The FASTEST way to gain authority and be recognized as a leader in your industry, niche, or space of expertise is by building a presence online, especially on Instagram. Growing a successful Instagram whether for your business, personal brand, or to build a career as an influencer isn’t easy going, and clearly it is a different platform than it was a couple years ago.
Gone are the days when you can post once in a while, be featured on a large account and gain thousands of followers instantly, follow unfollow and grow by the hundreds. With legitimate careers being made and businesses blowing up now, comes also legitimate work and effort needed to be successful.
But here’s the good news: the algorithm is NOT out to ‘get you’. It is here to help YOU find your people. And after being actively engaged on this platform for the last 4 years, growing my Instagram to over 140,000 followers who follow my daily life and travels, I’ve learned what works, what doesn’t, and how to set yourself up for success in the Instagram landscape today. I’m going to break down my 5 step formula for you to set up your account for success and start not just building a community, but building your authority in your area of expertise on this platform.
The most important thing to remember is that you DO NOT need HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF FOLLOWERS to succeed on instagram, as an influencer or business or brand. The quality of your following will always be more important in what determines your success. What good is 1 million followers if you still can’t live the life you want to live and no one buys your products or recommendations? And on that note, micro-influencers are becoming more and more recognized by brands due to their higher engagement rates and more tight knit following.
If you are just starting out, looking to uplevel your Instagram, or feeling stagnant and need to reassess, I’m going to review the 5 steps you need to take to make sure you are set up not just for success, but
First of all, your brand is not necessarily your content, your niche, or the colors you use. These are all ways you communicate your brand. Starbucks can come out with a new product, because the product is not the brand. Your brand is how someone interprets it without you saying anything, and we guide them to that feeling through the style, the aesthetic, and the tone of voice. So we have 3 things we evaluate to craft our brand which is your why, your values, and your story.
Creating content for your brand or business is not what truly motivates you – that powerful motivation comes from not what you are sharing, but why you are sharing it and why you are creating it. Ask yourself why do you want to build a following? And keep asking why until you get to the root. What are you looking to do with your audience? What are your goals? What is your bigger mission?
You can figure out a lot about your why by looking at what you value. This can be anything from health, family, or fitness to freedom, self care, or courage. Think about why you value these things based on what you believe about them in how they fit into your life. Why are they important to you?
The last piece of the puzzle is identifying your story. Now this doesn’t need to be grand and big and life changing. Generally your story is some sort of ‘transformation’ from before you had these values and beliefs, what occurred to make you realize their importance, and what you did to change and prioritize your values.
For example, part of my story is that I was working in NYC, in positions I loved but I realized I no longer had the time for what I truly valued which was freedom and travel. I realized how important these were to me when I stopped having them as a part of my life. After this realization, I discovered the ability to work remotely so I could travel more and have more freedom.
So you see, it doesn’t need to be grand or big (or something traumatic), but simply just a change you’ve made in your life to prioritize something that became important to you. These values and your story is how people will connect to your brand.
So now that we have a solid foundation for our brand, we need to map out what our niche is to communicate our brand, and then break that down into the specific content pieces we share.
Imagine you’re scrolling Instagram and you find a beautiful image of a home interior you like. You’re currently decorating your home so you go over to that page to get more inspiration.
If you go to that page and you don’t see any more of that same type of content, the chance of you following them is pretty low. But if you see tons of similar content to inspire your current home renovation/decorating you’re more likely to tap that follow button.
What feels redundant to you when you are creating, curating, or posting, is what our human nature loves: we want to know what to expect. You go to starbucks anywhere around the world or country because you KNOW what to expect, and you know you can get your usual coffee order with almost identical results every time.
When people come to your Instagram, they want to know what to expect and that they will consistently receive that type of content from you. They want to immediately identify what your page is about when they land on it to make that decision. The clearer you are with the type of content you post about, the faster you can grow and build that audience, as well as build authority in that area.
Especially if you are wanting to or trying to build your personal brand, it can feel weird to only post and share about one topic. You might be thinking, “Kelly, I like a lot of things, how do I choose?” or “Kelly, I have no clue what my niche is”.
Here’s the thing: this isn’t supposed to limit you. Actually, narrowing down helps you. How much less stressful is it to post about just a couple types of things instead of 10 different types of things (or your whole life?!).
Your list might be long, or it might not be short, but you will want to consider what is realistic for you. Sure, you might love to travel, but how often do you travel? Are you able to create enough content to share every week for a whole year and not get paid? Do you enjoy talking about it? It is possible you can love certain things in your life but not love sharing about it, or maybe you don’t do it often enough. You can love certain things in your life you are doing, but you might not be that knowledgeable about it (or vice versa). You might love the beach, but how often are you at one? You want to be realistic about what your life is like in order to choose your niche.
