A picture speaks a thousand words - A beginner's guide to feeling the love on Instagram

If you’re just starting out on Instagram, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about, or that it’s not as easy as it looks. Maybe you just don’t really get it yet, or maybe you thought you ‘got it’, only to realise nothing much is happening … crickets.

Don’t be disheartened and don’t give up yet. Read on - I’m going to explain a few things about Instagram and give you some tips and tools to get you back on track in the least amount of time so that you feel more confident and equipped for Instagram … and I’ll try to keep it pretty succinct because I know you’re busy. Let’s go.

Is Instagram really worth it? Isn’t it just another social media network?

Yes, Instagram is worth it because of the things that make it different from the other networks and these differences make it a great place to be. For one, Instagram is almost purely visual - it’s all about the photos and people really care about that. How many times have you heard about how important images are for engagement and sharing on social media? And here’s a network that’s devoted to images. There’s not a lot of other distracting clutter to sift through, just images and the emotions we get to feel when we see those images. It’s clean, uncomplicated and very appealing for users.

Secondly, there’s no links in Instagram, except for the one you’re allowed in your bio. This also contributes to Instagram’s appealing user experience because it’s less spammy. No links helps to keep it just about the photos rather than selling and promoting all the time.

And thirdly, Instagram was made for mobile, literally. So apart from including images in your social media posts, what’s the next big rule? Mobile, mobile, mobile - people use social media on the go. And Instagram’s perfect because it’s so clean and uncluttered without links and distractions.

So when you think about it, all the golden rules of social media that we’re trying to remember and apply on the other networks, are native to Instagram. It’s visual, it’s not spammy, and it’s perfect for mobile. Instagram, by its very nature, has taken excellent care of their users’ experience and that’s why people love it so much … and that’s why it’s worth it.

Know your community and give them what they want … consistently.

Instagram is like flicking through a photo album, so it makes sense to be personal. Let your community know who you are - give them something to get to know, let your personality show through. People love looking at photos of food and coffee, for example, and people don’t seem to get sick of looking at this stuff (I know I don’t!), but the photos that are really magnetic are the ones that tell a story and show personality. They’re the ones with owners and employees in them, the behind the scenes shots of the food being made, the ones with real customers having a lovely time and looking like they’re in their second home.

Your goal is to connect with your audience and you have to show you’re a real person to do that. Show them you understand their needs, desires, fears, aspirations, and simple joys in life. This also means posting images and messages that resonate with them apart from just the thing you do or sell.

For example, if you’re a local coffee shop, you might consider posting things about your local community, like events, news, other local businesses and of course your local customers (if they’re cool with that!). If you sell natural skincare products, on the other hand, you might consider offering related educational pieces like the benefits of certain plants, or eating certain superfoods, or just drinking plenty of water. Of course, there will be times when you want to promote a new product, host a giveaway or competition, or communicate a special offer, but don’t do this all the time, only sometimes ... like 20% of the time. Your primary goal is to make your audience feel entertained, inspired, and kind of like they’re a part of what you’re doing.

And if you’re a bit hazy about what it is your audience wants, have a look at what your competitors and peers are posting, start following them and join in on the conversation. Then go ahead and try some of what they’re doing in your own way. By seeing what others are doing and trying things out yourself, you’ll learn a tonne and get the hang of it quickly.

And consistency?

Yep, it actually matters and makes a difference. You know that it’s not just what we say, but how we say and do things too. Being consistent in your posting means that your audience has a reliable chance of getting to know you because you keep showing up for them. It’s about trust and reliability. When people like what you do and they can see that you’re reliable in the way you do it, not just in a timely way like every day, but also in the quality of your posts and the value you bring, they’ll start to anticipate your next offering … and this is key to growing your following and your business.

And don’t freak out! It doesn’t have to be 20 posts a day, it can be just one, a few times a week, whatever you can manage in regularity AND quality. But whatever it is, be consistent - it’s worth it.

Ask for engagement

You can post your beautiful images and just let your audience enjoy them, which is totally fine, but, engagement is also important to create and nurture relationships with that audience. That’s why it’s also totally fine to ask for engagement, in a nice way and not all the time, right? Asking your audience to comment not only gives you the opportunity to learn about them, but it's a way of encouraging a sense of community around your brand or business.

There are lots of ways to ask for engagement from a simple “Double-tap if you agree”, which is another way for users to switch the ‘Like’ heart on for your post. Questions are also a good way to get people to engage, for example, “Which do you prefer? Comment below”. Or invite your audience to tag someone, for example, a beautiful coffee photo posted first thing in the morning could ask the audience to tag a friend who needs coffee this morning.

