Make Instagram Work for You by Building an Engaged Audience
Thank you for listening to The Photo Flunky Show. We hope you enjoy this show about Instagram.
I'll be honest, my own Instagram feed is going hungry. That's because I've neglected the service, and I neglected it because I didn't quite get it.
Imagine my delight when Lee took over one of our accounts and started building her own. Almost immediately, she was getting engagement from visitors who were truly interested in the things she shared. I had to find out why and get her to spill the beans on this episode of The Photo Flunky Show so we could all learn.
Lee's Instagram Tips
Some of the things she shared make a lot of sense and aren't that hard to do.
- Choose your niche
- Understand what your audience wants in that niche
- You can post different types of photos, as long as they are relevant to the niche
- Show your face!
- Use original photos
- Create original memes
- Use relevant hashtags
- Return comments
You'll get examples for each of these elements in the show. Give them a try.
Have some suggestions of your own? Share them in the comments to help out other readers, please.
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THE PHOTO FLUNKY SHOW: Episode 51
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Hi, welcome to the Photo Flunky Show, Episode number fifty-one.
Our subject for today is how to make Instagram work for you.
Hi, thank you for joining us. My name is William Beem.
Lee: Hi, my name is Lee Beem.
William: As I said, today we are going to be talking about how to make Instagram work for you, but before we get into that let me go ahead and start off by saying show notes are going to be available at williambeem.com/episode51. And can find a transcript there for free.
Links to subscribe are at photoflunky.com. Or if you are subscribed they are in that little email too.
And we would be happy if you would check us out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. We will have links to that on the show notes page.
Also, I want to remind everybody if you’ve got a Mac and you’re looking for some great post processing software, my coupon code for MacPhun is BEEM and that will save you ten per cent. I’ll get a little bit of a commission for it as an affiliate, you save ten per cent and get some great photography software. I mean if you are looking for the Creative Kit, if you are looking for Aurora HDR 2017, it’s all wonderful stuff. And keep in mind, Luminar, their RAW processing engine is going to be coming out pretty soon and it’s definitely worth a look.
Take a look at macphun.com. When you check out use the coupon code BEEM.
So today we are going to be talking about how to make Instagram work for you and the first thing is why? There are so many social media platforms out there and it’s kind of hard to really run the gamut of all of them. You would spend all your time doing social media if you tried to do everything at once.
Lee: Yes, you would.
William: I think the common wisdom is to pick two or three. I’m kind of stretching it. I’m on four of them. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. I’m probably going to have to cut back somewhere.
Lee: What would you cut if you cut something?
William: Believe it or not, probably Instagram because I’m not doing it as well as you are and that is why I really wanted to talk to you about Instagram. Maybe I can be doing this better.
The thing with Instagram is I think it’s more that you are building brand awareness. You don’t really get a chance to put a link into each photo that you do. But it’s kind of showing what you can do or share your message. At least that’s the way I see it, but tell me how you see Instagram.
Lee: I think what I like about Instagram is I’ve kind of fallen out of love with Facebook, not really so much to do with Facebook itself, but it can just be ongoing. You can get into something with a simple comment and it just feels like you can’t escape it and everything just piles on from there. I found it very time consuming and the nice thing about Instagram is because it’s so visual you can put a lengthy description in there and people who are interested are going to read it, but there is not this urge, need or even any ability to like a comment. People leave a comment and that’s it. You can reply or leave it.
So I find it’s a nice in and out and you deal with it when you deal with it.
William: Now do you spend as much time following other people on Instagram as you try to cultivate your own following?
Lee: I probably spend at least as much time following them, but the nice thing about that is I am following people because I am genuinely interested in what they have. I don’t give obligatory follow backs.
William: Neither do I. That’s one thing I’ve never bought into – trading a like for a like or a sub for a sub for subscription. It doesn’t make any sense to have a follower who is not genuinely interested in what you are sharing.
Lee: That’s true and you do get those who will follow you to see if you follow them back. I go and check out the profile of each and every follower to see if they might have something I’m interested in, but if I see that it’s one of these “like mongers” I leave them be. And that’s why you see the numbers going up and down. They will wait a day or two then they unfollow you. I’m fine with that. I would prefer that they are not there because I like my audience to be engaged.
William: And that’s kind of one of the things that I really promote about social media. It’s not necessarily the size of your audience, but rather the size of your engaged audience.
William: So if you’re talking to a hundred people who are actively engaged I think that is much better than having a thousand or two thousand followers who really aren’t there for you.
Lee: That’s true. My following, and we are talking about my personal Instagram right now, is tiny. We are talking about 55 to 65 followers and it kind of fluctuates slightly, but that is pretty much where I am.
