Sunday, 27 July 2014

10 Steps To Becoming Insta-famous!

       So it’s been a bit quiet on the writing about LEGO front, since my previous series of articles a few months ago (that starts HERE) which chronicles the times when I first started getting back into LEGO. But I have actually been busy, mostly with taking more photos of LEGO and, especially in the past few weeks, attempting to push thing more on the social media front.

      After a few little successes with my work and a growing following on Instagram, I thought it would be interesting to write about my experiences and offer a few insights into playing the social media game. Glib article title aside, I have gained a fair few of ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ recently just by establishing a set game plan for myself. I neither consider myself a social media expert, nor do I consider myself a great photographer. But I am having fun doing it and thought it would be interesting to document my process - with the focus mainly being on Instagram and how to cultivate a decent following there.

       Some points may appear to be a bit obvious in hindsight, but for me it was all a gradual learning curve. So, you want to be ‘Insta-famous’? Follow these tips and you can be too!

Step 1: Motivation

       First thing you have to ask yourself is: why are you doing it (i.e. posting pictures on Instagram)? If your answer is just ‘fame’ or ‘money’ then it’s going to be an uphill struggle, as you will likely achieve neither. For me, the social media platforms of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr are simply just avenues for self-promotion and to showcase my work. Each must serve a specific function for you – and consistency is key (which we shall discuss in depth later.

       Everyone has different uses for their various social media platforms (raising awareness, sharing jokes with friends, reaching out to celebrities, self promotion, giving an insight into their private life etc…). For me, Facebook is for personal stuff (on the ‘friends only’ setting but even then I don't really moan about my personal life or what I had for lunch that day and so on), but also self-promotion for my LEGO photography and writing (these posts are set to ‘public’ so anyone can see them even if we are not ‘friends’). Twitter is for self-promotion only (LEGO and writing), Instagram is at the forefront of my LEGO photo showcasing (I occasionally, but increasingly rarely, post non-LEGO related photos); and finally, I have recently set up a Tumblr account as an online gallery of sorts for all my LEGO photos thus far.

       Decide what you want each platform to do for you and stick to it! That way you know who to accept as friends/followers on each platform and, more crucially, they know what to expect when they decide to follow you!

       Back to the theme of motivation, my personal motivation for pushing the social media is just to get more appreciation and recognition for my work. It’s not just about ego stroking (well, maybe a little…), but I remember with a lot of my earlier stuff I was often frustrated with how little feedback I was getting. This wasn’t because people didn’t like what they saw. It was because enough people didn't even have the chance to see it in the first place. So exposure became a priority for me. Most people love LEGO and photography – so why wouldn't I get lots of good feedback? It was just a matter of me finding a way of reaching a wider audience.

       On a creative level, having a wider audience adds fuel to the fire. Knowing that hundreds (or potentially thousands) of people will view your work and the fact that even a small percentage may leave a nice comment or even a ‘like’ is a great motivator for me. I’m a creative person by nature (always have been, always will), nothing will change that - but this increased level of feedback lends a sense of validity to what I do, an expectancy of quality control and some discipline in time management, that I may otherwise lack. So for me, exposure and feedback is a good thing.

Step 2: Your Friends

       So you've got an Instagram account and you've started posting up your pictures. But whose even going to see them? Well, as Instagram is owned by Facebook you can get it to automatically find and follow all your Facebook friends that are already on Instagram. But they need to follow you back too. Most will do so just out of common courtesy, or perhaps they actually are genuinely interested in whatever images you want to post - fair enough. But it’s not a guarantee. I’ve even had the odd one or two friends (people I know in real life, mind you) that have unfollowed me just recently (I know this courtesy of an Instagram companion app – which I will also briefly discuss later).

       Whatever their reasons for doing so, fair enough. But I find it hard to be interested in what they post if they have actively decided to unfollow me and my posts. Although indirect, it implies: ‘I am withdrawing my support for the thing that you are doing’ so why should I carry on following them back? Click that ‘unfollow’ button.
      As for the actual reasons behind why they have decided to unfollow, in my case it could be a variety of reasons: they dislike LEGO (I know the whole Shell issue puts some people off), they don't like a bunch of sub-par toy photographs that I’ve ‘liked’ clogging up their ‘your friends have liked’ feed, they simply don't like me as a person anymore (possible, yet unlikely - heh heh), they think your account is just full of reposts (because I don't really put much personal stuff up their anymore and they aren’t aware that my foray into LEGO photography is genuine and all my own work), or that their account has closed (in which case you wouldn't be following them anymore either so it doesn't matter).

