In my spare time, I’m kind of a big deal on Instagram. I have a pack of over 2,500 followers, even though I’ve only been online for three months and I don’t have opposable thumbs. I was named one of the 14 most adorable, derpalicious, swag Instagram pups to follow in 2015. And I love you.
The main key to my success is being really, really, ridiculously good looking. But my human personal assistant, Emily, also does some stuff with the things that she says are very important. That, and not peeing on the rug.
So, here are eight pointers that will help you build an audience on Instagram.
- Use a real camera and real editing software.
OK, so Instagram is supposed to be an all-in-one mobile app. You take photos with your iPhone and add filters until it looks like a cheap Polaroid from 1980 that you dug up in the flower garden. But you can do better.
Better cameras (assuming you know how to use them) produce better photos, and better photos are just…better. My human uses a DSLR, which apparently is short for “No, don’t lick that!” And she uses funny umbrella lamps and screens sometimes.
She then edits it a little on her computer with Lightroom, then a bit more on her phone, in VSCO. It’s still possible to succeed with iPhone pictures, but you need to have the right lighting and composition and—
RED ALERT! RED ALERT! THERE’S AN INTRUDER IN THE OFFICE! NO, I WON’T BE QUIET, HOW CAN YOU ASK ME TO BE QUIET WHEN THERE’S AN INTRUDER! SHE COULD BE HERE TO oh, wait; that’s Catherine. I like Catherine. She works here, and scratches me behind my ears, and totally hasn’t murdered anyone that I know of. False alarm.
- Sign up for an automation service.
After you have a few photos in your feed, sign up for a service like Instagress. You can set it up to follow hashtags related to your industry or niche, and images tagged with those hashtags will be “liked” automagically. (It also offers auto-follow and auto-comment features, but we don’t use those; it can look spammy or desperate, and I don’t like to beg.)
Following hashtags with Instagress helps you find more people or dogs with whom you’d like to interact or follow, and some of those folks will likewise follow you. A warning, though: this does take some monitoring at first. We were originally following #woof, but then realized that half the photos with this tag were of hairy man chests. Not exactly dog-related, unless they were hoping to get their bellies rubbed.
- Hashtag, hashtag, hashtag.
When we post a photo that we really dig (which was all of them in the beginning), we used every hashtag that could possibly be related to it (#dog #dogsofinstagram #rescue #adoptdontshop, etc.). People use hashtags to find pictures they like, so more hashtags = more opportunities to be found.
Filling up your photo’s description with two dozen hashtags can look a bit unsightly or spammy, though. A better option: keep the description short, and then add hashtags in a comment right after posting the photo. After a few other people post comments, the original #comment will be buried and disappear from people’s feeds.
Uh-oh… A MAN! THERE’S A MAN! A MAN WITH A BOX! HE’S COMING IN HERE AND HE’S CARRYING A BOX AND I DON’T LIKE HIM AND HE SMELLS LIKE 10,000 DIFFERENT DOGS AND HE NEEDS TO GET OUT! OUT! OUT! OUT! OUT! I ORDER YOU! YOUR KIND IS NOT WELCOME HERE! Okay, he’s leaving now. Crisis averted. BUT DON’T YOU EVER, EVER COME BACK, LIKE YOU DO EVERY DAY AT THIS EXACT TIME!
- Get featured.
This relates to the #tip above, but keep a look out for Instagram accounts that feature photos using a certain tag. For example, Hounds Bazaar regrams their favorite photos that are tagged with #houndsbazaar. When accounts with many thousands of followers feature you, many of those followers will sniff out your account and end up following you as well.
- Be active in the community.
Make friends! It’s fun, and sometimes they’ll give you treats.
The first step is to figure out what “community” you’re in. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are a lot of dog Instagrams. Clicking on hashtags can help you find them. You can also simply use the search button (without typing in anything to search for) to see Instagram’s suggestions for related photos and “people.”
Once you’ve found them, follow other accounts that you enjoy and interact with them through comments, likes, sniffing their behinds, and sometimes even DMs. I’ve made few great dog-buddies this way. I call them #friendsofarri.
You’ll also discover trending hashtags within your pack/audience this way. That’s how we first heard about #tongueouttuesday. I have a real talent for sticking my tongue out, and #tongueouttuesday folks seem to really like it.
- Enter contests.
Another way to be active in your community is to enter contests. In most cases, if you win, you get featured on that account. Plus, who doesn’t like free treats and toys?
- Host a contest.
Once you have a decent following, you can start hosting contests of your own! Set it up so that contestants must follow you and tag you in their entry posts to be eligible to win. Their followers will see the contest entry and may want to enter themselves, which gets you more organic—
SQUIRREL! THERE’S A SQUIRREL OUT THERE! DO YOU SEE IT?! IT’S RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET IN THAT TREE! IT’S GOING TO COME SMASHING THROUGH THIS WINDOW AT ANY MOMENT AND KILL US ALL! DAMN YOU, KILLER SQUIRREL! I’M ON TO YOUR EVIL WAYS! WAIT UNTIL I GET MY PAWS ON YOU! WHY, I’LL…Muzzle? I don’t even know what that is. Should I want a muzzle? Is it a treat? I bet it’s tasty, just like everything I randomly find and eat.
- Be creative.
Don’t post similar photos day after day after day (unless that’s your thing). Get creative and take a wide variety of pictures! Let current events influence your posts, too—be topical!
Most importantly—and this is essential—most importantly, if you’re reading this blog…
Wait, there’s PEOPLE reading this blog?! WHAT ARE THEY DOING HERE?! I DON’T KNOW THEM! HOW’D THEY GET IN?! ALERT! ALERT! LEAVE! LEAVE NOW!