William: But yet on the other one you manage for the Orlando Local site, we’ve got a bit more of a following there because you’ve got a different topic for your Instagram personally from what we do. It’s going to have different followings for the most part.
Lee: It is. They are very different followings. Also the way that I use those accounts is quite significantly different because of the type of following.
William: OK, so for Orlando Local it is pretty much for visitors to Orlando and with a tilt towards Disney World.
Lee: It has a tilt towards Disney World. We also share popular restaurants or drinks and food. That always does very well. Anything that is current or going on – if we have anything that’s interesting. But I would say right now it’s predominantly food, drink, Disney and anything else that might come up is almost incidental at the moment.
William: OK and then you’ve got your own Instagram so give me a little bit more about that and the kind of audience that you’ve got.
Lee: My own Instagram is really about my passion for running and a lot of the people I follow are runners. But it’s not only running things that I have. I have also found that runners have two other things in common: they like food and they like wine and beer! So it all kind of works together. They also like to relax. So anything to do with relaxation or nature seems to kind of fit in there pretty well. They like to see the ‘cheat’ food and they like to see the healthy food. It kind of gives a lot of scope, but it is quite a narrow little specified field.
William: Now this is something that fascinates me because one of the things I remember from other photography sites, whether it be Flickr or 500px was that I always thought you need to have a theme. Because if you are going to draw people in, you want to draw a specific audience.
You are drawing in an audience of runners, but yet your theme allows you to have both healthy food and junk food.
Lee: It does.
William: That’s fascinating to me.
Lee: It does and that is actually a reflection on me and probably, I found, a lot of other people see it this way as well. It is far easier to have a cleaner and more balanced lifestyle if you keep it balanced. To keep it balanced means you don’t deprive yourself. So I do like to put a little bit of what people would look at as food sins into my diet and I share it. I also don’t want to create the illusion that I live this perfect life. I want people to see that if you put something in moderation you can really enjoy it. Don’t feel bad about it; just try and find things that you enjoy that are good for you as well.
William: That’s reasonable because I remember one of the races that you went to at the end of the race they were giving everybody who participated beer and pancakes. I really never thought of beer and pancakes together.
Lee: For breakfast!
William: Beer and pancakes for breakfast after you wake up at some ungodly hour in the morning, you go run and then you come back and you get beer and pancakes.
Lee: I know. And really, the pancakes at these breakfasts are never good. I always tell people I sign up for the beer and pancakes. It’s really just the beer!
William: So after you’ve run that long race you are getting a craving for beer. It’s fulfilling something.
Lee: I do and beer is something I never touched in my life. It absolutely repulsed me.
William: But after running … That’s why I was kind of curious because I’m looking at your Instagram feed and thinking, “What in the world is this stuff doing here?”
But it really does relate to runners and I guess if you don’t know a runner or if you’re not a runner who is going to these races you probably wouldn’t understand the connection, but it’s a very strong connection.
Lee: It is and it’s all about the balance, because depending what people are training for, some of these people are actually devoting the greater part of their life to training.
Right now I’m training for a marathon and I can tell you that I’m putting in, in excess of ten hours, a week. It’s not all running; most of it is, but there is other work that needs to go in to make sure that you keep your muscles and joints healthy. We are putting in ten plus hours a week for something like that and I’m not even anywhere near the peak of it.
People want to have a bit of balance in it. They want to see the fun side and I think it’s good to almost reaffirm that it’s OK and it’s actually good for you.
William: All of this comes together. You’ve got a specific audience in mind and that’s what is important for Instagram. You seem to have an audience kind of defined in mind and then you need to understand what they are going to be looking for. Some of them are just like any Instagram users and clicking through trying to find something related to whatever interests them.
William: And if you don’t have something on topic, you may or may not be able to really gather an audience.
Let’s say that you combined all of the different stuff that you did for Orlando Local, my photography and your running stuff on one Instagram feed. You probably wouldn’t go anywhere.
Lee: It probably wouldn’t because there would be too much content that is of no interest to one sector or another of the audience, way too often.
William: So the key here in what I am hearing is know your audience. In your case it’s going to be runners. And then know what your audience wants. So you can jump around a bit with your subject matter, so long as it all falls under that umbrella for runners.
Lee: Yes. Now something else that I’ve learned that I had to do and I’ve had to suck it up a bit. There are certain things that I don’t like. I don’t like filters over photos, I don’t care for that kind of Instagram look and those – what do you call it when you get the tinted color wash?
William: I call it ugly crap!
