Many of us are on Instagram, posting photos of food we eat, places we visit, things we like, etc. We use it as a way to share about our life just as how we would use Facebook or other social media platforms. But did you know that with more intention and effort, Instagram can be one of the most powerful tools to show yourself and your cause to the world, and not just to your friend circle?
To start with, there are roughly 500 million active users on Instagram, and the majority of them are from 18 – 35 years old. It’s a place for companies and individuals to spread positivity and inspiration with a bit of personal touch, using stunning images. So…if you’re looking for a place for political debates, that’s probably not the most suitable platform. And guess who has the most followers on Instagram? Singer Selena Gomez, with 102 million. Our purpose is not to become Selena Gomez, of course, but this article is to show you that even if we’re not, Instagram can still help us reach out to people we wouldn’t have been able to reach otherwise.
I started using Instagram in April this year. I opened an account, Vegan Kitty Cat, in order to share about a happy and healthy plant-based lifestyle. So far I’ve accumulated around 1,800 followers and my engagement rate is about 15 – 21% (on average, engagement rate for brands is about 3 – 6%).
I don’t claim to be an “expert,” but I’ve taken some courses, read a lot of materials, and experimented myself. The following tips are things that I’ve learned along the way, and it’s for anyone who wants to use Instagram for a cause or project:
WHY: the most important step to figure out first
Every other step you take will be based on your purpose, so it’s important to clarify this first. You can consider asking yourself these questions:
- What’s the purpose of you opening this account? Is it to inspire, build a community, sell your products, or?
- What do you want to get out of this? Are you simply sharing, or do you want to attract business opportunities?
WHAT: what do you want to show to the world?
For my account, it’s very clear to me what I want to show to the world. I want to post photos about vegan food, my travels, and animals. I define it as a vegan lifestyle account with a personal touch and stories. Once you’ve decided your “what,” keep your content consistent. If you have an account showing your artwork, don’t post the lunch that you ate that day – it doesn’t serve the purpose of the account, but may confuse your followers about what your account is really about.
WHO: who are you showing yourself to?
Who is your target audience? It’s important to define because it determines what language you’re going to use and what word usage will attract your intended readers. For example, if you are running a food account in Hong Kong, the people you want to attract may be the general public in Hong Kong and surrounding countries, food commentators, food magazines, and so on. If you want both Chinese and English speakers to access your content, consider posting in both languages separated by a dividing line in between.
You can change your account name many times, so even if you’re not happy with the first name you came up with, you can always fine-tune it later. A good account name should be:
- Easily recognizable and memorable.
- Relevant to your personal brand, company, or what you have to offer.
You can use your company logo or avatar as your profile photo – something that shows who you are. Note that profile photos are round, so be sure to check if a photo can fit into the shape. Even if your account is only about food and there’re no personal photos of yourself, it’s still fine to use your own photo as the profile photo. People usually would like to see the face behind the photos on the Instagram feed because it gives a personal touch.
BIO: the description of your account
A good bio helps people get what you offer and who you are right away.
- There’s a 150-character limit.
- Explain your why, how, and what.
- Show personality.
- Use neat and clear descriptions of the account, which can be spaced vertically for an easier read.
- Use Emojis to look more lively.
- Include a professional email address for people to get in contact with you.
- Link to your website or Facebook page. You can change the link as many times as you want, so you can use a link that’s specific to your campaign. This is also the only active link that you can include on your page.
- Use your favorite similar brands or companies as references on how to write your own bio.
After all, Instagram is a platform for showing beautiful photos, so your photo quality is very important.
- You can edit your photos on Instagram, or use photo editing apps such as Snapseed.
- Don’t overuse filters. You can use adjustments to edit your images.
- Make sure the images are nicely composed. Take photography classes if needed.
- Pay attention to aesthetics: keep the same style of photos and color tones.
- A Georgia Tech research has shown that photos with human faces tend to get 38% more likes and 32% more comments.
Instagram is not just about photos. Captions play an important role, too – just think of it as storytelling with nice images.
- There’s a limit of 2,200 characters, roughly 400 words. But try not to write super long captions all the time like you’re writing an essay.
- Use catchy captions with a bit of personal touch when it fits.
- If you’re not in English-speaking countries and you want to attract local users, write in their language. But you can also include an English version to attract an international audience. Use a dividing line to separate two languages.
- Use Emojis to humanize your text for an appropriate audience – even the White House did it in 2014 in a report for millennials!
Hashtags are a magical tool to help you reach strangers around the world. Anyone who clicks the hashtags can see your photos, and vice versa.
- Have a set of hashtags that you can copy and paste as the first comment on an image. Don’t include in the caption itself because visually it looks overwhelming. Before you post an image, copy the hashtags, have them ready, and paste within seconds after you posted the photo to ensure exposure.
