Until a year ago, I was pretty clueless on how to use Instagram. I was feeling incredibly disheartened because my travel and nature photography account (@chlvm) was struggling on 400 followers, my posts were getting about 60 likes each and I was barely getting any engagement. I loved photography, but had no clue how to share my work with others.
I joined my university’s photography society and spotted an event that looked like it could help me: a talk with a professional Instagrammer, Mona from @monalogue. So I turned up with my notepad and pen, writing down every little thing she said and my goodness did it help. I vowed that by New Year’s Eve 2016 I would have 500 followers. I now have over 2,000 followers on my photography account and almost 1,000 on my two-month-old Bookstagram.
I am not saying that I am the highest authority on this, as I definitely don’t have as many followers as a lot of people on here. There may also be other stuff that works that I don’t do (or even know about) and I am definitely not doing this post to show off/boast. What I’m writing here today is a mixture of Mona’s generously shared wisdom and things I’ve learned along the way, 100% aimed at helping other people.
Before I begin, I’ll just explain a bit about the Instagram “algorithm”. This is the thing that everyone complains about, and is what decides which posts you see on your feed and suggested page. The algorithm is driven by something called “engagement”. Engagement basically boils down to the amount of likes and comments you get on a post. The higher your engagement, the more likely people are to see your posts, thus the more likes and follows you’ll receive. Have you noticed how posts with fewer comments get fewer likes? This is all because fewer people are seeing the post in the first place.
This may sound like too much to take in, so I’ve boiled it down into a nice little graph:
I’m going to stop rambling about engagement now, and start giving advice on how you can increase it.
1. Make sure your account is on public.
This sounds so simple, but a lot of people don’t realise that their accounts are on private. If your account is on private, it means that people cannot see the posts on your account. This can turn a lot of potential followers away, as they won’t know if the content you’re posting is something they’d like.
2. Buying followers never works.
Yeah sure, a few thousand followers looks impressive and may persuade a few people to follow you, but this tactic simply never works. When you buy followers, you buy follows from inactive accounts: someone who hasn’t been on Instagram since 2012. Any active accounts who are bought to follow you will quickly unfollow as soon as you post, because they’ll soon realise that never followed you in the first place.
Buying followers will not get you the engagement and interaction you need to be successful. I recently found an account who must have bought 10.5k followers. At a glance, the account looks impressive:
But when you click through to the posts, the account has the engagement of a 500-600 follower account with genuine following:
So I’ll reiterate the point: if you want more followers, do not buy them! It will cost you a whole lot of money and will not increase your engagement, meaning more people will not see your posts. Only genuine followings will increase your likes and comments and, in turn, followers.
3. Hashtags are important.
I’ve had so many people tell me that I put too many hashtags, or that they don’t tag their posts because it looks “desperate”, but tagging is so important! After your followers’ feeds, tags are the easiest way to get your posts seen. If you ever need inspiration, do you ever flick through the #bookstagram tag? Or if you’re searching for something in particular, do you look up the book’s title in the tag search in Instagram? Because if you do, so do most people on Instagram.
Tagging feature accounts gives them permission to feature your work, sometimes for huge exposure. Take @bookstagramfeatures, for example. Having your post shared by them will get your photo seen by 133k people. That’s a lot of potential followers.
Mona, in her never ceasing wisdom, told us that it’s not just tagging that’s important, but it’s tagging in the right way that makes the difference. Instagram allows you a maximum of 30 hashtags and you should use them all. There is a pattern to tagging that you should follow for maximum exposure:
1.Use 10 “big” tags, like #books, #bookstagram. These tags should be fairly general and reach a large audience, having many posts tagged in the same way (you can see how many posts use that hashtag next to the tag when you’re typing it out). Aim for the big feature accounts, too, like #bookstagramfeature.
2.Use 10 “medium” tags. These should target the small-to-medium feature accounts, with 2k+ followers, such as #bookishfeatures and #bookstafeatures. You should also target smaller general tags, such as #bookaddiction.
3.Use 10 “small” tags, such as the title of the book featured (#caraval), the author (#stephaniegarber), and smaller feature accounts, such as #foxwayfeatures.
Make sure to change your tags up occasionally, especially if they aren’t working as well as you’d like them to. New feature accounts are always emerging and older ones gain followers quickly, so it’s easy for tags to become outdated.
Tagging can make a huge difference to the amount of likes you get, thus your engagement rating. If people are searching for something general or something specific, by following this tagging pattern there is a higher chance that they’ll see your posts.
