It's hard to build a steady following on any of the big social media platforms, but few if any are more difficult to shine on than Instagram if you're a photographer.
There are a lot of photographers on Instagram nowadays. If you're like me, then you probably have somewhat mixed feelings about that. One part of me is ecstatic that the technology has become accessible enough for new photographers that anyone can join the field. But an equal part of me is worried that those of us who use photography as more than a hobby may be lost in the tide of over-edited, super hash-tagged, mega-processed "'grammable" snapshots that are posted on social media (Separate side note: here is an interesting article on why those filters are awful).
People like myself and actual influencers like Thomas Heaton, Jared Polin and others then have to force our accounts through the online noise. This is a significant problem for people who use the visual side of social media to sell prints and gain exposure for our work (*cough* adamophoto.com *cough*). This results in our needing to work even harder for our often too few impressions. Nowhere is this more visible than on Instagram. Luckily for us, there are workarounds that can capitalize on Instagram's algorithms to extend our reach.
To use these workarounds, though, one needs to understand how Instagram works. Dr. Regina Luttrell, in her book Social Media: How to Engage, Share, and Connect, correctly states that Instagram gives people the "ability to create, manipulate, and share photos with family, friends, coworkers, and anyone else interested in taking a peek at those sepia-tinted, vintage-style, toaster-hued digital images." She also correctly states that Instagram gives you the ability to include "thirty relevant hashtags that relate to the photo and include popular and non-popular tags... [one artist] built 600 followers over approximately five years, ballooning to more than 1,800 in just half a year..." These hashtags are the key to keeping your posts visible to new audiences, as well as ensuring that your followers get to see your post(s). And if you can deploy them with content that people want to see, then you can see similar results.
As important as those hashtags are, it is a merciless truth that even with the most relevant, most viral hashtags, if a user fails to consistently produce quality content that people want to see, their account's following will stagnate. That second part is where I struggle. Why? Because that is where the accounts that crank out copious amounts of "'grammable" content (like this one and this one) thrive, as they may often have more than one owner and/or may be more willing to sacrifice quality of content in order to post more frequently. I don't have that advantage, unfortunately. I am currently working to earn my master’s degree in public relations, at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. It is a massive time commitment that has relegated photography to the back burner.
But how do I keep the dust off of my page? Simple: I try to post effectively, when I have content to post. I've attached two photos to this post, both of which have been taken in the Syracuse University area; one of Newhouse 3, taken from the sidewalk of Waverly avenue, and one facing west at sunset, from the roof of Crouse Hospital's Parking garage. Both of these photos were posted at similar times of day, with similar captions, and had the same approximately 24 hours to spread before I screen-shot their analytics pages through the Instagram app. As you can see in the analytics pictures, the Newhouse picture did massively better, in terms of reach, likes, and comments. The only difference is content, and the types of hashtags I used with each. One is a bright, vibrant picture that captures the bright, vibrant energy of Newhouse, while the other has deeper, moodier colors that almost seem reminiscent of a Springsteen song. The hashtags had similar connotations to them, with the hashtags of the Newhouse picture being positive, cheerful, and jovial. Conversely, the hashtags of the sunset picture paralleled the moodiness of the picture. As you can probably guess, the hashtags of the brighter picture generated 7 times as many clicks, and in general served to bring more exposure to my account. The pictures are linked to the original posts.
On my account, I do my best to punctuate landscapes with architecture or wildlife shots. By being as productive as possible with my shooting opportunities, and by digging through old files from old vacations and photo-shoots, I am able to keep to a fairly regular schedule of posting once a week to keep my account on my follower's feeds. My best recommendation, however, is to do your best to keep a camera on hand at all times. You never know when your next great shot will appear, and if you're able to keep generating content that people will respond to, your account will grow rapidly. This should be even more true as Instagram updates its timelines and viewer systems to be much more chronologically based, rather than based on algorithms that process likes and subscriptions. Which have almost universally been despised. This shift bodes well for the future, as it means that the algorithms will be phased out, resulting in people seeing content from the accounts to which they subscribe, rather than what Instagram thinks you want to see. We can only hope that this trend continues, as busy photographers with quality content continue to struggle to share their work.
This blog was originally created for coursework while at the Newhouse School. But this blog quickly became something more, as it gave me a platform, however small, on which to share my thoughts. So feel free to read through these posts, and if you like what you read, please share. Enjoy.