So you want to be an Instagram superstar? You want more Instagram followers than Selena Gomez?
You want to use your photos and your community to enable you to live your dream lifestyle. It’s totally possible – thousands of instagram users have quit their day jobs to travel the world, take fantastic pictures, and use and review their favourite products.
In this free guide, we’ve quizzed two of the world's most iconic Instagram influencers and they're sharing their exact step-by-step suggestions on how they now make a living through Instagram. Read on to discover how you can join the ranks of instagram superstardom.
Written by Jenny (@otherworld.ly + @theroamess, New Zealand travel influencer and photographer) for you!
Introduction: So what exactly is this Instagram thing, anyway?
Even if you’ve never used Instagram before, chances are you’ve seen someone’s else’s feed, or been exposed to Instagram images somewhere on the web. Instagram’s ubiquitous square images are everywhere, usually layered with various filters to really bring the photographs to life.
At its core, Instagram is a photo-taking and photo-sharing app. You can take photographs from your phone or tablet, add filters to create interesting effects, or create collages of multiple images, then add a caption and share it online.
You can follow other people’s “feeds” to see the images they post, and your friends and family can follow your feed to like and comment on all your images.
Most people just use Instagram to share their everyday snaps with friends and family, but some people get really savvy. If you create a great feed and gather lots of followers, you can actually earn money from your Instagram without needing to buy Instagram followers anymore. Some people make their living travelling the world, taking pictures and sharing their adventures with their followers. If you want to join them, download the instagram app, and keep reading.
Step 1: Planning for Instagram Follower success.
Before you post your first picture, it’s important to do a little thinking and planning, to ensure you’re starting off with the best possible chance of success.
Choosing your Instagram niche / theme
Most people start using Instagram to chronicle their everyday life. This is fine if you just want to share your favourite moments with your family and friends. If you want to earn money, you’re going to have to be a bit more strategic.
A good Instagram feed is heavily curated. You’re not displaying photographs of every aspect of your life, from your cat to your car to your piles of dirty laundry. With every image, you’re adding to a body of work organised around a theme. Your theme might be very tight-knit, such as the popular “Hot Guys Reading” Instagram feed, or it might be more loose, such as a Grimvr’s collection of spooky images.
Some common Instagram themes are:
- Fashion: Fashionable ladies and gents will take daily selfies to showcase their styling skills, and might also post close-ups of jewelry or makeup looks.
- Makeup: Similar to fashion (and often done in tandem), a makeup Instagram showcases makeup hauls, new looks, tutorials, and color swatches.
- Decor / Design: An interior design feed could be a mix time of your own room makeovers, DIY tutorials, products, and inspirational images.
- Niche: Create a feed focused around a simple theme, and pull together a mix of your own images and reposts of images on other feeds and websites.
- Pets: If your pet has a particularly crazy personality, you could set them up with their ownInstagramm feed and chronicle their adventures.
Travel: Some of the most popular Instagram feeds follow travel adventures.
- Business: A feed showcasing the different products or services of a particular business. You can also repost images from other
- Food: Posting beautifully-style food images, whether they’re from a restaurant or your own kitchen.
- Business: Use your Instagram to promote an existing business, by posting pictures relating to your products and services. You can mix this up with fun memes that appeal to your customers, reposting customers pics, and competitions.
- City guides: What’s happening in your city? Many instagrammers snap away while they’re out and about in their own backyards.
There are Instagram communities for all kinds of interests and subjects. Have a look around at other big-name Instagrammers and see how they approach your theme. Don’t be afraid to borrow ideas (but don’t copy them) to create your own insta-success plan.
As your theme informs all your decisions moving forward, from the name of your account to what you post about, choose something you’re passionate about and can post about regularly.
Decide on a colour scheme
If you spend any time studying top instagrammers, you’ll notice most of them employ a uniform colour scheme across their images. This might even extend to using similar filters across their photographs.