So the next things to ask yourself;
Once you decide your niche (industry), you’ll want to pick 3-6 categories of content to share about within that niche. These are just more specific categories within your niche. This again, is NOT supposed to limit you, but actually give you a CLEAR DIRECTION about what to create, post, and share about. Having a clear understanding about WHAT you’ll share about will keep you from ending up in post paralysis.
This is where you put your unique spin on your niche by the particular categories you share about within your niche. This is your opportunity to get even more specific. For example, if your niche is beauty, not just sharing about beauty and hair, but hair extensions and hair care in particular.
Now that we know your why, know what you do and what you share, we need to make sure to communicate that quickly and effectively when someone lands on your page.
Nowadays, your Instagram bio is like your home, where we want our invite our guests in with welcoming arms. Before they accept that invitation from a stranger, they usually want to know who’s home they are walking into and what to expect. We want to convert our first time guests into ones who look forward to coming over again and again to hang out with us (turning a viewer into an engaged and active follower). Let’s dive into the 4 things to consider.
These are the only 2 things searchable in Instagram, so this is your opportunity to include some keywords about your niche or brand.
As a brand and business, you want to quickly communicate the important things to a viewer so they understand what to expect about your page and easily identify what you’re about. What you want to include in your bio is:
This space is limited so if you include your location in your name title space, you don’t need to include it in your bio space.
Your profile picture is how you are quickly identified on the platform and your hero image to communicate you and your brand.The downside is, this image is pretty small. So you’ll want to make sure your profile picture is
This is the main way we communicate what we share about. What we don’t want is to say we share one thing in our bio, and then our photos reflect nothing about that. Your top 9-15 photos are the best way to impact a new viewer into showing your strengths and your vibe. It is the bird’s eye view of your content, so it is important to remember the impression it gives in depicting your brand. Someone should be able to quickly scroll the top of your feed and understand what your page is about. It should feel cohesive (not necessarily all the same color even though that is my choice of aesthetic) in the fact that the content is cohesive, whether that is through what the content is of, or the style in which it is edited. So Now that we know the goal of this, next, we’ll dive into how to create this content for your feed.
This is how you’ll grow, through the content you create. THIS is usually the number one way people find you (unless you go viral through press or something). You build your authority in your space through the content you share. Creating content and creating that content consistency is what will help you build that momentum to grow, find your ideal followers, and then connect.
This is the fun part! Creating the content for what you are so passionate to share about. Having a clear vision and strategy for your content will make the difference in not just being able to execute, but in growing an engaged community (that also converts and becomes profitable).
There is no one size fits all or one specific type of content that performs “best”, it’s going to depend on your niche, and what your audience (current or future) is interested in.
You want to view your content strategy like a funnel – the top of the funnel is content that brings new followers in or shareable content, the middle of the funnel is content that builds your connection with them or connection content, and the bottom is content that converts them for any offers you have (whether that is your own services/products or ones you are promoting) or selling content.
This is why you sometimes see influencers or creators that grow quickly and then slow down, because generally in the beginning you are purely focused on that top of funnel content, which is content that brings followers in. The converse is also why you might see influencers with one million followers but a less engaged community or not having that profitable of a business (because the focus is mostly on shareable content, not content that builds community or sells).
1. Discover and Source Content Ideas
Start by finding influencers, creators, or leaders in your niche with a similar audience to your ideal one. You might already follow some, but you can find more by going to your favorites and tapping the downward arrow on their profile to see the accounts Instagram suggests are similar accounts. You can also find some searching a hashtag in that niche and scrolling through the “top posts’ sections on the left side.
Next you’ll want to scroll through their pages and identify the type of content they share and gather ideas for your own that fit under your content categories. You can easily identify the most shareable (and viral) content by seeing which posts of theirs perform 3-5x higher than the rest. A post of theirs that receives 2-4x the views or likes compared to other post of the same( like reels compared to reels, or pictures compared to pictures) would be considered more “viral” or “shareable” and this can give you a good idea to try for yourself.
Screenshot or save any photos that you could use to generate ideas from in the Collections of your Saved photos. Focus on saving content ideas for each of your content categories.
I personally source inspiration in 2 categories: one for color ideas and one for content ideas. You can either plan your content based on aesthetic first, or plan it based on content first and shape the color theme around the content.
2. Plan your Content Ideas
Now that we have our ideas, you’ll want to plan out your ideas to create for your feed.
