The very Instagrammable Corner Room at Town Hall Hotel in London
Oh, Instagram. If I have learned anything about blogging and social media, it is this: people tend to have a HUGE love/hate relationship with Instagram. Instagram is like that sexy, unattainable crush you always see at the cafeteria; her hair is always perfect, her laugh oozes confidence, and everyone wants to be around her, though few know the way to her heart. Facebook, on the other hand, is to many people the crush you’d never admit having, so you just ignore her all together but secretly glance at her every so often and wonder why she doesn’t want to hang out with you. For the record, I’m in a full-blown love affair with Facebook (she’s good to me… for now) but, like all social media (and all crushes), each platform can be a fickle beast. What works one day can fail the next, and even if you wear your very best outfit and bring donuts for everyone (the really fancy kind that cost $4 each and look good in a flat-lay), there’s a chance she won’t even bat an eye in your direction.
I do not claim to be an Instagrammer, not at all. At the time of writing this, I have 13.8 thousand followers. Don’t get me wrong, I am super proud of and happy with that number… but that number doesn’t mean that much on its own anymore. More and more I’m seeing travel bloggers with 20k, 50k, 100k, and more. It’s so easy to get frustrated and down on yourself, especially if you compare yourself to others.
My most-liked photo… when in doubt, just pose in front of Big Ben
I have recently written a few posts about blogging, which is weird, because I never wanted to be that blogger who just talks about blogging all the time. The fact is, however, that my entire life is dedicated to blogging, either on This Battered Suitcase or for my work. Whether I’m working on my own blog, collaborating with tourism boards, running a major travel brand’s blog, consulting travel PRs on who to hire for their campaigns, or giving presentations on working with bloggers and influencers (I still can’t say that word without cringing, anyone else?), I am talking about or working with blogs seven days a week. My recent post, When Did Travel Blogging Get So Boring? really hit a nerve, and many people came forward to say that they felt the same way. And I’m not claiming to be some blogging guru, but oh man, there is some seriously bland/basic/misleading information out there about blogging and social media, including Instagram.
Because seriously? If I hear one more person say, “It’s just about posting good content and using the right hashtags,” when giving advice about Instagram, I’m going to… sit behind my laptop and quietly seethe. NO. IT’S NOT JUST THAT. THERE IS SO MUCH MORE. It’s complicated sometimes, it’s frustrating sometimes, and, most of all, it takes a lot of work.
So I decided to write this post: every single thing I know about Instagram. And yes, this is all going to be my subjective advice, my personal opinions, and so on. But what I can tell you is this: a lot of what happens on Instagram is some straight up bullshit, and trust me, you’re not imagining things.
Ready? Grab your glass of wine and let’s do this. Actually, you may need something stronger than sauvignon blanc… Me? I just got a bottle of tequila. Let’s go.
My Instagram photos from London and Turkey
1. First things first: Instagram is a business, and those of us who use it for business purposes have to treat it as such. This post is written with travel bloggers in mind, but hopefully some of the tips will apply to all people who use or want to use Instagram. No matter your background, if you’re looking to parlay your Instagram account into a business opportunity – whether that’s to score press trips, work with big brands, or sell a book – know this: it is going to take a hell of a lot of time and a hell of a lot of work. You know what they say: if it were easy, everyone would do it. I recently read about a young woman who grew her account to 25k in one year, but she admitted that she spent hours on it every single day. To her I say: well done, and congratulations! That is an awesome display of hard work, and I hope she sees it pay off. But it should serve as a reminder that, unless we’re like, some long-lost Kardashian sibling or something, we can’t just post a photo of anything we want, sit back, and watch the likes and comments pour in.
So how does Instagram even pay off, or why should we use Instagram? Well, if you’re a blogger, many companies, brands, and tourism boards will expect you to have an Instagram account and expect you to use it to promote things, so if you DO end up working with one of them, you’ll probably be asked to post a certain amount of images. It’s also a popular enough platform – arguably the MOST popular at the moment – that many companies, brands, and tourism boards will actively seek out Instagrammers with large followings and high engagement. And these days, if your following is big enough, you can charge money per post. And trust me – you can charge A LOT. This is why people will stop at nothing to grow their followings (more on that below).