Why do they do this? It’s all about branding – Most Instagram feeds employ the same general color scheme throughout. They want you to remember their look and style and associate that with their feed every time you see it.
Here are a few tips when choosing your color scheme:
Choose a set of filters, and stick to them. Choose a range of filters and make those your defaults. This ensures that all your photos have a uniform “look” that differentiates them from the rest. It’s not about being boring, but about being instantly recognized and memorable.
Buy backgrounds and props for still life images. You can create cohesion through your photographs by using the same backgrounds on still life lays. Props that fit your color scheme will also help tie everything together. You can keep a shoebox filled with props on your desk to use whenever you need them.
Use white space effectively. White space gives the eye breathing room and helps to draw attention to the focal point of an image. When thinking about your colour-scheme, consider how you’ll use white to enhance your images.
BONUS TIP: Cooler color schemes, such as blues, seem to be more popular than warm schemes.
Set yourself some big, audacious goals
As with any endeavor, you need to stay enthusiastic if you want to keep posting images and building your following. Setting goals helps you to focus your efforts and stay motivated.
Think of your ultimate goal – traveling the world and living off your Instagram – and break it down into small, manageable chunks. How will you achieve each step in the journey? What do you need in terms of income in order to live? How many followers will you need to product that income?
- Do I want to sell a product/service? If so, in what niche and at what price-point? A $7USD trendy fiddle-gadget or $12 holographic lip gloss will require a different strategy to a $497 e-course or $3000 website branding packages.
- Am I growing a page for an already established business, or am I growing a new business? If your business is already established, think about what kind of content will be genuinely compelling to your audience. If you’re starting from scratch, look at what others are doing and brainstorm the kinds of content you could share.
- What is the account’s ultimate end-goal? Is it to sell a product/service and have Instagram be a source of income? Or is it to increase personal impact and reach, so you have companies clamoring to work with you as an ambassador or speaker?
Write your goals and plans down, and place them somewhere you can refer back to. Keep that motivation high!
Step 2: Taking awesome photos
Successful Instagram accounts have one key factor in common – stunning, mind-blowingly awesome photographs.
In order to gain the organic following you need to succeed, you have to be sharing beautiful images that tell remarkable stories on a regular basis. That means it’s time to learn how to get the most out of your camera phone and learn a few photography tricks.
Here are eight top tricks to help you take better images. Keep practicing and you’ll be a pro in no time!
1. Use natural light
Photography is ALL about light. No amount of filters or post-production editing will fix a photo with terrible lighting.
Artificial light may look perfectly fine in the moment, but nothing beats the good old Sun when it comes to creating a beautiful photograph. If you have to shoot objects indoors, try positioning them near a window.
2. Use the grid feature
The grid lines help you to line up architectural elements and make sure your photographic composition is balanced.
3. Instagram is all about moments
Whether it’s your cat making a funny face, a perfect sunset, or a perfectly-presented meal, keep your eyes open for beautiful moments that will engage your readers and give them an emotional reaction. Keep extraneous information out of your images unless it adds to the image – instead, just focus on the one key subject.
4. Choose bold colors, shapes, and lines
Instagram photos need to stand out from the crowd. Create compositions that instantly draw the eye into the picture, and hold attention with strong central elements. Don’t make too many different elements competing for attention - focus on saying one thing, and saying it well.
5. Learn to take great photos first, then embrace apps
Don’t get so carried away with different app effects that you let your photography skills slip away. Instead, use apps sparingly in the beginning while you learn the basics of a great photograph.
Once you’ve mastered composition and light and color, start exploring the world of app effects. You can create stunning images that simulate long exposures, pinhole cameras, sepia finishes, and so much more.
6. Water is awesome
Take photographs reflected in water, or in the snow, fog, or rain. Water makes light do amazing, beautiful things.
7. Get ideas from others
You should never directly copy another person’s work – that’s plagiarism, and you won’t win any friends doing it – but you can follow their feeds to get inspiration and see what the trends are in your niche.
