Every Single Thing I Know About Instagram

by Brenna Holeman

Corner Room Town Hall

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.

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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.

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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. 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.

Follow:Unfollow 3

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 only to unfollow them the next day.

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. To reiterate, NO, not everyone is doing this. Don’t think that you have to play the game just because “everyone else is doing it”. That’s a total fucking cop-out.

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:


Seriously, read that caption, and then read the comments.

Instagram comments example

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.

Edit: For more on bots, this article is required reading. Seriously. If you ever considered using bots, or are (like me) fascinated/horrified by just how goddamn spammy and awful it all really is, you need to read this.

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. 

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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. There is also the influx of giveaway loops and Instagram “pods” that try to game the system and/or acquire many new followers and/or likes in a short period of time (oh, and yes, you do have to pay to join the giveaway loops). Again, if that’s your thing, go for it. I personally won’t be doing it anytime soon, though that may change in the future.

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.

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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. There’s also the new “shadowban” that’s happening (it has already affected me), which blocks certain accounts from showing up in the “explore” tab (I believe I’ve been shadowbanned because I use similar hashtags a lot).

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 be 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.

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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?!

This Battered Suitcase Instagram 4

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)

I Spent Two Years Botting on Instagram – Here’s What I Learned (seriously, read this)

This Instagram Account Made Influencer Money Posting Nothing But Free Stock Photos (a good example of just how easy it is to game the system)

What is an Instagram Shadowban, and Have You Been Affected? (a new phenomenon happening on Instagram)

Can Instagram Pods Change the Game for Users? (interesting read… but I’m still very wary of these Instagram pods, as it’s still gaming the algorithm)

Popular Instagram Bot Site Instagress Has Been Shut Down (YES!!!)

Every Single Thing I Know About Travel Blogging

Every Single Thing I Know About Social Media (The General)

When Did Travel Blogging Get So Boring?

and you can follow me on Instagram here. Oh C’MON. I had to.

Every Single Thing I Know About Instagram

What are your thoughts on Instagram? Are you an active user? Do you like it? 

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Cate March 12, 2017 - 2:03 pm

Wow, this was such a detailed post! I love Instagram, because I love photography, but I’ve never even considered or thought about most of these things before, probably because I am a rookie but also a bit blind lol. And I also have a Canon G7x that i shoot in auto with…They take great pictures dont they?! Just so you know, your instagram is great, and I love seeing each one of your pictures!

Brenna Holeman March 12, 2017 - 4:53 pm

Aw, thank you very much, Cate! Yes, I love the G7X, it’s a great camera. So glad you enjoyed the post!

MaryPat March 12, 2017 - 4:41 pm

Ok, Instagram…got it. Follow/unfollow, Russian bots, algorithms and lots of tequila. Thanks Bre, I think I understand a bit more about Instagram. Now if I could just get a new client out of it

Brenna Holeman March 12, 2017 - 4:53 pm

Ha ha! Oh dear… I hope there were a few other pointers in there that helped! Good luck 🙂

Austen March 12, 2017 - 6:12 pm

Whoa! I’ve always wondered about the follow/unfollow thing on (even my tiny account) Instagram!

Also. LOVE that video! Haha. I’m going to look up that site later.

Brenna Holeman March 12, 2017 - 6:35 pm

Yeah, it’s rampant these days… it sometimes puts me off the platform! Glad you liked the post, Austen 🙂

Marie @ To Europe And Beyond March 12, 2017 - 6:49 pm

I’m not sure what I like most about this post: your incredible wit, the discovery of Social Blade or the Can’t Hardly Wait reference.

Brenna Holeman March 12, 2017 - 6:53 pm

Ha ha ha I’m so glad you like the post, Marie! You have such a beautiful instagram account 🙂

Helen March 12, 2017 - 7:14 pm

Love it!!! Great advice and I too feel all your frustrations!

#sandycheeks HA HA HA! I might start tagging mine #saggycheeks – there’s a market for that too, right?


