Today my friends, I want to present you with a simple formula for success on Instagram:
Phase 1: Buy an adventurous looking hat.
Phase 2: ???
Phase 3: Profit
And the kicker is… I’m hardly joking!
If you’re like the majority of bloggers out there, you must be pretty fed up with Instagram at this point. For many of us, no matter what tricks we pull out of our hats, engagement, follows and um, you know – dignity, are at an all time low. The situation has become so dire in fact that many Facebook groups have spun into conspiracy dens where mere whispers of “shadow bans” and “F/UF” are enough to incite VSCO-coloured vomit.
So, if you’ve ‘comment podded’ yourself to tears and ‘meaningfully engaged’ your fingerprints off, this is a special article just for you. Today’s 4th instalment of #SlaySocial is forgoing questionable ‘engagement tips’ in favour of stone cold truth bombs. I’ve literally rewritten it five times because it came out too harsh, but don’t fret – the goal is to make you rethink what you’ve been doing on Instagram, and confront the potential mistakes you might be making.
See, in my mind: there’s a massive difference between using Instagram for your blog and being a pure ‘Instagram influencer’. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m far from an Instagram Dream Girl. I don’t get sponsorships and press trips based solely on my IG presence (after all, that’s what this bloggy blog is for), BUT I think I’ve accomplished something equally elusive through the gram. After many mindnumbing years of trial and error, I’ve managed to develop a mindset and strategy that allows my Instagram to be a platform for growing my brand, building relationships with my followers, and guess what? These days, I’ve learned to actually have fun on it too… while minimizing mental breakdowns.
So, if you’re a blogger who’s using Instagram to grow your brand and blog, this post is for you. IG influencers on the other hand, please help yourself to a cookie and awkwardly shuffle for the exit, because this post likely won’t be relevant.
Alright my blog babies, today’s goal is to change the way you think about Instagram. Daunting task yes, but challenge ambitiously accepted. I hope you’re ready!
Here are some killer mistakes you’re probably making on Instagram, and how to fix them.
MISTAKE #1: You’re searching for followers in all the wrong places.
The second that someone asks for advice on how to get followers on Instagram, the go-to response is usually:
Follow and engage people in your niche, post good content, look off to the distance and try not to cry, etc. etc.
But the astonishing thing that nobody seems to ever talk about is: how to rope readers from your blog (and other social media channels) and bring them onto Instagram.
To me, that’s just a massively wasted opportunity.
I mean, sure, you could double tap your face off to get attention on Instagram, but why not tap instead into a pool of people who are already interested in your voice and content? It’s as easy as doing this:
Cheap plug of the year: follow me on Instagram here if you haven’t already.
It’s honestly amazing – I discovered recently that some of my most diehard readers (you know who you are wink wink) aren’t even following me on Instagram. And it’s not because they hate my dreamy, wistfully staring content, it’s because people are usually lazy, forgetful and often don’t do things until they’re prompted. So, if you’re not actively trying to draw people in from your other platforms, you’re missing a huge opportunity.
FOR EXAMPLE: when my Malta video went ‘viral’ on Facebook, I ran into the description about 100k views in and did two things: 1) I added a call to action for my blog (E.G. CLICK HERE FOR MORE MALTA INSPIRATION: [LINK]) and 2) I added a call to action to follow me on Instagram for more travel inspiration.
I am swimming in tears because I didn’t do this at the very beginning.
My pageviews surged from this tiny change, because the video is still being circulated and getting dozens of new shares each day… and (less so, because it’s the ‘secondary’ call to action, but still noticeably) I’m getting new, real Instagram followers directed to me from that video.
And the best part is? This is one of the few, easy ways to reach private users, and that’s especially worth noting because in a world of follow/unfollow, comment pods and shallow comments like “omg LOVE this” – real users following you is like finding a well-read unicorn in the deepest depths of outer space.
Most Instagram followers will find you within the platform, sure… but the ones who jump ship from elsewhere are likely to be your most loyal followers. So if you’re guilty of looking for followers in all the wrong places, here’s how to fix that: find ‘regular people’ (i.e. non bloggers) to follow you by directing them to your Instagram from other channels, like your blog. Here are a few ways to do this:
Straight up ask.