       Whatever the reasoning, don't dwell too much on it (like I evidently have), don't take it too personally, unfollow if you have to, and just get on with it.

       There may also be some friends you have previously followed but they don't follow you back. Now this could be because they are hardly on Instagram at all (indicated by a lack of photos or any recent activity), they don’t know you are following them (maybe they missed the notification) or that they actively have chosen not to follow you (implying that sure, you can show an interest in my stuff but I don't care about yours). In any case, you are best off unfollowing so you can maintain a favourable ratio (importance of this to be explained later), as these people aren’t benefitting you in any way.

       Having said all that, I personally have a few friends that I currently follow who don't follow me back - as I’m still hopeful for them to follow me at some point. Maybe shoot them a message, like or comment on one of their pictures or click ‘unfollow’ and then ‘follow’ again so that they get a follower notification (unconfirmed if this is actually the case) to get their attention. If they still don't follow you after that – guess what? Unfollow.

       So how can you tell who is following who, or when you have a lost a follow? Rather than trawling through and comparing long lists of followers and people you follow, I recommend that you get an Instagram companion app (free from the app store). There are a fair few out there so I’m not going to name specific apps, but most allow you to quickly compare your follows to your followers or if anybody has recently unfollowed you. Very useful for managing your account and keeping track of everything. The one I use also shows me which posts are my most popular and other such titbits, which are also interesting to me.

       You may be shocked at what you find when using this app (in regards to your friends) but the best thing to do is not take it too personally, do what you have to do and just get on with it.

       Now for randomers (ie: people you don't actually know in real life) the rules are very different from what I’ve outlined above, so set all that aside for a minute, and we’ll get on to these people next.

(Note: if you are my friend in real life, are following me but I’m not following you back and coincidentally happen to be reading this, please get in touch and I’ll rectify the situation. Don't want to be coming off as a hypocritical douche here.)

Step 3: Randomers

       Some people are content with just following or being followed by their real life friends. That's fair enough. However for me and my LEGO photography, I want a worldwide audience and exposure of my work to as many people that will care to look. So that means having to go beyond just the network of my friends on Instagram.

       I will outline how to get a decent following of ‘randomers’ (this is not meant as a derogatory term – just as a way of distinguishing them from people you know in real life), but first let me set out the follow/following 'rules'.

       For your (real-life) friends, a follow-for-follow policy is highly recommended. As outlined above, I follow all my friends (regardless or what they post) unless they refuse to follow me back or have decided (for whatever reason) to unfollow me. But for randomers, despite occasional requests from people commenting on my photos with: ‘follow for follow?’, an FFF policy is not always the best way forward. With friends, it’s a common courtesy because you know each other and it’s natural to show support for whatever it is you are doing. But for strangers, I see it more as a transaction: I offer something that they actively want to see (quality/humourous/interesting/cute/whatever original LEGO photos) frequently and for free - the only ‘cost’ of which being them having to click that button to follow me – the result of which also means they should receive my updates (most of the time) on their feed.

       If what you are posting is original, engaging and (most importantly) consistent, then they should be happy to follow you without necessarily being followed back. In return, my responsibility is just to maintain that consistency with which I have originally presented myself to them with. (More discussion on all aspects of ‘consistency’ later).

       Now this isn’t to say that you can’t FFF with any randomers at all. I have followed some other LEGO photographers because I am genuinely interested in what they post, regardless of whether or not they follow me back. If they offer consistency and quality with their posts then why the heck wouldn’t I follow them? What I’m saying you shouldn't do, is feel pressured into following a stranger just because they have decided to follow you or adopt a FFF policy as your main way of increasing views/likes/followers on your profile. If an FFF policy is your main tactic, then you may end up with lots of followers - sure, but often these people a) just want numbers and are not interested in what you are posting at all (which is hardly rewarding), or b) you will end up with a load of stuff you are not interested in clogging up your feed on a daily basis. Neither scenario is really that productive for you and I wouldn't be surprised if unfollowing (from you, from them, or mutual) occurs at a later date.