Lee: Yeah, it’s never been my thing. We’ve always agreed on that. However, there are certain situations where it works, especially if you are putting some text over it and you are creating some kind of graphic.
The other thing is that people like selfies. They want to see you; especially on these fitness things. They want to see you doing what you say you do. They want a picture of you running or working out or relaxing. I don’t like selfies, I don’t like to be on the business end of the camera, but I have also had to learn to suck it up and I think that’s why I used the filters once or twice, because it made me feel less exposed until I got used to it.
It’s not something I like to do, but I’ve also realized that you have to give people what they like and sometimes it costs you a little bit, without losing your identity.
William: I think if we take that same concept and turn it back towards photographers, other photographers or people who are watching kind of want to see some behind the scenes stuff. Yes, they want to see your art and the work that you are doing, but that is not the only topic.
So they want to see examples of you doing things, they want to see the location you are at and maybe just kind of like “This is how I go through my day to get the shots that I’m showing you.”
Lee: Yes, and also maybe at the end of the day we have both done it – we’ve been lugged down with gear and here we are tired, exhausted and maybe you’re hot and sweaty and looking a bit bedraggled. For me it’s usually that my hair is all over the place and I look like a lion! If somebody will take a picture of you looking bad, I know it sounds ridiculous, but people like to see the end of a tough working day, because people can relate to it. It’s not something that everybody puts out there.
William: It’s something I haven’t done partly because one, when I’ve been off dong this stuff, I know I look horrible. I mean I’m sweating, my hair is all over the place when I’ve been out and shooting and then to ask someone to take a photo of me, I’m thinking, “Eew, no. They don’t want to see me.” They want to see a model or they want to see a pretty scene or something like that.
You know what? I’m wrong about that! They want to see you as much as they want to see the work that you are doing.
Lee: Well for example, you’ll hear people who are into sports or fitness or maybe anything: post your worst photo. There was a photo of me in that hot race I did in June where it was absolutely unbearable. Three photos were taken in the same spot.
The first one, I did not see the photographer. The second one I spotted the photographer and the third one I was smiling and looking very cheerful. But the first one really captured how I was feeling. That last mile just took forever and I had this look of pain and my face was kind of screwed up like, oh let this be over! It’s a terrible photo of me, but it’s actually kind of funny. That photo has been enormously popular!
William: Because it was a real moment.
Lee: Yes. Now I haven’t put it on Instagram, but I was bold enough to say you know, this part of the race really sucked for me. Don’t be fooled by the finish line. So I showed the “Before you see the photographer” and the “After you’ve seen the photographer” and people like that. It is real and they are almost waiting for somebody to come out and say you know what? I’m not perfect, how about you?
William: I think there is a lot of that because nobody is perfect. I mean you may follow somebody, whether it is a celebrity on Instagram and they see these images that look really great and they think, I wonder how they do that. Show them the other side of it. You’re sweating and you’re squirting out of the top of your head. Your hair is all over the place and that’s how you do it!
Lee: But don’t be afraid to show it. Like you say, it might be something behind the scenes, it might be a tough day. It might be a disaster! Don’t be afraid to capture those in case you want to share them at some point. And you can choose carefully about how you do it. I’m suggesting that you have to go out and show yourself as the worst. Some people don’t and they have a lot of success.
There is a girl – I don’t actually follow her – she’s incredibly popular in the area; she’s one of the elite athletes. She has an Instagram and other social media accounts. Her photos are very highly processed. She’s a beautiful girl, she is absolutely phenomenal at what she does, but they are all kind of model shots. She never shows herself in a bad light and she only shows herself when she wins. Her followers kind of reflect it and the reason I don’t follow her is not because I don’t think she’s good. She’s awesome! But I cannot relate to somebody who only shows their best side.
And you can see that everyone there is always giving compliments. “Oh, you’re wonderful”
I thought I don’t want people to just think I’m wonderful. I want people to be able to talk to me and feel like I am just like them. So you’ve got to look and see what you want. Do you want to be put on a pedestal? And I’m not saying that’s wrong. If that works for you in what you are doing, do it. It might be something very professional and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
But for me, I want to be human. I want to have my mistakes out there and I want real people who make real mistakes and have bad days to be my friends and followers so that we’ve got something real to talk about.
William: That’s a trend that I see among other people, particularly some of the models that I have photographed or some of the ones I’m following online. They have their hair and make-up done and they are gorgeous and stunning, but every once in a while they put out a photo that says: This is how I look without the make-up. And they are still beautiful people, but it’s clear that they would look a little bit different without all the hair and make-up put on them.
