Amongst the never ending ‘to do list’ of an entrepreneur, social media falls somewhere near last.

In our day and age where the only reason to go outside is for work and to take the out the bins, our society lives on the internet, so the importance of communicating on their terms and where they like to play, is crucial. Unfortunately, social media doesn’t always yield results straight away. Between that frustration, and the eternal struggle to get followers, likes and engagement, the process can feel like torture.

While there are many social media companies and experts out there with marketing degrees, my education is purely from blood, sweat and tears. While I do not have a piece of paper to certify that I know what I’m talking about, I do have other credentials.

For example, my Instagram account @SkinnyKitchen has amassed over 330,000 followers in the last year, and has by default earned me the status of ‘Instagram Queen.’ Although I’ve had success and been able to teach and replicate this for others, feel free to take my advice with a grain of salt – I won’t be at all offended!

Starting an Instagram account is exciting, and hard.

Being a newer platform than Facebook and others, it’s something that many people are finding difficult to wrap their head around, however once you ‘crack the code’ so to speak, you’ll find that it’s both massively addictive, and also an outstanding way to build your brand, grow your audience, and effectively spread the word about your business.

You really need to figure out a strategy that works for you but the good news is your audience will tell you what they want to see.

Initially, it is all trial and error, but with a solid understanding of your branding and the message you want to convey, there will come a time where you will gain followers in your sleep. Amazing, right?!

Social media is a long romancing of your audience, and hopefully eventual customers. I’ve had a lot of experience in the dating game so let me walk you through the first steps.

These are the things you’ll be focusing on:

Language; and

1. Hashtags – Choose your Cocktail!
Hashtags are crucial. As previously mentioned, they are a way to let people know you exist. People use hashtags on instagram to index their content with the aim to have more eyeballs on their account, which will hopefully lead to a new follower. Initially you’ll have a couple of tags you’ll start off using, which will get the ball rolling, but to save time, it’s great to develop a group of tags you can copy and paste into every post, adding additional tags that are particularly relevant to that post.

Search through the posts which have been indexed in the hashtags most related to your business and see what other relevant tags other people are using in their posts and see how many tens or hundreds of thousand people have used that same tag.

Depending on how niche your business is, you’ll get a feel for what is popular and which tags you should be adding to your cocktail. To add to this, I recently worked with a fertility company (something which I know nothing about), and I started off using the main tags like #infertility #fertility. In my stalking I found that there was an ENTIRE community of people who were tagging #TTC (trying to conceive). Finding this community was a GOLD MINE and helped me not only grow the account quickly but in an extremely targeted fashion!

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2. Content – Work the Room
One thing that sets Instagram apart from other social channels is that it is very community focused. Indexing yourself using hashtags is a great start – people need to find you. However as wonderful as your posts are, you need to interact with your audience, before they become your audience. Search through the tags that most apply to you and go through and like posts and even comment on the ones you like.

Another company I’ve recently worked who was in the wedding industry made it a habit to go through and congratulate newly engaged couples via the hashtag #engaged. Not only are you networking with the community, but it also says a lot about how much you care and the effort you’re willing to go to. With this particular business, we wanted to participate and celebrate the journey from engagement to honeymoon with our audience.

3. Imagery – Look the Part, Define Your Style.
It is SUPER important to have clean, high-quality pictures when you post. If you’re lacking in photography, you can easily grab pictures from Pinterest. And no, there are no repercussions for this (in most instances, always check if in doubt on any copyright issues). Generally speaking, many bloggers, photographers, and publications will watermark their picture to retain their branding and get the benefit from you sharing the image.

There are also paid image services, and not all of them are crappy stock photos! Newer services such as Canva and Dollar Photo Club offer fresh, high quality images of just about anything you could think of.

The reason I make a point in saying your images must be high quality is not only because it’s nice to have beautiful posts associated with your name, but with Instagram being a community, it’s common for people to screenshot your image and share it on other accounts. If you have great photos, you are more likely to have your image regrammed on someone’s account – and they will often tag you, giving you exposure to their followers.

If you want to take it up a notch like I do, I plan my posts weekly and make sure that I’m posting everything I need to for the week, and that my Instagram feed is aesthetically flawless. If you have a look at my account @SkinnyKitchen, you can easily see the transition from where I was just posting whatever, to when it started looking a lot more picture perfect.

If you have a style guide or a colour combination that you frequently use, it is easier to make your account aesthetically pleasing whilst keeping on-brand.

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4. Language – Get your brand message across!
As much as Instagram is a visual platform, the written caption that accompanies your post is critically important and puts your imagery into context and with 60 million posts a day, you definitely don’t want to be part of the noise.

Choosing what to write comes back to what message you want to communicate, what relationship you want to have with your audience and the tonality of your Brand’s Personality. Often you’ll see quotes designed into beautiful images and posted on Instagram – if you do this, make sure that the quotes and statements you share are also on brand, and not just any random quote.

5. Frequency – When is it too much?
As for how many posts, if you post 3-4 times per day you are likely to get 10+ new followers a day, and this is the type of frequency that the most successful brands on Instagram are working on. If you aren’t at a point where you aren’t able to create that much content just yet, posting once per day would be a great goal to aim for, and will definitely help you to truly learn and understand the platform and build your audience.

In order to do this you have to set up some type of Content Calendar where you plan out which posts you’re going to put up each day, and also set aside chunks of time to prepare your posts in advance, so that you’re not in a daily battle to come up with a new post every day.

Although you can’t geographically target followers (yet), if you stick to relevant hashtags, put real thought and effort into your content, do your research and stay consistent, your target market will start pouring in to follow you and you really could be the next Instagram Queen or King!

Remember that even though I now have over 300,000 followers, I started out with a big, fat zero – just like everyone else.