I am not good at Instagram and neither are you. I know this because if you were good at it, you would not be reading this. The photographers who gain a following and crush it with likes and comments have put in a lot of work to get where they are. We have not, but we want more results anyway. Case in point, we suck.
There seems to be a Field of Dreams fantasy that "if you build it, they will come." If you take awesome (subjectively of course, we all love our own photos a bit too much) photos and post them online, eventually you will get a million followers and be rich. This is like opening a five star restaurant on a deserted island. Sure the food is amazing and the view is breathtaking, but no one knows about you. They would even know how to find it if they did.
If you have looked into how to get noticed and build a following, here are some of the tips you may have seen:
- Use better hashtags
- Put the hashtags in the first comments after exactly 5 dots
- Find successful accounts and follow all the people liking their posts
- Go like a few photos from the new accounts you followed with hope they might follow you back
- Start or join an Instagram Pod
- Find a theme and stick to it
- Don't post too often
- Don't wait too long between posts
- Start a feature account or a local group account
There is one problem with all of this. Nothing tells you how much actual hustle and effort it takes to do excel at these practices. And some are just flawed. So let us break down the follow back fallacy. If all these accounts are following you back, and you're following them back, and all their friends are doing the same you essentially created a bunch of noisy streams where no one will consistently see anyone else's work. These are not the followers you need to thrive. You need people who like your photos, come back often to see them, and comment because they feel compelled to do so. Those followers don't come easy. They are picky about who they follow because they enjoy scrolling through a stream filled with photography they like. Not randomness from all over the world because you have no idea who you are following.
Honestly I believe like anything else, the trick is to work harder than everyone else. Fellow Fstoppers staff writer Andrew Griswold has a strong IG presence. He's shared tips on how he has done it, and I promise you none of it took place with a couple hours a week of effort.
Take a look at his spread for a second. Great grid of photos, all very interesting and non repetitive. Solid profile pic. Tons of followers, and not following a ton. I think under 1000 should be the target unless you are a captain on #teamfollowback, in which case you probably stopped reading above. Also notice the short bio with good information and a way to get in touch. This all may seem obvious but you'd be surprised how many people stray from these good practices then wonder where the followers are. One thing that sticks out to me about Andrew, and is certainly a huge boost, is running a local Instagram account for the area you live. Gris runs the very successful @igersindy which appears to post at least five times a week with some very strong content. To do this you not only need to be first to market or prepared to replace a failing page, but you need to be ready to work. Pages like this cannot just be thrown together and put on autopilot. They require constant care and feeding. The local page in my area is @igersbuffalo. It should not take much effort to find yours, and if there isn't one and you are ready to get to work start one!
One thing I didn't mention was not to buy followers. That should go without saying. All that will do is falsely pad your following numbers without any interaction benefit. It also violates the Instagram terms of service and could get you banned. Not to mention it is the real life equivalent of having a cardboard BMW in your driveway. "Did you pay for that? It looks kind of silly. Are those even real usernames following you?" Just don't.
So Now What Then?
If you have identified with some of these points and are ready to make it all change, devise a plan you can stick to and do it. Don't be afraid to start shamelessly self promoting your work. Study what your top accounts are doing and try it yourself. Message some feature pages asking to be considered. Message them again if you don't hear back. Start becoming aware of the local accounts that you might be able to benefit from. Nothing is going to happen overnight so be patient and stay at it.
Wait, if I know all this why am I still a nobody? Shouldn't I be adding hundreds of followers a day and getting constant request for my services via Instagram? No, I simply don't hustle enough. Another one of my problems is that I'm simply running out of photos to post. I'm not actively working on big projects and unfortunately don't have infinite time to shoot with everything else going on in my life. This means almost all the shots come from the archives. These are my thousands of photos I've edited and shared over the past six years. This practice is fine if you have a system which of course I do not. I lose track of what I've posted. This leads to me resharing my favorites from time and kills my #topnine at the end of the year because I have duplicate photos in my top posts. Hopefully as the weather gets nicer here in Western New York I'll start getting out to shoot more and get some fresh content.
If you want to come say hi I can be found @stustustudio. Feel free to tell me I don't suck, just don't expect me to follow you back... Unless your photos rock, in that case you are in.