Brenna Holeman March 12, 2017 - 7:16 pm

HA HA HA shut it right now, Helen! And yes, I totally put that hashtag in just for you 😉 xx

Kim March 12, 2017 - 7:16 pm

I’m not a travel blogger, but I follow tons on Ig/Snapchat/fb (livin that vicarious life) and I didn’t even realize the unfollow/follow thing until one of my favorite travel bloggers from Snapchat followed me on Ig and I was like- so cool! I wasn’t following him on Ig so I immediately followed him back and then realized a couple days later he was t following me anymore. (Angry emoji) so I left a snarky comment (which was deleted) on his Ig and then unfollowed him on everything. Really gross! I follow Oneika on fb which directed me here- so happy I did!

Brenna Holeman March 12, 2017 - 7:18 pm

Aw, I’m glad that Oneika pointed you here, she’s the best! I hope you’ll stick around 😀

And yes, it is honestly out of control. It happens to me all the time, so much so that I now completely ignore who follows me. I only sit up and pay attention if someone comments a lot, or likes my posts, and if it all feels genuine. It’s sad that it’s come to this, but I suppose all industries have their ups and downs!

Thanks again for your comment, Kim 🙂

Anwesha C March 12, 2017 - 7:36 pm

i am not a photography person at all. I joined Instagram recently only to follow you and some other bloggers whose writing I admire!

Brenna Holeman March 13, 2017 - 12:43 pm

Aw, thank you very much, Anwesha! 😀

Charlie Green March 12, 2017 - 7:56 pm

Insightful post! ????
I love Instagram… I’m literally on and off it all day long!
Sadly all of the above is true and it is not as pure as we would like it to be.
Luckily I just use it to post photos to my family / friends and include the occasional (probably wrong) hashtag… but still love it ????
The bit that frustrates me the most in the inconsistency of sizes when scrolling my feed. I personally only post square photos and will probably never change.

Brenna Holeman March 13, 2017 - 12:44 pm

That sounds like a good way of looking at it, Charlie! And yes, I try to only post square photos, too… something just looks off when I try to post another shape, I guess it’s years of conditioning! 😉

Andrea Anastasiou March 12, 2017 - 8:32 pm

Argh I hate the follow/unfollow lot! Although, like you said, it works, I hate it. It comes across as so insincere. I’d rather grow my account slowly than get into all that. Thanks for this post – will definitely be utilising some of your tips.

And just a truthful side note: I love your Instagram feed 🙂

Brenna Holeman March 13, 2017 - 12:45 pm

I’m so glad that you liked the post, Andrea! It can definitely be frustrating sometimes, but I do enjoy posting photos. And thank you for the Instagram love!! 😀

Kristina March 12, 2017 - 9:37 pm

This was really great! Really helpful information for instagram users 🙂 Keep it going, I love the stuff you post! Just starting out my travelling/instagramming myself – thanks for being a trailblazer in this!

Brenna Holeman March 13, 2017 - 12:45 pm

Aw, thank you so much, Kristina! I’m really glad that you enjoyed the post… good luck with your instagram! 😀

Christine March 12, 2017 - 11:03 pm

So much good stuff in here! I really struggle with Instagram–I was a featured user by Instagram in 2013 and 2015, which means my followers exploded but not necessarily the quality kind. It’s super frustrating, especially because in this world of spambots and everyone second-guessing everyone else–I worry what people think of my follower quality or if I’ve done spammy things! And because of that, it can feel really hard to make any real progress in follower count–and like you said, it’s hard not to feel like you’re doing it wrong when you compare yourself to the bigger ones. Alas, I’m with you–I try to keep things diversified so that if Instagram goes away tomorrow, I still have something! My biggest thing with Instagram is that there are a bunch of different ways that people use it–you can be super professional and freak out over every single post and how it all works together (and yeah, probably gain 25K followers in a year) or you can not care about anything and just have fun with it and share what you love! I hope that my approach usually falls somewhere in the middle–I don’t freak out about posting every day, and I’ve realized that my “theme” of posting things is just things that I love (aka blue skies, cityscapes, colorful flowers, colorful doors, lattes and books, etc.). Great post, Brenna! 🙂

