Happy New Year! It’s my very first post of 2019 and I am really excited for the year ahead…so many books to read, stories to write and people to meet! I decided to start the year with my personal ‘How To’ guide to Instagram. I have been asked so many times what filters and applications I use for my images, how I have built my profile etc, so I thought the simplest and easiest thing to do would be to create this blog post with all the bits and pieces you need to know to get started, or to improve the profile you already have. Let me caveat this by saying I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, nor am I the biggest account out there with millions of followers. What I have done however, is organically grow my account to over 10,000 followers in less that two years. I have created a profile which I am proud of (check it out here). Every Instagrammer has their own techniques and tricks of the trade, and these are simply mine, imparted to you in the hopes that you may find them useful. I would also like to say, that even after 20 months, I am still learning myself so feel free to comment with your own tips for the benefit of myself and my readers.
Let’s start with how to build your profile then at the end I will give you the specifics on how I create my own images including the apps I use etc.
- Find your Niche.
Instagram has something for everyone. Whether you are a fitness freak or a book worm, a traveller or a fashionista, there is an account out there for you. I, as a writer and avid reader, naturally gravitated towards the Bookstagram community. The trick is to base your profile around something you are passionate about. There are some accounts out there which have a little of everything too, but I have found the ones which cater to specific hobbies or interests are the most successful. Create images and captions about the things your loves and interests, and your passion will shine through. Finally, I would suggest choosing a profile name which clearly demonstrates what the account contains, so people can easily identify it as one containing their hobby or interest. For example, my name is @bookishmarie, clearly identifying mine as a book based profile.
2. Find your style.
I learned early on how important it is to have your own style on Instagram and to stick to it. However, I also learned very quickly just how hard that can be. My moods and tastes change so often and my photos can often reflect that. If you go to my profile and swipe through from the beginning to now, you will see my style has changed dramatically over 20 months. It took me a good while and hundreds of pictures to discover my own personal style and even now, that continues to evolve. It’s ok if you aren’t sure what you want your style to be, you can experiment until you get it right. Again, just like picking your theme, this will involve looking at your loves, your hates and your interests. I love all things vintage, so my profile was always going to have a retro vibe to it. Perhaps you love all things vibrant and bright or maybe you are all about tasteful monochrome. Start with what makes you happy and work from there. The most successful profiles have clear styles. You can identify a picture as belonging to them from one quick glance- that’s the aim!
Once you settle on a style you like, stick to it! The more successful profiles not only have a distinct style but their style is also consistent. An easy way to do this is to have a colour scheme, for example my page is mostly muted autumnal tones. You will find your style will naturally lead to a colour scheme anyway.
3. Make the Effort with your images.
I work very hard on each and every one of my images, placing every item carefully, moving and shifting until it’s just so. If I’m not 100% happy with an image, I won’t post it. It’s clear to anyone swiping through the millions of images on Instagram when a photo has been half assed. Why in that case would they bother to read the caption, like it or follow you? Instagramming can be quite time consuming so it’s not for everyone, but if you really want to build a profile then you’ll have to work at it. But as with everything, practice makes perfect. Most importantly, have fun with it and create the type of images you want to see.
4. Interact with your fellow Instagrammers.
It sounds obvious, but a lot of Instagrammers simply post images without interacting with their fellow users. The best way to organically grow a following and to get people to visit your page, is to find other users with similar tastes, interests and styles and to interact with them. For clarification, when I say interact with them, I mean in a genuine way. Don’t just copy and paste ‘nice photo’ under countless images. If you see an outfit on a fashion page you really like, then tell them. If you see a beautiful creature with perfectly applied makeup, let them know how great they look. Ask questions, discuss common interests and most importantly be kind- no one will follow you if you are a critical jerk leaving snide comments under their pictures. It’s a great way to make new friends and to in turn, have people check out your profile who maybe wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. I also find engaging under your own pictures is a great way to meet new people and grow your profile. Don’t just post an image and leave it at that, ask a question, start a discussion or present an idea. Give people a reason to comment and to continue coming back to your page
Whilst only around 10% of visits to my images are from hashtags, they are still a great way to promote your post and to drive traffic to your page. The best way to find the hashtags that will work for you, is to find accounts similar in theme and topic to yours and check out what hashtags they are using on their images. Instagram will allow you to use up to 30 hashtags per image. I advise taking note of the amount of images related to each hashtag and using a mixture of more popular hashtags and less used or newer hashtags. For example, #bookworm has 13.1 million pictures using it as I type this blog post. That is a lot of images and whilst that makes it popular for people to search by, it also means your image could easily become lost amongst the millions of others. The hashtag #bookishgirl on the other hand only has 104,000 images at this stage, so it is more likely your image will be spotted and your page visited. I also recommend participating in photo challenges, as they are not only a great source of inspiration for your images, but a great way for people, mainly the others participating in that challenge, to see your page. There are also feature accounts on Instagrams. These are literally accounts which feature the best of a particular theme or topic. In order to get featured, you more often than not need to use a certain hashtag. Some of these accounts have HUGE followings and it’s a great way to get noticed by users who otherwise wouldn’t have encountered your image. Finally, searching relevant hashtags is also a great way to do research and to see what’s out there, what is working and what’s not. Instagram gives you the option to follow certain hashtags and I recommend doing so in order to get regular inspiration.
