This was SUCH a hot topic when you guys wrote in with your questions, so I'm finally getting around to this post! There's a lot to discuss...and honestly even more beyond this, so if you're left with additional questions, please leave them in the comments for next time! A lot of you asked about photo apps and editing, so I'll probably write a more in-depth post on this topic too. So, let's go ahead and dive in...
When it comes to my promoting and growing my business, Instagram has been my favorite social platform. I love the ability to share with visuals, network with other makers, and get my daily dose of inspiration all in the same place. However, the constant changes to the app and new algorithms drive me (and everyone else!) CRAZYYYY. What used to be a creative platform, with images displayed in chronological order, has turned into a no-holds-barred, every man for himself atmosphere. It leaves everyone scrambling to figure out how to get their photos to show up to their own followers (wtf). Despite its frustrations, Instagram's value for businesses and personal brands is undeniable, so we're all just trying to regain some sense of control by figuring out what works. I've talked with a lot of other entrepreneurs about the ways we manage our Instagram accounts, and I always find it interesting to hear how they approach it. I certainly don't have it all figured out, but there are some things I've learned that can make your Instagram account more effective, regardless of any algorithm they throw at us.
PHOTO QUALITY MATTERS
This sounds obvious, but having clear, high quality photos is vital on such a highly visual platform. This doesn't mean you can't be "real" or that everything has to be staged, but some simple editing techniques can ensure that your page gets the attention it deserves. I only post photos that are shot with natural light and aren't too dark or grainy. This can be a challenge during the winter, so I try to maximize the daylight by shooting my photos ahead of time on the weekends. Anything that's more "of the moment" and often lower quality works well for Insta stories. If it's in your budget, I also recommend working with a photographer for several reasons: 1) they're professionals! 2) it adds a consistent aesthetic to your page (see below!) and 3) you'll have a bank of photos to pull from, which saves you from making your own content for every single post. This has been an enormous timesaver for me, and I genuinely love shooting with photographers and seeing my products through their perspective.
DEVELOP YOUR AESTHETIC
Having a cohesive look, feel, and tone of voice helps your followers to understand what you/your business is all about. Look at the first 9-12 photos in your feed and take an outsider's point of view; what would they think your content is all about? Is it clear what your intent is? Give that some thought as you balance out the type of content and images you're going to be sharing. I like to stick to a certain color palette, and edit my photos in a consistent way as well. Using an Instagram planner helps me to see how a photo looks before I post it — if something isn't working, I can tweak the edit so it fits better. I like to mix my content up so I'm not featuring products or work photos all the time, too — my home and local landscape is very tightly tied to my brand's inspiration, so it's a natural fit to share those things as well. Think about ways you can add variety to your posts while still staying on brand, and don't be afraid to get personal!
Instagram stories is a perfect place to share a peek behind the scenes, highlight your process, and make quick announcements. I also like to share more personal stuff here, and it's also a great place to share any photos or content that doesn't quite fit into your feed. I've slowly transitioned my account to be more business/design oriented and have debated having a separate personal account (would love to hear your thoughts on this!), but the stories feature has been a great addition for more personal content.
POST AT YOUR BEST TIMES
Unfortunately, the new algorithm is said to only show your post to a small portion of your audience, and if it receives a "worthy" amount of attention, then it's released to the rest of your audience. Super cool, right? It sucks, but timing up your posts properly gives them the best chance to be seen by all of your followers. Start by paying attention to your analytics, which can show you when your audience is most active. Usually the best times to post are early in the morning and in the evening (basically, outside of work hours, when people are more likely to be on their phones). This is another reason why using an Instagram scheduler can be handy and help you plan ahead!
PROFITS > POPULARITY
Being (or seeming) popular on Instagram does not always equate to a profitable or successful business! This is so important to understand. I've seen some small businesses fall into the trap of buying followers or using bots to keep up appearances, which contribute nothing to the bottom line of their business. I can understand why bloggers feel the need to do this to get recognized by brands, but to a business owner, having an inflated follower count is useless. These aren't real people who are interested in you or your products, so what's the point? Work on expanding your reach organically by making work that you're proud of and putting out content that supports it. As with all things in life, success feels better earned. Your value is in the real-life operation of your business, and your relationship with customers and collaborators — not in your numbers.
At the end of the day, having a loyal and engaged audience is key to getting the most out of Instagram, no matter how large or small that audience is. Make as much original content as you can — no one else is exactly like you, so try not to be overly influenced by what others are doing. Express yourself and share your point of view. RESPOND to your comments and ask questions. I've met so many people and received opportunities through Instagram that I wouldn't have otherwise, so there's much to be gained by showcasing yourself and your business there. I hope this helps you navigate the craziness a bit, and again, would love to hear what methods have worked out well for you!