The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Instagram with bonus TIPS!

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The Good.

One-year ago I joined Instagram after a friend convinced me to do so – she gave me a choice of Instagram or Snapchat. I picked Instagram as it seemed more ‘grown up’. She provided me with a number of basic lessons and before long I was off – posting, liking, following and repeating this cycle. It all seemed so easy. I was clearly a natural at Instagram…

I was blissfully unaware of niche, engagement algorithms and various strategies around hashtags, liking, following and everything else which you inevitably pick up on and learn over time. I had visions of thousands of followers in no time at all, just like some of the large accounts I was following.

However, my thoughts of seeking large numbers quickly took a back seat. Why? Something else had started to happen – a small Instagram community had begun to form. People who were genuinely interested – whether it was in me, the destination or my current pursuit of hiking, cycling, snorkelling or whatever else I was doing.

As the community continued to develop, people reached out with genuine, thoughtful comments and direct messages. This provided me with a ton of satisfaction and became my priority – the number of followers took a back seat. That’s not too say I didn’t target new followers, it just wasn’t my highest priority.

In response, I reached out too – if I had a question about a post/story or I really liked a post/story I would add a comment or send a direct message. I thought if I liked to receive feedback, questions and comments, then it was likely that others would too!

It was at this point, I spent a little time thinking about a niche. I asked myself ‘what is it that people are engaging with – simply by a like, a comment or a direct message? And there I had it – my niche. Active, outdoorsy pursuits, off the beaten track. But how did this help?

Well, it guided me whilst determining which photos I should post – with the niche providing a sort of boundary. I had a mental checklist of things to check before posting – a criteria if you will. Is this post of an active pursuit? Is it outdoorsy? Is it off the beaten track? If I had satisfied some of my mental checklist, I would post it. If not, it made me think twice about whether to post it. Of course, sometimes I would experiment with a slightly different post and analyse the results. However, the majority of them would align nicely to my niche. Having a clear niche meant new visitors to my profile could instantly tell what I was all about and make a snap decision on whether to engage or follow me.

I have met a heap of super interesting people through Instagram – which is surely the GOOD thing about it right?! An excellent platform to meet people who all share a common interest. Some of these connections have evolved into genuine friendships over the last year – based around a love for a particular destination, the outdoors, hiking or simply a liking of photography.

Several months ago someone sent me a direct message on Instagram, after seeing I was in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. They had a number of questions about the area and was hoping I could help them. I provided recommendations of things to do, places to visit and where to stay and several months later they arrived. We met up and spent the day cycling, snorkelling and hanging out with friends of mine – GOOD times, enabled by Instagram. Thanks Instagram!

Over time I started to think about how posts worked together for a more cohesive look. I thought about the flow and how they looked as a tile of photos – the impression they gave and story they told as a unit. I came up with a strategy for posting new photos. Rather than posting 3 snorkeling photos one after the other, I’ll mix it up with 1 snorkeling photo, followed by one landscape photo, followed by one hiking photo and repeat this process time and time again – all the time analysing whether this approach is well received by how the Instagram community reacted. I think it gives your feed a nice cohesive look and feel, plus it keeps a multitude of different followers engaged – depending on their particular interest.

At times I’ll  experiment with a series of photos rather than staggering them – if I feel they will provide a bigger impact as a group. An example of this was my recent Bougainville sing sing festival photos. I decided to trial a series with of these shots, posting 3 in a row over 3 days, followed by another 3 of my more typical active, outdoorsy shots and repeating the process for several weeks. It went down a treat. The important thing is that it’s a considered approach – rather than a random unthoughtout approach. Don’t be afraid to experiment and take a risk. This series paid off when it was picked up by a PNG Tourism business, who made a montage of the shots and shared them to an audience of over 30k.

Think about ways in which to take your followers on a journey. Rather than simply going on a hike and posting photos of it for a couple of weeks or so, I discovered that people would engage if I introduced the upcoming hike beforehand – build up to it and then deliver the results of it with epic photos and videos. Take them on a journey and make them feel part of it. Use the features available to you to build excitement with photos, stories, good solid captions, tagging, locations and everything else which becomes available. Also, on a number of occasions during this build-up process, I have had people reach out and make suggestion of additional things to do in the area, sights to see or advice on the actual pursuit itself, which is very useful.

I think it’s important to experiment with different types of post too – it’s another good thing about Instagram. It’s a curated version of your life, your business or whatever else you want to make it about. You’re in charge, so don’t be afraid to use trial and error. If something doesn’t work, take note and move on. Yes, you’ve got a niche but this doesn’t mean to have to be regimented by the boundaries at all times. Flex your niche, let it evolve along with your current situation and your audience. I wouldn’t go too far like suddenly including wedding photography into my niche – ‘off the beaten track’ and ‘weddings’ that’s just crazy talk! However, I regularly experiment to see what works and what doesn’t work. It’s not about randomly posting something and hoping for the best – it’s about delivering a carefully considered approach and hoping for the best!

The Bad.

If you asked me when I first started using Instagram what I had hoped for one-year on, my response would have been x number of followers. 

When I first started with each photo I posted I simply wanted to get more likes. If I got more, it was a success – if I got less it was unsuccessful. I thought it must mean people didn’t ‘like’ my photo as much right? Wrong. I wasn’t considering the many factors at play like posting times, early engagement, captivating captions, hashtags, on-going engagement or the many other factors which impact the algorithm. And to be fair I didn’t even know about them. In my naivety, it was simply black and white. More likes equalled a happy me – less likes equalled an unhappy, grumpy me. I realised I had to change my mindset. And quickly.

We should definitely strive to better ourselves and our work, however I think it should be in a more considered and holistic approach – not simply based on the number of likes or comments. And it was at this point only a couple of months into using Instagram which I made a pact with myself to not beat myself up about likes and instead focus on the positives of a fantastic, like-minded community of people with who I could engage with and learn from.

