Let’s just start by saying I hate taking pictures.
I’ve never been the person who is like, “wait, we have to take a picture” during every occasion.
I also don’t think I’m photogenic.
Andddd, I like to keep my private life private.
Even though I’m crazy active on Instagram, you’ll never see me post the intimate parts of my life.
Howeverrrr… I LOVE me some Instagram.
Compared to any other platform, Instagram is simple, focused and created to connect people.
Now before you skip past all of this to the tips, I want you to remember something super important…
Your following doesn’t matter if your audience isn’t engaged.
That means they should look forward to hearing from you, respond to your posts and be excited to see what you’re up to.
You should become their new addiction.
Just remember, this isn’t a magic pill where you’re going to scroll through this blog post and your following is going to magically start skyrocketing.
Consistency is a big part of it so if you hate Instagram, don’t use it…
Pick the platform you actually like and spend your time there.
Edit Your Profile
First things first, no matter what you do, if your profile and feed are a hot mess, people will click away faster than you can say ‘selfie’.
When someone taps on over to your page, they should be able to tell within 3 seconds what you’re about.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what my Instagram looks like:
All of these little hacks make the difference between someone scrolling past my name and someone going, “oh, who’s she?”
Oh, and I feel like this should go without saying but I’m going to say it anyways…
If you’re planning to use your Instagram for business and to grow your account, your account needs to be public.
Let’s break these down:
Use a photo of yourself, not your logo.
Think about it this way… We get 5,000 sales messages a day so why would someone want to sign up to get more commercials? They don’t.
That’s why people want to connect with people, not businesses.
Ahem, even if your target audience is businesses,
BUSINESSES DON’T SCROLL THROUGH INSTAGRAM… PEOPLE DO!
(I didn’t mean to yell at you but I had to make my point!)
They want to know you, so use your own photo.
Make sure your picture is a headshot instead of a full body shot.
Headshots are easier to recognize while full body shots are hard to see your face so you’re losing the connection right away.
This my friend, is valuable real estate (no pun intended).
If you use Instagram stories and have looked at who’s watched your stories, I’m willing to bet you’re most drawn to the people whose names have context attached to it.
Mine is “Alexa | Real Estate + Goals” so they automatically know what I talk about when they see my name come up.
Just a tip, be specific.
Don’t just say “Empowerment” or “Growth”, say “Business Coach”.
Don’t say “I lift heavy shit”, say “Vegan Fitness”.
Attach it to something concrete so they know what to expect and are compelled to click over to your account.
Plus, you’re more likely to show up in search results.
If you don’t know what to use, use the search feature in Instagram to see what tags are the most popular and start there and then narrow down to your own little niche.
Here’s where MOST people go wrong.
Your bio should reinforce your name descriptor by telling them why THEY should follow you.
The key to getting social media to work for you is to focus on how you make people feel.
If you control their feelings, you can control their actions.
It sounds manipulative but it’s not… It’s just leveraging psychology by focusing on what THEY want.
What should they expect to see or learn by hitting the follow button on your page?
Focus on being clear over being clever and stay away from distractions.
If your bio talks about EVERYTHING that you’re into, you’ll lose them.
Your bio, name and the captions on your posts should all serve the same purpose with zero distractions.
Instead of “doggy mom, married to @hubbysname and super into fitness. Oh, and I do ___ for a living”, your bio should be focused on the type of people you want to attract.
A quick way to do this is, “I help ____ by ___”.
As an extra bonus, tell them where you’re from because the people who are from near you will automatically feel more connected to you because of the commonality and you’ll give more context to your posts.
You might see linktr.ee links everywhere and there’s a good reason for it…
If you have a few action items you want them to do, use it.
HOWEVER, do not just send them to your home page and social media accounts because that’s a waste of a link.
Every link should give them an action item like downloading a freebie in exchange for their email, searching properties, booking an appointment, etc.
If you only have ONE page that’s an action item, even better… Use that one link.
If you have two or more that are ACTIONABLE, that’s when you use linktr.ee.
Whatever you do, don’t just add a bunch of crap in there because you want them to click or you’ll lose them.
This is the only link you can have on Instagram, so be strategic and make sure that you take away every possible distraction.
I loveeeeee me some Instagram highlights.
Story highlights are the best way to showcase your “evergreen” content (the content that never goes out of style).
Let’s say for example, you’re a professional organizer…
You might have a story highlight called “DIY” which is a bunch of little blurbs about how they can organize their own space.
