I’ve had several articles published – and I’m working on another for an online magazine – but these are freebies. I’d like to get paid for this, so I have to work toward submitting articles and photos to the few magazines in my niche that pay for them.
Instagram is a hot platform for sharing photos and for social networking. With more than 500 million active Instagram users as of June 2016 (source), you will want to have a presence there. But how do you get Instagram followers?
This post will describe several ways to get Instagram followers – ethically. The following methods will be discussed:
Gaining Followers Organically
Ethics and Instagram Followers
First, a quick note about ethics and Instagram followers. There are many, many sites on the Internet that promise to get you thousands of Instagram followers easily. I recommend that you to avoid those, as you may get thousands of “followers” but they will either be fake accounts or people who are not engaged with your images and message.
I encourage you to get followers who are truly interested in what you have to show and say. This does take more time and effort than the “get followers quick” sites, but you will have followers that actually read your content, rather than dummy accounts with nobody behind them.
Gaining Followers Organically
If you are active on Instagram, posting images regularly, you will accumulate more followers organically. By “organically” I mean people will find you through friends, through hashtags, or through Instagram hubs. If they like what you’re posting, and like your profile, they’ll follow you to get your content.
This is very helpful but it will take a long time to accumulate a large number of followers.
You can gain followers by liking and commenting on your friends’ posts. Other people will see your comments and go view your profile and perhaps start following you as well. I don’t see this as a huge growth strategy, but you’ll be checking your friends’ posts out anyway, so it may help.
You should always hashtag your posts. You do this by entering one or more words prefixed with a “#”. Some examples of hashtags are #canada, #trains or #love.
Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post. This might seem excessive but a lot of people search for posts by hashtag, so it is in your best interest to tag your posts with appropriate hashtags.
Instagram hubs (or “feature accounts”) are accounts that feature others’ work. You tag your posts with a hashtag specific to that hub, and the people who run the hub will periodically review tagged posts and feature a photo on their hub.
For example, Pocket_Rail is a hub followed by almost 10,000 accounts that follows the hashtag #pocket_rail. If you tag your post with that, you might get featured and get your photo in front of them.
Pocket_Rail has featured several of my photos (thank you!), including this one of an NB Southern excursion train.
It is common for Instagram users to follow those who follow them. You get a notification that so-and-so has started following you, so you check out their profile, and if it interests you, you follow back.
Simple enough, right? Just start following people and they’ll follow back?
It’s not so simple. You have to find the right people to follow, and you have to offer a compelling profile that will make them want to follow you.
Who to Follow
There are a couple of ways to find the right people to follow, to increase the chances that they will follow you back. The key is to find people who are either posting in your niche or following those who post in your niche.
Suppose you write a lot about cats. Siamese cats, in particular. How do you find people on Instagram who like Siamese cats?
Start a search and start typing in Siamese. You’ll see some suggestions pop up immediately.
The first four results are three accounts and a hashtag. Let’s pick the hashtag #siamesecat. You’ll see a list of top posts with that hashtag, and below that, the most recent posts including that hashtag.
Open each post in a separate browser window and see who liked and/or commented on the posts.
You can see that 861 people liked this. In the Instagram app, you can poke the like counter and it will show you every user that liked the post, with a convenient “Follow” button right beside them.
I do not recommend that you follow every one of them.
Have a look at each profile and see if what they post is A) interesting to you, and B) related to what you post.
You want to follow people who would be interested in your content. For my @stevetraingeek account, I look for people who have a train in their profile picture first, then look for people who post photos of trains.
The third way to ethically gain followers on Instagram is to engage people. Actively participate on Instagram by liking posts, and especially by commenting on photos.
Be sure you are not just spamming photos by leaving generic comments. I see a lot of accounts try to gain followers by commenting with “nice photo” or “wowzers” or similar comments on photos that are not at all related to what they post. It’s clear they are trying to get you to check their profile out.
This won’t be a problem if you follow people who post content related to what you like and post. You’ll be authentic when you comment and naturally engaged.
Be sure to show your appreciation for the post, ask a question, whatever seems natural to you. Don’t add “follow me” or “view my profile” at the end – that’s spammy. People will check you out if they want to.
That’s three main methods for how to get Instagram followers ethically:
I only produced one calendar in 2016 and I didn’t expend much effort to promote it, so sales were poor.
My main job was on overdrive this fall and I didn’t have a lot of time to spare for my photography side hustle. Still, I’d rather earn $X/hour for working extra on my main job versus a considerably smaller amount per hour on my side hustle!
My sources of income in 2016 came from four areas:
Image sales, 44%
Print sales, 4%
Product sales, 27%
Work for hire, 0%
Advertising was from AdSense. I haven’t gone “whole hog” on advertising on my web sites and blogs, mostly because I don’t want to be too intrusive.
I experimented with Amazon Associates advertising late in the year and it did not work out for me. I may revisit it later in 2017 but for now it’s off my sites.
I played with Commission Junction a bit but it doesn’t seem like a really good fit for me.
Image sales came from a few sources. I sold images directly to a few people for either personal or business use – always appreciated. I also had some nice stock income from Shutterstock later in the year as my stock photo efforts started to bear fruit.
Print sales were minimal this year, as you can see by their 4% contribution to my gross income. I had one Fine Art America sale and the residual from a previous Redbubble sale came in. I think prints have been on the decline in the industry for some time.
Product sales were the residuals from the 2016 calendars sold in late 2015 and early 2016, the minimal calendar sales in late 2016, and of course my eBook.
The big surprise for me from product sales was the three Amazon Kindle sales I had. I put the eBook on Amazon with zero promotion and it’s been nice to see that people found and bought it. Imagine what I could do if I actually promoted it!
I did not work for hire, nor did I write for other people. Given my lifestyle and preferences, I don’t think work for hire is something I should be pursuing in the future. If it happens, great, but I’m not going to pursue it in 2017.
Stock Photography Income
As I mentioned above, I was pretty busy at my job in the fall so my stock photography submissions suffered. I made a big push during the Christmas break to submit some photos I had marked as “potential stock”, and most were accepted and a few have sold already, so that was worth doing.
I had a goal of $50/month for income from stock photography. How did I do?
Clearly I didn’t hit my goal. I’d say I’ve reached $20/month (USD) fairly consistently, but I’m a long way from my goal.
I still think my goal was realistic, if I had achieved my side goal of submitting a thousand images by the end of 2016. I have about 300 images online, and if you do the math and assume a proportionate amount of income/image, I would have hit $50/month if I had a thousand images for sale.
That takes us back to the same old refrain – submit more images!
My net income was way off my target of $700 for the year. Net income was $145.31.
Where did my expenses come from? Two places:
Web site, 67%
Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop licensing, 33%
I mentioned in my February report that I pre-purchased my web site hosting expenses for 24 months at 24% off. I consider that an investment but that accounts for the majority of my web site expenses. The other web site expenses are domain renewal fees.