Notice how earlier, I went a little psycho and was like “follow me on Instagram“. Since you’re still here, I’m assuming that one request didn’t offend you so much that you rage quit and vowed to never read my content again.
So, just know: there’s nothing wrong with asking! I promise it’s not annoying every so often. Put a post on Facebook to ask: “Hey, are we connected on Instagram yet”, or tweet it… or harass people in person. [That might sound like a joke, but one time I invited an ‘Instagram star’ to my birthday party and the next day, my friends all told me how she would corner people and then make them follow her on Insta. I mean, don’t do that cuz #crazypants, but it’s proof that followers can be found outside the platform… and even in the real world.
Install a very clear and appealing Instagram widget on your blog.
Something that showcases your photos really well and entices people to click and see more. Mine came with my theme and is at the bottom of the page.
Install a pop-up plugin.
I wasn’t able to find a free Instagram pop-up widget, but this one from Milo Tree looks promising. It’s less than $10 a month, but I haven’t personally tested it myself. It could be a great investment though if IG growth is your main goal.
Shamelessly embed some Instagram photos into your posts for visual aids.
In sum: recruiting from elsewhere might just be the best way to gain Instagram followers… quality ones that are really into your content.
MISTAKE #2: You think Instagram is still just a numbers game.
Truth: everyone is obsessed with how to gain more followers and how to gain more likes.
In fact, if you look up some of the most searched terms regarding Instagram, the theme is consistent. People want to know the “best Instagram names to get followers”, “how to get a lot of followers on Instagram”, repeat and repeat until everyone’s really sad.
Now, I understand this obsession. When I asked you guys what questions you had about Instagram, you were mostly wondering about how to gain more followers. Sure, Instagram, on the surface, is a numbers game, and the more followers you have, the closer you are to getting a free watch. 😉
But here’s the thing: Instagram, while previously a pure numbers game, has gotten older and wiser.
Or rather, brands and users have gotten wiser.
Now it’s no longer just numbers that matter, it’s the right numbers, plus less tangible factors like engagement, influence and impact.
Here’s why: on a platform where you can buy Instagram accounts, millions of likes, thousands of followers and anything else you want for like, $5, faking influence is getting more affordable than a box of chicken nuggets.
And that is worrying.
That’s why these days, proving that you’re the real deal requires far more than just numbers.
So, if you’re guilty of thinking Instagram is just a numbers game, here’s what you do to fix it: write down your Instagram purpose. If it’s traffic, you’re better off spending time elsewhere. If it’s relationship building, you should be working on making friends and engaging in meaningful interactions. If it’s branding, you should focus foremost on gorgeous content and killer captions, etc. etc.
Remember, the key here is to work smart.
If you spend all your time obsessing over numbers, chasing tactics, etc. without a clear goal in mind, then you’re doing yourself a massive disservice.
I know it’s demotivating to be losing followers for no reason, even more saddening when most Instagram followers don’t even see your content, but it pains me when I see really talented creators get bogged down by strictly numbers (and the wrong numbers too) for no reason.
Remember, numbers don’t matter unless you’re intentional with them.
MISTAKE #3: You’re focusing all your effort on just “nice photos”.
While Instagram has always been the artsy visual kid of social media, nice photos are really just the tip of the iceberg.
Think of Instagram like dating. An attractive gallery might be enough to entice followers at first, but without substance, pretty photos get quite dull. Add on a captivating story and personality however, and you only get more attractive to followers… and that’s when the real magic happens.
Sadly, posting pretty photos is no longer enough.
Armed with crystal clear iPhone cameras, access to 1 click editing apps and enough photogenic avocado toast to feed ten armies, these days everyone and their mom can take IG-worthy shots.
Don’t believe me? Take one second to browse the top 9 of various hashtags. Instagram is filled with talented creators… RIDICULOUSLY talented creators, many of which have relatively small follower counts. So in this sea of filtered talent, how do you stand out?