Back in the day I would look at accounts in my niche with a similar number of followers and wonder how they got more likes than me? I initially thought it was because they were better than me. This could have well been the case, I mean, they could have been posting better quality photographs of places that were more interesting to people than what I was doing – however I didn’t think it was true. I soon came to the conclusion that it was impossible to do a true comparison as I knew so little about them. And I moved on. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s good to keep an eye on people within your niche, learn from what they are doing and strive to improve your work but definitely don’t beat yourself up about them getting more likes or comments as that doesn’t help anyone.

In summary, avoid being drawn into the BAD of Instagram – simply use the information you acquire to positively improve your own work and move on with your unique approach. As a rule you should spend the majority of your time focusing on your own work as everyone is in a different place and after all – it’s only your work which actually matters.

The Ugly.

Remember to enjoy Instagram – it’s easy to forget why you first started using it. Don’t let it get to the point of being UGLY!

Remind yourself of why you’re here. Why did I join? Well, a friend told me to. But after that I wanted to see photographs of the city I lived in, of potential walks I could do, of places I could explore and engage with like-minded people. Whatever your reasons, keep reminding yourself of it time and time again.

Don’t let it get to the point of being a hindrance or a chore – this is when it gets very UGLY and you should never feel like you’re wasting your time.  If you aren’t enjoying the process of putting up a new post or engaging with the Instagram community, something is seriously wrong. Don’t be afraid to take a break from it. I’ve done this several times throughout the year, when going on hikes into the wilderness for 3 or 4 days or have other engagements and have always come back refreshed with heaps of excellent ideas and content and a renewed buzz.

Prevent burnout by setting some time aside each day or every other day to do your Instagram activity. I spend an hour in the evening around 19:00 – which is also my best time for new posts. I put up new post, I engage with my following and reach out to new people within my niche including commenting and liking. Of course, I jump onto Instagram on an ad-hoc basis throughout the day too, however it’s this regular slot where the real productivity happens.

Remember – everyone gets frustrated from time to time, it’s natural. There are things like people who follow you only to unfollow you a day or two later and your following yoyo’s up and down or a certain post flops for unknown reasons. This happens to even the top Instagrammers and is all part of the joy of Instagram. It would be dull if it was easy right! I simply learn from these things and move on. Remember to spend the majority of your time focussed on YOUR account!

And the bonus TIPS!

We can’t end on the UGLY of Instagram as Instagram is a fantastic place to be, otherwise, we wouldn’t be there right? It’s somewhere I love to spend my time and have picked up the following tips to help you build an active, engaged community:

Quality content is key

Instagram is a visual place and therefore you need to be adding captivating, engaging and unique photographs which catch the eye. Remember that cliche saying of ‘content is king’ – it’s true, without quality content it’s going to be tough. Spend time preparing your your photographs using one of the many editing tools to give them that extra edge. I personally use Snapseed which is a fantastic free app and packed full of useful features.

Interesting/funny/factual/useful captions

Help people understand what they are looking at. It may appear obvious to you but to someone that knows nothing about the back story it may not be so obvious. Use engaging captions, they can really add something extra to your post. Think about adding an interesting point or fact (which might involve you Googling it first!). Tell people a funny story or share how you were feeling at that point in time.  Also, consider asking a question too. A simple, yet effective way to increase engagement.

Use carefully considered hashtags

I recommend utilising all 30 hashtags available to you. Research the hashtags in your niche. How many posts are already using the same hashtags? Too few, too many? If you only use popular hashtags your post is unlikely to remain at the top for very long, however if you use unpopular hashtags, there’s a chance no one will see it. Use a mix of hashtags to cover your bases. They should contain a mix of location, activity and specific hashtags. For example, for an outdoorsy post I might use #papuanewguinea and #hiking and #bbctravel to cover all of these areas.

Engage, engage, engage

If you want people to engage with you, you have to engage, engage and engage with them. Obviously, this doesn’t mean simply liking every single post you see – rather with posts that align to your niche. I like to search through popular hashtags in my niche, for example #hiking, #adventure and #offthebeatentrack and engage with posts that stand out. It’s a good idea to engage with very recently added posts (a couple of minutes ago) as these people are likely to be online and may respond instantly, striking up a conversation. Also, don’t neglect the people you follow -after all you must like them if you already follow them, so be sure to show them some love!

Utilise the latest Instagram features

As I’ve previously mentioned, jump on-board with new features offered by Instagram. Experiment with the new ways of reaching an audience and see what works for you. For example, Instagram stories. It’s a fantastic way to interact with your audience in a slightly different way. I personally like to provide a behind the scenes, day to day view within my stories – a glimpse of a work in progress project maybe. Be inventive for there’s really no boundaries. Also, watch other people’s stories. Remember that they’ll see you’ve watched their video and may come and look at your profile in return. Finally, whilst in the topic of stories remember to use hashtags. If you don’t want people to see them, just make them really small and hide them within the photo or behind some text. These hashtags are fairly new to Instagram but are another way to attract and potentially engage with a new audience.

Reach out

Everyone loves it when they’ve received a personal message – unless it’s a weird message of course! Well, I love it and I assume everyone else does too. It’s a good feeling. Whether it’s just a quick ‘I like it’ or a question about the posts or an opportunity. Simply put the more you reach out, the more people will engage, so if you have a question about a post, be it about a specific destination, landmark or pursuit, ask them.

And finally, remember to enjoy Instagram for it’s not BAD, it’s not UGLY – it’s mostly just a GOOD, fun place to be that is full of awesome people!


Author: Adam Constanza – Freelance Travel Writer, Wellington – New Zealand | www.travelinspired.co.nz

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