It's time to refresh your Instagram strategy. Here's how

“Instagram is the fastest growing social network”

Have you heard this recently? Instagram has doubled its active users in just 18 months, and it doesn’t show signs of slowing down. Now is the time to look at it in a new light, and start being smarter about what you share.

A report by Simply Measured showed that Instagram reached 400 million monthly active users in September 2015, compared with 200 million in March 2014. There are 80 million posts uploaded to Instagram every day, and they receive more than 3 billion likes daily too. This is impressive stuff. Instagram is global too, 50% of Instagram’s new users were outside of the USA. 

While it's becoming more challenging for your content to be seen on Twitter and Facebook without advertising spend, Instagram still sees fantastic growth organically.

How can you take advantage of it? I’ve put together a step-by-step guide that will help you refresh your profile, improve your photos and build a community, now is the time!

1. Revisit the basics

Rewrite your bio

Brevity and authenticity work best on Instagram. Succinctly describe what you do and mention what people might see on your Instagram account. Instagram is a great way to offer a peek into your daily life, whether you’re an individual or a company.

If appropriate, use emojis; they add a bit of personality and split up the text. 

Creative business owner Nikki McWilliams sets a great example in her profile. She sets expectations as well as introducing herself and her business in an approachable way.

Update your profile photo

We’ll cover image style later on, and if you are going to refresh your account you’ll need a profile picture that works with your style of photography. With any social network, it is important to keep your social media picture current, even if your cheekbones look amazing in the old photo!

2. Develop a style for your images

If you only do one thing, strive to improve your pictures. Instagram is now referred to as the ‘visual storytelling network’ so it’s time to develop a consistent style and get to grips with basic photo editing. 

Create a photography style

Stick to a certain look and feel for your photos. Doing this creates a beautiful, cohesive collage of images that will attract people to follow you. It will also help you to stay on track and be strict about what level of quality your photos should be.

L'Occitane use a style that is very evocative of their French roots, their photos are vivid but rustic, and really capture what it is to be in the French countryside. What places, colours and ideas sum you up?


Approach your photography style in a similar way to creating style guides or a tone of voice document – what kind of style do you want? How should you pictures look? Pick a style that matches yourself or your organisation, as the Jamie Oliver team have done above. Some of the looks you could go for:

  • Bright, colourful and vivid
  • Muted, calm, earthy
  • Modern, minimal
  • Rugged, outdoorsy

Plan your content

When we create any digital content we split it into topic areas, to help us keep the messaging even and easily think of new ideas. You can do this with Instagram images too. For example, if you’re a men’s fashion retailer you could split your photos up into photos that create aspirations, inspire viewers, strike up conversations and convert customers.

Furniture retailer Loaf has a good mixture of content on their page that helps to sell their products but also to create a lifestyle around them. Their photos are aspirational, their recipes and food photos promote action and they regularly share photos from their customer community to stay engaged. You can see that they stick to a bright and homely style in their photography, and any wording used is black and white. 

How can you tell a story?

What are your brand values or what is interesting about your daily life? Knowing this will help you build up a content plan that is consistent and interesting. 

American workwear brand Carhartt use history and authenticity to tell a story with Instagram. They aim to show who wears their brand and where, this reinforces the lifestyle you can have with Carhartt. The imagery they use shows the ruggedness of their products, and they back this up by looking back at their heritage, emphasising their brand values.

3. Get to grips with editing

You don’t need to be an expert to use photo editing apps, but learning how to use them make a massive difference to the quality of your photos.

Instagram’s own editing tools really stepped up a gear midway through 2015. They still have filters, but it is the editing tools that you really want to concentrate on.

First of all, try to shoot your photos in natural light and do them in batches so you have a bank of photos to use through the week. When you are ready to post you can edit your photos in Instagram, tweaking the settings until it meets the style you are looking for. 

To step up to the next level, try VSCOcam. Favoured by many professional photographers using Instagram it is a powerful photo editing app that let you fine tune every aspect of your photo. You can alter brightness, contrast, highlights, saturation, colours and shadows to name a few.

It also has a huge range of filters which allow you to set a style for your photos easily. Stick to one or two of these filters, and tweak using the editing tools, to easily develop consistency in your images. This excellent guide by photographer Eats and Treats leads you through the process step by step.