Unless you are a professional photographer (I’m talking Nat Geo on steroids level), odds are, it’s not solely your stunning photos that people are after.
Of course, quality photos is quite necessary as a foundation… but what really sells you is your unique story, voice and personality. So rather than simply scouring the streets and spending all your money for cool stuff to post on Instagram, look (cheesy line coming up) within yourself and hook onto that personality that really keeps people coming back for more.
A few tips for working your personality into your Instagram:
A standout bio: bringing it back to the dating analogy, think of your IG bio as your Tinder bio. You have pretty much 3 seconds to make a compelling enough impression that someone wants to swipe further. Every travel blogger has an “insatiable case of wanderlust’, and pretty much every blogger is “Fashion + Lifestyle”. These are fine, but aren’t incredibly compelling.
Think of something that would appeal to your target audience. I’m after readers/followers with a fun sense of humour and love to travel, hence my first line is “Clumsy Canadian pursuing wanderlust, magic and donuts”. It’s a bit different than the norm, and (I’d like to think) accurately summarizes me on a spiritual level. Think of it almost like throwing an “inside joke” out there that only your target audience would like. Your bio is follower bait, so make it tasty.
Be in your photos: I know, I know. Trust me, I’m a self-proclaimed human potato. I’m stumpy and frizzy and honestly dreaded for ages the idea that I should be a part of my photos… but here’s the thing: it’s hard for people to relate to and fall in love with solely scenic landscapes. People follow people, not necessarily just photos, as I said before. (Unless you are a truly outstanding photographer of course). I’m not talking about blurry selfies or awkward vacation pics – there’s a million ways to do this tastefully without losing followers. Trust me, people relate much better to photos with a human element.
Captions, captions, captions: But this deserves its own big header…
MISTAKE #4: You’re neglecting your caption game.
There are so many people out there who can take stunning photos… but captions? I can probably count on one hand the number of Instagrammers whose captions I enjoy reading. Brutal… sorry.
Most captions are either lazy (water emoji, yo) or just lackluster… I mean sure, paired with a really nice photo, these are things that you can get away with. In fact, many of the most popular Instagrammers don’t have mega compelling captions, but that’s because for the most part, their photos speak for themselves.
But I’m a firm believer in good, compelling captions. Why? Because here’s where your identifiable voice and personality get a chance to shine. And while most Instagram followers might not read every word, it’s within these captions that you really cultivate your superfans… and that’s very important.
RANDOM CAPTION TIP: Put your questions/call to action at the START of the caption. People have very short attention spans, and the likelihood of someone making it to the bottom of a long caption is honestly quite slim.
So if you’re suffering from ‘Crappy Caption Syndrome’, here’s how to fix it. To spice up your captions, try:
Telling a good story/anecdote from the day.
Sharing something personal/unexpected/funny about yourself.
Asking exciting questions that prompt sharing.
What are some of your worst navigation fails? Today en route from Oxford to Liverpool, I literally doubled my commute time because I repeatedly got off the train at the wrong stop 👌🏼😂 Do I even have a brain? How have I made it this far in life without getting kidnapped? All valid questions I must ask myself… Good thing my @acprail_intl rail pass has unlimited rides each travel day, otherwise I would be 100% broke. So – hit me with your fails so I can feel better! Oh also, Oxford is SO gorgeous and full of surprises like this cotton candy street. ✨ more pics to come! @experienceoxfordshire
On that last note, don’t get lazy with your engagement questions. They matter. I feel like a lot of IGers have heard “okay I’m supposed to ask a question to get people talking” and then they’ll get lazy and post a photo with a waterfall, accompanied by a question like “do you like waterfalls?”
Everyone likes waterfalls.
So rather than seek out that one demon-esque follower who hates waterfalls, mix things up and ask more exciting questions! “Where’s the most epic waterfall you’ve ever been to?” might be a good alternative. Remember: people love to share stories about themselves. In the example above, I asked people to share great travel fails… and it made for a pretty hilarious comments section. Get creative!
MISTAKE #5: You’re loading up on shallow interactions.
“Great pic!” one enthusiastic grammer says.