Then, you might have other highlights called “Before and After”, “Kitchens”, “Offices”, “Kids Rooms”, etc.
Taking it a step further, you can do “FAQ” highlights, one about how you got into the business and another about your favorite type of organizing bins and containers.
By showing off content like this, you’re further solidifying your expertise in your new followers mind.
Remember, you want to become their new addiction, so give ’em something to binge on.
When they follow you, they’re looking to get to know you better, so take advantage of it.
Use Beautiful Imagery That Matches A Theme
Play along with me for a second…
When you see the room on the left, what do you think of it?
Feels like something you’d probably see at your grandparents house, right?
What about the room on the right?
It feels different, doesn’t it?
It’s the same room but you get a totally different vibe.
That, my friend, is exactly why your Instagram has to have a theme.
A theme will catch their attention and get them to click follow… The actual content and captions will get them to like and respond.
Here’s what my Instagram looked like before I implemented a theme:
You can probably tell that I sell real estate, but you’ll probably go “meh, she’s just another annoying realtor” and this is just her personal page.
Here’s my Instagram now:
You can still tell that I sell real estate, but there’s a different “mood” to it.
It’s strategic even though it’s not just real estate… There’s some stuff about our local area and you get to know me a little too.
It looks more refined.
It took me a longggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg time to figure out how to pull a theme together (and if you scroll back through my feed, you’ll see the evolution). By no means am I an expert at this but I’ve gotten wayyyy better.
So, I’m going to give you a couple of quick tips that have made it a million times easier for me:
Choose your colors
The first step to having an Instagram theme is to start off by choosing your colors.
Pick two colors and a base like black or white.
I chose neutrals (browns) with turquoise and I use black as a base color.
You might choose to do the complete opposite and go for something super, crazy bright.
Here’s a perfect example of that:
This is Latasha Peterson whose an entrepreneur and blog coach whose branding is all super bright colors:
The colors and vibe of the pictures should match your branding.
Get in the habit of taking more, better pictures
I told you in the beginning that I’m not naturally a picture-y person.
I don’t like taking pictures but I was committed to having a good looking Instagram because I knew how much income potential there was here.
Every picture doesn’t need to be a selfie or of just you.
Take detail shots up close and take full picture scenery shots.
Whatever you do, take lots of pictures… and for the love of God, please wipe off your camera before you take the picture and tap the screen so it focuses on the thing you’re trying to focus on.
As you’re taking pictures, keep lighting in mind.
Don’t take pictures with your back to the sun (or better lighting than the lighting you’re standing in) or the picture will wash out… Face the lighting and you’ll be amazed how quickly the picture quality changes.
Focus on one thing in the picture.
Your feed will look way less cluttered with the less stuff you have in your pictures, so choose a focus element in the picture and leave space around the image to give your pictures a buffer in Instagram.
As a general rule of thumb, try to limit it to 20% or less of stock photos and 80% original content.
At this point, I don’t really use stock images anymore because I’m so picky about the pictures I post.
Editing and Planning
Lastly, this is the hard part when you first start out but I PROMISE it does get easier.
I used to get SO frustrated while I was trying to put my feed together that I’d literally walk away from my computer and never get back to it.
Just keep in mind that you WILL get better and any effort you put into it now will look better than what you’re probably already doing.
It’s a process.
To edit and plan your images, go download my two favorite Instagram apps…
VSCO is what I use to edit my pictures by cropping them the way I want to and then adding a filter to it.
I use the A4 filter to give it that warm, moody, brown vibe.
Don’t just copy mine because that’s too easy.
If you head over to this link on Pinterest, you can get a really good idea of what filter you want to use to match the vibe you’re trying to set.
There are a lot of instagram accounts that are full of white and bright colors.
Part of my personal identity is that I thrive on being the oddball, so I wanted to do the opposite of white and bright.
I went for dark, neutral and moody.
When you focus on specific colors and use the same filter for every picture, you’ll start to see it all come together.
Once you’ve edited the picture, add it to Planoly so that you can see what the feed will look like before you actually hit share, prep your hashtags and captions and boom, you’re good to go.
I used to try to do it all at once, but now as I take the pictures, I edit my favorites, add them to Planoly and let them sit.
On Mondays, I sit down for 20-30 minutes to write the captions and arrange them so they look good together for the week.
There’s probably a better way to do it, but that works for me.