It’s the same person, but there are times when you are getting ready to do a photo shoot and someone will walk in and you think they are going to ask you for directions to the bathroom and they say, “Hi, I’m your model for today!”
They will walk in with comfortable clothing, hair in a pony tail (I tend to shoot female models) and you think oh, OK. Then they walk out of hair and make-up and you think, yeah! That’s the photo I’m looking for!
You see how it kind of transforms them a little bit. But it is interesting to see the ones that will share those kinds of private moments or whatever it is. Maybe they are showing a picture of their favorite pet or they will show behind the scenes or just here’s me getting ready for a photo shoot; make-up, hair. Those are the things that I like because you are seeing kind of a window into somebody’s life and career. It doesn’t have to be their whole life; you don’t want it to be their whole life. Everybody has got private moments, but when you see before and after, it shows you that this is kind of cool. Maybe I can do something like this too. I’m not going to be a model, but you know what I’m saying.
(I’m kicking my table all over the place!).
Lee: Don’t let it take off!
William: Let me skim past that; the real life part of it. There are a couple of other things that you do and I wanted to ask about those.
One is it’s not just necessarily photos of you or photos that you’ve taken. You will also put out things with text on them. We’ve talked about this before with some of the social media editing apps that you can use like Typorama, Word Swag and so forth. How often do you put out something that has got a quote on it and why do you put out a quote? What does that bring to the table?
Lee: Now I’m doing it at least once a week, I’d say. It’s usually towards the end of the week – maybe a Friday to end the week or to start the weekend. I do it because I’ve learned that people respond well to this.
It is a quick in and out. Generally I put fairly detailed caption underneath with some text in the description of the photo and maybe a story. I would say that the majority of the people, and you can see by comments, have read it.
There are people who might be just visual or they don’t have the time to read it or don’t even know that they can click on the ‘more’ and they seem to like these little things.
I think people do like memes. I like to make my own. I don’t like to take somebody else’s so something will happen during the day. For example last week or the week before last I got the end of the week and I’d done 55 miles for the week. I was thinking it was Friday, and Saturday I usually have beer and I had a photo I’d taken of a two glasses of beer – one in front of the other, or a glass and a bottle – and I put text over there: “55 Miles this week. I’ve earned at least one of these.”
People loved it. Now it’s a simple, silly little thing. I have had a few of them being shared. People ask if I mind if they share this. I said, look, no point us keeping all the smarts to ourselves. We need to educate everybody else so go for it!
William: One of the first ones that you did was still my favorite. Like how many miles per gallon for wine or something like that.
Lee: Yes. I’m an economy runner. 200+ miles per gallon unleaded.
William: With a picture of your wine glass.
Lee: Yes. And the bottle.
William: It got a great response to it.
Lee: It did.
William: There are a couple of things I liked about those. One, was it was an original thought and it was an original photo. I know a lot of people that will put out a quote that they found that someone else said, over a stock photo. Maybe you see those passed around, but I don’t think they get the same traction as if you take your own photo and you put up your own thought.
Lee: We live in a time where people seem to love words of wisdom and clever sayings and all these motivational things. I am not that easily motivated by somebody else. It might be my nature. I think I’m a bit of a self motivator, but I am motivated by something that comes from the person who is speaking to me. I think that is when something resonates with me; somebody speaking from personal experience.
So I do like it when somebody puts their own little caption on something because that means more to me.
William: I think you are right. I tried and experimented with it and I had mixed results. One, I really do love reading quotes from people. I don’t like sharing them so much on my own like, hey look what I found that someone else said. To me that is a lack of original thought, but just for the fun of it I tried it. I found a couple of quotes that I liked, I put them out there on Instagram with some photos on them and you know what? They fell flat with a thud.
Because people knew those quotes before. They also knew it just wasn’t anything that was relevant to what my topic was and I thought this is not the right way to do it.
You don’t just throw stuff out there because you think it’s clever. It’s got to relate to what your audience is interested in and it should be original. It’s got to show that you’ve got original thought, you’re going through the same thing that they are. There is some relatability that comes with that.
Lee: It does and that’s a very important point because what it comes down to is that you need to be true to yourself, but you also have to feed the audience what they want. Now I don’t mind making a compromise here and there for people who are loyal or kind enough to take the time to follow me. But I don’t want to compromise on who I am and how I like to do things or the things I like and I think that in itself has helped me to fine tune the people who I’m targeting and I seem to be attracting people who like what I’m putting out.
I’m not making any efforts to try and gain a huge following, but I would say that at least seventy per cent of the followers that I have are active on the majority of the photos that I post, which I think is fairly high.