8. Less is more
Most popular Instagrammers curate their feed, so they’re posting only their absolute best work. One shot a day that’s remarkable is much better than five mediocre ones.
Step 3: Write Brilliant Captions
After you’ve perfected your photography skills, you need to think about what to say in your captions.
Writing in captions is a great tool to engage your audience and build your unique Insta-voice. Here are five pro-tips to help you create winning captions.
1. Create several drafts
Usually, the first thing you write isn’t the best thing you can come up with. Try writing a few draft captions first to brainstorm different ideas. Check them for spelling and grammar, and even leave them for a few hours to percolate. The important thing is to create an engaging caption that encourages the user to take some action, whether it's to like or comment, visit a webpage, or hire you.
2. Ask a question
Encourage followers to leave comments by asking them questions. You could ask for:
- recommendations of what to do in a particular city?
- what they’re reading/watching/listening to right now?
- opinions on a particular topic or statement you’ve made?
- their choice from a range of two/three objects in your photograph?
3. Write the important stuff first
Although you can have up to 2,000 characters in an Instagram post, your text will be cut off in your followers’ feed view after the first 3-4 lines. If they want to read more, they’ll have to click through.
Use these first few lines for impactful statements and calls-to-action.
4. Use emoticons to break up big chunks of text
What do you do if you’re writing a story, creating a list, or writing out a recipe, and you want it to be easy for your followers to digest? Instagram doesn’t allow line breaks, so all the text comes out as one long chunk – not great for readability.
You could use the emoticons to break up the text into smaller chunks and delineate new lines. This will help make it easier for your followers to find the information they want.
5. Include a call-to-action
I’ve spoken about this before, but it’s important enough that it needs to be called out again. If you want more engagement on your Instagram, you need to tell your followers what you want them to do with a call-to-action. This might be:
- Asking them a question.
- Telling them to click on a bio link.
- Asking them to tag a friend.
- Asking them to re-post an image.
- Asking them to take some other kind of action.
Step 4: Building your followers
In this section, we’re going to look at how to growth hack your way to building an Instagram following.
I’m going to be brutal here – most of this info isn’t being shared around. I’ve seen too many guides that are recycling last year’s Instagram tips. They’re still telling you to furiously hashtag and that the only way to grow organically is by manually commenting and engaging with influencers in your niche.
While these tactics have their place, there are definitely some other tools in the toolbox you can use to skyrocket your way to Instagram fame. These are the strategies key influencers with multi-million follower networks are using to rapidly grow accounts.
WARNING: Instagram’s secret account health rating
Unknown to the public eye, Instagram has a health score for every single account on its database. When a new account is made, its health is at its fullest. From then onwards, there are several ways your account’s health can be compromised.
Why is your account’s health important?
As you look around instagram, you’ll start to notice that some huge accounts (over 100k+) have a comparatively poor amount of likes/comments per post. They might not even break 1000 likes/10 comments. With that many followers, this is crazy, right?
No. It’s because that account has a poor health rating. It’s been red flagged by Instagram’s algorithm enough in the past for it to be penalized to the point where its content is barely reaching its huge audience.
Every action that decreases your Instagram account’s health lowers your engagement and the amount of followers/potential for new followers that Instagram pushes the posts out to. It’s vital to understand this from the onset so you don’t start accidentally impacting your health rating.
What decreases your account’s health rating?
- People reporting your account/content as spam or inappropriate
- People unfollowing you
- Soft bans (occurs when you’ve done too many actions too quickly)
- Posting inconsistently
- Changing your display picture constantly.
- Changing your username constantly.
- Using any kind of automation software/third party tool/scheduling tool.
If you’re thinking, “Some of that stuff doesn’t seem so bad,” I agree with you. Compromising your account’s engagement simply for changing a display picture seems a little extreme, but know that Instagram penalizes you with your followers’ best interest in mind. They don’t want you to perform a bait-and-switch on your followers.