       Besides which, a high number of follows and followers will result in an unfavourable ratio.

Step 4: Your Ratio

       You may be thinking: so what if your follower/followers ratio isn’t that high? Surely if I follow thousands of people then thousands will follow me back, right? Yes, that may be true – but as outlined above, an FFF setup is not a stable one.

       The main reason for having a good ratio is a psychological one. Now on one hand this part may sound a bit cynical but it’s true: people are more likely to follow you if you have a good ratio on your profile. This is because it lends your account an air of prestige (whether actually warranted or not) – the assumption being for the viewer that there are many others willing to follow you (regardless of whether you follow them back) because your content must just be so damn good.

      Now, I’m not saying you should always be aiming for the highest ratio possible (you don't want to appear as some kind of aloof celebrity who barely acknowledge their followers existence) but in my opinion, the best balance is to keep it lean and efficient. Have no more than a 2:1 ratio of followers to people you follow just to be safe – especially when first starting out. You’ll find as you gain more exposure and followers this gap will naturally widen without you having to force it. For that reason it’s not usual to see many successful Instagrammers with thousand of followers yet only a few hundred follows. It’s one of those things that gradually snowballs but if you can cultivate it early on it will certainly help.

       The flipside of this: if you have a ‘bad’ ratio (eg: having a thousand followers but you also follow a thousand people), this may communicate to others that you are an FFF policy adopter (whether this is actually the case or not is irrelevant), and may even result in some people being put-off from following you as a result.

Step 5: Consistency

       For me, consistency is the key to everything and perhaps the most important aspect to all of this. Because the concept itself covers a lot of different areas in which you must exercise consistency, I feel I have to dedicate a whole section on it.
       As outlined above, consistency is so important in the process of gaining (and more importantly in the long-run) retaining a good number of followers. So lets look at the different areas in which you need to be consistent.

       Firstly: the content which you post itself. This needs to be consistent in terms of quality (whatever you establish that to be). This means maintaining a regular standard of photography. My personal style is one of good colours, brightness, interesting/humerous/cute set-ups that involve minifigures, sharp images and so on. If I suddenly post up a dark, out of focus photo of my lunch, it’s safe to say the majority of my followers will be nonplussed. Now that’s not to say I can never ever post anything non-LEGO anymore, but maintaining a consistent standard is what will get people to follow you and stay following you – its because they know what they are getting (or will be getting regularly) if they choose to follow you.

       Other ways I choose to be consistent in: no repeats of old photos (i.e. reposts of my own work), all original work (no reposts of other people’s photos) and a regular posting schedule (currently one post a day). Now these aren’t set in stone, but the more consistent you are in these, the more successful you will be. I used to post all sorts of random stuff when I first set up my account (check out my oldest posts) and even photographs (but not reposts) of other people’s MOCs - but having phased that out, I have found it a lot easier to gain followers. (And remember folks, if you are reposting other people's stuff, make sure you credit them!)

       So whatever your set-up/standard/theme of your Instagram – the golden rule: be consistent. If you often post up nature photography, try to specialise in that. Pets, food or selfies in skimpy outfits – whatever it is you post, don't deviate too far from the theme you have established. Unless you happen to be some kind of photography god that makes every random photo you take an utter masterpiece, why would a stranger bother to follow you at all? The one exception to this is if you a celebrity already (in which case people are likely to follow you whatever you post) – but if you are one then what the hell are you doing reading this?!

       So the foundation to having a good social media presence: consistency. Just think about any famous website, podcaster, YouTuber, Facebook page, Twitter account, whatever. They are successful because they are consistent in what they offer.

       For me, one further way I exercise consistency is in the way I post on my various different social media platforms. As well as having a strict process and workflow when posting things (outlined in a future article), each platform (Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook) has a specific purpose for me (already detailed in Step 1), and I stick to that. As they are all interconnected with links (with the exception of linking back to Facebook), anybody interested in my stuff can follow me via whatever avenue is most suitable for them. Of course, each platform has its own pros and cons – but I’ll leave that up to you to discover.

Step 6: Getting Followers – Organic or Inorganic?