Brenna Holeman March 14, 2017 - 12:48 am

Yes, I’ve heard of a few people with the same problems after being a featured user! It’s really a shame (and I went back and added a line about it in the post, because it was something I wanted to mention but forgot). I love your photos and your blog – and yes, you’re totally diversifying! I think my approach falls somewhere in the middle, too. 🙂

Thanks for the comment, Christine, very insightful as always! x

Anne March 12, 2017 - 11:09 pm

I love all the gorgeous pictures I see on Instagram, but I’ve never really got into using it myself. I suppose I don’t understand how it all works and how to get the most out of it. I love that you’ve explained so much in this post (yes, I read to the end and no, I didn’t have any tequila). Now I’m off to check that I’m following you on Instagram.

Brenna Holeman March 14, 2017 - 12:48 am

Thank you, Anne! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

LC March 13, 2017 - 12:12 am

I watched Can’t Hardly Wait for the first time in YEARS the other night and weirdly used to have a thing for Seth Green. It was because he played the werewolf Oz in Buffy and I’ve always been a dog person.
ANYWAY great tips and I agree that there’s no point in bothering too much with anything, if you don’t enjoy it. I find Instagram irritating due to all the negative reasons mentioned, but like Facebook and really love Pinterest, so definitely see a better return from them (due to the hours I pour into each of those platforms).

Brenna Holeman March 16, 2017 - 4:30 pm

I love that movie so much, even if Jennifer Love Hewitt annoys the heck out of me and there are so many weird moments that wouldn’t fly in a modern movie. I have to say that Seth never did it for me, though, ha ha…

Thanks a lot for your comment and so glad that you liked the post! And yes, totally see the hours spent/better return ratio… 🙂

Kate C March 13, 2017 - 5:06 am

Ok, this was fun to read. Your writing style is really charismatic. Thanks for the tips! I’m not on Instagram for any fame or business, just a gal with years of travel photos she’d like to share, but I can definitely use a number of the things you’ve mentioned.

And those bots? Yeah…I used to manage a professional Instagram for a children’s boutique I owned, and the bot comments were hilariously easy to spot ????

Brenna Holeman March 14, 2017 - 12:48 am

Thank you so much, Kate, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! And yes, the bots are out of control… 🙁

Rachael March 13, 2017 - 5:48 am

I love this post! I actually got roped into a “follow/unfollow” group a few months ago started by another blogger, and I said yes, without really having any idea what it was. Anyway, the idea was that we as a group would follow the last 100 followers from another instagram at the same time, which apparently “gets you noticed”. Honestly, soon after I realised how fake this was and i’ve left the group. It actually woke me up to feeling a bit “blah” about the whole thing, and i’ve been totally unmotivated to post to my blog instagram page for a while now because I just don’t feel any connection with the followers on that account. I’m sticking more to my personal account now, and definitely more aware of the fake followers and bots.


Brenna Holeman March 16, 2017 - 4:31 pm

Oh god, I hate groups like that! I’m going to talk about them in the Facebook post. I do understand their value from time to time (for new bloggers who want to share post, etc) but there are some that are just out of control.

Glad you liked the post, Rachael! 🙂

Chris @BoomingOn March 13, 2017 - 6:45 am

Thanks for the tips and info, Brenna. I got way past the 6,000 word mark, and even without a drop of tequila. Now to continue with my internal debate – is this Insta thing ruling my life, or do I actually like it?? I certainly can’t abide those pesky bot comments of which you speak. Cancer diagnosis – super!!

Brenna Holeman March 14, 2017 - 12:50 am

Sometimes I feel the same way… do I love it or hate it?! Thanks for the comment, Chris!

