Growing Your Audience on Instagram with Andrea Zoellner
Wondering how to build a following on Instagram? I was! It’s my favorite social platform and I’m trying to be more intentional about the content. So I brought on Andrea Zoellner, who offered fantastic advice around IG strategy, taking great photos, and if those walls of hashtags actually work. Let’s get into all of that and more.
Intro: Have you been wondering how to build a following on Instagram? I am, was, have been for a long time. It’s my favorite social platform, and I’m trying to be more intentional about the content I’m posting on it. So I brought on Andrea Zoellner, who offered fantastic advice around Instagram strategy, taking great photos, and if those walls of hashtags actually work. I learned a ton and I’ve already started implementing what she talked about. So let’s get into this because there’s so much great information here about everything I just mentioned and more.
Joe: Hey everybody, and welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, how did you build that today? My guest is Andrea Zoellner. She is the head of growth at Kinsta. We are going to be talking about a topic that eludes me, which is part of the reason I asked her to be on the show. It is growing your audience and following through Instagram. Andrea, how are you?
Andrea: I’m doing so well. Thanks for having me on your show, Joe.
Joe: Thanks for coming on the show. Andrea and I met because we go to a lot of WordCamps. Unfortunately, neither of us has been to a WordCamp in a very long time at this point. So it’s good to see you at least virtually.
Andrea: That’s right. Most of our meetings are online now. But we make the most of it.
Joe: Yeah, for sure. For sure. And someday soon we’ll be going back to events. So I am excited because I feel like you have a really good following, you found a really good niche on Instagram. It seems like a well-oiled machine. So that’s part of the reason I wanted to ask you about this. Like if you look at my Instagram feed, it’s like cigars, pens, or my daughter basically, which is probably not great for finding the right niche. But before we get into all of that, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Andrea: Sure. My name is Andrea, you know that. I have been in the WordPress space for a while, but I kind of jumped around and I work for Kinsta now as their head of growth, and I also on the side have a travel blog. That’s really where my inspiration comes from for my Instagram account. So on top of my day job working in tech, I also like to dabble in WordPress development, mostly on my own projects. And my blog is a big project of mine. That is also one of my creative outlets if you will.
Joe: Yeah, fantastic. I know that you worked for a different company when we were traveling a lot, but you have a travel blog. Is that travel going to continue, do you think? I don’t want you to speak for the company if you shouldn’t be. But do you think you’ll continue to be going to WordCamps once we can travel again?
Andrea: Probably less so. I’ll probably stick to the big WordCamps because of course I love going to WordCamp Europe and WordCamp US, and my local WordCamp as well, and possibly even ones that are close by to Montreal, Philadelphia, and New York.
Joe: Nice. Very nice.
Andrea: But probably not as much as before. And given the current circumstances, definitely not.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. Forgive my geography here. Are you closer to the States than Toronto or about the same?
Andrea: About the same?
Andrea: I’m close to Maine, upstate New York.
Joe: Okay, got you. Yeah, yeah, cool. Very cool. I mean, I don’t think people realize how big New York is. But from the top of the Canadian border in New York down to the city is like probably eight to 10 hours’ drive. In any case, that’s neither here nor there. You have a travel blog, which is, as you said, the inspiration for your Instagram. Can you tell us a little bit about maybe the origin story? Did you have the blog first and then decided to get on Instagram? Were you already using Instagram because you liked it and then you decided to turn it into something different? What was the decision making like there?
Andrea: Sure. I had Instagram before the blog just as a personal social media channel like any other. And I think the ways that you described your own social media presence on Instagram, it was very similar. It was like, “Here’s what I ate,” or “here’s something that I did.” It was a personal expression, but it didn’t really have any guiding lines or direction other than just a reflection of my personal life.
Then when I started blogging, I really wanted to clean that up a little bit. I realized early on that my blog was a really nice polished outlet for my content. You know, I uploaded nice photos there and I had really thought for pieces. I put a lot of energy into that. But I think what really triggered my interest in pushing my Instagram presence was that I wasn’t getting a lot of comments on my blog. There just wasn’t very much engagement there. You know, my mom commented on my blog and the usual suspects, but I wasn’t getting very much. It just wasn’t enough.