4. Share meaningful stories with captions

Rather than broadcasting promotional messages, you want your captions to tell an interesting story. You have the characters to really do your image justice, how about these ideas for captions?

  • What inspired you to take this image?
  • What is happening today? How does this image relate to what is happening today?
  • Do you have a sneak peek of a new product?
  • Do you have some news? How can this be capture in an image

It is important to talk about links in captions too; although you can’t put in a live link you can say how someone can find that web page. The most popular way is to mention that the link is in your bio, and then change your URL to whatever you’d like people to click on.

Custom bit.ly links can be used in Instagram captions as long as they are easy to type into a browser. For example, for this blog we might use bit.ly/sookio-insta to give people an easy way of finding the post.

5. Break the rules on using hashtags

You don’t have to be shy about hashtags on Instagram; using a lot of hashtags is common. Put them under your caption, try to use 8-12 hashtags per post, some use up to 20. If you prefer, you can add them as a comment underneath the original post, to keep the caption area neat and tidy. 

You should also try to use long chain hashtags, rather than single words. These often tell a story and users search for them to find specific types of images

Look at the hashtag #littlestoriesofmylife – this embodies the visual storytelling approach, just simple stories from everyday life, photographed well. There are around 18,000 posts tagged with this hashtag, which is substantial but not so large that you will be drowned out. 

6. Find creative ways to use video 

Launched in 2013, Instagram videos are up to 15 seconds long, an ideal length that ensures you can convey your message whilst being brief. Just this week they announced view counts for video will be available soon, so you’ll have more to measure your success against!

Like photos, you should aim to be consistent if you are going to regularly use video. Shoot in natural light and with a handful of backdrops, and keep background noise is to a minimum. You can shoot without sound too, good for sharing image galleries.

Waitrose use video to share short recipes and tips on their Instagram page. They’re snappy and only feature simple recipes, so they are quick to watch and easy to cook. 

A video posted by Waitrose (@waitrose) on

7. Be part of the community

To grow an audience on Instagram you must engage with the community beyond your own posts. Try setting aside time each day and week to do the following:

  • Like and add meaningful comments on other people’s posts
  • Follow new people using hashtags and the explore section
  • Find ways to include people in your posts – maybe you cooked their recipe, bought their book or attended their event? Tag and mention people in your posts!

I posted this a few weeks ago, it is a good example of the kind of content that engages people well. It gives you a peek into my day; it includes other people (I have tagged the authors and the plate makers in the photo) as well as giving people some recipe ideas in the comment.  

Now that we have the long-awaited account switching on Instagram (hurrah!) it is easier to manage multiple Instagram accounts day to day, including engaging with people beyond your own account.

8. Set goals and track success

Why are you using Instagram? From a business perspective you could be looking for new customers or trying to find people to collaborate with.  

From a personal point of view, do you want to grow a blog or find work in a creative industry? Do you want to meet people?

What and how to track on Instagram

  • Followers, likes, comments
  • How fast is your audience growing?
  • What kinds of photos do your fans like and comment on the most?
  • Are you converting customers or gaining real value from Instagram?
  • Landing page performance – how many people visit from your Instagram link?

It's ok to set goals around gaining followers, but, like any other social media strategy, make sure you have broader goals to achieve.

There are a couple of apps I'd recommend to help you understand and manage Instagram more effectively.

To be smarter about how you use Instagram we’d recommend using Iconosquare. You can analyse who follows you and where they are located, who is active when and how quickly your audience are growing. This will help you post the right content at the optimal times, and also discover new hashtags and accounts.

If you want to schedule on Instagram, to our knowledge there is only one platform that actually posts for you, that is Schedugram. Others I have found still require you to manually push the post to Instagram at the right time.

Ready?

There is a lot here, and that is because Instagram is moving so fast and there is a lot to take advantage of. Take on each step at a time, and if you are only going to do one thing – improve your photos. Most things will follow from there, and you’ll start to see your community grow. Apart from anything else, it is a fantastic learning curve, which I am on too. I’m seeing my followers grow incrementally, and I’m picking up a lot of tips from the community as I go along.

We're now going to improve the Sookio Instagram page with this guide in mind, we've taken an ad-hoc approach to it until now - so we are excited to see what our own advice will do! We'll report back, do let us know how you get on too.

Want to improve your digital strategy? Take a look at our strategy page to see how we can help you.