Most photographers want to build a popular Instagram feed. From adoring followers to professional opportunities, they are many perks to having a successful account. But it’s not easy, especially when you’re up against a billion other users. Gone are the days when the first wave generation could rise to the top simply by having an account before the masses arrived. Today, you have to be clever and calculated to succeed at Instagram — we’re going to learn exactly what that means.
Social media can be a cause of frustration for many photographers. They work hard to create quality images and share them with the online world, only to find they get little to no engagement. Why is that? Well, not only are they up against all other photographers, they’re also against Instagram’s algorithm. You see, if Instagram were human, people would deem it to be psychologically abusive. It sets out the rules, waits for you to abide by them, and then changes them with no given warning, punishing you if you don’t get up to speed quickly enough.
Winning on Instagram
But photographers are smart, at least the ones who succeed are, and they know how to play the game. So The Phoblographer could get a better understanding of the work behind a photographer’s successful Instagram account, we spoke to National Geographic photographer, Ira Block. We asked Block, who currently has 350 thousand followers on his Instagram, what he felt was needed to run and grow a successful feed.
“To get good numbers and followers on Instagram, you not only need to have really strong images, you need to hook in other people on Instagram who will help push your feed out there. As with any field that is crowded, quality is only half the battle – the other half is marketing. When Instagram first started and before there was an algorithm, it was easier to get followers and likes. Now you can put up a fantastic image and maybe only ten percent of your followers will ever get to see it.
To break through, you will need others to promote and interact with your feed, it will move you up and help beat the algorithm.”
— Ira Block
It may be argued that Block’s name is enough to get things rolling in terms of followers and engagement. While that is true, he clearly outlines even he has to play the game in order to stay relevant, at least in Instagram’s eyes. But what about someone who started from zero? What about a person who doesn’t have a history in photography, but managed to be a success on Instagram?
From Zero to Hero
We spoke to travel photographer, Michael Gerber, about his journey. In only a few years, Gerber went from having a handful of followers to almost a quarter of a million on his Instagram feed.
Gerber told The Phoblographer, “…some of my posts went viral, which led to a great gain of my following. I realized that I have a chance – and started to look into ways to grow my account more effectively.” He continued, “I achieved this mainly through connecting with other like-minded photographers (to cross-promote our channels) and engaged very actively with my audience.”
Gerber admits that even at the start of his journey, it was much easier to build an Instagram following than it is today. But he also believes it’s still possible to be a success, even when the competition is high.
“The three key factors for me are outstanding content (in whatever niche), authenticity (since many big accounts are lacking there), and to engage with your community. I personally answer all messages I get, which can be hundreds in a single day. This is a lot of work, but your followers will appreciate it, and it will reflect in your account. I think it is also important to build a connection with your followers. You can do this through your stories and live streams.”— Michael Gerber (@mscgerber)
There are consistencies in both Block’s and Gerber’s approach to Instagram. They emphasize the importance of community and connecting with like-minded people. You also need to have content that your followers can become emotionally invested in. Give them something they want to share with their followers so they can join in on the journey. Personality is also a key factor in connecting with your online community. Today people want to see the person behind the pictures. They want to know the human and the artist; it’s important you give that to them.
Being successful at Instagram is a lot of hard work and discipline. If you think you’re photography is the only thing to take you to the top, you’re in for a rude awakening. That’s why it’s important to listen to those who have risen to the top of an ever-growing Instagram mountain.