About one year ago, I decided to step up Rowan Made’s instagram game, noticing that it truly could be (and is) a wonderful platform for community development and micro-blogging. At the time, I wasn’t posting as much to this blog and wanted to connect with our audience in a bigger way. So I went from posting random thoughts and imagery “every once in awhile” to thoughtfully posting almost everyday. And as a result, I saw a huge spike in growth as well as overall interaction.
Now, our goal is definitely not to get the most followers as possible as we practice a quality over quantity approach and appreciate that our audience truly is our audience (as opposed to random fillers). But numbers do speak for themselves and because I’d like to illustrate that the tips in this post will help, I’m going to share ours with you. Over the last year, we’ve had an average of 185 new followers each week, a number that to this day, continues to grow and fill me up with so much gratitude. These people may be peers or potential clients or future collaborators or who knows what, and it’s an exciting prospect to know that we’re developing our tribe. The right way.
So let’s dive into some tips, shall we? The following strategy is exactly what we do or keep in mind for Rowan Made’s instagram account. And I promise, it’s simpler than you think. You just have to keep at it!
First things first, is your instagram account for business or personal postings? For most, it’s either one or the other and honestly, it’s rare that I see a successful combination of the two. Think of it this way: if you’re following an illustration artist because you love their work, but they start posting photos of their new cat (and you hate cats!), you’ll most likely get annoyed and unfollow.
The only time I personally suggest merging your personal and business life online is if the two of them are decidedly intertwined. For example, a few years ago, a friend of mine and her husband decided to stop offering design services, sold their house and belongings, and began living their life on the road in a renovated camper, offering a curated selection of online classes. Their story and lifestyle became a HUGE part of their brand, and thus, the strategy behind Hey Sweet Pea’s personal slash business instagram makes absolute sense. Another great example is one of our past clients, Sugar & Cloth. Ashley is a lifestyle blogger, so there is a rather large intersection between her life and business on instagram as well.
But for the rest of us, separation is great. It not only makes it easier to figure out WHAT to share, but also helps shape (and define) an appropriate audience as well. Instead of having those random people who are only around for pictures of your dog, you’ll have a well engaged user base that’s actually interested in the majority of what you post. And that, my friends, is how quality over quantity begins.
Above, I alluded to that fact that your audience is shaped naturally by what you post. And while that’s true, it’s still important to understand who they are so that you can appropriately strategize. To help figure this out or learn even more about your tribe, there’s a few things you can do. The first is what I like to call a deep dive exercise, which I wrote about a few months ago right here. The second is more up front, where you literally ask your followers a few questions on Instagram itself.
I tried out the second exercise earlier this year (on this post) and was surprised by how much I learned. I simply asked for those who were willing to share their job title as well as one personal or professional goal. As it turns out, the majority of Rowan Made’s followers are designers or other creatives that are either already their own boss, or on their way. I had assumed that these types of people would show up, but was floored at the sheer amount of entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, this post inspired me to become more active right here on the Rowan Made blog. I knew I had an audience for it and wanted to provide the exact content they were looking for.
So even though the type of content you share will naturally shape your audience, the same can be said for getting to know your audience and shaping the content you share for them. The reciprocation of understanding each other will narrow in on what truly matters, as the quality over quantity approach continues on. Fancy that. ;)
Now that you understand your audience better, it’ll be much easier to curate your feed. Here at Rowan Made, our formula is pretty straight forward. We mostly share our own work (both finished and in progress) for obvious reasons, but also sprinkle in timely blog post graphics as well as a careful selection of lifestyle imagery that relates to our working environment or things we believe our audience will be interested in. This mix allows us to keep our feed fresh, so that it’s not always logo after logo, but instead, visually variable. It shows new people that we are more than the sum of our work, but still a carefully tailored space. Think of it this way: potential followers should be able to tell if they’re interested in all that you share, just by glancing at your 6-9 most recent posts. People decide quickly (and won’t always have patience to scroll that far), so show them what you’re all about! Curate, curate, curate.
The order in which you post imagery is important to some, but not for others. For us, it’s the latter as we can’t help but obsess over how images sit next to one another. And maybe that’s a good thing, because let’s face it … your feed’s appearance is going to give off a first impression whether you like it or not, and we prefer to have some sort of control in what that looks like.