3. Create your Content
I suggest creating your content in bulk, known as content batching. This allows you to get all the content you need without having to create every single day and allows you to assess and plan if you are staying on brand and hitting your categories you want to build authority in. Especially if you’re starting out, posting on the go for every photo can lead to missing key categories you want to share about in your top 9-15 photos.
You absolutely don’t need to be a pro to create beautiful and on brand content. There are 2 main things to pay attention to to take amazing photos just using your phone
You can grab my free guide to uplevel your mobile photography here with the top 10 things to focus on to create better photos just using your phone.
4. Visually map out your content
This is the final step and the best way to check the cohesiveness of your content, that you are hitting all categories of your content, and know what your feed will look like. I suggest planning in an app like unum, planoly, or later. This allows you to drag-and-drop your images into the order that works best for your grid aesthetic. I personally map out my photos in lightroom since that is where I edit them and have a tutorial here how I do that.
You don’t have to post everyday, the important part is to show up regularly. BUT, especially for growth in the beginning, the more active you are (showing up every day), the quicker you can create growth momentum. Creating a schedule is supposed to help you by giving you a guide and making sure you stick to it, not to stress you out. So you will want to pick a schedule that works for YOU. Setting unrealistic expectations will only cause burnout in the long run, and if anything we have learned social media is long-term game, not a short one.
The easiest way to sustainably stick to a schedule is having the content you need ready to go, and the best way to do that is batch create your content. All this means is you take (or source) the photos you need, edit and prepare them for posting over a few days that will last you a week or more of posting. Find your inspiration, plan out the photos you’ll need to cover your categories, and set a time when you will shoot/create/source the photos and then edit and prepare them for posting. This will help you build up a nice content library over time, and eliminate the stress of trying to figure out what to post day by day.
This is your ticket to creating recognition for you and your brand. Sticking with one sort of style will help create more consistency in your feed and brand, which is critical for building authority and professionalism. The more recognizable your content becomes, the stronger your branding becomes. An easy way to do this using the same photo filters like lightroom presets using the free lightroom app, which is what I do for all my photos and I have them available for download here.
This part is last because the first 4 steps are our foundation. You will find an easier time building your community and focusing on that when you have a solid foundation. Potential followers will also more quickly tap that follow button when they can see that foundation too. So now we can dive into ways to not just grow your following, but really building and fostering an engaged community.
Instagram started as purely a visual platform and has since expanded with so many ways to deepen our relationship and ways to connect with our audience. When you start viewing each person in your audience as a relationship, you will change your mindset on how to build that connection and community. There are few ways we can deepen that connect, and turn followers into fans.
Captions are the perfect place to start a conversation, share your story, share your beliefs, or provide value for your audience. We want to either educate, entertain, or inspire in our captions. Here are my top 4 tips for writing your captions and building connection or authority:
Instagram only shows about the first 20 characters, and then they include a “See More” text space that requires the user to tap to see the rest of the caption. SO, we want to include the most important info up front, and HOOK them in. Our goal is to keep our audience and users not just on the platform as long as possible, but our page since that will tell Instagram we are creating engaging content so they will push your content to more people.
Here are some ways we can “hook” the user:
We want our audience to like, save, comment or share our posts because this sends positive signals to Instagram regarding our content so our audience sees more of it. So when you tell them to respond or comment, make sure to reply back to your comments (this increases your comment number, increasing your engagement, which will increase your reach, increasing discoverability, then increasing your growth =) it’s a snowball).
Few people will spend the time reading a giant block of text 😉 and our goal is keep our audience and users engaged! So space out your captions every few sentences to keep it easy to read and flow. Integrate emojis as bullet points or to infuse your personality in the post.
This is a great way to provide informative and informational posts to give value to your audience, or build your relationship through something relatable or personal. If your niche is sustainability, this could be 5 ways to make your home more sustainable on a budget. If your niche is health, it could be your 5 favorite apps for at home workouts. There are a few different types of microblogging captions we can make that will give us some variety to how we connect with our audience.
Micro-blog 1: A Story
We love a story. Storytelling has been a part of humankind for centuries and it’s the best way to connect on a deeper level with your audience or allow them to relate to you, like they are sitting down to have coffee with you. Getting a little vulnerable builds more trust with your audience.
Types of Storytelling posts
Micro-blog 2: A List or Guide
Typically education, this is a great method to provide value and be a resource about something in your niche. Educating is the best way to increase your authority and knowledge about an area
Types of List or guide Posts
Micro-blog 3: An Opinion
People LOVE opinions and your audience wants to know YOURS about topics in your n iche (that’s why they follow you! Because they look to you and value your opinion)
Types of Opinion Posts
Micro-blog 4: Behind the Scenes
This is their look behind the curtain and makes your audience feel like an insider into your world. These can be entertaining and make your audience feel included in your world (not just a follower and viewer).
