Gaining followers on social media can be an entire business in itself with numerous guidelines to optimize your chances of being noticed. One of those rules is to post steadily with constant content. So what happens when you post consistently for a month? I tried it and here are the results.
After posting the results I got from spending $50 on Instagram, I decided my next test would be to post far more consistently than I ever had in the past. My article last week touched on how curating your profile is one of the more important rules to follow in the world of social media. If you read that article then you would know that I dislike conforming to just one style. With that said I am even worse at following the rule to post often, sometimes going months without posting. I could likely write an entire thesis on personally struggling with social media but for the past month, I pushed myself to follow many of the guidelines set out to gain followers. Here’s what I tried to follow and I’ll go into more detail for each of these throughout the article:
- Curate Posts - Edit every photo to follow a certain look and theme.
- Post Often - Post at 2:00 PM EST every day.
- Engaging Captions - I didn’t write long winded inspirational quotes for every photo, but I did try to write engaging captions.
- Portrait Orientation - More than 75% of the photos were designed to take up the maximum amount of screen real estate.
- Hashtags - The first 14 days I used less than six tags per post, with the latter half using close to the max amount, 27+; more on this below.
- Stories - I only posted seven stories, mostly during the first 15 days.
- Instagram Daily - Used and interacted on Instagram at least three times a day but nothing excessive.
Something to keep in mind is that these “rules” I keep mentioning are all basically guesswork on maximizing your social media footprint. You’ll find out in this post that some advice could even be wrong, but I did try my best to follow the rules that made sense to me.
For this experiment I wanted all 30 photos to follow the same style but I wanted to try to find something unique. Looking through my catalog I stumbled upon a photo I took in Arches National Park earlier this year and started to experiment with different tones eventually resulting in this:
I realize that this style isn’t for everyone and I can admit it might not be a photo you’d find in my landscape portfolio. A lesson I’ve learned is to remember that the content I’m posting to social media doesn’t have to be strictly portfolio quality. Not only does this enable me to branch out into other aesthetics like the above photo, it also gives me more content to work with. Instead of only posting the absolute best shot that I spent hours in photoshop perfecting, I can post several shots that I captured during that day regardless of conditions.
Once I had the editing style locked in, I made a preset in Lightroom based on my original photo and started applying it to photos from my recent trips. Iceland certainly had the best results because this stylization really stands out during overcast/rainy conditions which are basically the definitions of their weather. I also prioritized photos that were already portrait oriented or could be cropped for portrait. As much as I hate this rule being a landscape photographer, it really does matter for Instagram. I sized all portrait photos to a 4:5 ratio to take up the maximum amount of screen space on someone’s feed.
After several days of culling and editing, I had narrowed down my selections to roughly 50 photos. I exported all of the photos into a folder and started moving them around to create a mock-up of what my feed would appear like. You’ll notice some photos are very similar but as long as I posted them at least a week apart it created enough variation to go unnoticed.
Another thing to notice is that I organized the photos based on the amount of color in each image. Creating an end result that has the images with the most amount of color on the right side of my feed and the least amount of color on the left side of my feed. Something to think about when planning out how you want your profile to look.
There are apps out there to help you organize your Instagram feed and test what it will look like with certain images. Considering I was doing most of the work from a computer instead of a phone, I manually organized the photos by moving them around and numbering them when I was finished arranging the photos.
Now that we have our style and curation done, it’s time to schedule the posts. Up until this point my method for doing this was like many others; send the photo to my phone and create a post through the Instagram app. I wanted to try and streamline the process for this experiment considering I didn’t want to miss a single day and try to post at 2:00 PM EST every day. To do this I started using Iconosquare:
Recently Instagram changed the API to allow apps to publish automatically which was an absolute dream for this project. The previous method was to schedule posts using the exact same interface except when it came time to post your photo, it was just a reminder. You still had to publish the image to Instagram yourself and copy the caption manually. This would have conflicted with my goal to post at 2:00 PM sharp every day considering some days I was simply too busy to do it myself.
Another big plus to using a scheduler is that you can see a preview of what your feed will look like based on your scheduled content. I didn’t utilize this much because I had already organized the photos before scheduling them, but I could easily see this saving a lot of time in the future. I can confidently say that I posted every single day for 30 days straight without any interruption. There was one day that my photo got posted an hour late because of some permission issue update through Instagram, but that shouldn't matter for our data.
The first half of this experiment, 14 days to be exact, I followed a rule to only use ~5 hashtags per post so that your photo doesn’t get “shadow banned.” Midway through this experiment, Instagram announced that shadowbanning is a myth and that it doesn’t hide content for posting too many hashtags. Thus for the latter half of the experiment, I started using the same 27 hashtags for each post with the addition of one or two location tags based on the photo. You’ll find in the results that it didn’t really matter how many I used.
Another benefit of using a service to schedule and organize your post is their built-in hashtags manager. Previously I had hashtags saved in my notes app on my phone, but using this made it much easier when scheduling a post.