The slow pace March 13, 2017 - 10:28 am

I’ve loved reading this post! I discovered your blog with the fantastic post about blogging being boring and this one is even better. I have possibly the less followed Instagram account ever (and don’t get me started on Facebook and Twitter) but I looooooooooove Instagram. I do believe Instagram is like highschool and popularity is key. But I’ve always been the chubby girl with the glasses who just loves doing what she loves doing. And even with just a bunch of followers I love posting nice content. And I comment and follow and get anxious sometimes about why nobody follows me, but then I’m shy sometimes and I don’t want to overshare, most of the times I’m insecure… See? Highschool all over again. And discovering people buying likes and follows was like discovering that the most popular girl in my class was wearing pads in her bra all the time! Oh the circle of life…
I’d love if you could post more about the industry. I really enjoy reading all you have to say about it!

Kate C March 13, 2017 - 4:36 pm

You had me at chubby girl with glasses! I zipped over to Instagram and found your account post haste ????

Brenna Holeman March 16, 2017 - 6:17 pm

Yep – it is TOTALLY like high school sometimes, and it can be infuriating. I laughed out loud at your comment about the bra, though! 🙂 It sounds like you are doing what you want to do, and that you are loving Instagram, so that’s all that really matters in the end! Years from now, we won’t remember the likes or the lack of likes. We’ll remember if we enjoyed how we spent our days.

Thanks for your comment! 🙂

Cassandra March 13, 2017 - 2:27 pm

Yes to all of this, thanks for sharing!

Brenna Holeman March 14, 2017 - 12:44 am

Thank you, Cassandra! 😀

Linda March 13, 2017 - 6:21 pm

Wow – I missed sharing that tequila with you, Brenna. This was, as usual, brilliantly written: so informative and FUN! It brought back lots of memories of you and me and Instagram – good times!? Be assured that on our travels together I will continue to be your selfie stick for as many takes as it takes, in spite of my pesky crooked eye ; ]]

Brenna Holeman March 14, 2017 - 12:45 am

Ha ha, the crooked eye!! We’ll be sharing tequila in some pretty exciting places soon 🙂 Thank you for always being my photographer xoxo

sheloveslondon March 13, 2017 - 6:26 pm

I’ve got two instagram accounts – one for personal / my blog / mates, and another just to keep a nice record of my travel photos from the last 10 or so years. And god, the follow / unfollow thing has been driving me mad on my travel instagram account. It is RIFE. Honestly, who’s got the time or self delusion for all that.

Anyway this is probably the most honest and useful post I’ve read about Instagram, and also proof that good things can come from tequila.

Brenna Holeman March 14, 2017 - 12:45 am

Ha ha! Love that last line, and I obviously agree re: the tequila 😉

And yes, it’s out of control. I can’t stand it!

veena March 13, 2017 - 6:34 pm

This is such a great post, even for those of us who use Instagram for fun and not for business. I agree that the follow / unfollow business is extremely annoying, and I always laugh when I see the same names pop up from time-to-time. I guess it does work for some, but it is so disingenuous.

I also want to say that one of the things I most admire about you is that you do take the time to interact with your readers / followers and to respond thoughtfully and graciously to all of us, and that speaks a lot to your genuineness. I know how busy travel bloggers are, and I know you are getting thousands of messages across all of your platforms, and it always means a lot to receive a response. So thank you for that xx

Brenna Holeman March 16, 2017 - 6:19 pm

Agreed – it is so disingenuous! I can’t stand it…

And thank you so much, Veena! That is really so kind of you to say. I love the community of people in the travel world so it’s so much fun for me to chat to everyone. 🙂 If someone takes the time to write a comment, I want to take the time to write back. I wouldn’t have the career that I do without people like you, so it’s me who should be thanking you!!! 🙂 x

veena April 12, 2017 - 6:20 pm

I often get likes and random follows / unfollows because of certain hashtags I use, but this was a first for me: I posted a picture last week of a banner at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which is a hospital here in Memphis that treats childhood cancer and other catastrophic diseases. They are unique for a number of reasons, one of which is that no family ever has to pay for their child’s treatment, so all they have to focus on is helping their child get better. There are a number of fundraising events throughout the year, the biggest of which is the St Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend every December. I participate as a St Jude Hero, so I fundraise as part of a team in addition to running. Last Friday I was invited to attend a breakfast at St Jude as part of the kickoff for this year’s event, so I took a photo of a banner that says “Let’s End Childhood Cancer. Together” and posted it to Instagram. On Monday, I woke up to a notification from Instagram that someone had commented on that photo to say “Living the life!” and the first thing I thought of was this post; it was just so ridiculous that I had to share. Thanks for reading this ridiculously long response 🙂

Brenna Holeman April 12, 2017 - 6:35 pm

Oh. My. God. How ridiculous is that?! Shame on people who use bots and who don’t think about the kinds of photos they’re commenting on… wow. Thanks for sharing, Veena!

