Instagram: Choosing Your Topic

Okay, so you have an account, a smart-phone, and a bunch of pictures of lattes. Now what?

Unfortunately, if you’re trying to build a brand posting random pictures from your photo-roll isn’t going to cut it (even if they’re good photos). Generally speaking, people want to follow:

  1. People they know
  2. People/things that they are interested in

If you’re aiming to be #2 and aren’t a celebrity, then you need strong thematic content to convince someone that you hold the same interests that they do – and you have to do it in an engaging way.

Get to know your audience

Everyone and their cat has an Instagram. So many cats have Instagram that it’s often hard to tell the accounts apart. What differentiates a “successful” account and your little sister’s kitten’s account is the quality of photo mixed in with a lot of luck and a dash of self-marketing. If you want to build a brand, you can’t rely on luck.

In audiences that are already saturated, you have to work a lot harder to stand out (I’m looking at you, lifestyle bloggers, foodies, and pet accounts). If you’re starting from nothing and want to enter a saturated market you have to have the most interesting pictures, captions, and perfect hashtags. If you don’t, you’ll get lost in the photo feed; your photos will be blown away by generic pictures of coffee posted by people who have 100x your exposure because they’ve been doing this longer. There are two somewhat paradoxical solutions to this (but I promise they work beautifully together): get specific and diversify.

Get Specific: Choose Your Niche

Find sub-genres of saturated markets to start building your community. Here are a few examples of how you can narrow it down:

#Cats (106,263,850 posts) turns into:

  • #CatsInBoxes (78,562 posts)
  • #CatsInBowties (21,694 posts)
  • #CatsInSweaters (8,585 posts)

#Food (205,607,012 posts) can be broken down into:

  • #GlutenFree (13,385,630 posts)
  • #ColorfulFood (118,302 posts)
  • #LocalCoffee (52,775 posts)
  • #BestTacos (17,744 posts)
  • #SaladRecipe (6,645 posts)

#Beauty (152,764,987 posts) can narrow to:

  • #EyeMakeup (1,766,828 posts)
  • #NaturalMakeup (945,161 posts)
  • #PerfectLips (58,720 posts)
  • #MakeupArtistDallas (1,512 posts)

Every large category has a smaller category that you can grow in. You want the category to be big enough that people post regularly (so don’t focus on a category that only a couple hundred people use) but not so big that your post will get lost after a few seconds (i.e. cats).

Diversify: Choose 3 Topics

Now that you’ve found your niche, I want you to go back and find two more. If you’re a cafe, then the three might be something like: latte art, our baristas, events we have in the shop. If you’re a musician then your three things might be: practicing my instrument, gigs, concerts that I go to. The three things don’t have to be directly related, but they should all be easily accessible in your life. My three are petsitting, programming, and personal – sometimes it’s coffee, sometimes it’s my boyfriend, sometimes it’s a dress I really love. A good way to figure out what your three should be is to look at what you naturally spend your time doing – if you choose “fitness” but only work out once a month, then you should probably pick something else.

You gain two things by diversifying: you prevent yourself from getting photo fatigue, and you widen your audience. It’s hard to take great photos all the time (I have the energy to take photos maybe 2-3 days of the week) so this gives you a chance to stockpile photos of other things like your cat, headstones, or silly license plates which you can post when  you aren’t feeling photogenic.

Three topics also means a larger number of people may be interested in your profile, and you will probably find that one topic gets way more attention than the other two. It may not be the topic that you expect. Watch for that trend and figure out how to cater to it (maybe post on that topic 70% of the time instead of 30%) to build your audience in that area.

Diversifying also allows you to experiment with different topics; when you introduce something new 2/3 of your audience probably won’t be disappointed and immediately unfollow you. A 100% cat based account that suddenly starts posting pictures of metal bands isn’t going to go over very well with the audience.

Personal anecdote: I started off by posting mainly pictures of animals that I petsit (the niche there is a community which revolves around the petsitting website) and that helped my profile grow ~6 solid followers a day. I recently posted a picture of me working at home and noticed a sharp spike in followers, I followed up on that with a couple more pictures and the past week I’ve been averaging ~12 followers a day. Needless to say I will be posting slightly fewer pet pictures and slightly more pictures of me talking about work.

That being said, if you have a special place in your heart for weird hats and don’t want to post pictures of anything else ever: go for it.

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