How To Win Friends & Influence People On Instagram: Version 2

Last year, I wrote a blog post with this very title and it went down a storm.  It was very tongue in cheek (obvs) and extremely irreverent (again, obvs) but I've recently found myself directing people back to it.  I reread it this week and realised that over the last year, my Instagram knowledge has grown to a disproportionate level bordering on obsession, mainly by spending way too much time on it and generally pissing off my entire family.  The words 'get a life' pop into my head regularly but for those of you who use it, you will know that it's scarily addictive and that those little squares hold way too much attraction.  So I decided that a Version 2 of my original post was long overdue.

My dining room.  Changed at least five times since I originally posted it 17 months ago.

My dining room.  Changed at least five times since I originally posted it 17 months ago.

Instagram as a social media is growing and growing - users have doubled in the last two years and the amount of feeds that people follow is growing too.  I regularly receive messages from people asking me how to grow their following on Instagram, mainly from an interiors point of view but also from people who are trying to gain some understanding about how the hugely complicated algorithm works.    

Instagram used to be SO straight forward.  You'd post your photo, it would appear in your feed and in other people's feed chronologically.  Simples.  And then last June, they changed it.  Much to the annoyance of many in the Instagram community.  So now your feed is based on what the Instagram algorithm thinks you WANT to see rather than those most recently posted.  This hasn't altogether gone down well.  There's been lots of complaints about engagement and feed pattern and more recently, the idea of shadow banning hashtag use (penalising accounts for consistently using similar or the same hashtags).  So working out how to play this and make your posts count in the grand scheme of things is a constant battle.

I started using Instagram years ago, even before my kids did, just for posting personal photos. I'd always loved taking photographs and Instagram was far more niche than it's partner, Facebook.  Let's face it, there are only so many kids dressed up for World Book Day photos, drunk group selfies (me, guilty) and check in's at gyms (Joe, guilty) that you can see without your brain exploding.  But after posting photographs of my dining room with a couple of hashtags last January, I discovered that not only did my likes rocket but also my followers increased to more than the 25 die hard family and friends who had been following me for years.  It was a revelation.  Fast forward 17 months and my following is at 46k and rising.

So what did I do to get here?  Tbh, I'm not actually sure.  I am still totally gobsmacked by the fact that there are so many people who want to look at my slapdash room revamps, as are my kids who have gone from scoffing at my hashtag choices (#shelfie had them in hysterics for months) to having a vague sense of pride in the playground when their friends admit that they follow me too.  So as per my previous post, I've listed below what has worked for me but with a little more knowledge of the system.  With tongue firmly in cheek, of course.

Instagram stories, the best thing since sliced bread.

Instagram stories, the best thing since sliced bread.

Know Your Niche

First up and most important.  It's absolutely imperative that you stick to a niche.  Whether that's interiors, fitness, lifestyle, kids, fashion, animals - you need to know your niche and you need to stick to it.  Don't veer off course.  I know it's tempting to post a selfie when the rest of your feed is cushions and throws but I promise you, you will lose followers.  That's what Stories are for.

Recently my friend Alex was struggling with his account.  He wasn't getting many likes and his following was dropping.  So as we stood outside school pick up every day, we 'rebranded' him @happygaydad.  He's happy, he's gay, he's a dad and he loves fitness.  He did daily updates on what he was eating, he storied his fitness sessions, he used appropriate hashtags, he posted about life as a dad.  Within three weeks he had gained 2,500 followers.  The rules are basic, but it does work.

Instagram Stories is now in place to cover the non niche urges - selfies, haircuts, new jumper, kittens, your dinner, moaning about stuff in general - all covered by the little round camera button at the top left hand of your screen.  Use with caution, though.  Who hasn't posted a story after six Pornstar Martinis and then discovered it the next morning?  Personally, Instagram Live is not my friend after a few glasses of wine.  It should come with a health warning.  Stories last for 24 hours and I've never let mine lapse since they were first introduced ten months ago.  Keep your feed niche and on track and let your Stories do the fun stuff.  

Apartment Therapy  know their stuff.

