so I do suggest you try to post at odd hours like 1-3am. You can do this test run over the course of one day or one week (if you wanted to know how certain days are affected – as 5pm and 2am are a general idea, but it does not work for every day of the week. For instance, on Monday Later (formally Latergramm) suggested that 5pm is a terrible time to post an image, but on Wednesday it is a great time.)
Another way for you to find out when your posts will receive the most likes or views is to use Instagram analytics. This is a new tool that is only associated with business accounts (in order to have a business account you have to link it to a Facebook page so make sure that you have a Facebook page prior to attempting this. You cannot link two Instagram accounts to the same page.) This software will tell you what days and times your photos are receiving the most views and will tell you what cities the views are coming from so you can decide what time zone to use. There is also an app called Iconosquare that can determine optimal times for posting. I have not used either of these resources yet, so please let me know if you like them.
2. Use Instagram hashtags to your advantage
When I first started out using hashtages, I posted a paragraph of tags, as many as I was allowed to (which I believe is 30). I didn’t realize how desperate this could look to your viewers and can be quite off-putting. I know that using hashtags is a great way to engage an audience and to reach out to potential followers, but I have received more likes on images with fewer hashtags than the images where I overloaded it. The key is to pick 3 really great hashtags for that image so pick wisely! Another tip would be to create a niche hashtag, something that only your audience would use and something that is specific to your page. You should use this at the end of every image you have.
One of my favorite Youtubers, who has a large Instagram and snapchat following uses the hashtag #snapchatfam so that she can see how many of her snapchat followers are engaged across different platforms. This hashtag is all over her comments section because she asks her snapchat followers to comment the tag and in return she will go to their page and like their content.
If you need any assistance in coming up with a clever hashtag of your own, I suggest that you look at @Hilaryrushford she has unique hashtags for every one of her images.
Here are some examples of generic hashtags that are the most used hashtags on Instagram:
#tbt #instadaily #instagood #photooftheday #picoftheday #instadaily #me #love #follow #followme #tagforlikes #beautiful #girl #selfie #igers #instalike
If you are going to use these generic hashtags I would suggest staying away from anything that sounds too desperate like #follow, #followme, #like4like - these can help you to get followers and likes, but often it only works if you return the favor and it doesn't help in getting an audience that is actually interested in your content, just people who are interested in higher numbers for follows and likes.
3. Add a call-of-action to your Instagram caption
If you are having trouble engaging your audience in Instagram comments, than the best way is to ask them a question. For me, I often ask whether they have visited a certain country, where their favorite place has been, or any recommendations for accommodations or places to visit. Whatever the question make sure that it is relevant to the photograph and to your page.
4. Host a contest
This can be a great tool if you are a company that provides a product or if there is a constant product that your advertise (ex. makeup). If your company isn’t one that can easily give away a prize then perhaps you should come up with a creative solutions. For instance, your contest could be a meeting with you to discuss Instagram strategies, a free makeover (if they live in your area), a special video tutorial, a free retouched image, or a free photograph. You don’t necessarily have to spend countless amounts of money to purchase a product you think your audience would like such as a FitBit or a plane ticket to Bora Bora. There are simple solutions to every problem and even if your contest isn’t the most exciting it will boost your viewers and likes as you will put in the caption that in order to join the contest you have to like the post, comment on it and subscribe. People are always willing to do something for free and often or not, people will stay on as followers after the contest because they either like your content or they are hoping you will do another contest in the future.
5. Work with Instagram influences
This might be a more difficult thing to do as Instagram influencers (50k+) can be expensive, but perhaps you know someone who is already well known on Instagram or there is someone who is just starting out and wants to get more involved in the community (3k-5k followers), these can be people you use as a resource. Reach out to them and tell them about your page, offer a way to advertise them in addition to them advertising you and suggest something you could do as compensation (again this could be something as simple as retouching a photograph or sending an autographed photo you took). You could also offer a small amount of money, if you have room in your budget to give them, but don’t feel that this is necessary as there are many people who are looking to network and help brands they truly believe in.
Here is a link to some of the top instagram influencers for lifestyle blogs:
6. Discover new people and brands to follow
A lot of the followers I have found me because I either followed a brand that they liked and I appeared in the suggestions box or because I followed them or liked an image of theirs. A big part of finding an audience is going out and liking content or following people who have similar blogs to you. I cannot tell you how many times I was able to get a follower and maintain that follower because I was engaged in their page, liking and commenting on their content. I know that this can be a tedious process, but you can use these people as a resource of inspiration or you can get their feedback about your content or share stories about how you were able to be as successful as you are today. Networking is an incredibly important tool as you can always ask your following or friends for help, shout-outs or to share your posts.
7. Know your brand
This is the most important point when it comes to having a successful Instagram page. You must have a brand, know your brand and be able to successfully maintain that brand throughout the entire course of your Instagram life. When I made the change to a travel blog I completely rebranded my site. As you can see, there is a consistent theme of having bright white images that are polished and that all work well together as a whole and individually. It is best for you to find an editing style that works with your imagery and to continue to do this for every post you make. In addition to editing your images consistently, you should also consider text. If you do text post intermittently thrown in amongst the photographs, make sure that the font is consistent or similar enough that it works well together. Don’t make dramatic changes!
Here are some examples of great brand management: