I never expected to find a community when I first downloaded Instagram, but it’s become a big part of the way I connect with people. Not only is it a way for me to interact with my friends and family, it’s also an avenue through which I make new friends and seek inspiration.
Today is the second installment of my Instagram 101 series. Last week, I told the story behind my love for the app. I asked you to tell me how you’d like to get more out of Instagram and you posed some great questions on a range of topics. A few of the things you wanted to know include how to get more followers, make friends, use hashtags and edit photos. I’m going to share my answers throughout the rest of this series! Here’s the schedule for the next three weeks:
- Today — Find your community
- Tuesday, July 8 — Find your voice
- Tuesday, July 15 — Find your style
As always, if you have questions or suggestions for anything else I can cover in these posts, let me know in the comments!
Click below to read my tips for finding your community on Instagram.
1. Cut the crap.
One of the best parts of Instagram is that it’s so simple. Unlike other social networks, Instagram is uncluttered with few bells and whistles. The feed is all images, each one a square, plus a little bit of commentary. It also makes it easy to share your photos to a myriad of social media outlets. In theory, there’s not much more to the app than that.
It’s that same simplicity that makes it easy to feel bored and uninspired with Instagram, especially when your feed is a duplicate of Facebook or Twitter. I recently read this piece by Jeffrey Kalmikoff titled, “You’re Using Instagram Wrong.” Kalmikoff recommends unfollowing everyone and only following the accounts that interest or inspire you.
I agree — to a point. In addition to what I call my “inspiration accounts,” I still follow close family and friends. I have begun to unfollow acquaintances, though, especially if I can catch up on their lives elsewhere on the Internet. It has made a huge difference!
2. Seek out the eye candy.
What kinds of photos do you want to see? What kinds of photos do you want to take? For me, it’s primarily photos of food and breathtaking landscapes, with a little design spattered in. For you, it could be fashion or cats or cars or portraits of people. Ideally, your inspiration accounts should do more than just give you something pretty to look at. They should motivate you to take better photos and interact with new people. Here are a few tips for finding more people to follow:
- Check out the ‘Explore’ tab in the Instagram app. It suggests users tailored to you, based on photos you like and people you follow. To find it, click on the compass icon in the app.
- Follow @Instagram or read the Instagram blog. Every day, the company suggests people to follow and hashtags to explore on a variety of different themes.
- Look at the accounts that other Instagrammers follow. Chances are good that both the people you follow and your followers are following some neat people too. Scan their lists or keep an eye on the ‘Following’ tab in the Instagram news feed. To find it, click on the chat bubble icon in the app and select ‘Following.’
- Tap on location tags to see more photos of a venue. Others have found me this way, plus it’s always interesting to see how another photographer viewed the same locale.
- Scour the Suggested User list. Instagram curates a collection of accounts which it recommends to new users, but it’s also accessible to all users. Because they switch it up often, it’s worth checking out. To find it in the Instagram app, go to Settings > Find People to Follow > Instagram Suggested.
- Keep an eye out for hashtags. Click on or type in a hashtag to see other people’s photos on the same topic. A search for something more creative, such as #fromwhereistand, might yield better results than something simpler, like #shoes.
3. Ignore the numbers.
Yeah, yeah, I hear you. If you unfollow a bunch of people and follow a bunch more, your follower-to-following ratio is going to get way off. I’ve been there. It’s weird and hard to let go. But really, try to ignore it. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re inspired and enjoying using the app. If you’re just not feeling someone’s photos anymore, I say unfollow them.
You’ll probably find a happy medium for the number of people you follow. Mine is around 500 people. If I’m in that ballpark and following/unfollowing people often, then I can get the most out of the app. I find I can usually see most of the photos if I check the app three or four times a day. Your number might be more or less than mine, and that’s fine. Do what’s best for you!
