Everyone is on Instagram—reality tv stars, startup coffee shops, Taco Bell, landscape photogs, and flower crown designers. With more than 400 million active users, the app is changing the way people advertise their businesses. High visibility as an “influencer” on Instagram is becoming a coveted status that can quickly transform a fledgling photography business into a money making machine.
However, many photographers are just discovering the app, and you might be wondering if you missed the window when it was easy to amass thousands of followers.
I’m here to tell you it’s not too late, and with a little direction and structure, you can hop on the social media gravy train and drive tons of benefits for your business.
Hold up though—you might be wondering how Instagram can grow your business. The answer is this: Instagram allows you to curate a journey, a story populated with your professional work. It can help you lift the veil between your photography business and clients, and convince followers that they shouldn’t just hire you for your photography skills but also for your unique perspective and personality. Then on the practical end, it increases visibility, adds credibility to your business, and makes you more SEO-friendly.
Best of all, Instagram allows you to do this all for free, which makes it one of the most effective marketing devices…well, ever.
So yes, you should be on Instagram, if you aren’t already. Here are 10 tips to help you whip your gram’ into shape.
1. Only Showcase Your Best Work
While posting regularly is key to developing your Instagram folllowing, make sure you are posting only cream of the crop images—the kind of photos that incite an automatic wow. Create an Instagram persona that strikes the balance between formal and carefree, and keep your followers hooked by mixing up the sort of images you post. But always share shots that fit distinctly into your brand. India Earl, a wedding and elopement photographer based in Utah, has curated a beautiful Instagram that speaks volumes about her personal style.
2. Decide your niche ASAP
From the get-go, you must position yourself as an authority within a specific field, because you can’t be a jack-of-all-trades photographer. If you try to specialize in everything, you’re really specializing in nothing. The more narrow your niche (like babies in fairy costumes or enchanting elopements) the better, because it will help you stand out from the rest of the Insta crowd. Additionally, you never want users to be confused about your forte. My advice is to make it so glaringly apparent that a random follower only needs a millisecond glance at your Instagram page to know exactly what your expertise is.
3. Tell Good Stories
When someone decides to follow you on Instagram, they become avid consumers of your work. Your job, then, is to keep them addicted. Even though you want to represent your brand accurately, don’t be afraid to be funny or too whimsical. Your followers obviously admire your work, but they tune in to connect with you as an artist with an authentic personality. At the same time, don’t feel pressured to spin life changing stories or reveal universal truth. Just be yourself. Like what happened at your last shoot? Did it start to rain during the marriage ceremony? Or did you make goofy faces at a toddler just to grab one good photo of them? I know you possess a unique perspective and stories that only you can tell. So go ahead and narrate them! I promise your followers will fawn over your candor.
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4. Use Hashtags and Geotags Effectively
Hashtags and geotags increase your post’s reach across the app. While it might be tempting to use a hundred tags to promote a post (I’ve been there), a tactful approach will help you so much more. First off, an effective hashtag is searched but not overused. Your post is probably going to be lost in any hashtag with over 500,000 entries.
Also, avoid common tags such as #sunset, #fun, #dog, and the like, since they are overloaded and the engagement from these tags is quite spammy. If you tag all willy nilly you might attract bots or aimless likes that won’t convert into followers (let alone clients). You want to cultivate an intentional, active and caring following.
In terms of placement, don’t substitute real words in your caption with hashtags. Example A: “#Sunsets in #Iceland are insanely #beautiful”. Avoid this cardinal Insta sin at all costs. It is just a tad grating to read, and the human attention span is shorter than a goldfish’s while scrolling the Gram, so keep your captions clean and legible to keep your audience captivated.
Instead, put your hashtags at the end of your post or in a comment below, and please try to limit yourself to 20, which is a classy amount. Don’t bombard your poor followers with 50+ hashtags.
Here’s a starter template for deciding what hashtags to use:
- Always, always geotag the location of the photo, and if you can, indicate the specific name of the park, building or event (some examples are #losangeles #lacmalights #dodgersgame). Followers invariably want to know where a photo was snapped, and it makes your photo pop up if someone searches that location.
- Indicate the type of photography (eg. #newbornshoot, #seniorportraits).
- Tag the equipment you used (eg. #canon5ds #35mmsigmalense).
- Pair up your location and expertise (#losangelesweddingphotographer #chicagosportsphotographer).
- Tag the details of your shoot (#newbornclothes #weddingdress).
- Lastly, use Instagram’s Explore feature to discover trending hashtags such as #newyearseve2016 and #earthday and integrate those trending combos which are relevant to your post.
