I joined Instagram in mid-2015 as an experiment, and it’s been more than I expected it to be. These are my discoveries — see if they help you decide whether or not to add yet another social network to your author kitbag.
What is Instagram?
A social network where people post photos with captions, all day every day.
Unlike Pinterest, where people post other people’s images, Instagram is primarily about sharing your own photos.
You can access it from a computer if you use fancy apps (Instagram seems to actively resist posting other than from a phone, so prepare for it to be hard). Some people share pics they’ve taken on fancy cameras, and they are gorgeous.
But it seems to be designed to work best with smartphones. So you can take a picture on your phone, then immediately share it to the world.
Why I joined
Twitter has been my social network of choice since 2011. It has helped me form lots of friendships with other writers and editors, as well as strategic alliances that have been a huge boost to my work. See this post for links to all my articles about Twitter.
But it hasn’t been a place to meet readers, nor was I using it for that.
After I published my debut novel Poison Bay in December 2014, I finally acknowledged that I’d have to do something about a Facebook presence. (Stick with me, I’m getting to Instagram!)
Everyone says Facebook seems to be the best network to help us connect with readers. They’re probably right.
So I put on my earnest face and set up a Facebook page for Belinda Pollard – Author & Speaker and puzzled over what to post to it.
I write mystery novels set in wild locations in Australia and New Zealand, and dog books. So I figured content about nature, Australia, New Zealand and dogs would be the right kind of content to appeal to people with whom I might share common interests. A subset of those people might like my books.
- I hunted for other FB pages posting great content about these topics, that I could repost.
- I started a new habit of looking for interesting Australiana type stories on my favourite Australian news network, and shared those.
- But I also wanted to share some original content.
- I wanted it to be visual, because all the stats show that visual works better these days, and besides, I’m a visual person myself.
- I figured photos of my dogs or nature could be a good place to start. And some of my research trips.
- I have loved photography since my teens, although I am strictly an amateur.
- I learned that I could post direct to my FB page via Instagram, simply by setting up the link. (Check out this page for the instructions on how to do that, from Instagram.) Facebook owns Instagram. Facebook loves Instagram. Facebook settings favour Instagram posts, so they display beautifully.
So I set up an Instagram account and entered another strange new world where I was a gauche newcomer who didn’t know any of the rules! (sound familiar to anyone else??)
I used the same name I use on Twitter: @Belinda_Pollard. I figured that would make it easier to share the one username wherever I went.
6 months later, I only have a small following, and I follow only a small number.
And I’m very happy with that.
Are you surprised??
These are some results you might find instantly meaningful:
- I’ve met journalists who have accepted review copies of my book.
- I’ve met bookstore owners who are now stocking my books.
- A couple of people I’ve met have bought my book.
The real results
The things I listed above almost feel like just side effects. It’s hard to explain, but I’m no longer on Instagram for the “book benefits”.
I’m on Instagram, for Instagram.
- I love looking at other people’s gorgeous pics. I’m a visual thinker. Beautiful visuals nourish my brain in a particular way, and boost my creativity.
- I also love to see what daily life is like for other people. It fascinates me. Always has. (A favourite port of call in a foreign country is always the supermarket. 😉 )
- If someone “likes” one of my pics, I check out their account. If I really like the look of what they’re posting and it’s something I want to see every day, I will follow them — even if there’s little chance they will follow me back. I’m not on Instagram to get lots of followers. (Even just typing that feels weird because of all the “numbers, numbers” hogwash we’re fed by some social media boffins.)
- I don’t automatically follow back if someone follows me. It has to be content I want to see, because I do actually look at my feed on Instagram!
- After 6 months’ sad experience, I definitely don’t follow back people who are salesy on their account, and I’ve unfollowed some of those. If they run a business but post genuine pics, that’s fine with me. I follow a laundromat and a moving van, and enjoy both accounts. But if someone posts pics of sunsets or their kids and all the captions are about getting me to buy something completely unrelated, nuh-uh.
- I love interacting with people who comment on my pics. And I comment on their pics. And we all enjoy some beauty together. Or our pets. Or some laughs.
- The single most useful thing about Instagram for my author platform is the ability to easily post original visual content to my Facebook page.
What I post
- My dogs.
- Sunrises. (*cough* in winter, that is, when it rises later.)
- Hiking pics (relevant to my novels).
- Flowers in my garden, or that I see on my daily walks.
- Sometimes, me — speaking at a library, or celebrating my mother’s birthday, or having coffee with a friend. (I was interested to discover that pictures of people seem to get a lot of likes. Maybe it’s that people like to connect with other humans. I had to get past my fear of not looking my best, however!)
- Very occasionally, I post pics of my books, but usually only if there’s a good excuse, like when my new book was delivered (see below). And even then I worked my dog and myself into the pic so it wasn’t all about the book. 😉
How it works
There are many professional photographers on Instagram, taking stupendous photos on all sorts of cameras, and then editing the daylights out of them (or, perhaps, into them).
But there’s also plenty of people like me who just have a smartphone in their pocket, and the will to use it.
Every now and then, I will share an old pic — like the day I was rummaging in boxes and found a gorgeous pic of my dog that ended up becoming the cover image for Dogged Optimism: Lessons in Joy from a Disaster-Prone Dog (published Dec 2015). It was an old glossy print, and I actually just took a photo of it using my smartphone — the lazy person’s scanner!
