I Posted a Photo Every Day for One Month on Instagram and This Is What Happened

I Posted a Photo Every Day for One Month on Instagram and This Is What Happened

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:

  1. Curate Posts - Edit every photo to follow a certain look and theme.
  2. Post Often - Post at 2:00 PM EST every day.
  3. Engaging Captions - I didn’t write long winded inspirational quotes for every photo, but I did try to write engaging captions.
  4. Portrait Orientation - More than 75% of the photos were designed to take up the maximum amount of screen real estate.
  5. 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.
  6. Stories - I only posted seven stories, mostly during the first 15 days.
  7. 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.

Curate

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:

first edit that inspired the editing style in this experiement

I secretly love this photo. Don't tell anyone!

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.

cropping photo for Instagram visibility

Sometimes it hurts to crop our photos into something we typically wouldn't

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. 

windows folder organizing photos for Instagram

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. 

Posting Daily

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:

Iconosquare Scheduler for Instagram

Iconosquare Scheduler

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. 

Iconosquare Preview for Instagram

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.

Hashtags

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. 

Iconosquare hashtags for Instagram

Save your favorite hashtag lists

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.

Final Results

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:

the finals results after posting for 30 days straight

The Finals 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

Follower Growth Breakdown

Follower Growth Breakdown

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.

Likes Engagement Breakdown

Likes/Engagement Breakdown

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:

comparison for insights on Instagram

Comparing Posts (left is from April, right is during this test)

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.

Engagement Breakdown With Hashtag Data

Engagement Breakdown With Hashtag Data

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.

Good vs Bad?

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.

Conclusion

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.


 

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66 Comments

Remy De Canniere's picture

Hi, Alex !

Thanks for running this experiment and for the detail presentation of your findings !

To me, this really goes to show that Instagram is now heavily skewed in favour of big brands and paying customers.

107 new followers after posting 30 photos is really ridiculous, IMO. This means that each photo you edited, prepared and posted (I would imagine this process takes maybe 1 hour from beginning to end per photo ?) only brought you 3 and a half followers.

To extrapolate, this means that to go from ~6000 followers to 10.000, you'd need to post another 1140 photos. At an average pace of 4 photos per week, that's another 285 weeks to go or 5 and a half years. That's insane.

If this isn't proof that IG is dead for non-paying users, I don't know what is.

I guess you either need to be sexy and promiscuous or rich - or both, to succeed on this platform.

What do you think ?

This has been my experience. I post on average 3-4 times a week. I know my work isn't world class, but I do put a lot of work into my posts and see minimal results. I've come to the conclusion that Instagram is a pay to play platform.

Jeff Walsh's picture

What you're not factoring in is the scaling aspect of that growth. As your account grows so does the interaction on each post. Meaning that every subsequent post raises the next post's interaction by a small percent. Over time, this means that each photo will grow in the amount of people viewing it, and the amount of people interacting with it, both of which factor into how often the algorithm places your posts in a person's recommended feed. The more your posts are shown to people who aren't following you increases the likelihood of gaining new followers. Meaning, the more your account grows, the higher the growth percentage will be of each post. You may only get 3.5 people at 1500 followers, but you're also only getting a small amount of views/interaction at 1500 followers. Push that 3000, your interaction roughly doubles, thus the popularity algorithm sees your posts as more attractive, resulting in it showing those posts to more people who aren't following you.

Remy De Canniere's picture

Yes Jeff, that's indeed true, but is the difference really that interesting ? Look at Alex's account for instance, he already had close to 6K followers when he ran that test, it's not like he did it on day 1 of creating his account. Even if the number actually double from 3,5 to 7 or even quadrupled to 14 new followers/photo, that's still an awful long way to go to grow your account IMO. We really need to accept IG - with a few exceptions, is dead for non-paying customers.

You cannot simply extrapolate social media presence/influence linearly. It almost certainly explodes only after hitting a critical mass (number of followers) while the initial stage in accumulation is rather slow and painful. So no, it most definitely will not take 5.5 years and 1140 posts to reach 10k.

Alex Armitage's picture

Remy, I think what you're saying has some merit. I actually had some similar stats in my article originally but left them out because as Jeff Walsh said, growth happens exponentially. I had a stat that said if I kept up this rate of follower growth based solely on this month's experience then I'd never "make it" on Instagram.

