Do you want to grow your Instagram but you’re not sure how to get started? While so many photography accounts are seeing stagnancy and stunted growth, RMSP graduate Dylan Truesdale has been steadily growing his photography Instagram engagement since graduation last year, and he’s here to talk about what actually contributes to growth now, in 2023.
Instagram can be a difficult puzzle to crack, but through consistent and intentional practices, you can increase your following and your engagement in a matter of months. Read on for Dylan’s five best tips.
1. Utilize All of the Tools at Your Disposal
Instagram hosts a suite of tools at the creator’s disposal to increase engagement. As still photographers a lot of them apply to us, and, with a little adaptation, all of them can be effective.
Even within the parameters of a traditional “post,” some creative tools can add a lot of value. Post Carousels have been around for a while now and they can benefit you by holding viewers’ attention for longer, but a new tool can also help bring single-image posts to life. Much like in REELs, Instagram now allows you to add music to single image posts. This feature can help you add diversity to your posting schedule and grab scrollers’ attention and hopefully encourage them to hang around your post for a while.
REELs are not only here, but here to stay. It’s time we start using REELs to increase engagement on Instagram. If you’re dabbling in the realm of video already, great! Don’t be afraid! Get out and create. If you’re still a little uncomfortable with video, utilize the REELs feature to showcase your stills; creating a sequence/slideshow of images can be just as powerful as a video. Or even try showcasing a single image and describe the process of capturing it; or show a before and after of an edit. Short behind-the-scenes videos can also go a long way and give your audience a peek into your creative process. And remember a lot of effective REELs are shot from a smartphone so don’t be afraid to give it a shot.
Stories can be great for sharing quickly with your immediate audience and what I call your “biggest fans” – people who engage with you more often will have your stories pop up sooner in their story section. This is a great place to ask questions, share news, and create fun games for your audience – you can do this more effectively by utilizing stickers when creating your stories. For example, you can use the “poll” sticker and show your audience two separate edits of the same image and ask them which they like better “Top or Bottom,” which makes it easy and fun for your audience to engage with your stories which will, in turn, push your other content to them more frequently.
Guides are not as relevant anymore but I still use them and I think they are a great tool – specifically for photographers. We have so much insight on an array of topics; use guides to share your thoughts or expertise on these topics. Create a guide that talks about the gear you use, the places that you like to shoot, and at what time, or even share who inspires you. The more content you’re sharing (more on this later) the more well-rounded your profile becomes and the more Instagram understands where you fit in. This is a good thing!
Take advantage of all of these tools – they exist for a reason, to help you connect. I have found it best practice to shuffle them around and use different ones throughout my posting schedule.
2. Find Your Audience’s Tolerance & Your Rhythm
In my experience, every creator’s audience has a unique tolerance for YOUR content. The Instagram marketing gurus on YouTube will tell you to post a lot and post often. From my experience that does not work for every creator. Even amongst creators in the same niche, audience tolerance can vary.
Figuring out the perfect balance can take some practice and some testing as well. Try posting at a higher tempo for a week or two and if you notice that your engagement and reach start to drop, your audience has likely become inundated and uninterested in your content. Start to throttle back until you notice that your analytics are picking back up again and becoming more consistent. As I said, this one is highly variable so keep these principles in mind as you flesh out your posting schedule/rhythm. For me, I’ve noticed that my posts are most successful when I publish 1-2 posts a week and 1 REEL per week – but I know this is not the case for every creator.
3. Let Your Audience In & Give Them a Space to Engage
By this, I don’t mean posting a photo of yourself holding a camera every few weeks with a caption saying, “Hey I’m so and so, and I’m a photographer and I do XYZ.” The unfortunate truth is that not many people care that you’re a photographer and you like to shoot authentic portraits because you believe that it tells a deeper story about whoever. I care, your family cares, your friends care, but the people you are trying to engage with don’t.
What I mean is when you share with your audience, take the extra time to give them insight; use what, when, where, why, and how (not always necessary to us all at once) until you start getting the hang of writing deeper captions. For instance, tell the story behind the image you are sharing or how you created it, give them a glimpse into your creative process or even the struggles of what it takes to create. Follow up with a call to action or pose a question – don’t be afraid to be vulnerable here. People are attracted to genuine feelings and genuine questions and they will be more called to share when they feel you’re being real.
Speak Directly to Your Audience – as I mentioned, ask questions. Ask your audience what to compare/contrast two of your images. Ask them to critique you, even if it seems scary. Not only is this a great way to engage your audience, you never know what mind-blowing realizations can give way. Often the people who you may assume are the least creative will give you the best critiques. Another reason to stay humble in your process.
Share Behind the Scenes – I mentioned this when talking about REELs so I’ll be brief but you can use BTS and a quick summary to educate your audience on how you work and continue to pique their interest. Remember to be careful of oversharing but don’t be afraid to let your audience in.
4. Collaborate with Other Creatives
Collaborating with other creatives can not only give you a fresh set of eyes but can be refreshing for your audience and create organic reach.
For instance, I recently did a project with a photographer friend of mine where we shot the same model, with the same wardrobe and props, in the same location. The premise was not to compare our work against each other, but rather to share how we instinctively see a photographic situation. We made sure to document the process and ultimately shared it with our audiences. What this did was showed our respective audiences that not only are we out creating but we are collaborating, bringing people into our process, and that we aren’t closed-off artists. The effect is that our audience feels like they can be more connected, more involved, and more part of our process, and they were more likely to engage. Furthermore, it introduced my friend’s audience to me and my audience, and vice versa, providing more opportunity for unfamiliar accounts to meet and engage with each other which further drives reach and ultimately more engagement – a positive feedback loop if you will. Additionally, the ALMIGHTY algorithm likes more engagement and more exchanges. So this technique is working on multiple levels (1) you’re sharing refreshing content with your audience and (2) you’re satisfying the Instagram algorithm.
5. Keep Fighting the Good Fight
Instagram can be very frustrating… especially when it seems like your account has become stagnant or you feel like your engagement, reach, growth, or likely a combo of all of these have flatlined. Resiliency is key. Continue to create and maintain your drive. Instagram can be a great way to connect with potential clients and other creatives, but that’s never going to happen if you give up on it. Remember, Instagram is a tool and should be used as such. Just like your camera. No one just picks up a camera and starts creating magic right away – the same principles apply to Instagram. Stay the course and you’ll find success!
Here is also more information on Creating Consistency on Instagram.