There’s no exact science to Instagram and how to use it. Since I get asked a lot of questions on how I built up my account to over 200, 000 followers, (and continue to grow over 1000 followers p/week), I thought I’d write up a few tips I’ve learned in the year and a half I’ve been an active Instagram user. It’s important to remember I’ve worked hard to build my account, faithfully posting every day since I signed up, sometimes 4-6 times a day, to build a strong relationship with my followers. I didn’t have a blog or website back then. I just loved sharing photos of my food → which turned into people asking for the recipe → which THEN turned into followers requesting I start a blog to keep my recipes in one place. Recipes that are easier to find and print. And Cafe Delites was born.
Through that time, I’ve learnt there’s no right or wrong way to ‘Instagram’. It’s about timing. It’s about what your followers like, and not everyone will like the same things. The following is only based on what I’ve seen and learnt in the time I’ve been on Instagram, and what I’ve found works best. It may be different for others.
If you have any other questions or tips of your own, please feel free to share them in the comments below!
1. Your Instagram account is like your portfolio. Make it good! If you want to drive traffic to your blogs, your Instagram needs to be set up that way. Some personal shots, selfies or ‘behind the scenes’ shots work okay, but if your followers are there for your food, they don’t really care about 100 shots of your cat sitting on a window, or a bird in a tree (for example). Instagram followers are different to blog followers. Chances are, they want food!
2. Instagram Composition. Great photos of food will bring followers. Top shots and far away shots work okay, BUT close ups work better (not too close! They still need to see what it is). They need to be clear and the food needs to be visible. Especially cheese shots; dripping syrup or oozing chocolate. Make it about the food, not the photograph (unless your account is food photography based). If it looks ‘yummy’ to you and makes YOUR mouth water, then it will work. If it’s only a ‘good photo’ in general, it won’t draw as much attention. You have to think like your followers. Would you like to see that image/food on your feed/home page? Would that photo make you want to click on a link for the recipe?
3. Your bio should contain a short summary about you and/or your blog. Your blog website link should be provided for your followers IN your bio, NOT in your captions. Make it easy for them to find you and your recipes, or they will delete you. Believe me. Most people don’t like tapping on links. They want the entire recipe right there in front of them, so make it easy for them to get that recipe.
4. Captions. Every food photo you post should have a good caption with ‘where to go for the recipe’ information. For example: This recipe is up on my blog cafedelites.com! Blog link is in my bio @cafedelites !
Here, you’ve provided the link information to the recipe plus an easy way to get to your Instagram bio by using the @_______ link to your Instagram page.
5. Images. You will start to learn what you followers like. Mine, for example, have wicked sweet teeth. So I know brownies and cookies will work. I always keep in mind how to shoot for my Instagram followers, not just my blog. Melted chocolate chips; anything oozing. People go crazy! So while your shooting for your blog, remember to shoot 1 or 2 shots for your Instagram followers.
6. Timing. When is your peak hour? What day do you notice more traffic to your posts? Where are most of your followers located? My followers are mainly U.S based. Being that I’m in a completely different time zone, through a lot of trial and error, I worked out that my posts do better when I post first thing in my morning and very late in my evening. That’s when my account is at it’s busiest, and when posts are most likely to be seen. The first two hours of an Instagram post are the busiest. You’ll notice a decline in interaction from there.
7. Shout Outs. Find pages like yours with the same amount of followers as you have (if your blog is vegan, find vegan; if your blog is clean eating, find clean eating) and ask if they’d like to do a mutual shout out. What’s a shout out? A shout out is where both pages will agree to post an image of a recipe from each others blog with a caption such as: ‘Wow these chocolate chip cookies look insane! For this recipe and other clean eating recipes, follow @________ ! You will LOVE her/his page!’ Something like that, in your own words of course so it sounds genuine coming from you. Shout outs usually go for an hour or two hours, but you gain the most in the first hour. You can always repost a different image in the second hour to gain more followers.