That said, I do think the goal is to look for breakout moments. Maybe I'll write something about it but when one of my photos hit the front page of reddit and was shared by REI almost in the same day, I gained 300 followers overnight. To me that's more of what you're looking for when you're posting consistently. To be seen as active, have a curated feed, and when one photos "sticks" it'll spike your follower growth. I'm not trying to convince anyone to do this either, it's a lot of work. Seriously, it's not something you can really do as an afterthought.

Remy De Canniere's picture

Thanks for the reply Alex ! Indeed, we also need to take exponential growth into account, but I feel IG's new algorithm still makes it too hard to grow organically. Yes, you'll gain more followers every time you post with 10K followers than with 5K followers, but does it mean you'll actually get to grow your account in a timely manner without paying ? The thing is, you already had a pretty decent amount of followers when you ran this test, it's not like you did it on day 1 of creating an account. Anyways, thanks again for the test !

Alex Armitage's picture

You aren't wrong. That said, I think gaining followers on Instagram can compare to any business. Work hard and hopefully it'll turn into something or pay your way to the top. Kinda applies to our lives, as sad as it is.

Lafayette Britto's picture

This is one of the main reasons why I dont waste too much time posting on IG anymore. I deleted my fb about 8 months ago, instagram I dont post as much as before. As a matter of fact, I deleted my old IG account with roughly 5k followers to start fresh and have not put a lot of focus on it.

Jen Photographs's picture

Great writeup, enjoyed this.

Slight OT: Do you -- or anyone else -- know of a tablet/desktop-friendly app or tool that looks at Instagram Insights? Instagram's desktop app doesn't allow access to Insights atm, and I don't own a smartphone. I do have business account enabled.

Alex Armitage's picture

Thank you Jen! Do you want an app that just strictly looks at your insights? I'm not sure there are any apps that have access to all of that information. I know Iconosquare has access to some of the data like demographics etc, but I'm not sure they have reach/impression data access which is limited by Instagram.

Jen Photographs's picture

That'd be ideal. Then I at least can get a better idea of performance. In theory I could keep track of likes and comments manually, but that gets tedious. It looks like Iconosquare does offer some analytics data, but as a mostly-hobby user, I don't want to invest in a fee/paid platform. For now.

If/when my user base grows, I'll reconsider, though.

Alex Armitage's picture

There might be other services that have basic analytics that are free but I don't know any off the top of my head.

Jen Photographs's picture

I got a bug up my ass and have been investigating. Looks like there used to be a number of free-for-small-fry tools, but they got bought out, so they're paid now or have a very short free trial period.

I found one possibility: Squarelovin -- can't get a bead on what their paid svc is actually for, but looks like the Instagram analytics info is free. For now.

Christian Lainesse's picture

How many of your followers are actual people who are interested in your photos, as opposed to bots and/or online businesses trying to get you to look at them?

Alex Armitage's picture

That is a wonderful question that I wish I knew the answer to. My engagement would suggest (in my opinion) that about half of the followers I have are inactive. I've never paid for followers, however about a year ago I was trying out fivver or shoutcart for some shoutouts and one person I hired just sent 400 followers my way, which is not at all what I wanted. I contacted them and reported them on the site. So I know at least roughly that amount aren't real. Past that, I'm not sure. I've gone through and used an app to analyze all the inactive followers I have but it's a long process to block all of them to get my engagement numbers up.

As for people follow/unfollowing accounts. Like I said in the article, I checked every single follower I got to see what kind of Instagrammer they were. The majority, 80%+ seemed real. Meaning not following a bunch of people, some private accounts, etc.

Lucas Fendley's picture

This was a great detailed article with no b.s. Thanks for taking the time to do this experiment and sharing the results!

Alex Armitage's picture

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment Lucas! I tried my best to just put out the results and be as transparent as possible. Glad you enjoyed it, thank you.

What I'd suggest for the next experiment is to spend 30 days interacting with other people on IG, instead of just posting an image a day. In fact, I would guess that if you went to 1 post per day, and spent the rest of that time commenting/connecting/etc., you would see much more than 100 new followers at the end of 30 days.

