The app has become a firm favorite for photographers, artists, foodies, and travelers to share their best work. And it’s a place where millions go to find creative inspiration and behind-the-scenes glimpses that are unique to Instagram.
When done right, Instagram can provide you with a mass, captive audience who can’t wait to see your next post. “Doing it right” means knowing how to:
- Take a great photo
- Attract more likes and comments
- Discover the best hashtags for your niche
- Build a real following
When it comes to figuring out how to have more than just your friends and family follow you on Instagram, however, knowing what you should be doing is only half the picture. You also need to know what not to do. Keep these Instagram rules in mind to see your profile become more popular.
1. Don’t Post Sub-Par Photos
This isn’t to say each of your photos needs to be worthy of a place in National Geographic. It’s more a matter of looking at your shots, critiquing your photos, and developing an eye for what’s actually Instagram-worthy.
Your shots should invoke emotions and show people something new: unlikely to be found elsewhere. Food photography should make people hungry. Travel photography might give people wonderlust. Behind-the-scenes photos should leave an impression. A feed full of these kind of photos is a feed worth following.
If you’re feed doesn’t look like this so far, don’t worry. Starting today, be more particular when picking photos. Alternatively, you can always archive photos that you don’t think are up to par.
2. Don’t Go Too Off-Brand
If you’re simply using Instagram to share photos with friends, post whatever you like. But for wider appeal, you’ll need an overarching theme or style so people know what to expect.
Roel van Wanrooy, for instance, exclusively posts stunning photos of abandoned buildings. Laura and Nora of FoodStories have their own, unique style of food photography (see below). Mark Brook usually posts images of his comic book art.
Popular feeds like these have their very own aesthetic. If other users get that aesthetic, hitting follow suddenly becomes an easy decision.
3. Don’t Forget to Caption
It’s no secret that posts with captions attract more engagement than those without. Just adding a little context, like Peter McKinnon does, is all that’s needed. You could also ask a question, share a story, or include a call to action. But whatever you do, don’t leave the caption blank.
This is one of the most basic Instagram rules; blank caption gives no incentive for people to interact. Plus, it makes it less likely that people will just happen on your profile while browsing Instagram.
4. Don’t Ignore Hashtags
Always including a caption doesn’t mean just hammering out a ton of popular hashtags, hoping a few more people will see your shots. Going overboard on some of these non-specific hashtags (#love, #instagood, #like4like, etc.) will usually result in spam comments and followers.
Instead, only use hashtags that are relevant. By this, I mean those that you’re confident your ideal audience will be keeping an eye on. Don’t start turning #every #word #into #a #hashtag. And don’t start #inventingyourownhashtag.
There are no concrete Instagram rules about hashtags; around five relevant hashtags is the general rule of thumb. Some people say over 10 is overkill, but there is no conclusive evidence that you’ll see any downsides from including 20, as long as they’re relevant.
Check out this list of 100 popular hashtags to see if any are closely relevant to your own style of photos (if they’re not, don’t use them). Otherwise, just try typing a range of hashtags within Instagram. You’ll then be given a selection of related hashtags to choose between, along with the number of posts that include that hashtag.
5. Don’t Ignore Your Followers
If you’re receiving genuine comments on your Instagram posts, don’t ignore them! Become comfortable with interacting with your followers, and they’ll soon become true fans, perhaps recommending their own network to follow you too.
6. Don’t Be Inconsistent
Too many Instagram users pepper-spray their followers with a ton of posts all at once, then fail to show up for a week or two.
This might be more convenient for you, but it infuriates the hell out of your followers. One day, a ton of your photos are clogging up their feed. Next day, you’re gone. When you finally reappear, they’ve forgotten who you are, and decide to unfollow you. Not cool.
7. Don’t Follow People You’re Not Interested In
An overused way to grow an Instagram following is to follow a ton of people, hope they follow you back, then unfollow them. It may work to an extent, but it’s hella time-consuming, and completely disingenuous.
Use Instagram how it was meant to be used. Search for creative, fantastic profiles. Follow the ones you love. Ignore those you don’t. Curate a feed you can’t help but browse.
This is thankfully how most people use the platform. They use Instagram’s discoverability features to hunt out new profiles to follow. So don’t try to game the system. Just create a feed worth following, and give it a helping hand by linking to it on your other social profiles or website.
8. Don’t Ignore Analytics
If your Instagram account is a business account (you’ll need to link your account to a Facebook Page for this), you have access to some basic, but useful analytics.
You’ll be shown a breakdown of your follower demographics (sex, age, and location), including when they are most active. You can also see the impressions and reach of each of your posts, to see which ones really resonated. Keeping an eye on all of this will help you to more consistently choose the right kind of posts for your followers.
Follow the Instagram Rules to Become a Pro
Unless you’re a popular celebrity who attracts fans wherever they set up a social media profile, you’ll need to stick to a few basic rules, and avoid some gaping mistakes like these, to really succeed at Instagram.
Fail to do this, and you’ll only ever have your mates and siblings liking your photos. If you’re happy with that, that’s fine. But if you’ve read this far, I’ll assume you want to take your Instagram profile to the next level. I which case, heed this advice, be patient, be persistent, and always try to improve on what you’re publishing. You can’t go far wrong.
What mistakes have you made on Instagram that other people should avoid? And what have you done that’s helped you to take better photos or to grow your following?