6. Tag People.
I am not advocating tagging dozens of random people in every post you put up, but tagging relevant people can be a great way to get your account noticed. Being a bookstagrammer, I most often tag authors, publishers and businesses which sell bookish merchandise. This has lead to large businesses re-posting my image of their product, ensuring it’s seen by thousands of new potential followers. Publishing houses, publicists and authors who I have tagged have approached me to review and feature their books. It also helps spread the word and promote small businesses to a wider audience and provides them with lovely images for their own page or stories, so it’s win win for everyone. Don’t get me wrong though, if you are going on Instagram just to get free stuff, you’re joining for the wrong reasons. This is mostly about community spirit and mutual promotion and while free stuff is great, it shouldn’t be the driving force behind your account. The beauty about Instagram is that it creates a way to connect with individuals and businesses you otherwise would never have discovered.
7. Be Patient.
This is the most important piece of advice I can give you. Instagram can be a fickle place. People will follow you just to unfollow you a day later. I have had 10 new followers and been very pleased, just to check my phone a few hours later to find my follower count down by 15….one step forwards, two steps back. It can be frustrating and confusing and on more than one occasion, I wanted to pack it in. I didn’t explode overnight or go viral, gaining thousands of followers in a matter of weeks and whilst that is possible and I’m not saying it can’t happen to you (well done if it does), it’s more likely that you will gradually grow and build a following over time. Like I said, it took me 20 months to gain 10,000 followers and I am so grateful for every last one! You can of course buy followers but frankly I don’t understand why you would. To me, that’s like ‘winning’ the marathon by taking a short cut…it’s a hollow victory. Just persevere and keep doing what you do, and you will get there in the end. Remember what Instagram is really about. It’s about community and friendship and discovery. The follower count doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. The most important thing to do is to have fun with it. If you aren’t enjoying it, then why bother in the first place?
So How do I take my images?
Equipment: All of my pictures are just taken on my Samsung Galaxy phone. On a side note, one of the things I love about smart phones is that you can have a high quality camera everywhere you go now, so it’s easier than ever to take up photography. Whilst specialist equipment isn’t needed, I do use a photo box for my flat lay images. For those of you unfamiliar with these, they are basically like a small portable photo studio in a box, with bright lights on the inside and a black out fabric covering complete with little magnetic openings of various shapes and sizes at various points around the box to allow you to take a picture from various angles whilst maintaining consistent lighting. They aren’t overly expensive (I think mine was around £80) and are available on Amazon. But you don’t need to buy one of these to get consistent lighting. You can buy small photographic lights now fairly cheap or you can simply the area in your house which gets the most light and work out what time of days is best to take your images so as to get maximum lighting.
Apart from my phone and photo box, my other essential items of equipment are my many and varied props. My antique typewriter is one particular prop which features very frequently in my images, but I have a vast collection of random knick knacks and thingamabobs which I have gathered over the years. I find the right prop can really bring a photograph to life and give it real depth and interest. You don’t have to spend a fortune either. The vast majority of mine came from charity shops and literally cost pennies. Alternatively, you can use things you already have lying about the house or even find them in nature, for example another of my most frequently used props is my collection of dried autumn leaves and pine cones I collected from my local park.
Applications and Filters: I personally don’t use the filters on Instagram. I prefer to use the application Snapseed to do the basic editing of my images, such as cropping and rotating. I like it because it’s super easy to use and features lots of great ways to tweak the image, like the ‘healing’ option allowing you to effectively erase small parts of the image and cover it over with a sort of ‘mirror’ of the surrounding area which I use regularly to fine tune my images. I then use good old VSCO to add filters. The best way to find the style you want to use is to play around and see what you like best. If you change your mind, that’s ok. Every now and then, I change the filters etc I use as do many of the largest accounts out there, so you can evolve and learn over time…practice makes perfect.
As I said in the beginning, I’m no expert but this is my attempt to impart a little experience with all of my lovely readers and I really hope you find it useful, even in some small way. If you have any tips or advice of your own, I would love to hear them! Just leave me a comment. If you have Instagram but we have never had the good fortune to cross paths, or if you start a new account, please give me a little follow (@bookishmarie) so we can stay in touch! Finally, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to stay up to date with all my latest posts and book reviews. Happy Instagramming!!