For those of us with smaller followings, an Instagram account is another facet of a multi-dimensional business; I like having a presence there, although I admit that I rarely get any traffic to my blog from my Instagram account (probably my fault, as I don’t promote my blog and/or blog posts there). I also just like posting pretty photos in a nice-looking grid, so there’s that. There is room for all of us, and there are ways to use even relatively small accounts to grow a business and gain genuine, engaged followers.
2. Post consistently, post your best content, and use the right hashtags. Yeah, OK, there’s some truth in those generic statements that many people make. These points are kind of no-brainers, but they’re definitely worth saying. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to make an effort to take good photos. Not everyone is going to be an award-winning photographer (I distinctly remember another blogger telling me, “Well, nobody goes to your blog for the photography”… ouch) but there are certain basics of photography that most people can master.
As for me, my DSLR is collecting dust in the corner and I prefer to shoot on a Canon G7X… in auto mode (to be fair, it’s an amazing camera). And then I edit them directly in Instagram. Hah. Did I just lose some credibility?! I enjoy taking photos, but I know that becoming a well-known photographer or Instagrammer isn’t in the cards for me; I’ll stick to building my writing portfolio and making a name for myself in that field. We can’t win them all, but it is good to develop as many basic skills as you can in a wide variety of fields. I’m not going to write much about photography skills here – that would take a lot of time and, you know, the advice from a real photographer – but there are tons of beginner guides and resources online.
My Instagram photos of London
Those who do the best on Instagram tend to not only take great photos, but they stick to a style of photography or a theme. When I see a photo by The Blonde Abroad or Be My Travel Muse, for example, I know it’s them even without reading the username. Therefore, I look forward to their posts, because I know they’ll always be posting something beautiful. This goes against my usual advice of “do whatever the hell you want”, but there’s no denying that having a particular theme, colour scheme, or style does help your Instagram account.
Another important aspect is how your profile looks. People are going to make a snap judgement the second they look at your feed, and so your profile better be in good formation. That means the photos look good next to each other, there’s a nice running theme or colour scheme, and so on. Personally, I use an app called Mosaico to plan my feed. It costs £5.99, but it’s worth it to me to be able to play around with my photos and organise what I’m going to post next. Plus, I enjoy moving the photos around and seeing how they look with each other; it’s like a puzzle.
I don’t post as consistently as I should – experts say once a day is ideal – but in a perfect world I’d get a lot of photos edited and ready to go in Mosaico so that I don’t have to spend time trying to find the perfect photo each day. I have a business account, which means I can see insights into my followers’ actions (i.e. when’s the time of peak activity, and so on) and it also means I can see how many impressions a photo got, which is nice data to give to someone wanting to work with you. Some people believe that having a business account hurts your engagement, and that a personal account is better, but I haven’t noticed much difference either way.
And as for hashtags – which can work when used effectively – avoid the really huge ones like #travel. The way hashtags work is that they show up in that particular feed in a chronological timeline, so if you post something with a huge hashtag, it will disappear pretty quickly. Better to find hashtags with smaller but engaged audiences, but that research takes time, so I recommend creating notes in your phone so that you can quickly and easily copy and paste those hashtags into your post (I personally post them in a comment immediately after uploading the photo, because I hate how hashtags look in captions).
Hashtags are also a great way to get noticed by an account that features the photos of other users, like #prettycitylondon or #passionpassport. I notice that once you’re in with a big account like this, they tend to feature you quite frequently. Some people also tag accounts in their photo, but in my experience, I don’t know that this works or if it just comes off as spammy. Do NOT tag bloggers or accounts that don’t feature other users, as this just looks strange and will warrant a block from me if it keeps happening.
3. The follow/unfollow game is REAL. I’m sure you have experienced this. You wake up, reach for your phone, and check Instagram. “Ooooh!” you think. “22 new followers throughout the night!” You go to your profile, check out your new follower number, but then you pause. “If I GAINED 22 new followers, how the hell am I DOWN by 10?”