Engaging Posts & Being Active
I didn’t go overboard by writing life inspiring captions like many large Instagrammers do. I did try to write somewhat engaging captions in most posts. I also included short (less than three words) titles to each photo. Along with that, I did post a few stories of some of the photos but honestly, I’ll admit I didn’t put too much effort into my stories. I also don’t recommend only posting stories that say “New post!” I did this and don’t think it had any results. My personal opinion is that you can publish stories to let your readers know you made a new post as long as you are surrounding those stories with other content. The truth is I’m bad when it comes to stories. My daily life is currently sweating in Florida heat and working in an office editing video - not a lot of excitement. That said, I want to start getting more creative with stories in the future, maybe that’ll be the next long experiment?
Another thing I tried to do was be active on Instagram a few times a day. I tend to notice my posts get seen more when I actively use instagram, even if it’s simply scrolling and liking a few photos throughout the day. I also tried to reply to any comment on a photo and engage whenever possible.
Now that I have explained all the guidelines I followed it’s time for what you are likely reading this article for, the results. Here are the important numbers I had before starting this adventure:
- 5,871 Followers
- 17 Posts in 2018
- 5,307 Likes in 2018
Like I said in the beginning, I haven’t posted much at all this year. My follower count continually drops when not posting, which is expected. There was a slight bump in follower count earlier this year when I had a photo get shared by REI, something I’ll touch on another time. Here are the results:
As of writing this post I have gained 107 followers. You’ll notice a 275% increase is media posted, that’s how little I had been posting prior to running this test. Also be aware that the “likes received” -31.2% isn’t accurate because the comparison data from last month is skewed from when I sponsored two posts on Instagram.
The blue squares highlight exact dates that Fstoppers' Instagram shared photos of mine. This obviously impacted my follower growth for that day and should be clearly known that those spikes are likely caused by that. I marked one other section in green to indicate when this article went live on Fstoppers, it caused a slight increase in follower growth which is a little curious because I don’t tend to gain many followers from article post but I did with that one. I felt it was important to include that information for transparency sake and possible explanation for those small increases.
There is a lot to interpret from these results. Clearly, it looks like the engagement rate was higher in the beginning of the 30 day period than at the end, but the question is why? It could be because of how often I was posting. I noticed my engagement on posts previous starting this experiment was typically higher per post, however, I believe that was simply due to Instagram’s algorithm prioritizing my content because I hadn’t posted in awhile. Let’s compare stats from a photo I posted earlier this year with a photo in this experiment to find out:
I tried selecting two average photos to compare. Almost every photo posted from earlier this year has higher engagement than the photos from the last 30 days. It’s very likely it could be that the photos just are not as engaging or styled to please my followers. There was also a large change in Instagram’s algorithm before starting this endeavor. I personally suspect it has more to do with posting every single day resulting in overloading my followers. I think posting every two to three days might be ideal for my content and current following.
One other thing to consider is the point where I started using more hashtags per post. It’s possible that using more hashtags was negatively affecting the reach of my posts but I can’t conclude that from this minimal amount of data. I will admit that adding more hashtags got more “fake” followers circulating on my account. I purposely tried to look at every single follower I gained throughout this period to see if they were real or just someone trying to follow/unfollow. I noticed after going from five to 25+ hashtags that I got an increase in these type of followers. Most importantly it felt like hashtags really weren't doing much for my photos at all. The impression numbers were extremely low. If you look at the photo in the comparison above it shows just 15 people saw the post via hashtags. It's not even that much higher for the older photo in that comparison. On top of that, it generally feels like the only people that find my profile via hashtags are ones looking to try and follow/unfollow people which is useless.
This is a comparison of the most engaged and least engaged media I posted, these were also the most and least liked photos throughout the period. Clearly, people seem to like roads and flowing water rather than flat subtle images. I thought I’d share this because it does show that interesting content does matter. When I was editing pictures for this project I purposely picked a variety of images to get a sense of what people liked and didn't like from these results.
Was it worth it? Posting every day was a lot of work if I’m being honest. That said, I think if I posted three to four times per week it wouldn’t be nearly as much work and slightly less stressful. I can say that simply posting content consistently will net you a few followers here and there. It certainly isn’t going to make you Instagram famous overnight but it does increase your exposure.
So what does this all mean? At the end of the day, content is king. Ultimately I think the absolute best thing you can do is make sure your content is decent and you post consistently. Your photos don’t need to be world class, look at the majority of Instagrammers with over 100k followers for proof of that. You just need to post on a consistent basis and have decent content. It won’t happen overnight or even within a few months. It takes a lot of work and dedication to do which is something I failed to realize in the beginning and still struggle with to this very day.
What do you think? Did I gain more or less followers than you expected? Do you care at all about followers in the first place? Would love to hear any opinions in the comments. I spent quite a lot of time putting this together and feel like I learned a great deal. I hope you did as well.