So I started seeing so many people…This was maybe four or five years ago. I started seeing a lot of people doing really interesting things on Instagram. Instagram itself was developing a lot more tools for people to get engaged and to have conversations on their platform, and I thought, “Okay, if I can’t get people to comment on my blog, maybe I can get them to comment on my Instagram posts.” So I started mirroring my blog at first kind of making sure every time I had a new post online that I had a social media post to match. And then eventually, all good social media strategies. You kind of want to curate what you’re doing to the platform itself. And that’s when I started digging into kind of what would that look like to have an Instagram strategy itself. I don’t have a huge following, but I would say I have a very engaged audience. And that is just as valuable.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. I might even say more valuable. If you’ve got like 10,000 people following you, and nobody says anything, I’d rather have 500 people who comment on every post. Because those are the people who are your fans, your super fans or whatever.
Joe: This is already super interesting. You’re sort of mirroring your blog on Instagram at first, but you decided to curate what you were doing and create an Instagram strategy. This is of interest to me, especially because I have an Instagram for this podcast, that when I think about it, I post “there’s a new episode up” and the cover for that episode which as you can imagine gets no engagement whatsoever. So what did putting an Instagram strategy together look like?
Andrea: Well, it started with really looking at what the tools available on Instagram were. And this is true for Facebook and for Twitter as well, that they will reward you for using their tools to the maximum of their capabilities. And by that I mean, you know, for Instagram, if you post an image, you want to make sure you’re tagging a location, that you have a substantial caption, that you’re using the hashtags, that you are tagging people in the posts themselves. So if you’re using all of those tools, then Instagram is going to consider that your post is a successful one or it’s a value. And then the more engagement you get, the more their algorithm will then show it to other people.
So I started out looking at the tools and thinking, “Okay, well, if I want to have a really good hashtag strategy, what does that look like?” So I started writing that down. Then when they introduced Instagram Stories as a competition to some other social media channels and followers online…You know, my Snapchat kind of died pretty early. So once Instagram took off with their stories, that decision was really easy to make. I already had a following on Instagram, it just made sense to deep dive into their stories feature. Then I thought, “Well, what would be a really fun addition to each blog post? Do I do behind the scenes? Do I do additional information? Maybe I talk to my followers and walk them through something that I spoke about on the blog.”
The more I did that the more I realized that I was really building a separate audience. People clicked on my blog if I was promoting maybe a discount for a product or something that they could only get on my website. But in terms of getting the information that was in the blog, people didn’t like leaving Instagram. So then I had to think about, how do I make sure that I have a balance of sending people to my blog because that’s where the real monetization is, but also keeping them engaged and making sure I don’t lose their interest by teasing too little? That was really the motivation for my strategy was, how do I strike that balance, and how do I use the maximum of Instagram’s tools?
Sponsors: This episode is brought to you by iThemes. Did you know that 60% of website breaches occur because of vulnerability could have been patched but wasn’t? That means having software with known vulnerabilities installed on your site gives hackers the blueprint they need to take over your site. Every day it gets harder and harder to keep track of every disclosed WordPress vulnerability. You have to compare that list to your plugins and themes by version and make sure you’re constantly updating.
To solve this problem, the iThemes Security Pro plugin created a better way to protect your site’s against software vulnerabilities, the number one culprit of WordPress sites. The new improved WordPress security site skin powered by iThemes performs automatic checks for known website vulnerabilities and automatically applies available fixes so you don’t have to. That’s some peace of mind. I could speak personally to this because as somebody who has repaired hacked websites, I know that it could be costly and dangerous to lose information, especially when it’s personally identifiable.
iThemes Security Pro also includes a ton of other features to help you keep the bad guys out. Brute force protection, two-factor authentication, password list logins, uncompromised password protection. Plus a whole lot more to keep you safe. If you want to start securing your sites today, head over to howibuilt.it/ithemes to get the best WordPress security plugin to secure and protect WordPress. iThemes is giving How I Built It listeners a 20% discount by using the code “HOWIBUILTIT” at checkout. Again, that’s howibuilt.it/ithemes. That’s howibuilt.it/ithemes, and use the code “HOWIBUILTIT” at checkout for 20% off.
And now back to the show.
Joe: You mentioned a couple of things here that I want to talk a little bit about. First of all, hashtag strategy. There are some people I know that will just go ham with…is go ham still a thing people say?
