Social media has always been my specialty. Since 2011, I had gained over three million followers on Twitter, over 120,000 on Facebook, and around one million on Snapchat (before those bastards suspended my account for no reason). Basically, I’ve been in the game long enough and have failed enough times to know which social media strategies actually work and which ones you shouldn’t waste your time on.
However, Instagram has always posed a challenge for me. I started a themed account on Twitter that garnered about 300,000 followers in two years. In that same time, the same account on Instagram gained about 7,000. I knew Instagram was the platform I needed to be in to start my travel blog, so I experimented with a variety of things, tweaking anything from my bio to profile picture to even my username. I’ve come up with a list of things that you can do to stand out from other accounts and earn the much-desired follow from your target demographic.
Let’s start with setting your Instagram profile up for success.
First, you need a catchy profile picture that is both visually appealing and descriptive. My current one for @ThePartyingTraveler is me drinking a beer at the top of Germany’s tallest mountain. I am in the middle of a blizzard, so it is not the most visually-appealing picture, but it explains who I am, matches my username, and lets you know what to expect from following me. Other pictures that tend to catch my eye would be bright colors, like crystal blue waters on a beach. To me, that gives off a tropical vibe that screams travel and fun in the sun. Regardless of your niche, your profile picture should be something that matches your theme. No matter how dope you look in your last selfie, you might have to sacrifice it for a shot on the beach or on top of a mountain.
Your username is probably the most important thing aside from the actual pictures you post. It defines who you are and what you will be posting. I started trying to grow my page just using my name. Originally, I was yoitseli which was cringeworthy and said nothing about my Instagram page. When you see a notification that says yoitseli liked your photo, you are going to ignore it. I changed that to “TheDrunkenTraveler” which I saw more success with. It is more niche, descriptive, and attention-grabbing. Eventually that name evolved further to “ThePartyingTraveler” to widen my niche (and also not seem like such a douchebag). I felt the name encompasses having all sorts of fun, not just drinking excessively. That better described who I am, while further carving its own niche in the oversaturated world of travel blogs.
Speaking of niches, they are extremely important as more and more people now have a platform to be seen and heard. I entered into the travel Instagram game pretty late, so I had more people to compete with. Every passing day, it becomes even harder and harder, so if you are looking to start a travel page, start now. You can bypass this competition by successfully differentiating yourself. For me, it was by focusing on the social aspect of traveling as opposed to just sightseeing. There are accounts dedicated to all sorts of things around the world. Some post only cool floors or doors that they come across. The more specific the niche, the better.
If you are starting a travel blog, just know that millions of people across the world have seen the things you’ve seen, and plan accordingly. Make sure your account offers something that others do not. Back in the day, it could have been something as simple as using your hair color to differentiate yourself, i.e. TheBlondeAbroad and Globetrotting_GingerTravel. I don’t recommend doing that now as you likely won’t be successful and because those girls are just fabulous at what they do.
Next up, your biography should be fun, unique, and descriptive. Yes, I know there are so many fantastic inspirational travel quotes that you could put in there, but when you have a limit to how much you can say, focus on yourself first. Who am I? I’m Eli, an entrepreneur, adventurer, and a partier. It’s short and to-the-point, giving me plenty of room for other things. When I was starting out, it would be witty one-liners saying where I was at the time. If you want, put your Snapchat username, YouTube channel, or a link to your blog in your bio. It somewhat adds a sense of legitimacy by showing that you are present on multiple platforms. I haven’t personally had much success drawing blog readers or YouTube viewers through Instagram, but they do trickle in and if you think that is worth more than a witty one-liner or inspiring travel quote, then go for it. Definitely, definitely, definitely do not be all business in your bio. It deters new followers and makes you look boring. Play around with it a little and feel free to change it as often as you want. Once it’s perfect, you’ll know when you love it.
Last but not least, emoji usage. I know, I know. However, they can be helpful as long as you are not obnoxious or excessive with your usage of them. In your name, not username, add an emoji or two because it visually grabs someone’s attention. For example, as a travel blogger, having an airplane or earth emoji helps describe who you are. If people just saw “Eli” they would know nothing about me but my name. The two emojis suggest that I travel, and for people interested in travel, they will be more likely to check out my profile. The pin emoji followed by your current location also helps by letting your current followers know where you are, and lets potential followers know that you are in a cool place and maybe they should check out your profile real quick. Once they check out your profile, cha-ching. If you’ve done everything correctly up to this point, you’ll have a killer bio, fantastic profile picture, and hopefully some out of this world photography to seal the deal.