For example, a feed that features bright colors all of the time is going to come across as more vibrant than one that uses color sparingly. And honestly, there isn’t a right or wrong answer here because each and every business is different. So instead of following the strategy of others, consider your own ethos. If your brand is all about high energy and fun, then color and active imagery will play an important role in what you share (see @ShopBando). Or if you’d like to exude a sense of calmness, neutrals and / or light colors will make a little more sense (see @KristinB).
The spectrum is wide and where you fall, aesthetically speaking, is entirely up to you. So our suggestion is to stay consistent! For Rowan Made, our goal is to establish our simplistic and tailored vibe. The only problem is … we work with a variety of brands, all of which utilize their own color palette. So instead of allowing our feed to feel chaotic or overly bright, we achieve a thoughtful balance by breaking everything up with white space. For example, look at the above image. There are a handful of colors that could potentially clash, but they’re separated (or balanced) by neutral imagery.
In fact, I actually have an Adobe Illustrator file for our instagram grid so that we can balance / curate ahead of time and know what everything is going to look like. There are probably apps for this (if so, please share!), but since Illustrator is always open, it works nicely for us to maneuver things around.
Switching gears, I firmly believe that if you’re an active instagram user, you’ll see faster growth and more engagement, simply because you’re showing up and being seen. AKA, the odds will be in your favor. Keeping this in mind, I try my best to post daily, Monday through Friday, since it reflect our business hours as well as the days when our audience is most active.
You can even take it a step further and analyze your audience and best posting hours. Instagram itself recently rolled out an analytics feature for business profiles, but there are other apps that do this as well (like Simply Measured) if you want to check out your options or compare features.
But no matter what, always remember to be kind to yourself. If posting every day adds too much to your plate, then don’t worry about it. Posting a few times a week can be just as beneficial as long as it’s something you consistently do. In fact, the only reason it’s easy for us to post daily in the first place is because we’re able to utilize graphics. We don’t have to set up a photoshoot every time we want to share something. We can simply pull from our archives and create imagery right on the computer.
When I first started using instagram, I thought hashtags were the sleaziest promotional tool ever. Just being honest. ;) But over the past year, I’ve come to love them. They are a wonderful way to track certain categories of work or even join groups of people who post into that particular hashtag on the regular. Basically, it’s an easy way to expand your audience faster, so why not take advantage of it?
I have a note setup in my phone with the exact hashtags we use for each post. This way, I can simply copy, paste, post, and boom … marketing DONE. If you’re not sure which hashtags to apply, look into what your peers are using and determine if some (or all) of those hashtags will be a good fit for your business. I adjust our list every once in awhile, but overall, am impressed with how much this simple step helps.
Quick tip: If you’re still worried about the use of hashtags looking sleazy, don’t put them directly in your post’s description. Insert a separate comment below with all of your hashtags. And if you put five bullet points (on their own separate line) before listing out the hashtags, the entire comment will hide itself and quietly work in the background towards growing your audience. Win win!
The last topic / tip I want to bring up is arguably the most important. If you’re sharing beautiful imagery, but put zero thought into the description that shows up alongside your post, then don’t expect your audience to interact with you on a regular basis. I know it takes more effort to write out a thoughtful post, but I promise, it’s absolutely worth it. Try asking your audience questions in order to stimulate discussion. Or better yet, micro-blog on a specific topic every once in awhile. You don’t have to write a novel, but sharing a few paragraphs will do the trick.
Some of my favorite instagrammers put their all into engagement. Take @HeySweetPea, for example. I know I already mentioned them above, but Elise + Scott put their heart into everything they share and it absolutely shows. Their audience is actively engaged in what they have to say and there’s always a slew of comments on each post. And from a business standpoint, that’s a great thing! It means that the quality over quantity approach is working. And that your people are listening.
Another quick tip: Take the time to engage or THANK people who stop by and leave you a comment. I realize that this gets difficult to do with more followers, but if you try your best (versus always staying quiet), your tribe will notice. And I promise, it means a lot to them that you are listening back.
At the end of the day, curating a beautiful + approachable Instagram is all about staying true to your business and yes, I’ll say it again, focusing on quality over quantity. The intersection of what matters to you and what matters to your people is a sweet spot to discover, and I hope that the above has provided you with a few helpful tips towards doing just that. If you have any other thoughts about Instagram curation or strategy, please leave them in the comment section below as I always enjoy reading what you all have to say!