Joe: Will go crazy with hashtags and have like 40. And I’m like, “That seems like a lot.” Maybe 40 is an exaggeration, but I mean, there’s like a wall of hashtags. What do you find works well for you? Is it like pick three? Or is like 40? What you should do? Should you have a wall of hashtags?
Andrea: Sadly, the wall of hashtags is the way to go. Now, take that with a grain of salt because like anything, like SEO, like all these trends, things change, and algorithms adapt and rules change slightly. So you want to keep a pulse on that just because those kinds of trends can change. But part of using Instagram to its full capacity is using the hashtags to the full capacity. Right now the cap is 30, so you can’t go above that. And there are ways of hiding them in the first comment or adding line breaks and all of that so that they’re hidden below the “read more” tag. I mean, it’s kind of like if you can use them, why wouldn’t you? That’s usually the approach people use.
Joe: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Andrea: And there’s, when it comes to your hashtag strategy, a couple of things I can share that have worked for me. One is rotating your hashtags. So maybe you have 30, but they’re not the same every day, and they’re not the same for every picture. So if I look at my feed, some photos are of me, some photos are very specifically about my outfit, some are about lifestyle content, some are about travel or travel accessories, some are about travel tips.
It’s all pretty much on brand, but there is some degree of variation on the type of image and the real focus of that image. For those, I do change up my hashtags so that they are appropriate. If it’s a landscape, I’ll use a lot of landscape image, hashtags that are popular. Then you also want to do some research on relevant hashtags that you might not think of. One that I use is #discoverunder5k. I haven’t hit 5k followers yet. And there’s a whole community of people that are kind of going after these micro-influencers really. That’s not an obvious one. But I actually consulted with someone who does Instagram professionally, you know, they’re a consultant, and they gave me a couple of hashtags to use that I didn’t even know existed.
Joe: Interesting. Is this a search that you can do on Instagram or is there a tool that will tell you how to discover hashtags under 5k?
Andrea: Both. It’s a little bit like keyword research strategy. You can look at volume. You can use Instagram search to search some of these hashtags to see the volume. And you might not want to pick the one that’s got like 6 million images. Maybe you want to go for something more in the middle so that you can get a little bit of attention so you’re not totally competing with everyone on Instagram. But it’s not a hashtag that’s got 30 images because then maybe that’s just like a fluke that a couple of people happen to use the same hashtag. It’s not really a trend yet.
Joe: Right, right, right. It’s like bachelor party or something for you.
Andrea: Yeah, yeah. Maybe you like accidentally join a wedding hashtag or something.
Joe: Yeah, right.
Andrea: But there’s also tools online. And people like anything have to monetize this. So you can buy lists of hashtags, you can join people’s courses where they teach you how to find the best hashtags.
Joe: I was just looking at Instagram there while you were talking. Because it’s really interesting. I like to see that. I’ve noticed I have very interestingly found myself using the search a lot more. And the search is really discover. I think it’s because Instagram bums me out less than the other social media. It’s just like pictures and helpful information. And not like people yelling at you because Twitter is anonymous. Sorry, just named Twitter there. I find myself spending more time on Instagram because in general, I feel like it’s a more calming medium for me and the people I follow.
It must be the case that more people are using the discover function. I’m an old man so I just discovered it like recently. But it’s a big part of your hashtag strategy. Right? You hashtag and then it shows up in relevant places there?
Andrea: Yeah, yeah. I think people like to use Instagram for discovery, for inspiration. And there’s also something to be said for the Instagram algorithm where if you follow one person and they seem to be using a lot of the same hashtags as you, you might come up as a recommendation. Or maybe a lot of people you follow, follow both accounts. That’s really gold I think. If you can get into a recommended similar account in Instagram, then you can get more followers that way.
Joe: Because that’s definitely put in front of users more, right? That’s super interesting. My discover tab is super weird and a little embarrassing because it’s a lot of models. But I don’t know why. I think it’s because I hashtag Star Wars a lot. And then Natalie Portman showed up in one of my…and then I clicked on that. And that took me to a celebrity Instagram account, and I’m like, “Oh, Natalie Portman, cool.” But then there was a bunch of other female celebrities. Then I’m like, “I need to reset my Instagram somehow.”
Andrea: I wish there was a clear cache for that kind of thing.