Apartment Therapy know their stuff.

Follow The Big Boys

So once you know your niche, you need to know who you should be following.  Look at who other people in your niche are following.  Look at who the feeds they are following are following.  Look at what hashtags they are using.  Look at what hashtags the feeds they are following are using.  Blatantly copy them.  

These big feeds often collaborate with brands and businesses to promote competitions as well so it's beneficial (and fun) for everyone to be following the right people.  Make sure you are following the main feeds in your niche to keep up to date.

For example, if you are into interiors, you should be following Design Sponge or Apartment Therapy.  If you are into plants, follow The Jungalow or Urban Jungle Bloggers.  If you are into good looking men, follow Tom Hardy.  Jokes.



Bianca Hall at French For Pineapple showing how to take a perfect photo.

Bianca Hall at French For Pineapple showing how to take a perfect photo.

Make Your Photo Game Strong

Again, essential.  Angled, blurred, over filtered just won't cut it.  You will get more likes and more follows if your photographs are good quality and well thought out.  You can do this on your phone - I've recently upgraded to a Olympus Pen E but that's because I'm an obsessive Instagram mentalist.  Wide room shots are a winner.  Make sure your shots are well balanced and that all the space in the photograph is filled.  Joe is an absolute nightmare for this.  Many the time I've entrusted him with taking a family photo only to find that we are all in one small corner of the screen with half our legs missing.  

Taking pictures at night with the lights on is also not a great idea.  Unless you are using some super flash camera, the lighting in the room will bounce back at you and blur your image.  The lovely Colin Poole came to my house last year to photograph it for a magazine and told me that all the best photographs are taken in clear daylight.  If you look at the posts that get lots of likes, you will see that they are equally balanced, clear and unfiltered.  It's always tempting to use the filters (I was obsessed with Gingham for months) but nowadays I don't filter at all.  I do use the brightness button, mainly because I live in North Yorkshire and our weather is mostly shit.

How a business profile looks.  The lines at the top are Insights.

How a business profile looks.  The lines at the top are Insights.

Get Your Posting On Point

Now, if you have upgraded your account to a business account, then you have access to the joys of Insights.  This is the four small lines next to the Settings button on the top right hand of your home screen.  This tells you who's looking, how many are looking, when they look and what demographic they fall into.  If you have a Facebook business page then you can easily upgrade your Instagram account by going to Settings and pressing the Upgrade To Business Account button - it gives you loads of account statistics and (at the moment) doesn't cost anything.  There are mixed reviews about swapping your account from personal to business but it's personal preference.

If you don't have a business account, then finding out when the best time to post is really down to trial and error.  I've always posted at the same time, whether I've been personal or business account, and it's worked fine for me. These are as follows:

Before 9.00 am:  Prime kids going to school time.  Be prepared to be shouted at by entire family as you post a shelfie rather than doing last minute homework or packed lunches.  Picked up by lots of people sitting on the train to work who are bored out of their heads and wishing they were still in bed. 

Lunchtime:  This is when most of the USA comes to life and you can pretty much guarantee a good response as long you are hash tagging correctly.  

After 6.00 pm:  Prime coming home from work time and kids going to after school activities/eating dinner/bed time (depending on age of kids).  Be prepared to be shouted at by entire family including partner who arrives home from work and wants to speak to you/eat dinner whilst you are updating your comments.  NB:  Posting at this time should always be accompanied by a glass of wine and a small bowl of crisps in order to keep your partner at bay.

One of the recent updates to Instagram is the ability to save drafts.  Drafts have been the saviour of many a family argument in our house.  They are invaluable if, like me, you want to post at 6.30 pm and you're going to be in the car on the way to yet another bloody football training session.  Many is the time I've passed my phone to Ella to press the 'share' button rather than risk my kids confiscating my phone whilst driving, of which I am under constant threat.  Or if you are all eating dinner and you want to surreptitiously post without anyone realising.  To save a draft, press the back button after you have written your post and it will give you the option to save.

Interior hashtags regram weekly.  Photography Pandora Maxton.