Get creative, try some things out, see what others are doing and see what works for you. You don’t need to ask for engagement every time, but doing it sometimes could give you some surprising results, just by asking for it.

Use hashtags

Using hashtags indicate user sub-groups and allow your posts to be found by people searching for specific things. They can indicate things such a location, specific interests, promotions, and even brands themselves. Hashtags make it easy for people to find what they’re looking for, and is therefore one the main ways people who are not following you are able to discover you.

To work out which hashtags to use, play around in the search field to see what comes up and what hashtags people are using in your industry, field or location. Some will be obvious, like #coffee for a coffee shop, but others less so. Once you’ve found the ones you’d like to use, make a list of them and add them to each of your posts. Your hashtags should be added to a comment though, and not into the description section of your post. They’ll work in exactly the same way, but they’ll just make your post and its description look cleaner and less cluttered … and less spammy.

What makes a good Instagram image?

There are just 3 rules for the images you choose for Instagram;

  1. They need to tell a story

  2. Or arouse an emotion

  3. Make sure it’s the right size!

Beautiful places, amazing food, great coffee, family, laughter, friendship, community, health, energy, love …. Look at the photo - how does it make you feel? Would this resonate with your audience? Is this beautiful, breathtaking, or inspiring? Would your audience feel the same? Would this be something they’d share with their friends?

Adding text to your images is another way to tell a story and elicit those emotions. You certainly don’t have to do this, but you will have noticed how many of the very popular posts have text incorporated, especially with quotes. People love to see beautiful images, but they also love that dose of inspiration and motivation.

Where to get awesome images:

Use your own photos by all means - using your own photos can really bring in that personal and unique aspect to your business or brand and I would definitely encourage you to do this for sure. The following article has a few easy to implement pointers on taking your own photos for Instagram with your phone, but if you’re keen on improving your own photography, there are tonnes of other resources available too; http://www.popphoto.com/how-to/2014/09/8-tips-improving-your-instagram-photography

But you’ll probably want to use other people’s photos as well, at least from time to time, so here are some links to my favourite free stock photo resources to get you started;

https://picjumbo.com/

https://www.pexels.com/

https://www.flickr.com/commons

https://pixabay.com/

To make sure your images are the right size:

A picture speaks a thousand words so choose images that do, and take the time to make sure they won’t be cropped and ruined when you upload them. Have you ever found the perfect photo or quote for Instagram, maybe added some text, posted it excitedly, even remembered your hashtags, only to find it’s got a bit missing? Disheartening, isn’t it? Especially if you lost part of that great quote …

The ideal size for Instagram images is 1080 x 1080 pixels and can be scaled to 612 x 612. But the really important thing to understand is that Instagram requires square images, so if your image is rectangular, it will be cropped when you post it to Instagram, hence losing bits sometimes.

If you’re working on your desktop, PicMonkey is an easy web based tool to change the size of your photo, and it allows you to do lots of other things too, like adding effects, text and overlays. It’s not available as a mobile app as yet, but I believe it will be soon.

Go to http://www.picmonkey.com/ , select edit and choose your photo. Then you can either use the ‘resize’ or ‘crop’ options in the editor. If your photo is rectangular, it’ll be easier to use the crop tool because you’re going to have to chop some off to make it square. When you drag the cropping parameters, you’ll see the actual photo dimensions changing - you know you’ve got a square when the numbers of both sides are the same e.g. 1080 x 1080. Once you’ve saved the size, you can go ahead and overlay text and all sorts of things before saving your final masterpiece.

If you’re working straight from your phone, you can’t go past Word Swag. It’s available on both iOS and Android and while it’s not free (I think it’s around $5), it’s well worth the investment. Word Swag will make your photos square, perfect for Instagram, it allows you to add text, overlays and design templates right from your mobile AND it even allows you to choose stock images from Pixabay, which is built into the app. Wow.

 

I’m sure there are some great free mobile apps that people love too (please comment if you have any), and I’ve used a few, but find they’re all restrictive or unreliable in one way or another. Honestly, if you’re too busy to muck around with photo editing, but you want to give Instagram a decent shot, Word Swag is easy to use, reliable and perfect if you’re not too tech savvy with zero time on your hands.

So there’s a lot of Insta-information there - I hope enough and at the same time, not too much! The best thing I can encourage you to do is go ahead and try things, see what works for you on Instagram and see what apps, tools and resources work for you in getting your images ready to post.

Now go be creative and Instagram it up!

Oh and one other thing - if we’re not connected on Instagram, hit the Instagram button and say hello over there. I’d love to see what you’re doing on Instagram and to hear whether this article’s been helpful.

Andrea

Pepperstreetsocial.com