Joe: I know. I just killed my whole YouTube history recently and restarted it. And I’m like, “Yeah, I wish I could do that for Instagram because I feel weird.” That was too much information with Joe. Let’s get back to this. So, wall of hashtags is the way to go right now? I’m going to internalize that. Then you also mentioned the first comment strategy. That’s one that I’ve employed because I never feel like I could get the line breaks to work properly. What’s your tip for that? Or do you employ the first comment strategy? I forget.
Andrea: I’m for both. I think sometimes it’s easier to edit your hashtags in your original caption if you need to make a change later. Whereas if you post a comment, you can’t edit the comment. You have to just scrap the whole comment. I’ve been stuck in situations where I had all my hashtags in a comment and I maxed it out to the top 30, and then, later on, I realized that “Oh, I should add this hashtag because it’s relevant to this brand that I was promoting to their campaign and I forgot.” Or maybe they released this hashtag later on, and I’m going to add it to something I did for them. And then I realize that I can’t edit my comment and I can’t swap out one of my 30 slots. So then I kind of have to scrap my whole comment and start all over again.
That’s maybe one of the reasons why I tend to employ them in caption wall of hashtags more often. But you’re right. They kind of try and prevent you from doing that with the line breaks and all the struggle. I ended up doing it in another app and copy-pasting.
Joe: Okay, okay.
Andrea: Even in your Notes app or in Simplenotes.
Joe: Yeah, because I’ve tried the period like you have here, and that’s been stripped out. But if I do it in like the Notes app, it’s interesting. I’m learning so much. By the time this episode comes out, everybody, I will be Instagram Pro or at least better than I am now. This is great. I see that you have…I don’t want to name one of the people that seems you’ve collabed with but I love Nomad, and it looks like they’re on your feed, which is cool. Good positioning because it was like a Father’s Day gift. I am that. Awesome.
So, aside from the hashtag strategy, the actual posts, you mentioned Instagram stories. It’s a little bit different than the regular posts, right? You’re not just reposting what you’ve put on Instagram stories. I’ve had mild success with Instagram stories, but I haven’t been consistent. I’ve tried the talking head videos. What do you find works best for you? You mentioned behind the scenes or additional engagement stuff. What’s working?
Andrea: What’s worked for me is, man, a couple of different things. I really wish I had time to do more Instagram stories because I think it’s such a rich medium for storytelling. And it’s got so many tools built in that you can use. Not Tick Tock. But there’s a couple of storytelling tools that you can use. A couple of things that I like to do. If I’m going to address my audience, I try and keep it relatively short. So like four slides. Four 15 seconds slots max. You know how you can see the number of dots above in a story, so you know there’s like 20 stories coming? I think people get a little deflated when they see 20.
Joe: Oh, yeah.
Andrea: So I try and keep those addresses to roughly four or five slides. I always add built-in captions because people might not have their sound on, they might be secretly watching Instagram stories when they’re not supposed to. So being able to read the caption is important. So I take that extra step to add those. Sometimes it’s just like a summary of what I’m saying.
Another thing that I really try to employ is actually interactive tools on Instagram stories. So I finally get so much more engagement when I ask people questions, or I ask them for advice, or I ask them to submit something, or to answer a poll, to rate something. Any of those interactive tools that kind of allow them to speak up with very little effort. Sometimes saying yes/no is a lot easier than asking for a full reply. And I get so much more engagement that way. And it’s just a nice way I think to keep those conversations going. Even though they may seem like not of high value, it gives me some content ideas for later because then I can share the results of that poll and comment on, and things like that.
Sponsors: This episode is sponsored by Boosted. Creating well-designed marketing videos for social media can be hard. I know because I have tried a lot. With Boosted, you can easily create beautiful looking marketing videos that are optimized to get business results. You can choose from a wide range of templates to create ads, Instagram stories, tutorials, or anything else that you can think of. And the best part is they won’t look like everyone else’s videos. Plus, now you can create amazing looking graphics for other social media like Facebook and Twitter.
I’ve been using Boosted it to come up with a series of short videos for my own projects, and I honestly can’t believe how easy it is. I’m hooked. This is the only way I will create Instagram story videos now. The app is free to download with a bunch of templates out of the box. But if you want to try Boosted premium, you can. Listeners of the show can get an exclusive deal: $5 for the first three months. Just visit howibuilt.it/boosted. That is, howibuilt.it/boosted. Stop struggling to create marketing videos that look great. Get Boosted premium and start making videos that will get you results. Again, the link is howibuilt.it/boosted for three months of Boosted premium at just $5.