“Thumbs up emoji” chimes in another.
Then they’ll proceed to like 12 of my photos, in hopes that I’ll notice them, follow them, marry them, or whatever.
Every day, I get flooded with engagement from “Wanderlust Wandas” and “Nomadic Nick”s, so much that everyone (sadly) starts looking and sounding the same. Let’s be real, many of them are fishing for a follow back and will promptly leave after three days, and here’s the cold truth: I usually have no interest in following people back unless we’ve built some kind of rapport or friendship.
Isn’t it weird how when your best friend posts a photo of a burger, it becomes like, the most fascinating burger in the world just because it’s something your friend is having?
That’s a powerful thing. When you can get people to see you as a friend, or someone that they look FORWARD to seeing updates from, then that is when you have true ‘influence’.
One of the best ways to gain Instagram followers is by building actual relationships with people. Sadly, it’s by no means a quick fix. But if you think about it, having a close network of genuine friendships is pretty much like having a comment pod with heart. It’s nice. Really nice. And worth the extra effort.
So, are you guilty of relying on shallow interactions to get attention? Here’s how to fix that.
Engage in conversations with people.
When people leave a nice comment on your photo, go beyond the basic “thank you” and add a little extra… whether that’s asking a question back, making a little joke or whatever else. The more that people see you’re a real person (and not some saturated photo robot), the better.
Go the extra mile in interacting.
As I mentioned before, people are suffering from serious Instagram fatigue, and they’re catching onto your tricks. Whereas before, liking 10 of someone’s photos would be enough to get them on your profile, these days, that kind of thing will induce an eye roll and bitter fist shaking. “Those damn bloggers are at it again”.
Guys, it’s time to realize that people are getting wise to these tricks… and that’s why they no longer work.
But you know what does work? *throws glitter* Friendship! Always.
So, if you really like someone’s account and want to connect… show them that by doing more than just some likes and comments. Why not reply to their stories from time to time? Develop a bond… some inside jokes. I swear: if you’re able to make me genuinely laugh, you’ve earned a friend in me, and I know many bloggers who are the same.
If your goal is to network, try taking it off the gram. Nothing will beat a thoughtful email, blog comment, Facebook message, etc. If you go the extra mile in pursuing friendship, that person WILL notice…
and file a restraining order. Haha just kidding, I promise I wouldn’t.
SO here’s the takeaway: instead of simply fishing around for Instagram accounts that follow back, take some time into creating genuine friendships and relationships with people. It’ll pay off, don’t worry.
MISTAKE #6: You’re losing your sh*t over follow/unfollow.
Ohhhh what a nailbiter.
I love how ambiguous that header was, because you have no idea if I’m going to support the follow/unfollow technique or not. In fact, if I listen very closely, I can hear some of you sharpening your pitchforks in the distance.
Truthfully, there was a time when repeated follow/unfollows made me want to rant with the rage of a drunk uncle. But, that’s in the past for me, and here’s why: you don’t WANT these guys around if they’re never going to engage with your content. ‘Ghost’ followers are absolutely dead weight. To me, when they unfollow, good riddance because that one additional number is absolutely no good to me.
Now, there are some people who still preach the F/UF technique and claim that (when done properly), it can result in engaged followers. If you are one of these wizards, please send me your golden tips via owl, and I will happily read them while following my thumbs off.
Here’s what I do know: if done incorrectly, follow/unfollow absolutely kills your reach and engagement after a while. I know this because I used this technique in my earlier days, and now I really regret it. Sure, numbers might be nice for social proof, but what’s harmful about having a bunch of followers who engage in F/UF is that they never do anything with your content.
Will that new follower of yours, who is following 7499 other travel accounts meaningfully engage with you on a consistent basis? Probably not. And when Instagram is only showing your content to less than 10% of your actual followers (like they’re doing to me), it’s a massive waste of your algorithm juju. You want that content to be in front of people who actually care, not just people who are after the inflation of their own numbers, ya feel?