Rika | Cubicle Throwdown March 14, 2017 - 3:12 am

This was spot-on Brenna…I read every word! As someone who has never bought any followers, I’m okay with a few hundred people on each of my social media platforms who know who I am and cared enough to click a like/follow button. I’d rather have that than 30,000 bots. I keep my Instagram private for that reason – I won’t accept a request from anyone who doesn’t look like a legit user. So I’ve been able to cultivate a nice community on there who actually care about what I’m posting and don’t have to scroll through spam.

Brenna Holeman March 16, 2017 - 6:20 pm

That’s so awesome! It sounds like you have a great thing going. 🙂 Thank you so much for reading the post and for commenting… I always really appreciate your comments and your support!

Sandra March 14, 2017 - 8:55 am

A gazillion times this: “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.” This is so important in this industry!

Brenna Holeman March 16, 2017 - 4:36 pm

Thank you, Sandra! So glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

Lucy March 14, 2017 - 9:12 am

I have SO MUCH LOVE for this post. I’m going on a similar arc at the moment, in that I never wanted to write about blogging for bloggers, but that kinda content is just pouring out of me in reaction to the multitudes of “travel blog success following this outdated blueprint in 20 days!!” crap that’s out there right now.

My number is FAR smaller than yours on Instagram (only about 1200 followers) but I’m comfortable with it. Funnily enough, I still get to work with brands who’ve found me through IG sometimes, because they can see the quality of what I post, and the authentic engagement I receive.

I still get the damn bots (I sometimes call them out actually, which always amuses me!), and the stupid follow/unfollow crap though so I am forever indebted to you for introducing me to Socialblade!!

Brenna Holeman March 16, 2017 - 5:46 pm

Absolutely, thankfully there are some brands and companies who understand that it’s not always about the numbers (and that numbers can so easily be faked). I have also started calling people out for follow/unfollow… especially those that claim to be amazing Instagrammers or, worse, people who sell ebooks on how to gain followers (highly doubt they’re revealing their true techniques). It’s ridiculous!!

Anyway, thanks for the comment and so glad that you liked the post! 🙂

Elle Croft March 14, 2017 - 5:42 pm

This is such a great post – and I totally agree – I’m so tired of people saying they just post consistently good content. There’s SO much more to it than that, and you’ve given a great overview of all that’s truly involved!

Brenna Holeman March 16, 2017 - 4:32 pm

Aw, thank you so much! Glad you enjoyed it 😀

Ms. C March 14, 2017 - 8:14 pm



Brenna Holeman March 16, 2017 - 2:03 pm

Aw, thank you! 🙂

Marlee March 15, 2017 - 10:37 am

Thanks for this – it was i-opening, har har. But seriously, I never knew most/any of this; wow! I commit the ultimate Insta crime – I don’t hashtag. I know, it kind of defeats the purpose, but I really only use it so my friends and family can follow along on my travel adventures and so that I can follow my favourite accounts: travel and comedians. Worst Instagramer ever.

Brenna Holeman March 16, 2017 - 4:33 pm

Ha ha – I like that pun! And no way, best instagrammer… you’re doing exactly what you want to do, which is all that matters in the end. 🙂

chewy March 15, 2017 - 7:26 pm

Thanks for such great advice! I love Instagram, but I do have a little bit a of a love/hate relationship with it. I try not to get sucked into caring about the numbers, but every so often I start to feel sad about it. That’s when I know I need to put down my phone and just let it be!