Here’s my top secret trick to get your feed to flow together…
Make sure the picture you post looks good with the one below it (and that’s where Planoly comes in handy).
Boom, that simple.
Whatever you do, don’t just post stock images or quotes (or if you’re a realtor and reading this, stop posting a million properties).
Post content that’s going to get them to ask you questions, engage with you and let them get to know YOU.
The whole “keep business and personal separate” thing doesn’t apply on Instagram.
YOU are your business, so be human too.
Whatever you do, DO NOT POST UGLY PICTURES.
Take Advantage Of Captions
People who don’t use Instagram for business always roll their eyes at overly deep captions but you need to ignore them.
People who don’t use Instagram for business are only connected to their friends on Instagram… They’re not trying to use the platform to grow their business.
Your followers want to feel connected to you and even though pictures can say 1,000 words, they won’t always say the 1,000 words you want them to.
That’s why captions are crazy important.
Don’t be afraid to use emojis, tell stories and be human in your captions.
Believe it or not, people do read them.
The more connected your followers feel to you, the more willing they’ll be to work with and buy from you.
Your captions should have a goal but you don’t just want to be like “hey look, it’s a pretty tree. Book an appointment with me”.
Tell a story about the scenery and what you learned from it or how it related to one of your clients, and then close out with something like “want me to do the same for you? Book a free discovery call with the link in my bio.”
If you’re struggling to figure out what to write, use this quick tip…
Tell the story behind the picture.
Write like you’re talking to your best friend.
Forget all of the college papers you wrote.
Forget the business emails.
Write like you talk.
Then, go back and put the most captivating sentence first.
Add a few emojis.
Close out with an action item for the reader to do.
Proofread (believe it or not, this is my least favorite part of writing captions, blogging and adding my little blurbs in Instagram stories. If you follow me, you probably already know this).
If your captions aren’t authentic, you’ll meet your followers in person and they’ll be like “you’re WAY different than I expected” and now you’ve lost them.
Instead, you want them to be like, “I feel like I know you” and after meeting you, when they go back to read your content, they read it in your voice… That’s how you create brand loyalty.
Branding isn’t about putting up a facade.
Quite the opposite actually, it’s about being authentic so that your people feel connected to you and want to work with you.
Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags per post, so use ’em!
Hashtags allow you to get discovered by people who are searching for the thing you can help them with.
So here’s the rule I follow…
Pick 10 hashtags that describe you, pick 10 that describe your target audience and pick 10 hashtags that describe what they want.
For example, let’s say you’re a web designer that works with small businesses.
Obviously you’re going to find hashtags like #webdesign #websitedesign #webdesigner #seo #wordpressdesign and so on.
Who’s your target audience?
Small business owners who want to grow their business.
Sooo, how would they describe themselves?
They might use hashtags like…
#entrepreneurlife #bossstatus #grindhard #beaboss
Andddd what do they want?
They want to grow their business.
What about #10xgrowth #businesstips #startuptips #smallbusinesstips
You still with me?
Good because we’re not done yet…
Having any ol’ hashtags isn’t good enough.
You’ve got to make sure they’re the right hashtags.
So, click through each one to make sure the content is relevant to the type of content you plan to share to the hashtag.
For example, I used to use #bossbaby because it was so close to #bossbabe excepttttt #bossbaby is all babies. That’s a waste of a hashtag.
As you’re going through and finding your hashtags, scroll through the related hashtags to discover more.
Thennn, make sure you’re not using saturated hashtags because you’ll NEVER rank if you have a small account.
If you choose a hashtag like #businesstips which has 838k posts or #entrepreneur the has 38M posts, the feed updates so fast that your post will get buried.
I like to stick to hashtags with less than 200k posts… and that means that when your engagement tapers off, you’ll probably need to update your hashtags because they’ve gotten too big or are no longer relevant.
Take Advantage Of Stories and IGTV
I loveeeeeee Instagram stories (and if you already follow me on Instagram, this isn’t new to you).
Since Snapchat days (are we at that point already where Snapchat is a thing of the past?), I’ve fallen in love with the ‘realness’ of it.
Like I said before, I’m not photogenic and I hate the stress of putting my feed together.
Stories allow you to bring a realness and one to one connection into your Instagram strategy.
When Instagram stories came out, I did a two week test where I posted on both Instagram and Snapchat and what I found was that even though I was getting less viewers on Instagram at the time, I saw the potential for growth (I think I was at like 1,000 followers on IG at the time).