Alex Armitage's picture

Eric, I have actually done this! Maybe not as consistently or with much analysis behind it but last year I put effort into taking at least an hour in my day to interact with people on Instagram just like you describe. The results were minimal. Maybe a few followers here and there. I do think it's certainly a roll player for gaining some ground but I think it requires work in all areas including reaching out, posting content, curating, etc.

Simon Patterson's picture

I do this. I have only one solitary Instagram post, but I do engage on other people's posts. After 2 or 3 years, it has garnered me about 100 followers, half of whom I know personally. I presume the other half are bots.

Pedro Quintela's picture

It´s always great to see this kind of real world experiments, not from someone that has million followers.
I never payed too much attention to this platform but lately I´m doing it and have found some conclusions that also can be apply to other social media. It kind of intersects with your conclusions, Alex.

Post only your best images or, at least, the more eye catching ones
Being featured on big accounts is one of the keys to get known
Don´t overload your account, posting twice a week its good
Find a convenient hour, depending of where your followers live
Hashtags help still aren´t definitive
Engaging with many people in a solid basis will be a great way to have feedback

Do I follow all this "rules"? Somehow but I´m too lazy to do it meticulously. Now my time is more focus in creating content because I´m in this creative wave.

Thanks for sharing your experiment!

Alex Armitage's picture

Thanks for reading! Sometimes you have to balance creating more work or simply putting your work out there.

Tim Smith's picture

Content is Indeed King...so you shouldn't have to much of a problem gaining followers.

Kevin OConnell's picture

It can start out as fun, then get addicting. Then you start doing all this analyzing and trying this and that. Some work and others don't.

Than after you amass a decent following you find that most people using Instagram just want a big following and will unfollow you if you don't follow back. If you don't consistently post as you stated, your following will dwindle as well. The site is good to tag galleries with your image who would otherwise never give you a chance to look at them. It's also good for inique connections every once in a while, but not many are there to buy anything anymore. Most large followings are fake, all you have to do is look at there posts.

I don't post as much anymore and the stats don't seam to mean a hill of beans.

Still enjoyable at times, but I don't get hung up on all the stats anymore.

I have to say, what shocked me the most out of all this was that hastags didn't do much. And really it makes sense, I myself never look at hashtags and see what posts show up from them.

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this, and sharing the results with us, it's been eye-opening.

Alex Armitage's picture

Thanks for taking the time to respond! Yeah, looking back at the impression from hashtags it felt really underwhelming. I'm curious if they have gotten to just being pointless.

Corey Williams's picture

Interesting data and I can add 2-cents to this article. While I did not collect any data, such as followers before and after or number of hashtags or likes, I took on the "365-day challenge" the entire year of 2017 and used IG as my posting platform. I did not miss a single day and my content was very random. Believe it or not 85-90% of my photos were taken with a DSLR and edited in LR which was a time challenge in itself. I tried very hard not to just snap random iPhone pictures. I was learning different techniques and wanted my quality to improve.

My content was okay, and my captions were pretty generic and I would fill a comment with as many hashtags as were relevant. I would reply to every comment (I didn't get many) but I did not actively engage in the posts of those I was following (I would like many photos but did not comment much).

When getting likes and follows I would often follow back. Those that were very active on IG I would follow and pay attention to their content and interaction. IMO it seemed as though interaction was a key factor in them gaining followers. Don't get me wrong content was a big factor too which obviously is the main reason you comment in the first place. I am still posting in 2018, only not everyday and enjoy scrolling through my feed a couple times a day. Maybe seeing this and looking back at the 365 days of 2017 I will be inspired to interact more and see where that takes my IG profile...

Alex Armitage's picture

What were your results like? Also until you post for some period of time without missing a day, you really don't realize how much work it is. Especially when I had to go back through and re-edit so many photos for a series like this.

Corey Williams's picture

You are 100% right on how much work it is. Some nights it would get to 9 or 10 PM before I’d remember to post them I was scrambling.

As far as results go it depends on what your looking for. Did I improve my photography? Yes. Did I learn more about shooting? Yes. Did I get a lot of followers? Meh, 300-ish. Number of likes averaged 60-80.

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