Joe: Maybe I should have asked this earlier. Do you have a personal Instagram account or is this your account—like your only account? I don’t know, you don’t have to answer that if you don’t want people to know you have a different Instagram account.
Andrea: Right now it’s my one and only. And that’s just because I’m too busy to maintain two accounts.
Andrea: I think I do have one of my old accounts that has my real name. It’s there but I’ve parked it because I don’t want another Andrea Zoellner to go and take that user name. So, I parked it for now. I’m only following Capsule Suitcase. Capsule Suitcase follows Andrea back.
Andrea: But I don’t allow anyone else to use it; I’ve kind of just parked it. So I really pour my time into a Capsule Suitcase. The reason I do that apart from the time thing is also because I think anonymous blogging doesn’t work anymore. I think people following blogs that don’t have a face to them is a lot rare. It might be an industry-specific trend. It might be just that in travel and lifestyle, the personality cult is very much important and it’s part of it. So I try to inject myself more into my Instagram presence for that reason. I think people find me for my tips, they continue following me for my personality.
Joe: Got you. That makes a ton of sense. I think that’s a really great point to make. I was curious because looking at it myself, my Instagram is basically my personal Instagram. And then I do have the How I Built It business account. But yeah, I think maintaining it is probably a little more difficult. Real quick actually. With the Instagram Stories, there is a sponsor of the show called Boosted. It’s an app that make…I’ve been using it. At the time of this recording, their sponsor spot isn’t live yet. But the app is great like to create really well-designed videos that I’m going to start integrating into my Instagram Stories especially. That’s a little extra plug for Boosted but it’s something I’m actually using in my toolkit now.
But speaking of, you are very consistent with your content. With a business account, I think on Buffer you can automatically post. But you cannot do that with a personal account. So what does your posting schedule and process look like?
Andrea: I highly recommend scheduling things in advance. It just takes so much of the burden off of having to post every single day. There’s no way around it. To succeed on Instagram, you have to be diligent and consistent. When it’s not your full-time job, that becomes even harder to do. So, scheduling tools play a huge role in my strategy. I post every single day. Unless there’s some sort of major event like we saw two weeks ago, where I kind of interrupted my Instagram strategy and pivoted and adapted. And I think that’s part of it as well. You need to be ready for those kinds of things. But when it’s regular programming, I post every single day.
I try to post at my optimal times, which if you have a business account on Instagram, which is free— it’s not like you have to pay anything but you’d have to convert your Instagram account to business—you get more insights. You can kind of see who your audience is and what your optimal times are for posting for different days. So, for me, most days, it’s noon, 3 p.m., and 6 p.m. I kind of play around with those times depending on the day of the week, and also depending on when my weekly blog post is going out as well.
I use Tailwind, and I also use Later and you can also use Buffer and I think Instagram. But the Facebook Instagram workplace content creation tools also allow you to do some pre-scheduling. That’s also just a nice way to sit down and look at what’s going out this week. I can visualize how it’s going to look in the grid. I’m not married to having a perfect Instagram grid. It doesn’t have to be perfectly diversified with different types of shots. But I try to keep an eye on whether…if I’m going to have two images that are too similar stacked one on top of the other, and things like that.
So just being able to sit down on like a Sunday night and plan my content, schedule it out, get my hashtags in there, get the proper spacing, think about my captions, and then kind of let it roll for the rest of the week so that I can spend that time during the week answering comments and replying to DMs and liking other people’s posts and doing all that extra engagement that you can’t pre-plan and you can’t pre-schedule.
Joe: Got you. That makes a ton of sense. Keeping an eye on the grid, that’s something I definitely don’t think about. They’re like four cigar pictures in a row from me one week. Now, do you only post once a day, or is it more than once?
Joe: Okay. Is once a day the magic number for Instagram? Somebody yelled at me for posting more than once a day. A friend. They didn’t yell at me. They were just like, “What are you doing?”