However, I mostly just use Instagram the straightforward, easy way.
- I take a pic on my smartphone. (In my case, an iPhone 6+)
- Sometimes I edit it slightly, for example, to make the horizon level, or to crop it. I rarely use the overly intrusive filters available in the app. I suspect the old journalist in me likes to show things as they are, as much as possible. 🙂 (Some people do lovely things with filters, however, so I’m NOT saying “don’t use filters”. I can see how they could be especially effective for writers of steampunk or romance…)
- Sometimes I share a video. You can share up to 15 seconds, and the app allows you to trim a longer video.
- I write a caption. Some of them are thoughtful. Some are slightly poetic. Many are silly. Probably none of them are going to set the world on fire.
- On a new line, I add hashtags. Lots of hashtags. If anyone used that many hashtags on Twitter, I would make a frowny face. But I’ve discovered that the number of likes an image gets (= human connections!) is directly proportional to the number of hashtags I’ve added. And the quality of the hashtags I’ve selected.
- I tried sharing to Twitter, but it just posts as a link since Instagram and Twitter “broke up”, and I don’t think there’s much point if the image doesn’t appear directly in the feed, so I stopped doing that. If I want to share the pic to Twitter, I do it directly from my camera app on my phone.
- I decide whether to share this particular image to Facebook or not.
- I hit share.
- Then I usually go to my FB page, and share it from there to my personal FB profile, usually with another comment directed to my FB friends. (But that’s just because my FB page is relatively new and doesn’t have a lot of likes yet, and I’m letting them build slowly and organically rather than courting them.)
- All done!
Things that seem to make a difference
- I take a bit of trouble with my photos, trying to adjust the framing, paying attention to light, focus etc.
- Mostly, I post square pics, because they fill the screen well while still showing the caption, and they display well on Facebook. I discovered that vertical pics shrink in a FB feed!
- I try to use the “rule of thirds” either when I take the photo or when I crop it. The app shows a grid over your photo when you edit it before you post it.
- I try to write quirky captions that are not too long – without obsessing over it!
- Reading this article about how two people met via Instagram soon after I joined made me realise that conversing with people on Instagram was a thing. So I comment on other people’s photos, and I answer their comments on mine. It felt odd at first, but it’s easy now, and has generated connections with real people.
- I try not to post too many pics. No more than 1, 2 or maybe sometimes 3 a day, and when I post more than one, I make sure they are hours apart. I don’t like seeing a big clump of pics in my feed from the same account, so I avoid doing that to other people.
I add LOTS of hashtags. It’s been the single most useful thing I’ve stumbled upon in terms of getting more likes and connecting with more people. People really do use hashtags on Instagram to find photos they like. Even I do!
A note about hashtags:
- If you start typing a hashtag, the app will suggest related hashtags, with a number beside it to show how widely that hashtag is used. So for example if I type #dog it might also suggest to me #dogs, #dogstagram, #dogsofinstagram, #instadog, etc… and I only have to tap on those other hashtags to add them to my post.
- There are hashtags about everything: clouds, sky, trees, sunrises, sunsets, sunrises-and-sunsets, sea, colours. (I thought #pink was a stupid hashtag, until I tried it myself.) Oh, and books too. (Is that why we were here??)
- If you want to find popular hashtags that would be relevant to what you’re posting, check for hashtags on the bottom of others people’s pics that you love. Just tap the hashtag in their caption, and you’ll immediately see what everyone else is sharing.
- I start the hashtags on a new line, so they don’t crowd the caption. And I don’t use any hashtags in the actual caption, so it’s easy to read the caption. I just think it looks better this way, but I also don’t want to confuse people on FB, where hashtags are not the big thing they are on Instagram.
Things you could share
- Your books.
- Your TBR pile.
- Your writing room, if it doesn’t look like mine. 😉
- Funny or artistic pics of your writing process.
- Your pets. (Cats lying on keyboards while authors try to write are an Instagram thing.)
- Your research trips.
- Your cooking triumphs or disasters.
- Your environment. Your location might be mundane to you, but is it exciting to someone else?
- Things you see that remind you of things in your books.
- Writing conferences.
- Book launches.
- Book signings.
You can also share directly to Twitter, Flickr and Tumblr, but I only bother with Facebook, myself.
- I’ve discovered over time that I’m on Instagram for Instagram. I like pictures.
- If you don’t like pictures, probably don’t bother with Instagram.
- It’s easiest and fastest with a smartphone. If you don’t have a smartphone, probably don’t bother, unless you’re REALLY keen.
- I’ve made some connections with bookstores, journalists and readers, but they are side effects, not the main event (for me, that is – your mileage may vary).
- For me, the biggest “author benefit” of Instagram is that it’s an easy way to share original visual content to my Facebook author page, in a way that Facebook likes and prioritises. (Facebook owns Instagram.)
- I’ve discovered hashtags are a big thing on Instagram – the main way of discovering new photographers.
- I don’t add hashtags into my captions. I put them on a new line below my captions so that the caption is easy to read.
- I comment on other people’s pics, and answer their comments on my own.
Are you on Instagram? How have you found it useful? Please share your tips. I want to hear them!