What makes an Instagram user worthy of thousands of followers? Already being famous in real life doesn’t hurt, but for the rest of us, mobilephotography stardom requires a mix of quality, skill and social prowess.
Quality Over Quantity
On the Web and certain social services, it’s possible to optimize one’sway to a bigger audience. Instagram is different: There are no bots totrick or algorithms to game. As a distinctly visual medium, it demandsthat the content published there actually looks good. That could mean asmartly composed photograph of the utmost artistic integrity or a youngwoman who happens to be attractive. Or perhaps a puppy.
Instagram isn’t about creating a frame-by-frame documentary of one’s life.Instead,the service is best used by carefully selecting the mostvisually interesting, funny or otherwise sharable moments and thengradually sending them out into the streams of one’s followers.
The temptation to post a rapid-fire series of photos at a sporting event or concert, for example, should be ignored. Not only does this dilute thequality of one’s photo stream, but it has a tendency to annoy followers. As a square image, an Instagram photo takes up much more screen realestate than a tweet or Facebook status update. Dominating people’sscreens with repetitive, uninteresting images forces them to ploughthrough the visual noise in a way that feels more laborious than it does on other social networks.
It may also serve todiscourage potential new followers. When other users look at yourprofile, keep in mind that they’re going to see a block of the mostrecent photos posted to your account. You’ll do a better job ofconvincing them to tap the “follow” button if what they see is diverseand of high quality, rather than a flood of shaky concert photos snapped from a distance.
Pay Attention to What Works (and Mimic It)
For a better idea of what kind of imagery works best on Instagram, there’sno better place to look than the “Explore” tab (now designated by acompass icon). There are lessons to be learned here, but a few caveatsare worth mentioning. First, there’s definitely a correlation betweenthe number of one’s existing followers and the amount of “likes” theirphotos tend to garner. Thus, many of the “popular” photos win thatdesignation in part because they came from popular accounts, notnecessarily based solely on the merits of the image itself.
Instagram is a lot like the Web itself in that people using it love sexy ladiesand cats. The Explore tab offers irrefutable evidence of both facts,should there be any doubt. So yes, posting pictures of attractive women(and in many cases, men) and cats will always do well on Instagram. Butthose aren’t the only things.
If you can getbeyond the ooh-yeah-sexy-ladies and just-because-they’re-popularfactors, the Explore tab does offer a few clues about what kinds oflegitimate, less shallow qualities can get people’s attention onInstagram. Many of the service’s most popular photos share one of ahandful of qualities: Bright colors, unique angles, effective use ofcontrast and subtle humor all seem to do well.
As with any other form of publishing, it helps to look at analytics to see what does well. Instagram doesn’t offer this feature natively, butthird-party services like Statigram let users take a closer look at how their photos perform. In a seriesof color charts and graphs, Statigram breaks down a ton of metrics inthorough detail. This includes things like most liked and most commented photos, as well as habitual details like favorite filters, tag usageand which days of the week one is most likely to post photos. You caneven see when users unfollow you.
Statigram hasan “optimize” tab that suggests optimal posting times and shows youcorrelations between photo filters and number of likes. On my account,photos given the “Rise” filter were most popular among my followers, for instance. Who knew?
Using Statigram, you cannot only get a clear picture of what’s popular, but you can also diginto the depths of your Instagram account’s history to see which photoswere least popular, which may offer a clue or two about what doesn’twork.
Take Advantage of Tags
Like other popular social networking tools, Instagram uses hashtags totie together posts with common subjects or attributes. Strategicallytagging photos, especially using the most popular hashtags on Instagram, can lead to a flood of new likes and followers.
Geotagging is another powerful but underratedfeature on Instagram. Tagging a photo with its location adds that imageto a little psuedo-archive of photos taken in that particular place. Inmany cases, this has a way of building up a sort of crowd-sourced visual representation of that location, be it a historical landmark or localhangout. Contributing something visually worthwhile creates a newopportunity to attract new followers.
This istrue of places you may be visiting temporarily, but its effectiveness is especially potent where you live and at venues you frequent on aregular basis. Geotagging a photo taken at the neighborhood bar is bound to grab the attention of other locals who use Instagram, many of whomwill naturally want to follow their fellow natives.
Actively Interact with Others
One of the most effective ways to get noticed on Instagram is to engagewith other users. It is, after all, a social network. As on Twitter,following others can result in return follows, presuming they like whatthey see on your account.
Another easy way tograb the attention of like-minded Instagrammers is to generously “like”the photos that catch your eye. If you have a compliment or comment tomake, don’t be shy about it. Just don’t get spammy.