Facebook and Twitter get a lot of attention as social networking tools, but really there’s no better place for a photographer than Instagram. Why? First of all, Instagram is image-focused and you can network with other photographers and get inspiration. Also, your fans can follow you, see your style, and book your services. But you can also use your Instagram page as a place to experiment and to have fun!

So, let’s break down some key steps for finding more followers, using Instagram strategically to boost your business, and how to translate online followers into real-life sales.

Setting Up a Business Account – Starting with Instagram is as easy as downloading the app, registering your profile, and uploading a photo. But if you have a business, you should consider converting your personal account to a business profile. It’s easy to do. Just visit the option menu and hit “Switch To Business Profile.”

You’ll get some immediate benefits from having a business account. First, you can add additional contact info like your location, email, and phone number so followers can get in touch with you to book sessions. Secondly, you can access valuable data about your followers, posts, and engagement. This can help you refine what you post and when. Finally, you can promote posts. This will help you get extra eyeballs on super important posts.

Using Insights to Improve Posts – With a business account, you get more information about your audience and how they react to your posts. You’ll see a demographic breakdown of your followers, including their ages, genders, and location. You’ll also see what days and times your followers are most active. Knowing your audience and their viewing habits can help you decide what to post and when.

The “when” part of this equation is very helpful. If you’re only going to post a few photos a week, it’s a good idea to do it when the most people are online to see your work. Look to your data to discover which days and times your audience is most engaged. By making small tweaks to your content and posting schedule, you can eventually see big gains in likes and engagement.

Post Consistently – When working out your posting schedule, remember:
the most important thing is to be consistent. Post daily if you can, or stick to three times a week. What matters most is that your followers can count on you to deliver content that they love – consistently. Set a reminder in your calendar if you have to! Frequent updates keep you top of mind with your followers. They show that you’re a hardworking, prolific, in-demand photographer! And the more you post, the more room you have to experiment.

Experiment – It’s smart to take a strategic approach to your Instagram, but don’t get stuck worrying about it too much. Instagram is meant to be quick and off the cuff. It shouldn’t take hours to make a post. That’s because Instagram is not your portfolio, but it should work like a companion.

Post a mix of portfolio-quality photos, nice shots that won’t exactly make it into your portfolio, experimental images, “behind the scenes” photos, and casual mobile pics. Around 80% should be your main style, and the rest is playtime. Again, don’t get too paralyzed by perfection. Obsessing over what pics are good enough, on target enough, perfectly balanced, and on and on will just suck the fun out of life. Above all, have fun!

Write Better Descriptions – Your followers want to know more about your cool photos! Where were they taken? Did you use any new equipment? Why was the shoot memorable? Consider taking a moment to jot down any thoughts about your photo that seem interesting. Giving the image context helps to draw in your audience and give them a peek into your process. It doesn’t have to be long, usually a quick sentence or two will do. And don’t worry about “SEOing” your descriptions. Instagram uses hashtags to help people find images they like.

Use #Hashtags To Get Found – Instagram uses hashtags to help users find images. This means that unless you use hashtags on your posts, new users won’t be able to find your cool photos. You can use up to 30 hashtags per post. At a minimum, you’ll want to include at least 10 or 15 at the end of your post. When you start to type a hashtag, Instagram will tell you how many posts are currently using that particular tag. It’s important to use a mix of “popular” and “less-popular” hashtags, so you can show up in a lot of different places.

You also may find more success using smaller tags. That’s because big tags mean big competition. Where you might drown in a sea of #photography posts, you may rise to the top of a smaller tag, like #westcoastphotography. It’s good to think strategically about your tags, and notice which work better over time. And remember: INCLUDE AT LEAST ONE LOCATION-SPECIFIC HASHTAG! Unless you can travel all over the world to shoot, the majority of your clients will be LOCAL! Make sure the right customers can find you. (For example: brides searching #charlotteweddings.)

Stay Ahead Of Trends – Instagram is not only for your adoring fans – it’s also a place for you to network and get inspired. Following and engaging with other photographers (and fans of photographers) is super helpful for figuring out what people are liking, responding to, and doing out there on that dangerous cutting edge. When you can, grab a big old piece of that inspiration pie for yourself and try new methods, subjects or editing styles.

And you can take inspiration for your promotional strategy, too. Do you know a photographer who is #KILLINGIT on insta? Study the way they write their descriptions and the hashtags they use. New and trending tags pop up all the time, so be on the lookout – you could be making a bigger splash in a smaller bucket. And when new features or tools come out, don’t be afraid to give them a try. If you stay plugged in, you can uncover better tactics and new followers who are hungry to know your business better.

Engage With Your Community – Gaining followers is good, but so is following others (This is the SOCIAL part of social media!). To get friends, you have to make friends. So go ahead and follow some accounts that you really like, photographers you want to know better, influential fans, and accounts that take submissions for contests. Networking is an important part of your business and by creating relationships, you can open up new doors in your career. If someone leaves you a comment … write back!

Sure, it takes a minute, but your followers will really appreciate you taking the time to say “thank you” or answer a quick question. The user you engaged with will likely stick around and come back more often. If they weren’t following you before, they probably will now. People like knowing that you’re not a robot that spits out pictures. The more human you make yourself online, the more your followers will want to engage with your brand. And if they’re in your area looking for a photographer… you can be darn certain they’ll remember you.

Holly Harris is the Marketing Strategist for PhotoBiz, a company that specializes in building websites for professional photographers and other small business owners. Learn more at PhotoBiz.com.