Snapchat is a closed platform so it’s harder to get new followers.
With Instagram, you can grow your following way faster and reach a whole lot more people andddd Instagram users are a little older and more likely to spend money.
Ahem, can you say ‘incomeeee‘?
In my stories, I regularly do mini chats about my life as a realtor, showing properties like HGTV, talk about how I’ve grown my business and tell client stories.
To make it fun and interactive, I regularly do polls and questions to keep people on their toes.
It’s fun and it’s a great way to build a community… Plus, you’re constantly testing your market.
The goal though, isn’t to boost your ego by having a bunch of people watching your stories… It’s to create enough value that they WANT to watch your stories and to talk to you about your products or services.
I’ve just started tapping into IGTV and honestly, I don’t know if I love it yet.
However, what I do know is that Instagram regularly refines and edits the app so once they figure out how to crack the code of engagement on IGTV, I will have enough content in there that it’ll be a vault of my best tips for business and real estate.
The people who regularly watch my stories are the first ones to like and comment on my posts, ask questions about real estate and to click on links when I tell them to.
Stories are your best friend so use them, love them and embrace them.
Most Importantly: Engage
Last and MOST importantly, make sure you’re engaging with Instagram.
No matter how gorgeous your feed is, if no one knows it exists, it won’t matter.
This is the part where some people might take out their pitchforks but they’ll get over it.
If you know anythingggg about me, you know I’m OBSESSED with systems and automation.
With that in mind, you already know that I found a tool to help with all of this.
I use PopSocial which is a service that likes and follows people for you based on the hashtags and other similar accounts you tell it to use.
Their plans start at $50 per month.
Since using it, I’ve gone from 1500 followers to 5200 in about a year.
They’re real, engaged followers.
So technically, since I’m using a service to engage for me, you might call them “bought” followers, but they’re not fake followers.
They’re real people who need the services I can help them with and they are engaging with me and buying from me.
I get that that’s a lot of money for Instagram but here’s what you have to remember…
Price vs. Value.
If I get one real estate client referral as a result of my Instagram strategy, my average commission is $9k.
That means the $600/year actually gave me a 15x return on investment.
Instead of one referral, I’ve closed at least 4 this year that were directly from Instagram.
Not to mention, it’s a great way to stay top of mind with my existing network in a relevant, engaging way.
We also launched our online academy and Instagram was a huge key to our initial membership.
My new followers regularly engage with me in comments and because I’m MOST active in stories, we have full on conversations in my DMs.
In addition to using PopSocial, I regularly comment on posts in the hashtags that I like to up my engagement even more.
They Work Together
Make no mistake…
Having a beautiful feed without engagement is like the pretty girl who never leaves the house.
Having an ugly feed with tons of engagement is like the creepy guy at the bar who forcibly hits on every single woman at the bar and they can’t get away from him fast enough.
The point is, you need to have BOTH a beautiful feed AND engagement.
It’s a lot of fun building a community, you just have to be willing to lead it and engage with the people in it.
Where I Still Need To Improve My Instagram Strategy
The point of sharing this post isn’t to say I’ve mastered Instagram… I definitely haven’t and I still have a lot to learn but I figured this might be useful for some people to share what I’ve learned so far.
The platform changes all of the time and there’s constantly new updates.
There are definitely some things I need to work on still, so I wanted to share those here too:
I haven’t updated my hashtags since I started this whole strategy about a year ago, so I need to go back and redo my hashtag research to uncover new hashtags and get rid of the saturated ones.
There are definitely some hashtags that I’m using that are well over 200k now which weren’t when I first started using them.
Plus, I already know that since you’re reading this here, you’ll probably head over to my page to see what I’m using and don’t want you to be like “wow, she doesn’t even follow her own advice” lmao.
So, I need to fix that.
Balancing Brands + Sales Funnel
I’m in this unique place where I have two businesses.
I lead MEB (where you are now) and aside from our blog, we also have 3 local chapters that host monthly workshops.
Andddd I sell real estate.
My audience for both are the same, but the content is totally different.
I’m constantly trying to find the balance of promoting our blog, events and online academy for MEB and still using it to grow my real estate business.
The approach I’ve been taking is “learn how I grew my real estate business through MEB” but it’s an ongoing process and I’m still learning.
So, I guess you’ll just have to keep an eye on my Instagram to see how it progresses.