If you’re anything like me, you’ve likely found yourself scrolling through post after post on Instagram thinking that maybe you, too, could have a massive following like the accounts you stalk.

You see that they have countless comments and even more likes, and wonder why you haven’t seen that same level of engagement on your posts. Rather than letting the green-eyed monster get the better of you, maybe it’s time to start strategizing your way to #Instafamedom the tactical way – with proven strategies.

Having a killer Instagram account is an invaluable way to be seen and heard and to interact with your target audience — especially as a blogger. If only it was as easy as posting a pic, getting some likes and adding a couple of hashtags.

The truth is, there’s much more planning and intention that goes behind that sleek AF grid you drool over. There’s the research, strategy, shooting, photo editing, captions, hashtags and scheduling. And, sadly, the work isn’t done there. After that, there’s the ongoing interaction with your audience. Wash, rinse and repeat this process on a regular basis and you basically have a second job.

It’s one thing to start and Instagram account but it’s an even better thing to reap rewards from it. So, to save you many Google searches and trial-and-error episodes, we’re giving you our five top tips to creating, growing and maintaining a slicker-than-your-average Instagram to help you and your blog or business thrive.

1. MAKE SURE YOUR PROFILE IS UP-TO-SNUFF

This may seem like a throw-away tip, but everyone’s heard about giving the right first impression right?

Your bio, your profile picture, Insta name and profile link are all part of your virtual ID on Instagram. If they don’t accurately tell your story, then your people will have a very hard time finding you.

First things first, make sure you’re happy with your Instagram username and that that name is the same as your blog name, website and other social media accounts. Why? It’s important for your audience to be able to find you on any platform or through a Google search. Websites like Namechk can help you check if your ideal name is available across domains and all the social media platforms out there. 

Let’s talk about your profile pic. Is it flattering? Is it interesting? If so, rock on! Though, be sure not get in the habit of changing your profile picture too often – or else it will be difficult for your people to recognize your post. Think of your profile picture as your logo. If you change it often, your following will have a harder time identifying your brand.

Now it’s time to choose between a personal or business account. And, long story, short, you should choose a business account. When it comes down to it, the benefits of a business account are far more impressive than any potential downfall (some people think it may decrease your organic engagement but we haven’t seen any evidence of this). Besides - think of what a contact button and instant access to insights and reports can do for your website’s growth!

One hundred and fifty characters doesn’t seem like much to sum up the very essence of you and your blog but, trust us, it’s more than enough. Your bio should be short and sweet – a tagline or a summary of your story. Play around with it and if you’re after some serious bonus points, try making sure the tone of voice is consistent with your brand – and don’t forget to add a link to your blog or website! If you’re an overachiever, feel free to regularly update your bio with a link to your most recent blog post.

2. POST ORIGINAL PHOTOS

Any Tom, Dick or Harry can repost photos from other Instagram accounts or Pinterest. But when it comes to creating a top-notch account, one that catches the attention of the right kind of peeps, it’s all about original content. 

Creating original content isn’t always easy. It’s not always financially feasible to pay for a professional shoot – and not everyone’s a maestro with a camera or iPhone. Still, it’s wise to work towards creating beautiful visual content.

Start by creating a visual mood board, then refer to it for shoot inspiration or use those photos for a rainy-day regram (make sure you always credit the original owner and, you never know, reposting someone else’s work may even help you engage with other brands and influencers).

When curating a collection of imagery that will work for your feed, ensure that the images stay within your style guide in terms of colors, editing, vibe etc. Ask yourself if what you’re posting is relevant to your blog or business. And remember, quality over quantity wins. Always.

Then comes the real work. You don’t need a fancy, expensive camera to take fabulous photos - though if you want t do this for a living, you’re going to need to buy a DSLR eventually. 

But, in the meantime, you can even use your smart phone. Here are some quick and dirty tips for taking Instagram-worthy photos with your iPhone:

Lighting

  • Set focus and exposure for clear, well-lit photos
  • Lock the focus using the AE/AF lock feature on the iPhone camera
  • Use the exposure slider to get the perfect amount of light

Styling

  • Think about the story you are trying to tell through the photo.
  • Use simple backgrounds that make your subjects pop.
  • Use props that enhance the story of the photo. Shoot through some ferns or sheer curtains – or, my personal favourite, play around with some fairy lights!

Shooting

  • Hunt for golden hour – one hour before sunset and after sunrise. This is where you’ll get the softest, dreamiest lighting.
  • Switch on the grid on your iPhone for better composition.
  • Use the ‘Rule of Thirds’ to compose interesting shots.

Editing

  • Make yourself familiar with the amazing photo editing apps out there. VSCO and Snapseed are the big two, and Touch Retouch and Facetune are great for things like removing objects, changing backgrounds and adding light leaks.
  • Use the same filter to maintain consistency in your photos.
  • Use a few reference photos when you’re editing that you always refer back to during the process. And check in on the original photo when you’re editing to make sure you don’t over-edit. If you’re stuck for ideas or overwhelmed with choice, try emulating the editing of another photographer before putting your unique spin on it.

If you want a professional shoot, consider bartering with a photographer. Reach out to someone who has a similar aesthetic to your feed and offer your services in return for theirs. Most budding photographers are looking to build their portfolio anyway, so it never hurts to ask for a collaboration. As always, remember to credit them on all your channels. A win-win for all involved.

Though beautiful, meaningful, original content is the goal, not every image needs to be original. Go by the 80/20 rule and try to aim for at least 80% original content, weaving the rest of the regrammed content throughout your grid.