5. Apply For Shoutouts
Besides hashtags, geotags, and interaction, shoutouts remain the single best way to gain followers. But how do you court a feature account, you ask? Here’s how you do it—follow an account that is analogous to your niche, authentically engage with their posts often (aka more than the thumbs up sign), and tag photos that would fit right into their feed. It’s that easy. If you are consistent, the moderators will eventually notice you. Then, when you finally nab a feature, make sure to flex that ethos and issue a heartfelt thanks so they feel compelled to feature you again, because everyone likes doing favors for grateful folks— am I right?
6. Ask Questions In Captions
An effective way to spark engagement is through posts that ask a question. Queries are irresistible because they ask for opinions, and everyone loves to give their two cents.
I have even found breathtaking adventure spots just by asking my followers for suggestions. Get creative. Ask what life-changing book they read this year. Or what is their favorite national park? What kind of cat do they want to be? (Like I said. Don’t be afraid to be whimsical). Ask anything, because your followers will appreciate the fact you care about their thoughts and interests and that following you means a reciprocal show of affection.
7. Forge Authentic Community
If you feel intimidated by other influencers with a million followers, don’t sweat it. Followers aren’t necessarily fans—and popularity doesn’t denote profitability. Because at the end of the day, you don’t want a successful Instagram, you want a successful business. Back when I was working for a wedding photography company, our Instagram only had 1,200 followers. But half of our business came from the app! Yes, HALF.
While the dreamy goal is to gain a massive following to increase the exposure for your business, you want to first focus on treating your current followers well. Follow them back, like their photos, show them sincere appreciation beyond a nonspecific “thanks.” Always aim to start conversations with followers that prove you care about their support. Because the more you talk to each of them, the more they will not only feel compelled to follow you, but also to support your business financially, and champion you in a myriad of other ways. Also, reach out to current and past clients and flatter them with tags. Puff them up, tell your followers why you had a stellar time working with this client, and just be genuine.
This is a bit taboo, but you should also reach out to your competition. Yeah, I said it! Why not convert them into friends instead of foes? Trade marketing secrets, observe each other’s client conversion tactics, and maybe even partner up for a fancy project. This is just another way to increase visibility and become deeply involved with your Insta niche. You could even cross-promote one another, and you just might win over a few of their fans. At the end of the day, only use Instagram to build bridges, never burn them.
8. Host Giveaways And Advertise Discounts
Giveaways are huge on Instagram. Whereas contests and free prizes on the general internet off the social media grid are always viewed with skepticism, Instagram is a rare exception. Although, in the midst of all the Insta-revelry, remember that the goal is to have users advocate for your brand while pursuing your prize. Here’s how you host one in five steps:
- Choose a theme based on your specialty (eg. babies, family portraits, dogs in cool hats).
- Decide the prize: whether that be free headshots or five canvas prints.
- Determine how users can enter the contest. They can like a photo, follow your page, share your post, tag their friends and or comment or perform a combo of all the above.
- Choose an entry deadline. If you are giving away seven separate prizes you might want to give it a week. Or if it is just one prize, 24 hours might suffice. Just make sure to give people enough time to enter and allow the contest to gain traction.
- Promote your contest. Because who’s gonna enter the contest if they don’t even know it’s happening right? Send out polished emails to past clients, post it on all social media mediums, tell your aunt who likes every single one of your posts. Just get the word out!
Additionally, Instagram is an effective megaphone for advertising discounts sans content. For example, you could announce a 25% discount on a newborn photo session if you book within the next 48 hours. Sometimes a small savings is all it takes for a client to take the plunge and book a session with you.
9. Post Behind-the-Scenes Images and Videos
Instagram’s stories are basically a copycat of Snapchat that lets you create photo sequences that expire after a day. It is where you get to be a real human and not just a profit-obsessed robot who happens to take stunning photos. Deposit content into this feature that wouldn’t work in a traditional post—like behind-the-scenes shots, selfies with clients, snaps of your perpetually messy work desk, or you wading into a frigid lake in the middle of freaking winter to get that perfect shot. Since this content only last 24 hours, the stakes are much lower and it won’t affect the aesthetic of your home page.
10. Make Sure Your Linked Page From Instagram Is Sales-Centric
That link in your Instagram bio should lead directly to a “Book Your Session” page instead of more examples of your work, because at this point your Instagram is your portfolio as far as your prospective customer is concerned. Make it painfully easy for followers to arrange a photoshoot so they don’t get cold feet while exploring your site.
The final word:
Obviously, Instagram won’t replace your portfolio or traditional networking. Who knows, it could become the next Vine and die abruptly tomorrow. But for now, 30% of the internet is on Instagram. If potential clients are logging onto the app, you need to get on there and catch em’. Don’t be afraid to get reach out, be inspired, tell good stories, and most of all, have fun! It can only help your business. So log on, post those gorgeous photos of yours, and start meeting your 400 million new besties.