Oh yes. You’ve just encountered the legions of follow/unfollow people, and trust me, it happens to EVERYONE. How it works is this: certain Instagrammers follow hundreds of accounts in a day, and then, a few days later, unfollow all of those accounts, regardless if you’ve followed them back or not. They’re hoping that you’ll see their name pop up in your notifications, check out their profile, and follow back. People who have been around for a while may know this trick, but newer bloggers/Instagrammers may not understand what’s happening, and will be flattered that a larger account is following them. In reality, they’re just a pawn in a bigger game.
The follow/unfollow game is rampant on Instagram these days, and even well-known and established travel bloggers are doing it. It drives me absolutely bonkers, because I see the same people following me all the time. If I catch them a couple of times, I normally block them. The quick way to guess if someone is playing the follower/unfollower game is to look at their numbers; I’ve noticed a lot of the people who do it seem to have between 20 and 70 thousand followers, and they themselves are following between one and seven thousand people. But there’s no need to assume… because there’s a website that will tell you EXACTLY who is playing the follow/unfollow game. That’s right. Trust me, when I found this site, it was like Christmas came early.
It’s called Socialblade, and you can enter in any public account and see their stats in real time. Yeah, that’s pretty intense, but as someone who works with brands and tourism boards, helping them to find the right fit, I want to know what’s going on behind the scenes. Take, for example, this person. I saw this person say that they had recently hit 50k in a forum, and when asked about it, they said that… you guessed it… they post great content and use the right hashtags. Something didn’t seem right, however, because I recognised the name and knew that that person had followed me quite a few times. So I entered the account into Socialblade.
Hmm. Look a little fishy?! Like, I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t go on huge binges of following hundreds of people in a day only to delete 1,028 accounts the next. But you can see that it’s working – look at their follower list grow.
Yeah, that’s the sad truth: it really does work… that is, if numbers are all that you’re after, and if you don’t mind that a lot of people will be turned off from either following you or working with you. Even some people who sell ebooks and are paid as social media consultants (people I’ve been recommended) ruthlessly use this technique… though they obviously would never admit it.
And that’s the thing: I don’t want to be known as that person. I don’t want other bloggers and Instagrammers to think, “Oh Jesus. There’s that This Battered Suitcase person again, following me AGAIN. She’ll probably delete me tomorrow.” Or worse, I wouldn’t want people to start blocking me (like I block others). I also don’t want to have to rely on tedious – and, let’s be honest, kind of shady – tactics in order to grow my business/brand/blog/account/ego/whatever. I would much rather have a smaller number of real, genuine followers than a bunch of people I duped into following me.
As I said… the follow/unfollow game works, and a lot of people want those numbers, so they’ll continue to do it. It’s unfortunately how the Instagram industry works right now, and quite frankly, Instagram won’t stop it anytime soon; why would they? It means interaction and business for them. So if that’s how you want to grow your business – go for it, you’ll probably see results. Me? I count each follower as a real person, and I would hate to get swept up in the game and hurt people’s feelings in the process. A lot of people may be playing this game, yes, but my integrity and authenticity mean more to me than any follower count. If that means I lose out on press trips or other business opportunities, so be it – any company who only judges someone by the number of followers they have isn’t one I want to work with anyway.
And oh yeah, you best believe I tell every company and tourism board I work with about this tool. As one PR friend told me, “Hmm. If they’re doing this on Instagram, who knows what they’re doing elsewhere?”
For more on the follow/unfollow tactics, listen to Sara Tasker’s podcast here. She has some great advice for Instagrammers; I recommend listening to her other podcasts as well as signing up for her newsletter.
4. When it comes to Instagram, no matter what you want to do, there’s a bot/scam/fake account for that. Yep. You don’t think that the person in the example above is sitting there spending that much time following and unfollowing everyone, do you? Probably not. There are bots for literally everything on Instagram, especially likes, follows, and comments, and – I imagine, I’ve never actually looked into it – hundreds of sites and apps for purchasing bots. It’s out of control. I occasionally answer the bots – they’re pretty easy to spot, just look for any generic comments that don’t really match the photo, or ones that could apply to literally anything – just so I can write something a bit salty. I usually just delete them, though, and/or block the account.