4. Break the ice.
When you find someone whose photos you like, don’t be afraid to comment on their stuff! I sometimes find this daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. You’re a genuine human being sharing your photos on this app, and so are the people you follow. You have this in common, so say hi! Here are some guidelines for interacting with the people you follow (but maybe don’t know in real life):
- Compliment the person. By far the easiest method: If you see a photo you like, say so! Start with phrases like, “Nice photo!” A more genuine comment might say why you like it.
Example: “Beautiful composition. I’ve always wanted to go to San Francisco!” or “Lovely! How did you get that shot?”
- Introduce yourself. In a comment, send them a note to say who you are and how you found them. They’ll likely appreciate it and send you a comment back!
Example: “I found you via the Suggested User list. Your landscape photos are amazing!”
- Relate to the person. Have you been to that restaurant? Are they visiting your city? Did your grandmother have that same china? Say so! Give a recommendation or ask a question.
Example: “Did you get the chicken and biscuits? My favorite!”
- Engage with them. If someone asks a question in their comment, answer it. No one likes to be left hanging. If they ask something like, “What are you up to this weekend?” then you can answer it. The asker is likely to read their comments and they may even click on your page. You never know!
- Find them elsewhere on the Internet. If the person lists their website, blog or Twitter account, then they’re letting you know it’s OK to look them up that way. Send them an email or a tweet if you want to take your hello a bit further. (If you have to dig for this information, it could border on the edge of creepy, so just be sensible.)
- Don’t ask them to follow back. It makes you look desperate, maybe even spammy. For the same reason you don’t have to follow everyone, everyone doesn’t have to follow you either.
- Do it all in moderation. You don’t need to comment or like every single photo, but reaching out here and there will be appreciated and probably noticed.
Taking these steps to be an engaged user might not always lead to more followers, but participating and putting yourself out there can go a long way. Do it enough and it could lead to new connections and even friends!
Note: It certainly helps to have a public account. I typically don’t follow anyone with a private account, unless I know them. If you want more Instagram followers or real-life friends, I recommend making your profile visible to the public.
5. Invite others to engage with you.
Telling someone you like their work lets them know you are daring enough to reach out to them. If you’re genuine, chances are they’ll check out your profile. They might even leave you a like, comment or follow. Someone who I’ve followed for a long time recently followed me back and I was such a fangirl about it. I still get excited whenever she likes one of my pictures! If someone interacts with you, use the above tools in reverse!
- Thank people who compliment you. It’s nice. So do it.
- Answer any questions people ask. Another nice thing to do. So do it.
- Ask questions to your followers. Maybe no one will comment, but maybe they will!
If someone follows you, feel free to follow them back. These connections are called “mutual followers,” and they have the best potential to develop into real friendships.
6. Meet up!
If you’ve made a connection with someone — you follow them, they follow you and you’ve shared a few comments over time — it might be time to take things a step further. If the person lives nearby or if you’re visiting the city where the person lives, ask them to coffee or drinks. I’ve met quite a few of my local Instagram friends now, and it’s really cool to get to know the person behind the lens. If not, friend them on Twitter or Facebook, become their pen pal or connect some other way outside of Instagram.
Pictured above is a slice of strawberry shortcake and a latte I shared with an Instagram friend of mine in Durham recently. She picked the spot, too, which meant I got to learn something new about the area in addition to making a new friend. (Of course, be safe and smart about this. If you meet anyone, do it in a public place and all the other important stuff your mom taught you!)
Attending an Instameet is another idea. An Instameet is an informal gathering at which participants take Instagram pictures and videos together. They’re a great way to meet lots of Instagrammers in your area, or something to do when you travel to another area. I’ve actually never attended one, but it’s on my list! Go to meetup.com/instagram to find an Instameet in your area.
That’s it for today! Did I miss anything? Do you have any other ideas for engaging with others on Instagram in a genuine way? Let me know or ask a question in the comments!
Next week I’ll be talking about creating your own great content and a few more ways to engage with your community on Instagram. See you back here tomorrow for my favorite July 4 recipe! (Oh, it’s Instagram-worthy! I promise. ) // susannah
This post is part of the Instagram 101 series: