Instagram 101

Instagram 101 // Feast + West

It’s no secret that I love Instagram. I’m definitely that girl who photographs her food at a restaurant. I’m also the girl who pulls over on the side of the road to snap a few pics of a pretty landscape. And I’m not ashamed of any of it. This app provides me a space where I can be creative and share moments of my life with my own little community. It’s a major source of inspiration for me, and I’ve even made real-life friends with people I’ve met through the app. It’s quite amazing, if you ask me.

About a month ago, Instagram notified me that it had selected me as one of its suggested users. For two weeks, I racked up about 2,000 followers a day. It is such an honor to be on the list and that strangers allow my photos into their feeds, let alone ‘like’ and comment on them. The Suggested User list is Instagram’s curated collection of accounts it recommends to new users, and it’s also accessible at any time to all users. Because they switch it up often, it’s worth checking out every once in a while. (To find it in the Instagram app, go to Settings > Find People to Follow > Instagram Suggested.)

Instagram 101 // Feast + West

Even before I made the list, my friends sometimes asked me how to take better Instagram photos. Now, people want to know how I got so many followers. To be honest, I have no idea how Instagram found me or why it chose me or what it looks for in its suggested users. But I can guess! In the last year or so, my approach to Instagram has changed a lot. (More on that in a bit!) I don’t know how much my new philosophy contributed to my making the list, but I’d like to think it did.

Over the next few weeks, I’ve decided to share some of my own tips for getting the most out of the app. I had a hard time condensing all my thoughts into just one post, so I’m spreading it out into a four-part series I’m calling Instagram 101.

This is not a photography how-to (though there may be a teeny bit of that), but more of an introduction to my philosophy of Instagram. I can’t promise that you’ll get more likes and followers, or even that you’ll make it on the Suggested User list. But I do hope I can help you get more out of your experience. First up is how I fell in love with it!

Click through to read my Instagram story!

Instagram 101 // Feast + West

The beginning

I first downloaded Instagram in the fall of 2010, not long after the app was released. My first photo, of a waterfall in Oregon, was less than amazing. Actually, I thought Instagram was a photo-editing app, not a social network. I remember posting that photo and thinking, “Well, what’s the big deal?” I’m pretty sure I deleted the app after that.

It was almost a year later when I began using Instagram again, at the insistence of a smart friend who promised I would love it. As I used it more, I posted a lot of photos of my kitty Pixel, food that I made and beer that I drank. Occasionally, I posted travel photos too. All of that hasn’t changed much, though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cringe when I look back on my early posts.

Instagram 101 // Feast + West

RDU Baton

In 2012, my friend Brittany Iery and I started an Instagram-based project called RDU Baton. In short, we give the “baton” (our Instagram password) to one person a day. Each baton-holder shares images of their life and favorite places in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which is made up of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. With permission, we based our project on the NYC Baton project by John de Guzman.

In 1.5 years of our project, more than 360 people have held the Baton and we’ve gained more than 4,000 followers. We were also voted “Best Local Person to Follow on Instagram” in the Indy Week Best of the Triangle 2014 contest earlier this year. Although Brittany and I recently announced our departure from the project, I cannot deny the major role the Baton has played in my Instagram story. (Don’t worry, we handed it off to two very capable women! One of whom is the smart friend who promised me I’d like Instagram. She wasn’t wrong!)

Instagram 101 // Feast + West

A new perspective

At some point last summer, I felt stuck in a creative rut. I started unfollowing any acquaintances and instead I sought out users who inspired me. I began to try new things with my photography, like mimicking different photographic styles and inventing hashtags. I started thinking of Instagram as more of a blank canvas for artful creating and less of a place to share what I’m doing at the moment.  A little less “insta” and a little more “gram,” as I sometimes put it. It was then that my entire experience began to change and I started falling extra hard for this app.

Now, I have three accounts: the @rdubaton account; my personal feed, @slbrinkley; and an account for the happenings of this blog, @feastandwest. I chose to create a separate username for my blog because I feel strongly that my personal account should stay phone-only. I take and edit all the photos I feature on my personal account with my iPhone. It feels disingenuous to me to post any of my blog photos (which I may or may not take with my phone, and which I usually edit in Photoshop) on my personal feed. It’s a personal choice, but a distinction that is important to me.

Instagram 101 // Feast + West

What can I teach you?

Instagram is about so much more than just followers and posting photos. It’s about finding your community, your story, your style. In the next three weeks, I’m going to tell you how.

But first, tell me something: What do you want to learn about Instagram? Do you want tips on editing photos, or is it knowing what to photograph? Do you want to know how to interact with people on Instagram? I will do my best to impart what I have learned from my experiences with this wonderful app.