Types of Behind the Scenes Posts
While a photo might be ‘worth a thousand words’, a VIDEO shows off of your personality. We instantly connect more with people we see in action on screen (why do you think celebrity actors grow such loyal fanbases?) There are 2 main ways we can build this relationship, the first one is through Instagram stories, and the second is through video posts like IGTV and Reels
This is your opportunity to take your audience more behind the scenes into your life or business, and get to know you more personally. This also means showing your face! (or faces behind your business). If that intimidates you, make yourself more comfortable by dressing as you would to go meet a friend, stand in front of a window for nice lighting, and pretend you are on a facetime call.
Just like regular posts, you’ll still need to focus on keeping your viewers engaged, and the best way to do that is to tell a story through your stories. An example would be treating it like a “daily vlog” as that is a natural story line. Your first post will always get the most views, so being able to include what they can expect for the rest of the stories will make sure they come back to watch.
Increase Engagement on stories
Another way you can increase the time users spend on your posts since they have to watch a video, but also they get to know you better through your personality. IGTVs allow you to post longer form video which is a great opportunity to deep dive into a tutorial, a how to, an opinion, something educational, or entertaining/inspirational.
Right now, reels are the best way to increase your visibility on instagram as the platform is prioritizing content on Reels over all other types of content to get people using the new feature. Anything that is educational, relatable, or shareable performs really well, so this is your opportunity to show more of your personality, your story, or your expertise. Here you can lean into trends, so spend some time scrolling through Reels to find popular posts or anything that is “repeated” among users that you can repeat for yourself in your niche.
You don’t need to be intimidated by video. It’s absolutely something you should leverage to build your connection with your audience, as well as tap into greater growth potential. Apply the same content strategies for sourcing and creating video as you do for static photo content and it will feel less overwhelming. It is important for your long term growth to always lean into new features and trends. Instagram “rewards” users who use all the features of the platform by increasing your reach (finding more of your ideal followers!)
Using the instagram insights feature is a great starting point to know your audience’s demographics, or to analyze your post performance. But what it won’t tell you is who really your audience is. This understanding from actively getting to know your followers, what their pain points or goals are, what they do, what they love, or what they are interested in.
If you are a personal brand, here’s a little secret: they definitely are interested in similar things to you! But you’ll need to dive deeper into getting to know them. When you truly know your audience you can create even better content for them and anticipate their needs (which grows your relationship with them, which means turning them into raving fans!).
A few ways to spend some time getting to better know your audience:
It can feel tricky to try and focus on growing your audience while also building your connection with your current audience, but at the end of the day, the quality of your followers are even more important than the quantity, the kind who trust your recommendations, hang on your every word, and follow you to new platforms. Trust does not happen overnight, it is built over time. Nobody wants to launch a new product to one million followers with zero purchases.
Making this a focus and priority while you are smaller will make it easier when you are bigger. The more similarities instagram can see between your followers, the easier it will be for instagram to recommend you to new followers. You do this by focusing on not just creating specific content for them, but by building relationships with them so you can continue to know them better (and then show up better!)
Once you get the hang and have traction on Instagram is a good time to start expanding on other platforms (in fact, if you haven’t already, go grab and secure your handle on all the platforms and have a domain name… trust me.)
Not only should you not just rely on one platform (especially as an influencer or business), but you can also use other platforms for greater growth opportunity by increasing your discoverability. Youtube is an amazing search platform, so it is even easier to get your content in front of those who are searching for it. Tiktok has blown up and the reach on their platform is even better and easier than instagram, so it is another opportunity to take advantage of before it slows down.
Diversifying your platforms also allows you to create “content funnels” for your followers. Longer form content like on a blog or on Youtube allows those who find you on Instagram or Tiktok that are enjoying your content, to dive deeper into your content (which builds that connection and relationship!)
Repurpose content for other platforms:
You don’t have to start over on content creation to start leveraging other platforms with your content. You have already created your outline and framework, so you can just translate it to work for other platforms. Here are some examples how you can repurpose content:
One last easy way to transfer your audience to another platform is your own email list. And DON’T worry if you don’t know what you’ll email about! The point is now is the time to get that started. An easy way to start growing your email list is to create a freebie about something in your niche for your audience!
Start building an email list:
You should have a pretty thorough framework to kick off your instagram growth and strategy (or reinvigorated your current one!). The most important thing to remember is creating a sustainable strategy you can maintain for the long term (there is no overnight success, only overnight virality after putting in the work – no one truly goes viral with an empty page 😉 ).
Traveler, Content Creator, Influencer, and UI/UX Designer empowering you to explore the world and make money while doing it.