I guess that all of us use – or have heard of – Instagram. Well, since this social platform was acquired by Facebook in 2012, users and engagement have escalated dramatically. Today, Instagram ranks second among the social networks for number of daily logins – just after Facebook.
The way this social network was developed made it incredibly powerful for visual artists, photographers and video-makers to share their creations. Indeed, most of the interface is occupied by the image or video, while a minimum part of the screen is left for the description and comments. This setup is quite dissimilar from the one of Facebook, which gives more space to the written text compared to the visual part of the post – especially if the description is long. Thanks to this characteristic, Instagram is used by renowned photographers, adventurers, video-makers and artistic brands extensively. I think it is not by chance that the most followed brand on Instagram is National Geographic, which displays a marvellous visual collection of photographs, short videos and stories.
In my personal experience, I have been able to connect with more than 11,000 people through my page. I am proud of this achievement because this growth has been organically achieved and I have never bought a fake follower. So each follower is a real person that at a certain point in time thought that my photography was worth following. What I have noticed is that in the last few months, the level of engagement with my followers has decreased. This preoccupation was proved real by an interesting Instagram study by Quintly. This research shows that engagement has dropped by 33% on average, hitting large accounts more than the smaller counterparts. This means that if you have less than 1,000 followers, you should not worry too much. But, if you are aiming – or already have – exceeded that figure, maybe you should think carefully about recouping the lost engagement.
I will share with you a few tips I have learnt myself to keep engagement high. Before reading into the tips, you might ask yourself: what do you mean by a high level of engagement? Well, broadly speaking if you see that 5%-7% of your followers are liking your pictures, you are doing good. Anything above 10% is great, while anything below 3% is quite poor.
Tip 1: Use a Consistent Style
The main problem with social networks is that we can access million of posts in seconds and can scroll through seamlessly. Therefore, we have a fraction of time to elaborate an image and decide whether we like it or not. That is why, we should be able to give a unique identity to our photographs. So that, when our followers see our photograph, they can recognise it and say: “Oh that is a phppi’s” – for instance.
There are several ways to achieve a consistent style. You can use a consistent colour palette, consistent lighting conditions – always shooting at sunset, blue hour, etc. – you can use similar composition techniques or even focusing on one specific subject. It is up to you to find the most suitable path for you, for your photography style and for the subject you like photographing.
You might still ask yourself why different accounts have different levels of engagement even if they are very similar – e.g. similar number of followers, similar style, etc. Well, what I have noticed – and you can test it easily – is that engagement depends on which type of photography you share. Instagram users love landscape photography, adventure photography and photographs taken during the golden hour and at sunset – they love warm colours. On the other hand, street photography and portraits performer worse. However, this should not prevent you to share what you enjoy photographing. Because, how we have already said in a previous article: the only way to be consistent is doing something you are passionate about.
Tip 2: Build a Community
Too often , we see popular brands, celebrities and renowned artists, who are followed by millions and follow back just a few bunch of people. Well, this is quite natural, they are superstars! Unluckily, this will not apply to most of us – and if this applies to you, lucky you! So, I think that if you want to be known, you have to introduce yourself first. That is the reason why my objective, has always been to build a community, which means following back many of the users, who follow me.
This approach has two advantages. Firstly, by interacting with your users – liking their pictures, commenting and in-boxing them – you can build a closer relationship with them. So they will be prone to engage with you. Secondly, you follower base will be less volatile. It is quite normal to see tens of followers abandoning the ship in one day. Maybe they stop appreciating your photography, they followed you just to be followed back, they deleted their account, etc. But if you create a community with your followers, they will be more loyal and less likely to unfollow you.
Tip 3: Do not Care About Engagement.
I know, posting your photograph and seeing likes cascading is cool. I know the feeling, really. However, this mental reward has a tremendous drawback. I realised that sometimes we start posting what our followers will like, rather than what we enjoy photographing. We might devote more time to landscape photography, even if street photography is our real passion, as followers like the former most.
This trend is really dangerous for several reasons. Firstly, it is unsustainable. You cannot keep photographing what you do not like over long period of time. When the reward of likes will become the norm, you might lose the only motivation that kept us shooting something you did not enjoy. Secondly, you creativity drops. It is very difficult to keep innovating, creating and surpassing when doing something that is not spontaneous. Finally, your photography will never be as good. Due to the lack of consistency and creativity, you might not be able to express your creative potential fully.
You are better off focusing on what you really like and becoming a master of that genre, rather than pretending to be someone you are not.