I don’t have a cat, I hate taking selfies, and inspirational quotes tend to make me gag. I don’t go out to fancy restaurants often enough to truly merit food photos, and I never remember to take #squadgoals pics until long after I’ve said goodbye and changed into my pajamas. But somewhere deep in my soul I knew that if I ever wanted to publish a book or become any kind of public figure, I’d have to have social media accounts. Not only that, I’d have to have good social media accounts. Ones with cohesive images and clever captions and lots of followers. Just the thought of it used to make me want to throw my phone across the room and go take a nap. My life isn’t interesting. How am I supposed to make it look that way on Instagram?
If you’ve heard the term branding, it’s probably been in reference to, well, a brand. A company trying to sell something. But for us anti-social-media souls who’d rather have a conversation over dinner than ’gram it, that’s exactly what we have to do: sell ourselves.
It takes a lot of work. Popularity has never come easy to those of us who chronically avoid the limelight. Thankfully, for social media anyway, there’s a basic formula for popularity. At least the manufactured kind. But isn’t all popularity a little bit manufactured?
Decide who you want to be.
I’m not saying invent a persona. That just creates so much more work for yourself. But decide what aspects of your life you want to show. Do you want to post about the fun things you do and brand yourself as a fun-loving free spirit? Do you want to make yourself moody and inaccessible and only post arthouse shots with vague captions? Do you want to get involved in one of the many subgenres of instagram like bookstagram or nature photography or the hand-lettering community? Find your niche. Find your own personal brand.
Once you’ve decided what parts of your life you want to broadcast to your audience, develop your voice. This will probably be your natural voice, which is great. It’s easy, it’s relatable, it’s authentic. But take it a step farther than that. How are you going to punctuate? Do you love exclamation points? Are you going to use all lowercase letters? Do you have go-to emojis? If someone reads your caption without seeing the photo, will they know it’s you? They should. Your voice should shine through in every caption, every story, every comment.
Authenticity is key here: you’re developing a brand, but people will be able to sense right away if it’s not a true snapshot of you or if you’re trying too hard to be something you’re not. And the audience you’re going to find on Instagram is all about that authenticity.
You’ve created your brand, now it’s time to put it into action. A good rule of thumb for Instagram is to post every day. There are actually people who will unfollow you if you don’t post every day. (Seriously. Who has time to care about that?) If you can’t do every day, make it a point to post every other day. Or on the same day once a week. Whatever you do, stick to a basic schedule. If you want to go the extra mile, figure out when during the day your audience is most active and post at the same time every day, too.
You can always stock up on photos ahead of time and save them as drafts. If you’re posting nature photography, for example, the next time you go on a hike, take fifteen photos and edit the best ten of them. Post three as a set and save the other seven to alternate with the next batch of photos you take. There are apps that will allow you to schedule and will post to Instagram for you, but since Instagram is always changing its rules and permissions, I don’t usually bother with those.
When you upload all these photos, make sure they’re edited the same way. Use the same basic editing features for every photo—if you find you like the look of low contrast and deep shadows, do that for all of them. And always, always use the same filter. The key to a cohesive account is in the editing. It’s all about making your personal brand look the best it can. And often this isn’t even in the content of your posts as much as the quality and subtle details.
Engage with your audience.
When people comment on your posts, reply. Comment on other people’s posts. Like other people’s posts. Take the time to engage with people who have taken the time to engage with you. Watch other people’s stories and vote in their polls. Add polls of your own. Update your story and then update it again. Not only does this help your ranking on the site, it makes people notice and appreciate you. Everyone likes an accessible famous person.
Adding questions to your captions encourages people to engage on your post. The more engagements your post gets and the more time people spend looking at it, the more Instagram thinks it’s a good post and shows it to other people. The more this happens, the more followers you get, and so on and so forth until you’re crazy popular and you don’t remember what free time is anymore. And when people engage with your post, engage right back! It’s a conversation. Everyone has an equal voice on social media. Respect that, then use it to your advantage.
Anytime you have a spare couple of minutes, search relevant hashtags and engage with the people who have tagged it recently. Engage with the followers of people who are doing what you do better. Put yourself on the radar of people who might not have known about you otherwise, but would want to follow you. Searching irrelevant hashtags or people who would have no interest in your personal brand is just a waste of time. It’s tempting to want everyone to like you, but it’s not worth it.
Developing a social media brand isn’t hard, it’s just time consuming. It’s repetitive, and at times, it’s exhausting. Many people, if they want to keep their personal account for blurry cat photos and a little privacy, start a separate account for branding themselves. That, however, just means you’re running two separate accounts and have to keep them separate in your mind. It’s ultimately up to you and whatever works best for your personal brand.
Me, I turned my personal account into a brand, and a few people from high school that I never talked to anyway unfollowed me. Oh darn. But the things I’ve learned working on my account have paid off in big ways for the professional brands I now write for and run. Who needs social media to actually be social? I’ve got people to talk to and brands to sell. #antisocialandproud