But you know what? Although I’m no longer a believer in F/UF, I also don’t believe in letting it rile me up (as it does for some). Many Instagrammers take this technique personally, and I find that very unproductive. SO, if you’re losing your cool over the follow/unfollow technique, here’s how to fix that:
Gram and let gram.
AKA live and let live. After all, everyone has their own way of doing things. If someone is following/unfollowing for growth, then I shrug, judge them for a few seconds, and carry on my with my trainwreck of a life. Besides being a minor annoyance, this “strategy” has no effect on you. Sure, it can feel a little personal, but just know that these unfollowers probably have not even seen your content at all.
If you’re feeling especially riled up, press that little ‘block’ button and move on. Just don’t bother wasting your precious time or mental energy getting angry over it. There are far better things to do (like follow Christina on Instagram). 😉
Start seeing unfollowers as a good thing.
I know that this is a super strange tip, but it has done wonders for my mental health and self esteem. Before, when people unfollowed me, I would wail in despair out the window: “why Instagram unfollowers, whyyyyyy”.
But now, I jump for joy.
Here’s the mental shift that triggered this bizarre reaction: think of it this way, before you can succeed, you need to be confident in your content. If you are, and know that you are posting amazing content, then your next focus should be on cultivating a strong community of people who love your work, and what you stand for.
If people unfollow, that’s not a terrible thing… it just means you’re not their cup of tea.
And when they leave, that brings you one step closer to a tight knit community that loves your stuff.
I mean, would you rather have 1000 die-hard fans who will buy everything you sell, trust every recommendation you make and kiss the ground you walk on? OR would you rather a million ‘meh’ fans that could care less? I bet you anything that brands want Option A.
So, remember, one unfollower = one step closer to that ideal community of yours.
(I mean, this is true within reason. Don’t go crazy experimental with posting weird things, like that time I insisted on gramming a Superlambanana statue despite my gut firmly telling me no. Engagement was sliced in half! Woo)
Whenever I feel sad about the world, I just remember that one of Liverpool’s main icons is the “Superlambanana” – literally a half lamb, half banana. You can find different painted ones around the city, and a giant yellow one too. The randomness kills me! Does your city have any sculptures/mascots like this? In Vancouver we have cool painted orca, bear and eagle statues 🇨🇦 More awesome England locations are being featured on the blog today – link in bio!
Last but not least… MISTAKE #7: You are putting all your eggs in the Instagram basket.
Fact: Succeeding on Instagram takes SO MUCH TIME.
Beyond the cringey number of minutes (hours?) it takes to stage the perfect shot, there’s also the editing, the agonizing over captions, the researching hashtags and everybody’s favourite: “engaging within your niche.”
It’s time that (when you’re a blogger and not an IG-exclusive influencer) could be better spent elsewhere. As a blogger, it’s very dangerous to invest all your energy and time in one platform, especially one as fickle as Instagram. Here’s why:
If Instagram were to just drop dead and wither like Vine, you’d be screwed.
If Instagram chose to tweak its algorithm again, you’d be at its mercy.
If reach was throttled to 1% for no good reason, you’d be left be helpless.
As a blogger with other platforms at your disposal, I think it’s incredibly important to diversify your influence… because with a platform as fickle as Instagram, you simply never know.
And on that note, nobody needs Instagram. I know a lot of bloggers who begrudgingly keep up an account simply because they think they have to, or have been told it’s needed.
But if Instagram doesn’t suit your strengths, then there’s no point. There are SO many successful bloggers out there with great stats and income, all without big Instagram accounts, so if Instagram isn’t a good fit for you, there’s no shame in focusing your efforts elsewhere. Remember, work smarter, not harder.
Do you guys ever think about how many pics you’ve photo bombed in your lifetime? While having coffee at this ridiculously beautiful spot in London, I must have been photographed at least a hundred times… Luckily I activated camouflage mode and was clearly just a floating head and set of arms 😂 #blendingin
So that was a heavy read… almost 4000 words-heavy. If you’ve made it this far, have you thought about competing for the Olympics? Your stamina is astounding.
Anyways: tell me – what was your most valuable takeaway from this article? Or what is your biggest struggle still to conquer on Instagram? Let me know in the comments!