All of the above are inconsistent behaviors, and inconsistency confuses followers. Do your best to avoid doing anything on this list.
Consistency is key
If it punishes inconsistency with lower health ratings, then Instagram also rewards consistently with additional exposure. Their algorithms favour accounts that post on a regular schedule and see a high level of engagement across those posts.
That’s why it’s important to set yourself a regular posting schedule, and stick to it as much as possible. You don’t want to be spamming people with several images a day, but posting one high-quality image every day will help you create a habit.
It’s not uncommon for big accounts (over 100k+) to post up to three times a day to maximize growth.
If you don’t post for a few days, you’re compromising your account’s potential for organic growth. Sometimes not posting for a few days can even stop organic growth permanently, so if there’s anything to ensure you do to guarantee success with Instagram, it’s to be as consistent as possible.
Post once a day at least
Instagram’s algorithms do most of their work during the first ten minutes of a post going live
Posts are only seen by a small section of your followers at first, and the more engagement a post receives within this time, the more it will be pushed out to the rest of your followers.
The more likes and comments a post receives, the higher the likelihood Instagram will promote it to their Explore page – which is where people go to actively look for new accounts to follow.
The timing of your posts is just as important. Almost universally, people are most active on Instagram at 9am, 12pm and 3pm EST, so try to time your daily post/s accordingly.
The basics to engaging on Instagram
Even if you do nothing else in this section (and we reckon you should), you’ve got to at least be employing these two basic techniques if you want to build followers and engagement on Instagram.
Hashtags are words preceded by the # symbol. If you add a hashtag to your instagram caption or comment, it becomes a clickable link that brings up a list of all other images using that same hashtag.
People use hashtags to:
- Organise photos under particular headings.
- Create buzz around a particular campaign.
- Get their photos in front of people searching hashtags for images they’re interested in.
Instagram gives you hashtag options to help you get started, but you should also look at the tags others in your niche are using. Try to choose hashtags that have between 500,000 - 1 million posts so your posts have some time to circulate within them before getting drowned out by sheer volume.
Try to only use the hashtags that have a healthy amount of posts in them (not under 100,000 and not over 900,000 preferably).
You get a max of 30 hashtags under each post, so use them effectively.
Authentically engaging with others
Instagram’s community is incredible – there are so many awesome people creating beautiful content. It’s a great place to hang out and meet others who share your love for certain topics.
Take the time to become part of the community. Find and follow other accounts that share the same interests. Like and post comments and engage with influencers. This is important if you want them to share your content later on, but also, it helps you become part of the conversation.
On your own feed, ensure you’re always being yourself and posting captions and content that truly reflects your values, messages and lifestyle. Followers can smell false sentiment a mile away! They don’t want to read a boring carbon copy of a famous influencer – they want to see your unique take on the world.
Find influencers of similar sizes to you in your niche and make friends! This really isn’t a growth strategy as much as it just fun - this is the true beauty of Instagram, and what keeps it thriving as the biggest and most engaged social media platform. Be nice and helpful and kind, and don’t get sucked into unnecessary drama.
Essentially, this technique boils down to, “Don’t be a dick.”
Quality trumps quantity, every time
Creating high quality, consistent, on-brand images should always be your first priority.
All other growth strategies come second to posting incredible content.
If you apply all these strategies we discuss to sub-par content no one is interested in, you’ll receive less than favourable results. Set yourself up for success by researching what constitutes high-quality content in your niche – no matter the theme of your account, beautiful and vibrant photography will win you new followers and grow your Instagram fame.
Gaining your first 10,000 followers
Your first goal for your instagram account should be to get a decent amount of followers. This shows brands and other influencers that you’re someone worth paying attention to. These are also the hardest followers to get.
We recommend 10k followers is a good goal to aim for. That number suggests an audience that’s credible, self-sustainable and grows on its own organically.
There are three methods to reach this number:
- Keep posting great content and wait for the followers to find you. (Takes the longest, could even take years).