There was recently a debate on Facebook between a lot of travel bloggers when it turned out an established blogger was using bots, which goes to show many people are doing this, regardless of experience or status in the blogging world. My advice? For the love of God, don’t use bots to comment. It backfires so often. Someone at work sent this example to me, which someone also pointed out in that Facebook thread:
"TERMINAL" wasn't the word I wanted to hear coming from "my dads" mouth yesterday on the phone. "My dad" was given the shocking news yesterday that he has a tumour on his liver that can't be operated on and he has 6-12 months to live!!! "My dad" and the rest of the family can't believe this has been said. To think "my dad" might not be here this time next year doesn't seem true. I'm hoping they've made a terrible mistake or mis-diagnosed "my dads" life expectancy. "My dad" was always someone I looked up to growing up. I loved being taken to the local pub with him as I watched and took part in pool games. "My dad" also invited me on trips in his truck as he made deliveries around the UK working for various companies. "My dad" always had my back whenever I got in trouble fighting as a young man. More recently I've enjoyed spending time with "my dad" as we walked around London taking pictures. These are memories I will always cherish. "My dad" is a proud man and keeps his loving emotions to himself unless he's had a few beers. Yesterday, me, and many from my family went and enjoyed a few beers with "my dad" to let him know we are here for him whenever he needs us. "My dad" needs to know he isn't alone in this and we will all hold his hand every step of the way. To MY DAD, I love you 🙏🏼
Seriously, read that caption, and then read the comments.
If you’re too lazy/TL;DR, essentially the photographer is talking about his dad’s cancer diagnosis and THIS is what the accounts (most of which, I can only assume, are using bots) commented below. YUCK. Don’t be that person.
Similarly, tons of people have bought followers in the past. I don’t think this is really the way to go anymore – people prefer follow/unfollow because at least those accounts are real – but I imagine there are still people who do it. There was a recent scam with some Russian company “gifting” a bunch of Instagrammers with thousands of likes in order to get them to sign up to some program that promised lots of new followers. Do not even touch programs like that with a ten-foot pole. Delete, block, and ignore. It’s also super easy to see if someone is buying likes; just go to one of their photos, click on the likes, and scroll down to the bottom. Usually, the bots will like the photo straightaway, so the first hundred or more will all be fake accounts (right now they all seem to have Russian names). It’s also easy to spot a fake account; it will have a private profile, not have any photos, not have any followers, but will be following lots of people.
Remember that, anytime you try to game the system or use bots, you risk having Instagram delete your entire account. I’ve seen it happen, and it ain’t pretty. Besides, good luck selling something to a sea of fake accounts. Better to have a smaller but niche audience that actually engages with you and takes your advice and/or buys what you’re trying to sell; even accounts with small followings can have a lot of impact in this industry, so don’t feel that you need to succumb to bots and games in order to succeed.
5. Authenticity will always win. If you couldn’t gather it from the examples I’ve given above, I firmly believe in authenticity and transparency when it comes to this industry. That’s why it bugs me so much when people act like they’re just extraordinarily gifted at photography and extraordinarily popular when in reality, they’re buying bots to comment and like for them and following/unfollowing everyone who uses the #travelgram tag on a particular Tuesday.
But there’s a reason certain people stick around in this industry, and others crash and burn. Buying your followers and your likes will only take you so far in this industry, and nothing – nothing – beats hard work and dedication. I spend, on average, anywhere between three and twelve hours a day working on this blog (including its social media, emails, and other freelance/consultancy work), seven days a week. And you know what? I fucking love it. There’s no way I would risk tarnishing my reputation by spending twenty bucks to buy a bunch of fake likes. Because, trust me, once someone knows that you bought likes/followers/lied about stats/faked something, that reputation will stick with you. Like it or not, people in this industry talk.
Off the top of my head, I can think of only a couple of successful travel bloggers who I know have done some dodgy things to get to where they are. The rest of them, the ones who are actually making a solid living from their blogs, and who have dedicated followings? They worked their asses off to get where they are today. As much as it’s a fast-paced industry, I don’t believe that shortcuts are the answer (tortoise, hare, all that). You have to put in the blood, sweat, and tears (and money, Christ on a cracker this blogging shit adds up) in order to see the payoffs. I mean, I’m sitting home alone drinking straight tequila on a Saturday night while analysing Instagram stats… but as I mentioned, I fucking love it.