Okay, now you’ve got a profile that just can’t be beat, but how do you get people to come look at it?
Start off by telling your friends and family about your new venture. Don’t feel like you’re annoying them by asking. Worst case scenario, they don’t follow you and you’re stuck with the same amount of followers as if you didn’t ask (actually, worst case scenario, your friends are sarcastic douchebags who comment mean things on all of your pictures).
Okay, unless you are ridiculously popular, that should get you only about 200-300 followers maximum, but it sets a solid foundation. You wouldn’t imagine how important those 300 actual followers are to potential followers. People are more likely to follow someone who already has a decent amount of followers, because hey, if a lot of people are following them, they must post worthwhile content, right? If you start the next couple of steps at 0 followers, your conquest to become a Z-List Instacelebrity has already failed.
Great, you’ve got a couple hundred followers. How do you take this to the moon? I hate to tell you this but nothing comes easy. Get your fingers stretched and ready for hours and hours of interacting with people on Instagram. This means liking and commenting on hundreds of pictures per day, and probably following quite a few people. It sounds a bit like using a shotgun as a sniper rifle but if you’re smart about it, it won’t be.
When you like pictures, like pictures from smaller, personal accounts rather than already large travel pages. These people are more likely to actually check their notifications and when they do, they’ll see *catchy username with awesome profile picture*. Will this work with everyone? Nope, but if you get even a 5% success rate from this, that’s 25 followers per day if you like 500 pictures. With a catchy username and picture, 5% can easily be 25%. If you go about this strategically, your chances of gaining more and more followers just keep increasing. Look through hashtags and pick ones that relate to your theme and then just go on a liking spree. We’ve all played Flappy Bird or Doodlejump before, except this time, when you’re tapping away at your phone screen, you’re actually getting something out of it. You don’t even need to look at the pictures you’re liking. Scroll, double tap, repeat.
Commenting on pictures is a bit trickier. Before, I would say don’t even bother doing this at all. Mass-commenting is much more time-consuming than mass-liking, and differences in returns were hard to quantify. However now, with Instagram’s new algorithm, the game has been changed. I wouldn’t even bother commenting on anything posted by big accounts because it would simply get buried as soon as someone else commented seconds later.
Now, Instagram seems to show comments from people you already follow, comments with a lot of likes, or comments just from big accounts. If you’re just starting out, commenting on pictures from big travel pages can bring attention to your page. Again, a catchy username could be everything here, otherwise I would say don’t even bother. If I scroll through my timeline and see “JohnSmith” commented on NatGeoTravel’s picture, I would not give that account the time of day no matter how great the comment was. Seeing a comment from MyLifesATravelMovie or ThePartyingTraveler on the other hand would be more likely to capture my attention.
Commenting on smaller accounts or personal accounts is a different game. Mass-commenting is still a no from me, but picking and choosing wisely can really help you out. It also doesn’t hurt to make friends along the way and I still talk to a lot of the people I first started interacting with on Instagram. I remember speaking to people like VictorGin, TheBroAbroad, and TheAwkwardTraveller when they were much smaller, and I noticed how they genuinely interacted with their followers and larger accounts. If you make it fun and show genuine interest, commenting on lots of pictures will be worth your time.
Even as a bigger account, I still get few enough comments that I can read all of them and reply to all of them, and trust me, I take note of the consistent commenters and follow them back. Be persistent, but not annoying. Commenting “wow” or “great” on hundreds of pictures is more time-consuming and less successful than giving a quick one-sentence anecdote or story related to a picture someone posted. For example, commenting “wow” on my picture of Peru will maaaaybe get me to like your comment, but saying something along the lines of “this looks incredible! I wish I went there during my semester abroad there” will get me to check out your profile and look at your pictures at the very least.
Lastly, mass-following. This is definitely not for everybody, but it does get results faster than liking and commenting. It doesn’t look good to follow 7500 people, but if that’s what it takes to get your first 3000 followers, then do it. The same rules apply to when you’re liking people’s pictures. Follow mostly smaller accounts since they’ll be the ones who actually check their notifications.