- Use automation tactics to find people who are interested in your niche, and encourage them to follow you. (Quicker to grow, but will cost money and could compromise account health).
- Use powerlikes to obtain a huge amount of likes with the goal of hitting the Explore page (Quickest to grow, but is the most expensive option, and may not lead to an engaged audience).
You can combine all three of these methods if you wish. Organic growth will happen naturally as you build your account. In this section, we take a look at automation and power likes.
Growing followers by automation
There are two main ways Instagramers use automation to grow their followers:
F/UF (Follow/Unfollow) is a controversial growth strategy, but still one that’s employed by many influencers.
What you’re doing here is trying to actively find followers who would be interested in your niche, following them in the hopes they follow you back.
A follow is a way of saying “Hey! Look at me, I exist,” and it will usually prompt a large amount of traffic back into your page. The idea is that if they’ve already followed large influencer A (who has similar content to you) they’ll be interested in yours too, and follow you back.
Some will unfollow you in return, but many will be interested in your content and will stick around.
To do this, find large influencers or brands who already occupy your niche, go into their followers list and follow all the recent followers. You want to follow no more than 100 at a time to avoid being picked up as spammy behavior by Instagram.
You can repeat this process up to five to seven times a day. Instagram allows you to follow up to 7500 people. Once you’ve hit this number, do a mass unfollow and repeat the process if you wish.
You can use services like Instagress.com to auto-like and leave auto-comments to accounts that are within your niche. Commenting on other’s accounts shows them you’re interested in what they’re doing, and will often prompt a return follow and engagement on your page.
This method, like F/UF, serves as a “Hey! Come look at my account!” and will bring traffic over to your account.
Be wary with these services as Instagram doesn’t like them and if your account is new (fresh) you run the risk of a ban. Always test a service first, and err on the side of caution with automation services.
The powerliking method
Powerliking is the third method you can use to reach your first 10k followers.
Your goal with powerlikes is simple: hit the Explore page, where millions of new eyeballs and potential followers await your content. Hitting Explore as frequently as possible is how huge influencers and networks grow hundreds; up to thousands of followers a day.
In this section we look at the pros and cons of this method.
What are powerlikes and why does it work?
Powerlikes are likes/comments from a network of large accounts (100k+ accounts are considered large) as soon as your post goes live. The intent is to play into Instagram’s algorithm where a post’s first ten minutes are most crucial for gaining traction and determining how it'll do in reaching beyond your current following.
Powerliking works in two key ways: It floods traffic from the large accounts over to yours from the ‘Following’ tab, as well as triggering the algorithm to recognise that large accounts are enjoying that piece of content. This means Instagram is more likely to share your content to a wider audience (especially if you hit the Explore page), increasing your ability to grow organically.
Telegram is a messenger app that has become solely used for Instagram engagement groups. It's hugely popular as you can code bots that take over the entire process for you, making everything automatic.
Below are screenshots of arguably the best and most exclusive engagement group, XPLOR Rounds.
Prerequisites: 80k+ followers, 2k+ likes per post avg
At precisely :50 each hour, the bot asks all accounts wanting to participate in that round to drop their accounts. This just means you type in the username of the account you'd like engagement on, I.e.; @theroamess
- At :00 (on the hour), the bot automatically spits out a list of everyone who dropped their account. During peak times like 9am EST, this list is super long. The longer the list, the more engagement you'll be getting, therefore the better.
- Everyone goes and engages with every account on the list, and reports back when they're done with ‘D @username’ so the bot can check. In some groups, you're only required to like the most recent post. In XPLOR you like the last three posts. This only works if everyone participates, so Telegram round hosts don't hesitate to ban leechers.
General vs niche rounds
There is a divide in opinion on whether it’s better to use general rounds (where everyone is of different niches) or niche rounds (where everyone is in your niche, i.e., fashion.)
You’ll usually get more likes in a general round, but more relevant likes from a niche round.