3. DEFINE YOUR STRATEGY AND SET A DIRECTION

People can spot an imposter from a mile away, so there’s no better strategy than being yourself.

When we say yourself we mean your best self — the one who only posts with intention and purpose, who truly loves and believes in their business, and who offers value to their audience. 

Don’t know where to start? Write down the four key elements you want to portray about your blog on social media. Each element should share a different side of you and your blog. But as a whole, your grid should look like one big happy family of images that all belong together. 

Once you have shot your photos and curated an amazing grid, it’s time to schedule - try out a few apps and see what’s right for you. UNUM and Planoly are a few of our favorites. Planning in advance means that your photos and captions are saved and ready to go – all it takes is the tap of a button to post. The schedulers can also remind you to post when your followers are most active. It’s sublime.

In the beginning, embrace trial and error, and learn the best times to post, notice what posts are working and which ones aren’t, what hashtags have helped you gained the most traction and which ones offer no added value. You may have 99 problems, but a gorgeous grid should never be one if you plan well.

4. WRITE GREAT CAPTIONS

It’s all well and good having all these beautiful images but what about the caption? The words you use along with your image are just as important and help to share a bit more of your personality, allow you to relate to your audience, and show you are indeed a real person (#nobotszone).

Like your bio, it’s all about consistency when it comes to tone of voice. If you are feeling a little stuck for words, use the following intentions to help guide your captions:

Educate: this may be revealing a little about yourself, sharing your most recent blog post or offering tips around your expertise.

Persuade action: Promote your most recent blog post, ask a question or invite your people to take part in a competition.

Evoke an emotion: This can be something cheeky, funny or something a little more vulnerable. Whatever it is, try and write something that truly connects with your followers.

We’ve talked about being authentic and here’s where to let your personality shine - your caption doesn’t have to be long, if you are a straight shooter and fast talker then make your captions short and sharp, one word may even do the trick!

Now, for the hashtags, choose a few that have your name in it and stick to it. Feel free to add more hashtags that relate to your image or offerings in the comments section. Adding it to the caption can take away from the post and look a little too wordy. To find hashtags that expose your posts to the widest audience possible, consider using Display Purposes or Focalmark. Both tools suggest hashtags that connect your content to your target audience. Using crazy-cool machine learning, the suggestions are relevant and increase your exposure.

Through the use of carefully curated hashtags, you could get featured by a large account that would expose your snaps to a super big audience. Strategically, suss out the hashtags that these accounts hang out in and use them to attract their attention. Target large accounts whose style matches yours to ensure maximum impact. So, if your photo-editing style is light, airy and employs lots of whitespace, find accounts that will eat that up. Work smarter, not harder — don’t get that twisted.

5. ENGAGE WITH YOUR PEOPLE

Social media is meant to be just that - social! The good ol’ post and forget combo is one of the most cringeworthy sins of social media. Seriously. Don’t ever be mislead to believe that one post will magically grow your followers to Kimmy-K levels. When it comes to Instagram, how much you put in is how much you’ll get out of it.

To really get traction with your Instagram following and to attract your dream followers, you’ve got to open a conversation and show your support by interacting with them. When you do comment, make sure it’s authentic - there’s nothing worse than someone being insincere or sounding like a robot with a generic comment like “so pretty” or “love this”. If you are really going to bother to engage with your community or attract others to your Instagram, you need to genuinely be interested in what they are posting - ask a question or make a one-of-a-kind, tailor-made comment to show you really dig that image and what they are all about.

One of the ways to structure your engagement efforts is to build communities. Firstly, build an internal community of followers you always interact with and an external one you periodically check in with. Think of these as your “Instagram squad”, people around the same niche, following size and style as you that you can genuinely get behind and support, and who will support you back.

Then, after you’ve established an internalcommunity, start building an external community. These are people who may not be quite similar to you, but still may use similar hashtags, or employ a similar editing style to you. Every now and then, go searching for this external community and start engaging with these people.

Don’t forget, likes are free, so fire off as many as your fingers can handle. Also, always make sure your comments are 4-5 words at least with an emoji for good measure. Instagram’s elite typically spend about 2-4 hours a day just building engagement. So, consider setting up a schedule for yourself that sees you spend 15 minutes every other hour or so spreading the Insta love.

To foster even deeper connections with your peeps on Instagram, try your hand at Instagram Stories. Unlike Snapchat, the audience is built in, it’s user friendly, and the viewership engagement is unreal. Instagram Stories gives your followers real-time, raw access to your life in a way that filtered Instagram posts can’t. You can even add links out to blog posts using Insta Stories. If you’re not using Stories, you’re leaving social currency on the table. Don’t get left behind, stay ahead of the curve with the new feature.

Quality content, along with consistent engagement, is where it really counts. It’s not uncommon for example, to see incredibly beautiful Instagram accounts who have much less followers than they deserve because they don’t put as much time into the engagement aspect, and vice versa. Instagram is a social game, so you’ll need to play it to win it!

Putting these tips into action is one thing, but the best thing you can do for your account’s success is remaining consistent. If you plan to post everyday, don’t miss a day. If you intend to spend an hour commenting and liking your followers’ posts each morning, don’t forgo a single Instagram love fest. To grow on Instagram, you need to approach the platform with intention and goal-driven purpose. In the words of one of our generation’s greatest thinkers, Drake, do better than good enough. Happy grammin’!