Believe it or not, having a lot of followers on social media opens up a lot of opportunities beyond just an ego boost. Having specialized in social media growth and monetization since I was 17, I’ve seen and helped dozens of people become millionaires through social media. The only reason I’m able to travel the world while I work is because of social media, so I can attest to its growing presence and importance globally. It is here to stay, and as long as there are products and companies to promote (which will be for the rest of eternity), there will be opportunities for you to use your large social media following as your career. It took me over a year to get my first 5,000 followers on social media, and now I have over three million across all platforms. It will be difficult at first, but once you start hitting those milestones, growth starts to come a bit more naturally.
Finally, the actual posts themselves.
The whole point of Instagram is sharing pictures and the stories that come with pictures. You can disregard everything I said before this and still become wildly popular on Instagram with incredible pictures. Likewise, if you follow every step before this, you will not get anywhere without quality posts.
I’m not a photography expert, so I can’t tell you exactly what to do with your pictures and how to make them better. Instagram filters can enhance a picture, but do not go overboard with editing. It can make pictures look fake, or even just extremely ugly. You don’t need photography lessons to take good pictures, but it wouldn’t hurt to study the works of good photographers and see how they capture.
Captions are not as important as I previously thought they were because it seems hardly anyone reads mine. Come on guys, I try so hard on those sometimes. That doesn’t mean captions are unimportant, but they don’t require the perfection and flawless execution that I used to meticulously put into them. Good captions will typically be short and sweet, but as a travel blogger, you’ll have to mix it up a bit. A picture of the Eiffel Tower? Something short and cheesy like “Eiffel in love with Paris!” would work well. An obscure monument in Cambodia? Maybe go in-depth with a description of what it is, what it means, how long its been around, etc. No one needs to know what the Eiffel Tower is, and using a pun for a less commonly known structure will probably fly over people’s heads.
Another good strategy is to pose a question to ignite some conversation in the comments. It can help attract attention to your post, and therefore your profile. The whole “tag a friend” thing is something I’ve seen people do, but who knows how well that works. It just seems like a lame gimmick to me, but feel free to try it.
Another thing I do is tag as many profiles as I can in every picture I post. You can tag up to twenty, and if you’d like to get your posts featured by larger accounts, this is a good way to do it. I’ve had my posts featured by the BBC, The Guardian, and a number of country-specific or city-specific Instagram accounts. Aside from getting these big accounts to potentially notice you, your photo will also appear when people look through the photos these accounts are tagged in.
Finally, the ever-important hashtag. These are critical. For a travel page, it helps users interested in traveling stumble upon your post if they look through travel-related hashtags. Instagram allows twenty-five hashtags I think, and if you’re smart, you’ll use all twenty-five. Comment it separately from your original caption, using the five dot trick to keep it from annoyingly taking up a huge block on people’s timelines. Mix it up a bit. My strategy is typically go with ten general hashtags, five hashtags to try and get featured, five specific to the location, five specific to the picture. For example, mine is something like:
#travel #travelgram #instatravel #wanderlust #travelingram
#bbctravel #natgeoyourshot #guardiantravelsnaps #discoversouthamerica #travelstoke
#Peru #SouthAmerica #IgersPeru #Cusco #Perugram
#Mountains #GoPro #Nature #Earth #Scenery
Experiment with what you think works. The more general the hashtag, the more likely your post will be to be buried quickly by others using the same hashtag. More specific ones will not have this problem, but likely be harder to find by a general audience. Big events can also call for great usage of hashtags. For example, Brazil’s Carnaval is coming up soon, and if you are going, increased interest and traffic for #Carnaval on Instagram can provide a big boost.
(After the popularity of this post, I’ve also decided to write an in-depth guide to just hashtag usage on Instagram, including my favorite hashtags to try and get featured by larger accounts).
Although I’ve gone extremely in-depth (I was not expecting to write a ten-page essay on how to become Instagram famous this morning), there is much more to it. These tips will help you get started, and even if you’re already pretty established, hopefully they will help you out as well. Make sure you’re following me on Instagram @ThePartyingTraveler!
Also, if you are looking for specialized strategies, someone to manage the operations of your account, or any promotional campaigns, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss options! Thanks for reading, and as always, party on.
I know I just wrote like over ten pages on how to grow on Instagram, but can you help me grow on YouTube? I’ve made quite a few videos of my travels and am currently at about thirty subscribers. Here’s a video of what you can expect from my channel, and hopefully if you enjoy it, you’ll like and subscribe to my channel! Thank you!