I will be the first to tell you that the number under your name does not matter.
What matters is that you have an engaged following that eventually converts into paying clients.
But, this is social media after all, and with social media there is a little something called “social proof” that does have some value.
“Social proof is considered prominent in ambiguous social situations where people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior, and is driven by the assumption that the surrounding people possess more knowledge about the current situation.
The effects of social influence can be seen in the tendency of large groups to conform to choices which are either correct or mistaken.” ~Wikipedia
For example, imagine that you are trying to choose a dinner location and you walk up to two restaurants that are side by side. One is bustling with people and the other is nearly vacant. You are likely to assume that the one that has a line out the door is better.
This is the same phenomenon with social media. A photographer who has 10K followers appears to be more legitimate than one who has 100 followers. It’s just the way our brains work as consumers. We are more likely to hire someone who has more social proof of their expertise.
I have only had a professional Instagram account for about 18 months and in those 18 months I have gained nearly 10K followers, booked high quality paying clients, and used the platform to build my personal brand to new heights.
Now here is the thing, all numbers are not created equal. You don’t want a huge number of unengaged followers. Your goal should be to have followers who show up in your feed by liking your images and commenting on your posts. Followers who are looking forward to seeing what you have to share.
The algorithm loves engagement so that is always my goal and it should be yours too. The more engagement you get, the more you will show up in people's feeds and in hashtags (more on hashtags in a bit,) which in turn will help you gain more followers.
I have paid close attention to my posts and have tracked which do really well and which engage more of my followers and gained more followers.
I am going to share with you the five simple things that I did to gain my first 10K followers.
If you are a skimmer, the most important tip is number two so don’t skip that one!
Curate with high quality photos. Gone are the days when subpar snapshots work for Instagram. The photos you post MUST be high quality. Notice I didn’t say they need to be taken with a professional camera. It is okay to use your iPhone, but you must edit the images and make sure they are on brand and portfolio worthy. Think of Instagram as a portfolio. Every photo you post should be high quality.
Show YOU in your feed. Yes, your actual face. Friend, this is the MOST IMPORTANT tip. This is the one that will for sure grow your following. Every time I post an image of me I get twice as many likes and twice as much engagement which in turn brings me more followers. Why is this? It is because we live in such a disconnected world. People hide behind pretty photos of their life and work. We want to know that there is a human, a beating heart, behind those squares. Don’t believe me? Try it. Post a photo of yourself and share a few things about yourself. Your engagement will go up and you will get a ton of likes. I literally guarantee it. My goal is to have a personal photo at least every nine posts.
Photos alone aren’t enough. You have to have engaging content. The easiest and most genuine way to do this is to speak your why and bring value. Every time I post I ask myself this: Am I speaking my why or providing valuable content for my followers? I tell a little story and share my heart or I give a little tip. This strategy ensures that your followers are looking forward to your posts because your posts are literally serving them.
Use hashtags with intention. When you are building your following you have to use hashtags. There really isn’t any way around it. You have to do some research. I suggest first starting with area specific hashtags. I have booked numerous clients directly from Instagram just off of my area specific hashtags like #seattlefamilyphotographer. Then, to broaden your reach, use hashtags that are specific to your image like #baby or #maternity. Then, go super broad and pick a few hashtags that will get you seen on a larger scale like #canon or #nikon. Don’t just randomly use hashtags. Make sure you are thinking about what your goals are and where you want to be seen on the platform.
Use calls to action. People don’t know what you want them to do if you don’t tell them. I use simple calls to action like “double tap if you think this baby is cute.” Or, “tell me where you are from in the comments.” Or if you want them to go to the link in bio then tell them to go there. Don’t believe me, try one of these calls to action. You will immediately get more engagement on that post. I promise.
There you have it, friend. Using those five strategies, I have grown an engaged Instagram following that has converted to paying photography and educational clients. These strategies are simple and sincere. I hope you will give them a try. Oh, and when you do, head to our private Facebook community and let us know how they are working. We would love to know!