       How to get followers? In my opinion there are two main methods of growth: organic and inorganic. I’ll outline them both, but I’ll state upfront that I’m all about the organic method. To put simply, this is when you have a consistent output (in the various interpretations of ‘consistency’ as outlined above), which when targeted at the right people will naturally make them want to follow you. It’s a gradual and more stable approach to getting (and keeping) a consistent following.

       An inorganic approach would include things such as: using (or even paying for!) services that net you followers, spamming your photos with non-relevant but currently ‘hot’ hashtags, or adopting an indiscriminate FFF (follow for follow) policy. Now whilst these seem like quick fixes and may quickly net you many followers, it's likely to be unstable in the long run, as many followers also playing this ‘game’ may discreetly unfollow you after a few weeks/days (for a more favourable ratio), and that's not to mention that you will also constantly be spammed with hundreds of stranger’s random photos on your feed everyday, drowning out the photos of your friends and/or the people you are actually interested in following.

       A further bonus of having organic followers over inorganic ones is that the organic are more likely to ‘like’ your photos, tag others in them and comment on them – all of which results in the likelihood of your photos appearing on their followers’ feeds as well. It’s all about getting good exposure. This is unlikely to happen when using the inorganic method.

       There are, however, two caveats to everything I’ve discussed in this section. Firstly, if you are a super hot girl (or guy) and you consistently post scantily clad photos of yourself (as your theme) then the inorganic method WILL still work. This is because there is no shortage of perverts on the internet and T’n’A always draws a crowd. I guess this is actually the super-easy method if all you care about is being Insta-famous. Just be consistently titillating.

       The second caveat, is that I haven’t actually used any of these inorganic methods (as described above) for myself, so I cant 100 percent vouch for it working/not working through my own personal experience. This is just based on listening to the experiences of others’ and through observation.

       The kicker for me on organic vs inorganic, however, is on a much more personal note. If I have a thousand followers, but know for a fact that the majority are not remotely interested in what I post – then what’s the point? It does nothing for my motivation. But having a few hundred followers (that I have grown organically) that I know are actually interested in what I am doing and have actively chosen for my work to appear on their feeds? Now that’s a much better motivation and worth putting in a bit of effort for.

       And it does require a bit of effort on your behalf. No quick fixes here. Like a plant it needs to be nurtured over time in order to grow.

Step 7: Growing Followers – Like Others’ Photos

       Now lets get down to brass tacks. The key to growing organic followers (having first made sure you have established a consistent posting habit) is to like lots of pictures. And I mean LOTS. There is no two ways about it – you have to put some effort in here.

       But it's not just liking a load of random pictures that strangers post up. You need to target those who may have a specific interest in what you are posting, in the hope that they will follow you. That’s where the ‘search’ function on Instagram comes in. As my regular go to, I search #lego, choose the display as a list view (instead of a gallery view) and then scroll down all the results, liking lots of photos.

Not this view, the other view!

       Now a blanket approach of liking every single photo with #lego isn’t always the best approach. I only tend to like at least half-decent photos and only ones that prominently feature a LEGO minifigure or creation. These are the ones that are most likely to be my target audience - and consequently who are likely to follow me (or at least check out my profile and like some of my other photos there).
      What I avoid: incorrectly tagged photos (#lego is a currently ‘hot’ hashtag, but also some people use it as a slang term for “let’s go”), generic reposts (not original photographs) as these are banking on existing LEGO pictures or pop culture references to gain likes, or photos that already have over roughly 30 likes already.

       The key is to draw the attention of like-minded people. By ‘liking’ their picture they will be notified and a high percentage will click on your profile to see who you are. This is where your consistent posting habits will help you out first. Since they posted something to do with LEGO it is safe to say they like it. They see my profile (full of consistent quality and original LEGO photography) and may choose to follow me to keep seeing these pictures on their feed as they come out (my regular posting schedule means often they will often have a new one every day).
      If they don't follow, they may still ‘like’ some of your posts, giving them a tiny bit more exposure (as it has a chance to appear on their ‘liked’ feed). Worse case scenario, they don't do anything – but all it took is two seconds for you to have pressed ‘like’ on their photo so it’s not that big of a deal for you.