4. Interaction is equally important.
Writing a caption is important. It gives people a reason to comment on your post, boosting your engagement. Bookstagram is the best at asking Questions of the Day (QOTD). This so-called “call to action” encourages comments on your post, which boosts your engagement. However, the only comments which count towards your engagement rating are ones of 5 or more words. This is Instagram’s way of targeting “bots” (series of code which comment and like others’ posts for you for a small fee). Ever had a “sick photo bro 👍” or a “awesome feed!”? Most likely, these are bots. (I have mixed feelings about bots. Personally, I’d never use them, but it’s undeniable that they’re effective. This is a really interesting read if you want to know more).
Interaction goes both ways: don’t just ask a QOTD and ignore the answers. Responding to them is a good way of boosting your engagement (plus it’s really annoying when you take the time to respond to someone’s question and they don’t even say thank you. Be polite, folks, people are busy and for them to respond to your question takes time from their day).
5. Keep a consistent theme.
This speaks for itself. Most of the popular Bookstagram accounts have a very consistent theme. When people click through to your accounts, they want to see posts which work well together, rather than a mish-mash of themes (I’m not saying all your photos have to be the same: there are a lot of accounts which post a wide variety of photo styles, but still keep a theme). Remember that your feed is what’s going to convince people to follow you, rather than a single post.
An easy way to keep a consistent theme is by using the same colours, props and background in a photo. Also, using the same filter is important (I’d recommend using Lightroom or VSCO rather than the Instagram filters, as they’re a bit less obvious and more natural). Using an app to plan your feed can be equally as important (I use Snug and it’s great – you can add and delete photos from your Snug feed, which mirrors your Instagram one. It can show you how a photo will look in your feed and helps me plan ahead).
Finally, although you may look great in that photo from your friend’s party, posting too many personal photos will make people unfollow you. It may seem mean, but the people who follow a Bookstagram account are unlikely to know you and will be following you for the bookish photos you post. Don’t get me wrong, one or two unrelated selfies a week are completely fine (I love seeing you guys happy and passionate about things, and a selfie would never turn me away), but trying to run a mix of a private account and Bookstagram is unlikely to be successful. Many people have separate accounts for personal posts for exactly this reason. Plus, do you really want a stranger knowing everything about you?
6. Interact with others’ posts.
The more you comment on and like other people’s posts, the more likely other people are to see your username and click through to your account. If they like what you see, they’ll follow you. It’s simple. (This is also a really great way of making friends!)
7. Don’t take it too seriously.
Don’t get hung up on the numbers. If you post a photo that you like and it gets fewer likes than normal, don’t delete it! Primarily, your Instagram is a place for you to show off your creativity and style. I stopped checking how many likes a post got in relation to others a while ago, as it would be a huge knock to my confidence when something I loved wasn’t received well. It’s just not worth it, and one post won’t make a big difference in the long run.
Yes, people following you to unfollow is really annoying, but that’s just Instagram. Taking it too seriously is an error and can make people become bitter and obsessed with their follower count.
Story time: my friend used to obsess over her Instagram. She had one of those apps which tracks likes, engagement and post success (not bad in itself, Instagram analytics provide the same data). What was her downfall was that it also tracked unlikes, blockings and who unfollowed her. Not only is that a huge bash to self-esteem, it achieves nothing but making you feel bad about yourself. Who really cares who unfollows you? They have their reasons, and those should be respected. You can’t force people to like your posts, so acknowledging that people can do what the heck they like (and that it’s not personal) will make your Instagram experience a whole lot more pleasant. Blocking people who unfollow you is petty (yet a lot of people seem to do it?) and will just restrict those people coming back in the future. It’s always better to just to focus on the positives, folks.
On the flip side of that coin, following to unfollow is not effective. It will not get you genuine followers, nor will it win you any popularity. It’s annoying to have someone follow you, then when you don’t follow them back, unfollow you again. By using this strategy, you will not get followers who are genuinely interested in your stuff and your engagement won’t increase.
8. Post consistently.
As a general rule, post once a day (but no more than twice) in order to keep your interaction up. Find the best time of day for you. As a UK Bookstagrammer, I find evening the best time to post. People in Europe are on their phones at that time, it’s just before Americans come home from work and it’s when Australia/Asia are waking up. As a general rule, people aren’t on their phones from 9am-5pm (school and work), but they do check their phones in the morning and evenings.
Posting at the right time increases your engagement, which increases the visibility of your posts, which increases your followers… and so it goes on.
A Final Word
Although this whole post may seem like I’m trying really hard to get followers, I’m not. I genuinely love interacting with people and making friends, and it just so happens that these boost your engagement. If you follow the rules I’ve described, people will simply come to you without much hard work at all (and, best of all, you’ll make loads of new friends).
Finally, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Mona, who generously let me share a lot of her tips and tricks with you guys, I hope it helps!