Andrea: Well, I mean, I think that’s a compliment because it means your friend follows you pretty closely. Or maybe your friend only follows 30 people so you’re extra in their feed. I do once a day because that’s just the capacity that I can maintain. I mean, seven posts in a week is already a lot to manage. But I do follow people who are full-time influencers that post two or three times. The thing is, I will see one out of three of their posts anyway. I follow too many people. The algorithms will not put all three of their images up in my feed.
I find that maybe it’s like casting a wide net. So you may have people see one or two out of the three that you posted in a day. I don’t know if there are any major downsides. I can’t speak to that. I think it depends on your followers. If people are following you and they enjoy your content, they may like more. But I think Instagram may not show it. So I stick to one for that reason.
Joe: Got you. Got you. That makes sense. And then do you auto-post it to other social media? Or is it you want to keep everybody on Instagram? That’s probably what Instagram wants as well.
Andrea: Gosh, I just had this internal debate last month about a Facebook page. I have a blog. I have my Instagram following. They’re both doing well. I have this Facebook page that I created years ago that has like 250 followers.
Joe: Oh, wow.
Andrea: I just repost things there. Once in a while, I’ll post an article or I’ll share something travel-related that I wouldn’t post on Instagram. For me, I created it mostly because I didn’t want to spam my personal Facebook with all my blog stuff. Because I mean, you’re an entrepreneur. I think you know that feeling where you don’t want to spam all your friends and family with all of the things that you’re up to at work. So I created this page separately, and I mostly just repost from Instagram. I’ve thought about killing it and I’ve thought about just kind of like quietly sun setting it, but I know that there are people that that’s the only way that they follow my content. So I don’t want to deprive them entirely. But I pretty much stick to my blog and Instagram, I would say.
Joe: Okay, cool. Make sense. And then my last line of questioning or my last question in this line of questioning, I guess, is converting to a business account, are there downsides to that? Are there downsides to that?
Andrea: I don’t believe so. It’s probably been too long for me to know what it’s like to have a personal one and whether there are some tools that are available to me. I only see upsides. You get analytics. You can also tap into some of the partnership tools. So if you’re working with a brand specifically and they have a partner account enabled, they can allow you to then tag them. And it’s just another way to be more transparent about your affiliates, and what your things are gifted or what you’re being paid to promote. That’s another tool you can use.
Some of the integrations I think are pretty interesting. But again, I don’t know if those are also available to individual accounts. But I know analytics is definitely one of the main reasons I converted.
Joe: I mean, the Buffer integration, automatically posting is not available to personal accounts.
Andrea: There you go. It’s like an API thing that you really have to have a business account.
Joe: Yeah. Oh, and promotions are front and center on the business account too. So they’re probably going to be a little bit more aggressive about you spending money on their platform.
Andrea: That’s true. They definitely push you to throw some dollars at visibility.
Joe: Make sense.
Sponsors: Sponsors: This episode is Sponsored by CircleCI. Whether you’re on a development team, manage a development team yourself, or you have a business that relies on working software, a good process is so important to making sure you’re creating high-quality work. Continuous integration or the ability to check and manage code automatically can help you and your developers streamline the process in a big way. And CircleCI is here to help. Designed for modern software teams, CircleCI‘s continuous integration and delivery platform helps developers push code with confidence. Trusted by thousands of companies, from four-person startups to fortune 500 businesses, CircleCI helps teams take their software from idea to delivery quickly, safely, and at scale. Visit howibuiltit/circleci to learn why high performing DevOps teams use CircleCI to automate and accelerate their continuous integration and delivery pipelines.
As someone who’s worked on big coding projects for big companies with distributed development teams, I can tell you that continuous integration tools have helped us make sure we deliver working code to our clients. It helps instill trust in our team, and it lets our team focus on solving new problems instead of dealing with the same ones over and over again. So once again, learn how CircleCI can help you and your business at howibuiltit/circleci. As a special bonus for How I built It listeners, CircleCI is having a virtual raffle where you could win a pair of the newest Sony noise-canceling headphones. Improve your team’s processes and enter for a chance to win at howibuiltit/circleci.
And now, back to the show.
Joe: As we come up on the tail end of this episode, first of all, I have already learned a ton from you. So thank you. I really feel like my Instagram game is going to improve. But do you have any tips for listeners who are either just getting into Instagram as a business strategy, or who are now considering it because of this episode? What are some things that they can do to get started?