If at all possible, opt for niche rounds. It’s better to have more relevant likes from people who are actually in your niche. However, you might find there aren't enough people in your niche alone to have any real impact.
Rounds are only effective if there are at least 50 participants. If you're, say, a mommy + vegan + travel influencer, you might be too “niched in” to find 50 similar participants. Stick to more general rounds (even just “vegan” would work) that have more participants.
How do you know if you've hit Explore?
Hitting the Explore page is really exciting! Your likes/comments on that post skyrocket significantly higher than average, followed by a steady stream of new followers.
If you’re still not sure, you can check the profiles of those liking the suspected post to see if they follow you. If they don't, they most likely found that post via Explore.
Congratulations, you've succeeded in expanding your reach! Now try and repeat this success as much as you can.
Which method is best?
It all depends on your ultimate goals. Remember, you can use a mixture of methods to grow your followers.
First, determine what you ultimately want your account for. If your goal is to use your account to sell a product/service, you may need to consider what demographic you’ll eventually sell to and grow an account with primarily followers in a certain age group, country, or interest area.
You also need to figure out how fast you need to grow. If you need immediate results, you may want to spend some money on automation and powerlikes, but if you can move slower, you can try more organic methods.
Think about how important the “health” of your account is. If you want your account as healthy as possible, it’s probably better to invest in powerlikes and organic growing strategies. Automation software and services will penalize your health slightly, but are a potentially cheaper alternative.
Above all, never overlook the value of your organic growth from posting great content at the right time. Keep improving your photographic skills. Genuinely engage with your audience: ask them questions, get to know the frequent commenters, and leave them call to actions (like tagging friends). Care about what they'd like to see from your account, and what your account does to serve them.
Step 5: That’s all good, but how do I actually earn money on Instagram?
Having hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of followers is pretty cool, but you didn’t start your instagram account just to become popular. It’s time to start thinking about how to make some income off your account.
There are many different ways to monetize your instagram, and each has pros and cons depending on your audience and the type of content you produce. Here are a few ways instagramers earn serious money from their platforms:
a. Affiliate marketing
Promoting affiliate products can be a great way to start earning money from your instagram account.
When you become an affiliate of a company, you promote their products in your posts. For example, as a fashion instagrammer, you might style a company’s particular dress. You then post a link to that dress on the company’s webiste with a special affiliate code attached. When your followers click through to the company’s website, you’ll receive a percentage of the purchase price of anything they buy.
There are affiliate programs for many different industries, including travel, fashion, beauty, book, music, and other brands.
b. Create sponsored content
Sponsored content is probably the most common way instagramers earn income. If you’re posting regularly and have a decent amount of followers, you’ll probably already have been approached by brands.
A brand will ask you to take images with some of their products, and perhaps post a review or use particular hashtags. They’ll pay you for the content you create. Many brands also send you the products for free, or will sponsor competition prizes for your followers.
Sponsored content could be anything from a brand paying you $100 to take a selfie wearing their sunglasses, to an all-expenses paid trip
c. Sell your photography
If people are following you because of your stunning photography, then perhaps you could make some additional income by selling prints of your most popular images? You could use a platform like Etsy.com or Society6 to set up a shop to showcase your work.
Instagram can also be a great tool to help you land additional photography gigs. Create a post stating your availability for shoots or styling sessions, and get your followers to share it with relevant people. You never know what interesting assignments might come your way because of your platform.
d. Sell your own products or services
Many instagrammers are using the platform to promote a business. By posting behind-the-scenes images, new products, or inspirational or aspirational images, they build awareness about their brand, as well as create a community of loyal customers.
It’s all about finding a photogenic angle to showcase what you do. If your business offers products like clothing or decor, the direction is easy. But when you sell a service, you often need to think a little more laterally.
For example, Sacred Wild Tarot uses her instagram spreads to showcase different tarot spreads. She then sells tarot readings and other new age services to her thousands of loyal followers.
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