Be sure to check back next Tuesday — I’ll be sharing some tips for being an engaged member of the Instagram community, but I’d love to tailor these ‘lessons’ to anything you want to know. Sound off in the comments or tell me on FacebookTwitter or, hey! Maybe even on Instagram? // susannah 

This post is part of the Instagram 101 series:

The Golden Ratio Guide:

Mix the perfect cocktail, every time

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  1. ALEASE says

    I started an Instagram a few years back but just started to take it serious this year. So my questions is how can use Instagram to increase traffic to your site?

    Thanks , Alease

    • Susannah says

      Hi Alease! That’s a great question. I think the answer lies in striking the balance between being an engaged user and being slightly self-promotional. It also helps to have your URL in your profile. I will be sure to delve into it a little deeper next week!

  2. Rosanne says

    Susannah is a true inspiration ! Food and photos are also two of my passions. Cannot wait to see her photos everyday

    • Susannah says

      Thank you, Rosanne! I’ll be talking a bit more about my style and finding your own in a couple weeks. 🙂

  3. Toni (Smart Friend) says

    As your “smart friend” I am very excited to read this series of posts about Instagram!

    I’m curious to hear about your approach to hashtags. I find I am always struggling with tagging my photos in the best way. I always feel like there’s probably some really great, popular hashtag out there that I could use on my photo and I just don’t know what it is.

    Looking forward to your next post! – xo

    • Susannah says

      Thanks Toni! Hashtags can be tricky. No one likes the person who has a hashtag novel, but you also want your posts to get liked and noticed. There’s a fine line, but I’ll definitely talk about that over the next few weeks!

  4. Sara says

    Looking forward to this series! I started following your instagram feed after I held the baton (my instagram is @esskay22) and actually downloaded VSCOCam because I really liked the editing in your photos. I love using VSCO now. Do you have any other favorite editing apps?

    • Susannah says

      Hi Sara! I’m glad you’re a VSCO convert! I’ll definitely be sharing some more of my favorite apps in this series, but for a little sneak peak — I have been using Mextures and SKRWT a lot lately!

  5. Dooverdog says

    I love instagram, but really haven’t decided what I want to do with it yet, if anything, beyond snapping photos of what’s around me and inspiring! I really enjoy seeing what others post too. I’ve participated (once) in an instagram “project” and enjoyed the daily tasks… and the pressure of having to come up with something specific each day. So, what I’d like to know is, how do I find more of these “projects” as the first one I found by accident?!

    • Susannah says

      Yes! That’s great. I will definitely have some more tips for Instagram beginners. I’ll give some more info on this on Tuesday, but lots of blogs and brands often have Instagram challenges that encourage photos on a particular theme. Usually, all you have to do is add the designated hashtag to your post to enter. Design*Sponge does one every month, and Instagram has one every weekend — check their account on Fridays for the weekend’s theme.

  6. Jordan says

    I’m SO excited for this series, Suze! Something that I always struggle with: what’s the best way to interact with other users in a genuine way? And (subquestion), what’s the best way to find a good network of Insta-friends?

    • Susannah says

      Thanks Jordan! That’s another great question. I struggle with this a lot too. I think it’s a lot like dating — don’t be afraid to make the first move and say hi to someone! 😉

  7. Chrissie says

    I am so excited to read your Instagram tips over the following weeks! I just started using Instagram in December, and my account right fuses my blog life and my life life. I am repeating some questions that folks posted above, but I am really interested in using it to increase traffic to my site. I also am curious about getting more followers and retaining followers, and the proper use of hashtags so I don’t overwhelm everyone! Learning more about photos and filters will be super helpful too. 🙂

    • Susannah says

      Hi Chrissie! Thanks for the comment. Those are all great questions & I will be answering all of them in this series! I think you hit on a great point, though: not overwhelming your followers. It applies to so much more than just hashtags. There’s definitely a balance that’s right for you, you just have to find it!

  8. Tori says

    Hello from a fellow Charlotte blogger 🙂

    I just recently started using Instagram after barely posting anything at the beginning of this year. Maybe I will start to get into it more! I’m glad I found your blog – Looks like you have a lot of great stuff here!

    • Susannah says

      Thanks so much, Tori! So glad you’re here – your blog is so cute! Sometimes it’s nice to take a little social media break!

  9. Melissa says

    “It was almost a year later when I began using Instagram again, at the insistence of a smart friend who promised I would love it.”

    Haha that sounds familiar. Thank you for convincing me to use this app, and for this wonderful series!

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