Brenna Holeman March 16, 2017 - 4:34 pm

So glad you liked the post, Chewy! Thanks for your comment 🙂

Adri March 16, 2017 - 1:23 pm

A friend sent me your post and out of the many dozens of articles I’ve read about Instagram and followers and engagement, yours is by far the best. And I’ve sincerely read a lot… Although it took me 2 cups of coffee and 2 cups of tea (no tequila on Thursday before noon), it was totally worth it. I even bookmarked it and will come back to it every now and then.

I guess what I am trying to say is, rock on! I think our digital world needs many more original and genuine influencers such as you and I am so glad I found you. Keep doing what you’re doing, you’ve got a brand new follower 🙂 (not a bot).

Cheers from Transylvania!

Brenna Holeman March 16, 2017 - 4:35 pm

Aw, thank you so much, Adri! I’m really glad that you enjoyed the post and that you found it useful. And ok, I’ll let you off the hook for the lack of tequila 😉

Thanks so much for your comment!

Ryan March 19, 2017 - 11:21 pm

Thanks for your insights. I sort of knew about the follow/unfollow game (thats why I don’t have a personal account on IG) but I had no idea another industry has sprung up around it. If IG can’t get a control on it they they are going to start losing engagement. I have noticed with my blog (which is certainly more anaemic than I would like) that I had follows from people but when I check a couple of days later they had unfollowed so, like you, I don’t really pay attention to the figures.

As a business should I perhaps be spending more time on Pinterest to drive traffic? My problem, like so many others I imagine, is time. I wish I had more of it but holding down a full time job while trying to get started in this new blogging world; coming up with and laying out/editing content on top of learning a little bit of coding, is taking up all my time and I have precious little left for IG let alone getting started in the murky world of Pinterest boards. I wish I had time for both but currently its one or the other.

The other thing I’ve taken from this post? I clearly need to get my writing to the level where I can create something as well thought out as this on a bottle of tequila.


Brenna Holeman March 20, 2017 - 9:34 pm

Hey Ryan, thanks for your comment! It’s definitely difficult to do both a full-time job and run a full-time blog, that’s for sure. I’ve been through it and it’s not pretty! I would definitely say to spend some time on Pinterest as that’s a great way to drive traffic to your blog – in my experience, MUCH better than Instagram in that regard. It has much better ramifications for your blog in the long run than Instagram, which is starting to feel almost too trendy/out of control. Just my two cents!

And ha ha re: the tequila. It helps that I’ve been writing (and drinking) for many, many years! 😉

Steven Rocks March 24, 2017 - 8:58 pm

Really great article on Instagram! Thank you for sharing with us.

Brenna Holeman March 26, 2017 - 3:51 pm


Suzanne April 17, 2017 - 5:43 pm

Great post that makes me feel so much better about my account. Like you I was ticking along quite nicely, lots of likes and comments. New followers – all was good. Then like a flick of a switch my likes tanked from 700 on each post and rising in January to today where I am lucky to see 300 and a holding position on new followers stuck at 10.2k. I have tried everything to get those likes and new followers there – interacting, commenting, liking, hashtags, change of times, change of frequency. Sadly I even succumbed to low grade manual f/uf in a desperate bid to boost some interest but not the full on 1000’s (I have a life and a hate of BOTs)!! I really feel like giving up and focussing on pinterest and spending the time I would have wasted on IG on my blog on my terms instead! This weeks plan is to go through who I follow and really focus on interacting with them and try and get my community back.
Off for some gin ? sorry about the rant!!

Eva April 28, 2017 - 10:34 pm

Wow, this is a lot of information. I am fairly new to blogging and instagramming, and I have noticed that follow/unfollow game already. I noticed what you mentioned, it is mostly profiles with very low following numbers, so I am just not following these back anymore as it will make me look like I am a follow/unfollow person, because I “hunt” them and unfollow them again too. It is so annoying!
Well anyway, thanks for the post, this helped me to understand things re instagram a little better.

