The saying goes that a picture speaks a thousand words. This statement couldn’t be truer than on Instagram, a social media platform where your photos do the talking. If you’ve got 140 characters or less to find your following on Twitter, then on Instagram, you achieve success through compelling snapshots and short quips about them.

You don’t have to be a professional photographer to establish yourself on Instagram. But you do need to know a few things to set the stage before getting started.

Establish your online persona
The person who taught me how to get started on social media introduced the concept of developing an online persona, and this principle applies to all social media handles from the get-go. Know what message you’d like to get across and establish your goals and primary focus. It helps to ask yourself why you’re on social media and what you hope to achieve. Once you are clear, the answer will reflect in the types of photos that you share on Instagram—whether you’re working it purely for business purposes or posting occasional personal snapshots to give your brand a relatable image. Your audience recognizes authenticity and will respond to you, so be as true to being yourself as you’re comfortable with sharing. It will make a difference.

Write a strong bio
Remember to write a clear and concise profile. It’s your first introduction of you or your brand to your audience. I always believe in being natural and real with people. If you’re funny, definitely incorporate humor in your bio. If you’re using Instagram to promote a business, then include information about the business and a link to the site. Your profile photo can be you, your brand logo, or a pretty picture of items you sell.

Choose a theme
Decide on a look or theme to carry through your photos. While this isn’t absolutely necessary, if you’re doing work in beauty or design and you have a signature style, then IG is a great place to showcase that look and attract people who love your style too. Check out @aquietstyle, @misspoppydesign and @TLVBirdie who do an awesome job presenting their branding in a clear and consistent way.

Then there are others who focus exclusively on food (feast your eyes on @julieskitchen), yoga (check out @yoga_girl who currently released a book thanks to her Instagram popularity), flowers (dream of greener pastures on @saipua), vintage fare (@folkmagazine and its shop @buyfolk), slow living (arrest your fast pace here: @local_milk) and more.

Use the search option to build connections
Pressing the search button used to take you to the Instagram photos with the most hits. Recently, the IG team tweaked the search engine, so that you can now use it to discover accounts that share similar interests. You can then:

  • Like their posts.
  • Leave comments. It’s debatable whether or not it’s a good idea to ask people to check out your feed. I’m of the opinion to always play it cool and let them come to you, unless you develop a connection. What I find is that leaving positive feedback on someone else’s feed often earns reciprocal positive attention back.

Take a good photo.
This seems pretty obvious, yet there are still some bad photos on IG. Instagram offers a point and shoot camera, as well as tools and filters to create the exact image you want. With the latest iPhones and Android phones, I find these to be enough without resorting to a fancy camera or expensive photo editing programs.

Here are some basics rules to follow:

  • Make sure the photo is focused. I can’t tell you how many pictures I’ve seen that are blurry. This is IG where all you’ve got is your photo. Make it work FOR you. A photo that is unfocused carries an underlying message of a lack of professionalism.
  • Unless your style is “less is more,” it seems that the more brands and different types of items generate more likes. For instance, as with @TLVBirdie, her fashion and beauty flat-lays get more attention than her other shots. Similarly, the more products I include in my posts, the more “likes” they get too.
  • If you’re going to post generic photos taken from Pinterest or “regram” someone else’s photo, always credit the original and don’t do it often. Too many “inspirational” posts tend to get stale on Instagram and are more suitable for Pinterest.
  • Pay attention to which photos generate more of a stir than others and do more of that.
  • Develop your style. Lauren Conrad is a great example of consistent use of filters @laurenconrad. You can check out her pro-tips here, if you like her images.

Clever caption
Short and clever captions seem to do best, since IG is mainly a quick scroll-through visual platform.  But feel free to ask questions to get other Instagrammers to engage with you.

Rock the Hashtags
Hashtags belong at the END of a comment on your photo and help others find you. If you don’t want to clutter up a clever slogan, you can always add the hashtags in the first comment to the post. Whatever you do, don’t #talk with #hashtags mid-sentence. I don’t like it on Twitter and it doesn’t belong on Instagram either.

But definitely use them. They will enable search engine compatibility and will help you find accounts who are using the terms.

Yes to the #selfie
People seem to like these photos aimed at capturing you. Check out @beautybybritanie who nearly doubled her following in a year with more than the occasional selfie. But make sure it’s working for you. One friend told me that she did an insta-video (limited to about 10-15 seconds long) with her singing and actually lost follows, so pay attention to what your audience likes and dislikes.

Tag brands or people in the photo
Before posting, you can tag the brands or people who are in your photo. In turn, the tagged accounts get a message signal (the symbol on the right under your profile lights up and when clicked, they will see your pic). If they like the photo enough, they may repost it to their account and you can cross-promote each other which is always win-win.

Don’t post too frequently
The rules of engagement are different on Instagram than on Twitter or Facebook where frequency of tweets and posts garner increased visibility. On Instagram, it’s the opposite! Too many consecutive photos will actually lose “likes” on each photo. What works? I find that one post between 9 am to 11 am, one around noon, and one in the evening after 8 pm should do it. Sometimes I wait until the first post of the day stops getting attention before posting the next photo.

Instagram can open an entirely new avenue of free exposure to your brand and business. It is well worth exploring the possibilities. Go ahead. Take a shot!

Sarita Coren is a freelance writer and blogger at Peace on the Skin & Peace Within, www.ediblefacial.com. She is committed to spreading the world about green beauty, holistic wellness, and living from the heart. She can be contacted at ediblefacial@gmail.com.

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