Words by Marléna Ahearn
Photos by Julia Merrell
We all scroll, swipe, and like, but it takes a lot of trial and error to understand exactly what works on social media. If your goal is to grow your social media following, or just connect more with your audience, Instagram is a powerful tool that can make or break your online presence. Whether you’re an insta-novice or a seasoned-social-sharer, here are some tips for growing on social and being authentically you from four social media experts.
“Connect with your audience and make them feel seen.”
Cathrin started right out of college working in digital marketing. Within a year, she transformed her personal brand into a business: The Content Bug.
“You can read a lot of articles on social media and what works for other people but it’s like you’re copying someone else and it’s not always going to work for you. In the beginning I definitely tried this approach. I tried doing hashtags and spending so much time researching them, now I don’t use any. When I stopped using hashtags altogether, my Instagram following jumped up to 2000 immediately after being stuck at 1800 for a year and a half,” says Cathrin.
“One of the things that helps me the most is Instagram Stories. I talk on my story every day and that’s how I make my connection with my audience. My audience gets to know me. There are some people I see are either uncomfortable in front of their camera or they’re not sure what to share. To me, it’s like talking to a friend. If I want to make myself part of someone’s routine where every day they’re checking my Instagram Story, I have to figure out a way to do it right and keep it interesting enough that they want to keep up with my life and what I’m doing. It’s a hard thing to master, but you just have to start talking every day and share different shots. Don’t make it seven minutes of just your face,” says Cathrin.
“Instagram is my hook—a way to connect with your audience and in turn it does grow. It’s like if you read or look at my content, once you look at my instagram hopefully you’ll fall in love with my personality and want more.”
Emily Hessney Lynch
“If it doesn’t feel good for me to share, if it feels like I’m faking or trying too hard, I’m not going to post it.”
Emily Hessney Lynch went to school at the University of Rochester for higher education administration, worked in the financial aid office, and used her love of Twitter to revive the university's account by distilling financial aid jargon for students. From there, she worked in digital marketing and communications. Last year, she launched her own business: Serve Me The Sky Digital.
“Experiment to see what your audience likes. I think you really have to get to know your followers and what they care about and not be afraid to try new things. So often we are worried about failure and criticism but if something flops, it’s not likely to go viral and everyone’s not going to laugh at you,” says Emily.
“For me, I didn’t do separate personal and business accounts because the lines are so blurred these days. I am my business. I didn’t want to be all business and promote myself shamelessly and endlessly, so I merged what I was doing personally with the self-promotional business content. To find balance, I recently started doing a color box overlay for my business stuff. I never want to have two business posts touching on my grid, so I spread them out and mix in the personal stuff,” says Emily. To help her plan her feed, she uses Planoly as a scheduling tool. This way, posts go out automatically and she can make sure there’s a balance.
When it comes to authenticity, Emily thinks it’s important to just be real, on- and off-line.
“It’s important to be authentic anywhere in general. I think with Instagram, we’ve gone through the whole rose-colored-glasses trend and then people started to be a little more real and honest. But it’s important not to take on performative honesty or pander to people. If it doesn’t feel good for me to share, if it feels like I’m faking or trying too hard, I’m not going to post it.”
“See what people resonate with. Do they like questions, before and afters, wedding photos, or boudoir?”
Natalie Sinisgalli is a photographer with her own studio based in Rochester, NY. Her passion is to help people see themselves in their best light and realize how beautiful and powerful they are.
“When instagram started I didn't like it. As a professional photographer, I wanted to share my work on it but that’s not how you really used it. It was supposed to be instant. Now, I love the separation between stories and your feed. That’s what I needed, to be able to upload my portfolio and have a really polished feed, and then use the story to connect and have that behind the scenes reality,” says Natalie.
"I’m big into analytics and numbers. As artistic as I am, I’m equally scientific. I like to see how many people engage. I love the poll option in stories because it’s a fun way to get people to interact. It’s also a way to see who your biggest cheerleaders are—the repeat offenders. The people who are commenting and are your fangirls on every post—they are the champions for your brand and that should be acknowledged and rewarded,” says Natalie. In turn you can use these people to test ideas. They get your brand and can give you the honest feedback.
“There are certainly ways to do [giveaways], but it’s not for us. We don’t attract the right kind of people when we do that sort of gimmicky, tag-eight-friends kind of moment. For us, people just love our content." And her best advice? "'People want to see you!’” says Natalie. “Even if you’re uncomfortable, showing up is something you have to do. You, in a way, owe it to your audience. Be real and be there.”
“I really built a personal brand by accident. It felt like an accident, but maybe there are no accidents.”
Jacyln Mellone’s mission is to make freelance lifestyle enjoyable and profitable for everyone. As a strategist, podcaster, and coach, she wants people to make more money, work less hours, and design the life they want—and be the go-to-gal for their profession.
Jaclyn got her start on Instagram when she noticed people were selling things on Instagram in the same way she would sell things on eBay. “Seeing that opened up my mind. I started an Instagram account with my friend to try it out. As my mind was swirling with ideas to start a business, I simultaneously was opened up to a world of Instagram that was so different from the very personal way I had been using it,” says Jaclyn.
“I was so afraid of failure that before I was certain it was going to work, I didn’t want to be too public as I was building my business on Instagram. I started my Instagram account in the summer of 2015 and by November I launched my first paid programming and a podcast. With the podcast, I was becoming more visible,” says Jaclyn. “As I started building relationships and joined different communities, I started to get asked to be on podcasts to talk about Instagram, I was asked to be a guest expert, I had people privately messaging me every day asking for help with Instagram. So, all this stuff started happening with Instagram. I really built a personal brand by accident.”
“People want to connect with people. Leveraging your personal brand to grow your business is a way to build an authority for yourself and your business. In the beginning days I was spending so much time on the platform. I spent so much time engaging with people and liking a bunch of posts. With any platform it’s good to experiment and then take the time to go back, reflect, and analyze. See what trends, what’s working, your analytics, and what’s getting the most engagement."
"I think it’s important to also look for shortcuts. As someone who helps others grow their businesses, I’m a shortcut for them. I use that same philosophy with social media. Now I have people on my team who are experts, so I’m not spending so much time on one thing.” By expanding her team and relying on others to do the nitty-gritty she used to do alone, Jaclyn is able to grow her business and try new things that she would never have had time for.
Want more Instagram advice? Cathrin, Emily, Natalie, and Jaclyn will all be sharing their knowledge at Rochester, NY's only social media conference - Upstate Social Sessions, Oct. 3 and 4, 2019.