       The reason I don't often ‘like’ photos that already have 30+ likes is because the more ‘likes’ someone gets on a photo, the less likely they are to follow it up with a ‘whose this?’ click on your profile. The exception to this is if I recognise that they are a regular successful poster and I just feel like ‘liking’ their pic anyway in the hope that familiarity over time may lead  to a mutual following of each other. But don't force it – requesting ‘follow for follow?’ comes across as a bit desperate and disingenuous in my opinion.

       If you don't have many posts/followers you may have to work on ‘liking’ quite a bit. But the more followers/exposure you get, the less time you need to spend on doing this. Currently I only need to do this maybe twice a day (spending about 5 minutes at a time scrolling through and liking a bunch of posts) which, for me, leads to a daily incremental increase in followers.

Step 8: The Art of Hash-Tagging

       The next step is the art of hash-tagging. You should use relevant hashtags on your pictures when you post them, to do with LEGO in general but also specific to the picture. I have a copy and paste list of hashtags which I nearly always use which you can see below:

       Where is says #custom, I substitute these for picture relevant hashtags. So for example, in the photo below I have added in #mechanic #car #repairs #mot.

       This gives you a good mix of general and specific hashtags for your photos. It’s not advisable to add irrelevant hashtags (this may increase exposure but it wont be targeted at the right group) or add too many hashtags as Instagram’s limit on tags will cut some of them off or worse it will come across as desperate). About the number that is in the above copy and paste picture is advisable as the maximum.

       The final piece of advice to get people to look at your profile is to be social – it is called ‘social media’ after all. This means if you really like a picture, leave a nice comment. This can range from just ‘cool’ or ‘awesome’ or to a more specific comment such as ‘I love the use of focus here’ or questions such as ‘where can you get that (specific LEGO) piece’?  
       Unless the photo has dozens of comments already, that person will 99% of the time reply to you and may well have a look at your profile while they are at it. Similarly, if someone leaves a comment on your wall, get back to them. If you show them that you are friendly, approachable and share similar interests, then once again, they are more likely to follow you. Some may even give you a ‘shout-out’, meaning they advertise your account to all their followers – which is always good exposure.

       And that’s about it in a (rather large) nutshell. I’m nowhere near ‘insta-famous’ at the moment but have gone from around 150 to 530 followers in the past 2 weeks - all organic, and with only 2 randomer unfollows in that time. So the stats speak for themselves. My current aim is to get to around 1000 followers, then we’ll see where it goes from there.

Step 9: Extra Steps

       There are a few extra steps you can take if you want that additional push for exposure. Firstly, change your profile picture to something relevant to your theme. So for a LEGO minifigure orientated account like mine, the avatar shows a LEGO minifgure representing me. This is a quick mental shortcut for the potential followers to see that your account is all about the LEGO. You can see mine below.

       Another additional step, much for the same reasons as above, is to change your account name to something related to your theme. I personally have chosen not to do this (so that my account stays in line with my other social media), but if pushed I would change it to something like ‘Lego-Seb’, ‘Seb-Brickski’ or even something more general as ‘Lego_Lover_99’ or similar. In fact, that’s why my recently set up tumblr account (that just acts as a gallery for my LEGO pics) is entitled ‘Sebski-Lego’.

       Of course you can also go for some of those inorganic methods too such as the use of follower-boosting services, loading your picture with unrelated but popular tags or just liking literally every picture you possibly can. You may find that works for you, but I prefer my slow, steady and reliable method.

Step 10: In Summary

       So, to summarise, (or if you got bored of reading through all my earlier ramblings and just want the short version), here it is:

1)   Make sure your posts/output is consistent.

2)   Maintain a good ratio (follower management).

3)   Like photos of those with similar interests.

4)   Use hashtags well.

5)   Be social, comment and reply every now and then.

6)   Make sure all your social media is interlinked well.

       And that's about it! Apologies if I went on a bit. In fact, there were a few more things I was going to add but I’ll just put them in the next post.

       Best of luck!

You can check out my instagram account HERE.
Or read some other of my LEGO posts by clicking on these links:

PART 1- Starting out

PART 2 – Gateway sets and Intro to Collectible Minifigs

PART 3 – How to identify Collectible Minifigs

PART 4 – Other ways of obtaining Minifigs

27th July 2014 

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