William: It is and that is kind of what our premise is here. It’s not necessarily that we are telling you here is how you build a lot of followers, but here is how you build an engaged audience.
Now there is one other thing that you do that I wanted to check up on before we end this. That is the hashtags.
Lee: Yes. I was given advice and I have been through some articles where it is suggested that you should have so many hashtags for this social media platform and so many for that and always, least or never more than …. I started looking at the people who were doing well, but people who I admire; not necessarily thousands and thousands of followers, but people who are pretty successful. They are putting however darn many hashtags they felt appropriate for the post.
So sometimes I put something out with four or five hashtags, it might have three and there are times where I’ve got twelve or maybe fourteen, which is maybe on the high end of excessive for me. But on Instagram I do it.
I leave my hashtags right at the bottom because on Instagram they are in a slightly different shade or a different color, so it doesn’t interfere with the text the way it does when people try and incorporate it into the text where you have got limited characters, like Twitter. I find that very distracting. So I do use hashtags and I also, initially when I was getting started I searched to see what the appropriate hashtags were for the people I was drawing.
William: This is something else I see people do and I don’t know if some people are just making up hashtags on the fly; which I don’t understand because hashtags are there for people to search. So if you are using something you just made up, no-one is searching for that.
I mean obviously someone has got to make this up and if it’s clever maybe it will catch on, but one of the ones that we use on Orlando Local that I thought was clever and I really liked was #foodidliketofork. I mean it’s a little cheeky (see I never said cheeky before we got married).
Lee: I say cheeky.
William: I know. It’s the British thing. But I just really like that. And there is an audience for it.
The other thing I’ve learned is you don’t necessarily use the hashtag that has the largest audience with it.
Lee: No. In fact I usually try and avoid that specific one.
William: OK, tell me why.
Lee: If there is such a large audience you have way too much competition. You want enough that there is enough activity in that there are enough searches on there, but when I see two million for a hashtag and then I see a similar one that maybe has an add-on or has a word less at the end and it has got maybe five thousand, I’ll pick the five thousand because I am more likely to show up in a search amongst five thousand nearer to the top, than I am in two million if there are that many going through.
William: That makes perfect sense to me, because and let’s take this with food. Like you do #food there are going to be millions of hashtags like this. The same is even true for #foodporn. Lots of ones on that.
But #foodidliketofork is definitely a narrower audience and it’s going to be an audience that’s got a little bit of a quirky sense of humor to go with it.
Lee: I think one of the ones I use is #feedmemore
William: I like that one too. I need to use that for my next ice-cream shot.
Lee: I use #feedmemore on Orlando Local and I use #feedtherunner on my own.
William: Alright, so I kind of want to recap a little bit. You are using hashtags, but not necessarily the most popular ones.
Lee: No, I’m not.
William: You are putting out photos of yourself so people can see who you are and what you’re going through, even if it’s not necessarily the most glamorous or flattering photo of yourself.
You put out once a week, something with a saying on it, but it’s an original saying and original photo to go with it.
Lee: It’s my photo and also I am happy if people want to share things. Most people who are good enough to ask are good enough to give credit for it. But I did have somebody ask if they could borrow it and share one on Facebook and I said help yourself.
William: And of course you want to find an audience, but then realize that the audience wants more than just one thing. You combine all of those together and that’s how you get an engaged and active audience. Even if it’s not the largest one you could get, it’s much better to have an engaged audience than a large one that is not paying attention to you.
Lee: Yes. I mean you’re going to find there are always subsidiary branches to the interest of your target audience. So for example where you’ve got photography, photographers are not only interested in photos and maybe certain genres, but they are going to be interested in camera gear and accessories and behind the scenes things, or networking. There are all kinds of things that you can put in there, but you need to find out what else do they do. Don’t just look at the photo studio. Look beyond that to see. You might actually be tapping into a little area of the market – you know what I mean.
William: And by all means, we didn’t talk about this yet, but if someone is nice enough to engage you with your comments, talk back with them.
Lee: Yes. I always respond to every comment. Always. You are the host.
William: Exactly. If you want an engaged audience, make sure you engage with them too.
Thank very much for listening to the Photo Flunky Show. We hope you enjoyed this episode. Give it a try. Let us know how it works for you. You can leave us a comment at williambeem.com/episode51. And as I said, there is a free transcript of the show there, so if we talked a little too fast and you can’t replay it, go download the transcript. You can just read our suggestions right there. And of course we will have some of this on the show notes as well as links to subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, Blubrry, Stitcher Radio and so forth. You can find more shows at photoflunky.com
Thank you so much. We really appreciate you and hope to see you again next week.