Instagramming in Bhutan
6. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… social media should be SOCIAL. Not only does this garner you more genuine followers and get your name out there, it also appeases Instagram – the platform rewards its most active users. That’s why everyone is getting those bots to leave comments and likes, or why you’ll see someone come to your profile and like fifty of your photos in a row without actually following you (one of my favourite things to do if I see that happening in real time is to block them as they’re doing it – that is NOT the way to get noticed. It just looks like spam). My advice? Interact, yes, but do it in an authentic manner. Comment on photos you actually like or connect with. Like people’s photos, but not to a spammy or creepy degree (not gonna lie, it creeps me out when someone goes back and likes a photo from three years ago). Follow accounts you actually want to follow.
On a daily basis, we are only genuinely interacting with… maybe 50 accounts? That’s what I gather I see if I scroll through my feed. If you want to get your account out there, reach out to other people whose work you admire and leave a real, genuine comment; they’ll hopefully respond or follow back, and others might be intrigued to check out your profile, too. Instagram doesn’t want us to sit in an echo chamber, just hanging out with our closest friends… it WANTS us to go out there and meet lots of new people. You might feel like Melissa Joan Hart running around the party trying to get everyone’s signature in your yearbook, but Instagram wants us to be that person. Otherwise you’re just locked in a bathroom with Seth Green, amirite?
7. Gaining followers should be genuine. There are a few accounts who really have benefitted from the great content/right hashtags combination, and their accounts continue to grow naturally and organically. From what I’ve gathered, these people are often very talented bloggers and/or photographers whose existing followers and fans originally sought them out and gave them a nice little boost in the beginning. Think of them like celebrities, if you will – people will actively search for their names on Instagram because those people already like their content on their blogs or other social media platforms (just like I seek out Jake Gyllenhaal’s account daily. Where are you, Jake? And why does your lack of an account just make you hotter?!). A few others have really benefitted from being on the right lists – you know, those roundups of “the best” Instagrammers out there. Once you’re on a few of those, other companies and sites seem to just copy those lists. I’m regularly put on lists of UK bloggers or solo female travel bloggers, for example, and hey, I’m not complaining.
All that being said, for those of us who aren’t famous and/or regularly put on lists of top Instagrammers, we have to seek out followers in other ways. A big account sharing your photo might work (I have a story about that coming up in a point below) or doing a takeover for a company might work, too (though I once did a takeover for a large company that only netted me about 20 new followers, so I’m not sure it’s always worth the time/effort. My advice? Choose wisely and get paid to do it). So then we’re left with the tough work: choosing the right hashtags (smaller, more specific ones are better), commenting on others’ photos (thoughtful, interesting comments, and I’ve heard that Instagram ignores any comment under three words? Might just be a myth), and interacting with new accounts.
Why do we need to do all of this? Because we can’t just sit back and expect people to find us. If we’re thinking of Instagram as a business, you couldn’t open up a restaurant and expect people to just flock there. No way – you’d reach out to publications, throw an opening night party, and so on. And this just further illustrates why all these bots and games aren’t necessarily the right way to do it… because how many of those people will genuinely want to follow you, and how many are doing it to benefit themselves? At this point I honestly think 90% of the Instagram business world is just one big circle jerk of bloggers following and unfollowing each other. For real, how many people will ACTUALLY listen to what you have to say if all of those people are brought to your account through bots, through duping them into thinking that you’re following them, and/or are in the game themselves?
But we have to remember that the majority of Instagram users are not bloggers, and they do not care about the business side of things AT ALL. They just want to see nice photos and read interesting captions. And this is why I’m so proud of the followers I have. They’re real people. I didn’t pay for any of them. I didn’t spam a bunch of accounts with comments like “Nice shot!” and “I love your feed!” or just some combination of the praying hands and hearts-for-eyes emojis. I didn’t set up bots to follow hundreds of new people every day only to unfollow them all 48 hours later. As I said earlier, if that’s your business plan, and it’s working, cool. You do you.
Just one more little tip about gaining genuine followers: use Instagram stories. Again, Instagram loves when you use the platform, and they reward you accordingly. I recently used the stories function on a trip to Scotland and I noticed an uptick in followers, even though I wasn’t posting photos or liking other accounts (limited 4G up in the Highlands, it turns out). I don’t know if I’ll use this feature that often unless I’m travelling, but it might be worth a shot.