Interior hashtags regram weekly.  Photography Pandora Maxton.

Hashtag The F**k Out Of It

Last year, we introduced the first UK interiors hashtag, #myhomevibe which now has over 64k posts.  Hot on our heels came plenty of others including #sassyhomestyle, #colourmyhome, #fafffriday, #nestandthrive and #howivintage to name just a few.  These tags are great fun to use, often have weekly prizes and always regram.  It's worth checking them out and getting involved.  The USA have been running interior hashtags for years - most popular are #myeclecticmix, #currentdesignsituation and #dslooking.  

The big blogs also have hashtags that they use to source and regram.  Some of these are huge - Apartment Therapy has over a million followers to their feed and nearly 350k posts on the hashtag.  Getting regrammed by the big boys is a sure fire way of increasing your following.

You can currently use up to 30 hashtags in your posts.  Use EVERY one of these babies.  Personally, I use a range of big hashtags to small hashtags.  You can see how many posts are on the hashtag you are putting on when you write it in as the number pops up.  For example, the hashtag #interiorstyle currently has nearly 900k posts to it.  The hashtag #sassyhomestyle currently has 10k posts on it.  Mix them up a bit.  Look at the recommendations that pop up and use them.  Look at what the big boys are hash tagging and again, blatantly copy.  Generally, the less posts a hashtag has, the more chance you have of reaching the ultimate hashtag goal - the hallowed Top Nine.  

NB:  Ever find that your caption disappears when you post?  This is because you've added more than 30 hashtags.  The best thing to do is to copy your caption prior to posting just in case you've accidentally overdone it or, like me, are unable to count correctly.

The ultimate goal - the Top Nine.

The ultimate goal - the Top Nine.

So What Is The Top Nine?

The Top Nine is the grid at the top of a hashtag feed.  Click on any hashtag and it will direct you to the hashtag feed.  The top nine boxes in that little grid are the most popular in that hashtag.  If your post gets into the top nine, the chances of it going viral are very high, thus meaning your followers will increase accordingly.  The Top Nine moves around all the time - you can stay on there for ten minutes, you can stay on there for two days.

How do you get into the Top Nine?  It's all very random but the main pointers are as follows:  responding quickly to comments (interacting), hash tagging appropriately and posting an excellent photograph.

There's been news recently that this Top Nine is also going to be subject to the algorithm, ie, based upon what Instagram thinks you want to see, but so far I haven't seen any evidence of this.  If you get into the Top Nine, you've won the follower lottery.  Bingo.

Get Talking

Communication is key.  This is the MOST important feature of playing the Instagram algorithm and is what will propel your account upwards.  Talk to people.  When you post and someone comments, respond to the comment as quickly as you can.  Don't hang about.  It's proven that the quicker you respond and communicate with your commentators, the more likely you are to be able to play the algorithm and have your post be prioritised.  That means it is more likely to receive preference in people's feeds and is more likely to appear in the Explore pages and ultimately reach the heady heights of the Top Nine.  

Make sure you comment and like other people's photographs too.  Instagram likes that.  Plus if people take the time to comment on your post you should always respond anyway.  It's good manners.

And just a final note here to say that the best followers are grown organically.  Not via a Paypal payment.  Your post likes will not correspond with your follower numbers and you will look like a total knob.

So that's it.  In my opinion, ultimately, the most important thing about being part of the Instagram community is to ENJOY IT.  It's easy to get carried away with follower frenzy and be stressed out by post likes.  But as an online environment, it's generally a super positive place to be.   Instagram meet ups are common and creative relationships and businesses have been formed online through this forum.  I'm family house swapping this Summer with an Instagram friend.  And from a personal point of view, I now have a career that I love.  I'm really happy every day that I posted that first picture of my dining room.

But more importantly than that, I have met so many fabulous, friendly, creative people in this amazing community that it's worth a bit of addiction.  Because it IS addictive.  Seriously addictive.  Just make sure you remember to feed the kids and put your phone down when you get into bed.  Instagram rocks.

PS:  Blog post photography courtesy of the fabulous Bag & Bones