JaMeka July 6, 2017 - 10:14 pm

I purposely came to your site to look for an insightful post about blogger struggles because I love your insights. Thank you for writing this! I am so frustrated with Instagram and almost quit last week. In fact I have very little inspiration for it over the last few days and it’s slowly creeping in to my blog – not feeling inspired to blog anymore. My account has been stuck around the same number for almost 3 weeks now. Most of the new followers are doing the follow/unfollow game so there is very little growth now (maybe 2 genuine followers per week lately) I don’t understand what caused the sudden limbo of followers. I haven’t done anything differently – just posting what I always post. Maybe the algorithm changed again? I don’t know but I needed to read your post and good to know there are REAL bloggers out there on Instagram who aren’t all about the numbers game 🙂

Emily August 23, 2017 - 1:47 am

I LOVE your candor! I only recently started on Instagram and it’s definitely hard not to compare yourself to other accounts. And once I figured out how some bloggers are getting tons of followers in such shady ways, it almost made me not want to play the Instagram game at all. I think you’re very right about focusing on real engagement with accounts you actually enjoy. I’ve found some blogs I really love that way (yours, for example!) It’s reassuring to know there are successful bloggers doing things in a genuine way. Thanks for the advice!

Clazz October 5, 2017 - 1:15 pm

Wow, this is the best post I’ve read about Instagram and all its frustrations! Thank you. I 1000000% agree with your point about putting all your eggs in one basket. Instagram, even blogging as a whole, how do we know what the industry will be like in a few years? I only started putting time into Instagram this year and get so frustrated with it all if I’m honest, the fact I gain 20 followers one day and lose them the next, the fact people who have built up a fake following find success from it; and the one thing that keeps me happy putting time into blogging is people like you. I love writing and I love sharing my travels, but it’s all casual and I never wanted it to become a chore, which it is becoming increasingly, especially with the multitude of similar content out there. But it’s blogs like yours that I still love reading because you’re great at what you do and most importantly your honesty goes a long way.

Brenna Holeman October 5, 2017 - 3:54 pm

Thank you so much, Clazz! I’m so glad that you are enjoying the blog, and it sounds like you have a great attitude toward blogging yourself. 🙂

Cari March 13, 2018 - 2:28 pm

I just stumbled upon your article in an aimless search of Google on “how to deal with the follow/unfollow” issue, and I just have to say, “Thank you!” This is the first article I have found that hasn’t sugar-coated the issue, made it an “everyone is doing it, so it’s ok” sort of thing, and not once was I made to feel like I was doing something wrong (like so many other “How to Grow Your Instagram” articles). I just wanted to say that this Instagram newbie appreciated it! Oh, and I am still running into pretty much every issue you mentioned above (follow/unfollow, algorithms, “check out my page” comments) in March 2018 – it can definitely be emotionally exhausting.

Coralie May 11, 2019 - 3:03 am

I’m so glad I took time to read this post, with the wealth of information you’ve shared here. You’ve shone a light into some of the dark recesses of Instagram for me and given me some valuable tips for things I can do to make a start in this challenging game. Thank you for a fabulous guide.

Kirby June 12, 2020 - 8:20 pm

Hi, from one Haligonian to another! Really insightful and detailed post, thank you for sharing! As someone who is really just starting on their blogging journey, I appreciate the honest advice. I would love to read a post about how you developed your photography skills and what type of camera you use (if you haven’t written it already). Hope you get back to traveling soon! All the best, Kirby.

Faye September 13, 2020 - 1:55 am

HAHAHAHA! YOU DO YOU BOO! My husband says that to me when I’m doing something that requires him looking at me with doubting yet loving eyes… I read a lot of travel blogs and yours genuinely made me laugh out loud. I wonder if you ever go back and proof read or just let it flow. Either way, it’s BRILLIANT! <3

Brenna Holeman October 15, 2020 - 6:17 pm

Aw, thank you so much, Faye! I do try to just let the writing flow and change very little in editing, because I like to have a conversational tone. Thanks a lot for the comment 🙂

ANUKRATI DOSI October 25, 2021 - 1:39 am

I so much hate the follow/unfollow game! Although it works, I hate playing it now. I would rather let my account grow my account slowly than gain insincere followers.


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