Instagramming in Nepal
8. Algorithms suck. Yep. Is there anything else I really need to add to this? Why do some accounts with small followings get tons of likes per photos, and other accounts with huge followings get almost none? Honestly, I don’t know. Almost every single person I’ve spoken to has been majorly affected by algorithms in the past year, with some people’s engagement dropping by 50% or more. Others were featured users at one point, gaining tens of thousands of new accounts in short periods of time, totally messing with their engagement.
But that’s the thing about algorithms – we never know when they will change, or how they will affect us. And that’s exactly why I think the point below is so important.
9. Instagram should be one part of a diversified business.
I’ll tell you a little story of what happened to me and my Instagram account. I started it in late 2011, and had fun posting photos from my nine months in Central and South America. This was back when nobody really used hashtags, and you took the photos straight in the app on your iPhone 4 or whatever. You also put some cool borders/filters on that, because it was a novelty to even have those borders and filters to play with in the first place.
Seriously, every photo of mine from 2012 has a border or a filter. WHYYYYY. Also check the hashtags on that photo: #travel #me #SouthAmerica. *smacks palm against head*
Fast forward a few years, and I had gained a few thousand followers. By spring of last year, I was up to nearly 8,000, and was ticking along quite nicely. This was before everyone and their mother started rampantly doing the follow/unfollow game, and my photos were obviously being shown to different people, so I was gaining about 200 followers a week.
And then it happened. The Anthropologie Apocalypse.
It was an idle day. I had just returned from Italy a week or two before, and was talking to my mum on Skype. I went on to Instagram for some reason while talking to her… and I noticed that my notifications said 100 new followers. Totally confused, I went to my profile, and I had jumped up by 500 followers. Then 600. Then 700. It was growing each time I refreshed. I started freaking out, still totally confused – my mum was still on Skype with me, poor thing – and quickly realised that Anthropologie had shared one of my photos on their account of 2.5 million followers.
The funny thing is, I didn’t even like the photo they had chosen – I had almost deleted it because I felt the yellow flowers in front looked too bright. Anyway, that photo got something like 35,000 likes on their account, and 10% of those people – 3,500 of them – started following me, too.
Holy shit, right?! Like, isn’t that amazing? That a major brand shares your photo and it actually works?!
But little did I know that Instagram would be gleefully rubbing its hands together, cackling into the night. Because for all those new followers, I got punished, and punished hard. Within 48 hours, all those followers that used to come through, the 200+ a week? They vanished. No matter what I did – even though I thought I was posting some of my best content and being active on the platform – I was lucky if I got one new follower a day. It’s like I was completely hidden from everyone else. My number stayed around 11k for months… and it has never really recovered, taking me almost a year to grow another 3k. I still have no idea what happened or why the algorithm changed so abruptly on me, but so be it.
All this to say… you cannot rely on one platform. Algorithms change almost daily, platforms are cancelled all together (RIP Vine), and, like it or not, a lot of what we’re doing right now is a fad. Instagram just happens to the medium so many people are focused on at the moment. Not only that, more and more companies and tourism boards are getting wary when it comes to Instagram – they’re starting to be aware of all of the bots and games and they’re starting to doubt the ROI (return on investment) for working with Instagrammers. As one PR friend told me recently, “I’ve crossed paths with so many fake Instagrammers that I don’t know who to trust anymore.”
I talk about this all the time with one of my closest friends, Oneika from Oneika the Traveller. She, too, has focused on growing a really genuine, engaged following on her blog and her social media, and has put in years of hard work. As she says, “While social media is flashy and can get you noticed, there is power and importance in growing and cultivating a genuine audience. As demonstrated by the swift demise of Vine, a social media platform can vanish in an instant. It’s therefore not only best to work on establishing a genuine connection with real followers for the purposes of community, but to diversify your platforms with a specific focus on those you own (i.e. your blog). That’s a much smarter business move in this ever-changing industry.”