**It’s important to note, however, that if you do too many, they will annoy your followers. Not everyone appreciates shouts on their feed/home page.
8. Bigger pages won’t do mutual shouts with you. I’ve asked. They are set up to make money with ads and post shout outs for smaller pages, etc. For example: Pages with anywhere over 100,000 followers don’t want to mutual shout with a page that has only 1000 followers. Why? Because they won’t gain any followers in the shout. They will most likely lose more followers than they gain, and it’s not worth their time. Remember, a page with over 100,000 followers has worked hard to get there. If you ask those bigger pages for a shout, they may quote you $X amount per hour for a shout. It’s how they generate income. Respect that.
9. Be careful WHO you shout with. Make sure the page your shouting with is a good food page or a page similar to yours! Or you may lose followers on your page. People want to be sent to good pages. People want to know you care about them and your recommending a good place for them to go to. The shout is not just to your benefit, it’s to theirs too. Look after your followers!
10. Limit Shouts. Once you do a shout, it can become exciting and addictive watching your page boom and grow! But! Keep them limited and on the down low. Once every couple of days is enough.
11. Use #hashtags. They DO work! I’ve tested without and I’ve tested with. Hashtag what the food is, what it’s about, magazines and food feature pages, brands, etc. For example, these are some I use, but find what works for you: #weightwatchers #canon6D #foodgawker #foodphotography #foodblogger #feedfeed #instafood #foodideas. Then if it’s a chocolate recipe, add in #chocolate #chocolatecake #chocolaterecipes or whatever your food is about. People do search hashtags. Don’t use too many though, or they won’t won’t be displayed in the search pages (I break up hashtag groups into two separate comments in a post).
12. Watermark your image. Chances are if bigger pages like your stuff, they will steal your image. Some don’t realise they need to ask your permission first before using your image; and some know exactly what they’re doing and will take an image directly from your instagram page OR blog; repost it without any credits given to you in a caption, and ignore you when you point it out. Watermarking your image will help your followers recognise your work, and they will always advise you or tag you to let you know your image is being used without your credits in the caption should you wish to report them for Instagram copyright infringement.
13. Collages. They work! If you have a recipe with a few steps in it and it sounds like a complicated recipe, a collage can show people how easy it actually is (if it’s easy) and they will be more inclined to go to your blog with the beautiful link you’ve provided in your bio (step 3). I use the Instagram collage app Layout or PicFrame, but there are plenty of apps for your phone that work just as good.
14. Recipe Features. Much like Fodgawker and Tastespotting, there are many Instagram pages with thousands (even millions) of followers that are always looking for great content to feature. This is a win-win for both you and the feature page. THEY gain followers from your work, and YOU gain followers from their reach. Approach those bigger pages that feature blogger recipes and ask them if they’d like to feature your recipe. Provide a link to your blog and your Instagram page in your email so they can see your work. Most of them have their email addresses displayed in their bio, or Kik account information (a messenger app for phones). You will see a spike in blog traffic if your blog link is in your bio. New followers will usually always go and check you out on your blog! Even if the recipe that brought them to you is featured on a bigger page. They will see your Instagram page full of food porn and will want more!
*Keep in mind if your recipe does really well on their page and gets a ton of likes, they will then use YOUR image in THEIR shoutouts — withOUT your credits in their captions — with other pages to help THEIR page grow. At first, it’s annoying to see, but usually people will go to their page, see your image and follow you. You will also see a boost in blog traffic when that happens.
15. Don’t discredit Instagram. It’s a good place to grow a following, drive traffic to your blog, get personal with your followers, and find potential subscribers. I love my followers, and LOVE INTERACTING WITH THEM on Instagram. Please remember, if they ask questions, answer them, no matter how silly YOU think it is. If they send you direct messages, reply to them, as you would with your blogs. They’re IMPORTANT. Remember that.
Most importantly, have FUN! This seems like a lot of information, and possibly a bit daunting, but like any social media outlet, you find what works and roll with it while it lasts…or before the next new, hip and happening thing comes out!