- Post the hashtags as soon as possible after you post the image. Thousands of people are using super popular hashtags, and the next second your photo may already be pushed down the list.
- The limit of hashtags is 30, and it doesn’t hurt to use them all.
- Experiment with different hashtags, and use a combination of super popular hashtags and less popular but highly relevant ones. To check how popular a hashtag is, simply search for the hashtag on Instagram and see how many photos there are. I would say more than 1 million is considered very popular.
- You can try using #follow4follow #followme #follow, which are commonly thought to attract new followers, but with one condition – it’s expected that you follow back the people who follow you. If you want to be selective in who you follow, don’t use these hashtags.
- You can use foreign language hashtags to attract your target audience. I normally use about 4 – 5 Chinese hashtags to attract people from Taiwan or Hong Kong.
Story is a relatively new function that Instagram added that resembles a bit Snapchat. When you see a person’s profile photo with a glowing pink rim, that means this person has just published his or her story within the last 24 hours.
- Story can be in the form of photos or videos, which will disappear after 24 hours. You can save them to your phone. You can also add text to the images and footage before you post.
- It’s complementary to the actual posts, giving the behind-the-scene feeling. For example, if you post a photo of the beautiful breakfast smoothie bowl you made, you can use Story to make a short video of the process of making that breakfast, and in the caption of the photo, say “Check my story for more” or something similar.
Content is not the only thing you need to pay attention to. Knowing when to post is also important in order to create better engagement.
- Frequency: 1 – 2 times a day for brands. Never binge post because it’s overwhelming for your followers. Can you imagine opening your Instagram and seeing the same person posting 20 times in a row? It’s almost a guarantee for you to lose followers because it’s just plain annoying. Space the posts at least 4 hours in between if you post multiple times a day.
- Timing: post at different hours to experiment when you get the highest engagement. This has a lot to do with where your followers are located. For example, 25% of my followers are Americans, so by posting at certain hours when they’re active online, I get more engagement. But if you just begin your Instagram journey and haven’t accumulated many followers, you may not see a huge difference.
INTERACTION & ENGAGEMENT
Instagram is a lot about interactions and engagement. If you don’t interact with other users, it’s hard to build a huge following.
- Like, comment and follow other accounts.
- Respond timely to people’s comments on your posts and direct messages. Don’t wait for 5 days to respond to someone.
- Tag people who are relevant. For example, when you mention a company, tag them in the post. When you eat out with a friend, tag them in the post.
- Use geo-tags to indicate the city you’re in, the café you’re at, and so on. It helps you reach people who search for the place you’re at (my photos basically dominate vegan/vegetarian restaurants in Hanoi…just saying).
- Instagram is a lot about real-time social engagement, so ideally if you have an event, you can post on spot.
- You can do contest/giveaways and ask people to tag their friends in your posts.
- If you want to repost other people’s stuff (regramming), ask for permission and give credit. You can also ask other bigger accounts if they’d be willing to repost for you to increase your reach.
Study accounts that are similar to yours, and see what captions they use, what hashtags they use, and so on. For example, both @rawvana and @bonnyrebecca are my references when I do Instagramming.
There are other apps and platforms that you can use to integrate with Instagram:
- Layout: to create collages
- Hyperlapse: to create time lapse videos
- Boomerang: to create GIFs
- Facebook: maybe you also have a Facebook page, but my advice is not to post the exact same things on both platforms. If someone follows you on Instagram and sees exactly the same thing on your Facebook again, why would they follow you on both? You can choose to post one photo on Instagram, and maybe 2 – 3 on Facebook about the same topic. Also, remember to post on your personal Facebook to ask friends to follow and support you.
- Website: if you just published a blog post on your website, you can announce on Instagram and include in your caption something like “NEW BLOG UP! Link in my bio” so people can go to your bio and click the link.
- Youtube: if you are also a Youtuber, announce on Instagram whenever you post a new video.
There are analytic tools you can use to measure your success and fine-tune your strategy. These are just some examples, but there are more:
- Sprout Social ($54/month): if you just started Instagramming and you don’t have a flourishing business yet, I wouldn’t recommend that you invest so much.
- IconoSquare ($4.9/month): I’ve used this one and find it pretty helpful. I got to analyze where my followers are from, what time I should post, and so on.
As you can see, there’s a lot to talk about when it comes to Instagram. But here’s the golden rule – at the end of the day, it’s JUST Instagram, not your real life. It’s a tool for you to connect to a wider audience, and to invite them into your world. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have, or how many likes you get. It’s not a tool for your ego to feel good. What matters is that it’s something that gives you joy and allows you to be authentic and inviting while you share your cause. So…have fun! (and if it’s not fun, don’t do it) <3