In ten years – nay, in two years – will we even be putting this much emphasis on Instagram, or will there be something new? Who knows. But it’s not smart to put all your eggs in one basket, no matter what you want to accomplish with your business, any business. The smartest thing to do is to diversify your platform – grow your blog, vlog, and social media accounts together – and gain some skills that will make you invaluable across the board, things you could monetise if Instagram ever went belly up. Try to be the whole package. I know that it sounds exhausting, but if you want to take travel blogging seriously, you need to showcase a range of skills. Gone are the days when, if we wanted to get work in this industry, we could just post on a blog once in a while. Now we have to be writers, editors, photographers, videographers, marketers, and social media managers. We have to be that duck gliding across the water; it looks effortless from above, of course, but underneath the water we’re kicking like mad.
But hey, nobody said this industry was easy. The best bet? Put your head down and work hard, focus on bringing in loyal followers and readers, and try to be creative, authentic, and different. That way, whenever the industry shifts (which it inevitably will), you’ll be ready for anything and already ahead of the game. Numbers may get you certain things at the moment – press trips, affiliate sales, brand partnerships – but skills will last a lifetime, and can cross-transfer to a variety of careers and life goals.
I was trying to tell myself to act natural in those photos BUT IT’S HARDER THAN IT LOOKS, GUYS
10. Everyone should be welcome; comparison is the thief of joy. Listen, I tease about the “ballgown dress on the mountaintop” thing sometimes, purely because it seems like so many new accounts seems to mimic that style. You know the photos – ones that are so unrealistic and so perfectly done that they seem impossible to reproduce. The thing is… who cares?? If someone wants to hike a mountain, change into a beautiful dress, and pose for a couple of hours to get the right shot, that’s their prerogative. I admit to trying to look cute when I travel (operative word: “try”), so I don’t really get the hate geared toward people who go that extra mile to get an extraordinary photo. Photography is art, after all, and artists have always gone extra lengths to produce beautiful images. Besides, a lot of people follow certain accounts for escapism; it’s like looking at glossy photos in a magazine. I am never going to knock someone who has used their talent and their ambition to create an audience and become successful doing what they love; if they happen to be wearing a bikini while doing it, so what? Trust me, on my worst days I look like Charlize Theron in Monster, so I often put on makeup while travelling, even if I’m heading to the beach. It gives me confidence and I like how I look in photos. SUE ME.
The problem lies, however, when comparison starts to creep in. It’s easy to look at these photos and think, “Why can’t I look like that/take photos like that/go to those places?” I don’t like to be in all of my photos – I love showcasing a place on its own, too, and as I travel solo often it’s hard to get good shots of myself in a city – but I frequently see accounts that heavily feature the Instagram account holder in them. It’s also tough when, in my experience, the bigger collective accounts only share photos of women who all fit into similar demographics (young, thin, and often white). How on Earth is someone like me (ten… FINE… fifteen years older and… let’s be kind here… thirty pounds heavier) going to keep up with that? I’m never going to put up a picture of my ass on Instagram (#sandycheeks #blessed) or pose in a bikini on an inflatable flamingo while in an infinity pool (I know, I know, you’re all so disappointed). That’s just not my style. But when you see so many other accounts do the same, and when those accounts are the ones that grow quickly, I can understand why some people may become frustrated.
But that’s the thing: with 600 million active users on Instagram per month – yes, 600 million per month – there is room for everyone. Unfortunately, because of the way Instagram works, if you like a few accounts with similar photography styles, that’s what you’ll keep being shown again and again, and so you’ll fall into the trap of thinking that everyone is doing that particular thing. They’re not. There are literally millions of styles of photography and millions of body types/personalities out there, so do some research, start clicking around, and find some awesome, inspiring accounts.
The point? You do you, boo (dear God, yes, I just wrote that on my blog, take away my tequila immediately). What works for one person won’t necessarily work for you. Don’t compare and don’t copy – find your own unique style, and focus on what works for you and your audience. Wear a bikini, don’t wear a bikini, pose in your photos, don’t pose in your photos… do whatever feels right for you.
11. There is no surefire way to do anything. Nobody knows everything about this industry, not even me (you can wipe that incredulous look off your face now). Even the travel bloggers with the largest followings can always learn more and improve their skills. That’s why you get into this industry – because it’s fast-paced, exciting, and challenging. It’s also wildly unpredictable. The people who succeed will be ones who are determined, hardworking, creative, and authentic, but the paths that they take and the skills they develop will vary greatly. Those who began their blogs years ago, for example, have a huge advantage over newer bloggers, as the market wasn’t so saturated then; it would be impossible for some of the techniques that worked five years ago to work now. There’s no one right way to do something, especially something like Instagram, a platform that is run by algorithms and based off a premise that equates double-taps with popularity.
So if you have read this far and thought, “She is full of shit,” I have two things to say to you. One, get yourself another shot of tequila, because you are more than 6,000 words in and you’re a champ. Two, GOOD! We all have different opinions on what works and what doesn’t, which is the nature of any industry, and I think it’s important for us to have varying opinions. And in an industry where you can literally buy “success”, there are going to be some pretty extreme opinions.
And if you have read this far and thought, “Mmhmm, she speaks the truth,” then one, yes, do that shot of tequila and two, um, can you please come get me? I think I’m literally sinking into my couch and I’m pretty sure I got lime juice in my eye. I did NOT know I had this much to say about Instagram but I am typing at warp speed and am slightly worried about my physical and mental state right now. Anyhoo… moving along swiftly…
12. Finally, at the end of the day, you have to be happy with what you put out there. I say this in every single post I write about blogging. You have to be proud of your work. You have to love what you do. You have to feel good about the content you’re producing, nay, you have to feel GREAT. Maybe it’s because I’ve been drinking “margaritas” (read: straight tequila with a squeeze of lime in a glass with a heavily salted rim) all night but I’m going to admit that I frequently go to my own Instagram feed and just scroll through it. I love how it looks. I love looking at my own photos. Like, I don’t want to sound like Narcissus gazing into his own reflection or anything, but I’m damn proud when I look at how my photography has changed, when I reflect on where I’ve been, and when I think about all the work it took me to get to where I am today. I know that I can stand behind my content, and that I’m excited to create even more. Isn’t that the best feeling?!
Do you know how happy it made me to be able to find a spot for that bright orange wall in my feed?!
So if you’re stressing because you feel you have to follow a certain style of photography, or are worried about expressing your unique creativity, or if you’re like, fuck this, I want to delete my account all together… DON’T FREAK OUT. Just do what you want to do. Do what you’re good at. If you suck at photography, focus on other platforms or skills. Do not endlessly compare yourself to others, or think that you have to resort to buying Russian bots in order to stay in the game. There are thousands of way to navigate this industry, and you have to be happy with the path you’re taking. You have to feel good and proud of the content you’re creating, and know that you’re growing an authentic, genuine audience who will take you seriously, listen to what you have to say, and look forward to your posts.
I can so clearly remember the first time I posted on Instagram. I was lying in bed (sounds scandalous, in reality I was probably wearing a fleece onesie) and it was a snowy, cold day in Canada. Some of my non-blogger friends (i.e. my friends full-stop, because I didn’t know any other bloggers then) had already gotten accounts and were posting the odd photo. I took a picture of the dreamcatcher that hung in my window:
Could I have known how far Instagram would go, or how much it would play a role in the industry today? Hell no, I didn’t even know that this was an industry, I just liked to take pretty pictures and write long-winded posts (good thing I shook THAT habit, eh? Eh?! *cough*). Some people love spending hours a day growing their accounts and tweaking their feeds, and that’s awesome. But if you’re spending hours a day fretting about Instagram algorithms and worrying about buying bots, you should probably switch gears and try something else, or at least focus all of that energy on something that you enjoy and that you can actually control and/or grow.
The point is, I didn’t really know what I was doing back then, but I knew I liked doing it. That is, and always will be, the most important thing to remember: you have to enjoy it. Instagram is an incredible platform, one that inspires, one that creates new partnerships and friendships, and one that can highlight your hard work, but, with all things in this industry, you have to have the passion if you’re going to succeed with it and actually enjoy using it.
Now go out there and have some fun (no but seriously, also send help, I think my laptop has fused into my tights).
I’ll never not find that video funny
For more, make sure to read:
How Well Do You Know Your Influencers? (always great work by Hecktic Media)
and you can follow me on Instagram here. Oh C’MON. I had to.
What are your thoughts on Instagram? Are you an active user? Do you like it?