Andrea: For sure. One thing that I think a lot of people… they get jealous of the numbers, right? You see other Instagram accounts and you think, “Oh, I want to have 10,000 followers.” But it’s like building up a content strategy or an SEO strategy. Consistency is key. If you’re doing it every day, that’s already amazing. And you’ll see results over time, so don’t get discouraged. And definitely don’t buy followers. Don’t buy followers.
Also, I think people think that spending $20, $30 a month on boosting your posts is going to have a huge impact on your following. But I think that money would be better invested in having maybe a photographer that works on getting really great high-quality images, or investing in one of those tools that allows you to schedule your content in advance. I think that’s a wiser use of money for a more sustained growth. So those would be my warnings. Don’t buy followers. Don’t throw money in ads. Make sure you’re setting yourself up for success long term and also making it easier for yourself to manage your account.
Joe: I love that. I love that. Because a lot of your pictures are of you, and you definitely don’t have the camera in your hand, do you do like photoshoots with a photographer, or do you have a tripod and you’re just really good at framing the shot?
Andrea: I have a mix of things. Most of the photos of me walking down the street, I do have a photographer that I work with. And we do batch shoots. So we’ll do like an hour and do a ton of photos, and then use those for the rest of the month, for example. Then at home, I’ll do some flat lays myself. And specific product placement photos that I need to do, I’ll do those myself. So it’s a little bit of a mix. But yeah, I mean, if you are by yourself, there are definitely things you can do with a tripod. But if you have a bit of money or you have a friend or you have a family member who’s a good photographer, then I would recommend asking them for help. Because I think the quality is just a little bit higher if you can get that look.
Joe: Yeah, for sure. I’ll just chime in here and say we’ve hired a photographer to do family photoshoots and they were shockingly affordable. Photographers don’t always cost what a wedding photographer costs.
Andrea: No, not at all.
Joe: It’s usually dramatically cheaper than that for whatever reason. Maybe because it’s more casual, maybe it’s the wedding tax or a little bit of both. Our wedding photographer was amazing. I mean, don’t think you have to spend thousands of dollars on a photo shoot. It’s closer to hundred or hundreds. So you’re not going to break the bank if you do it every quarter or something like that.
Andrea: The person that I hired initially was a recent graduate. So it was someone who’s done a degree in journalism and who already had all of their equipment, and they were just looking for a couple of freelance clients. I had them on a retainer so it was even cheaper. So, there’s definitely ways to find resources that are within your budget.
Joe: Yeah, for sure. I mean, this sounds like the perfect scenario for you and for them because it’s like pretty little pressure. It’s not the one or two times you’re going to get married. I’m just kidding. It’s not like they need to be perfect for this one shot. They could take a bunch of photos, and then you take the one that you like the best, right? So I think that’s a really good piece of advice there.
Andrea: My last piece of advice that I’ll give though is also don’t only use Instagram as a broadcasting tool. I think a lot of people focus on their own Instagram account, how they look, what they’re saying. But Instagram definitely gives you a little boost if you’re engaging with other people’s channels. So find people who are in your space or similar to you. You may feel like they’re competition but in fact, engaging with them just amplifies both of your voices. So make sure you’re spending not equal time, but sometimes, both focusing on your own Instagram presence and engaging with other people
Joe: That’s, again, great advice. Not something I do at all, and something to consider, right? You’re right. People…if I’m engaging with the competition, it’s bad for me. But like Instagram, just like podcasting, I tell podcasters this all the time, it’s not a zero-sum game. It’s not like if somebody follows you or follows your competition, they’re not going to follow you. They can follow both of you. So really great advice there, don’t be jealous of the numbers, be consistent, don’t buy followers, spend your money on other things besides advertising, and engage with other people and you’ll be set up. Awesome.
Well, Andrea, this has been great. I do need to ask you my favorite question, even though I’ve been saying it in the last few episodes because it does conflict with the tips for our listeners, but I’ve asked it in every episode, so I need to keep asking it, which is, do you have any trade secrets for us?
Andrea: Whoo, trade secrets. Be nice to everyone. My trade secret is, when you’re networking, whether it’s online, in person, professionally don’t be a snob. Because some of my best partnerships, both career-wise and good friendships came from really casual conversations, where if I had been in a mindset, like, “What can this person do for me?” then I would have missed out on a really great conversation, which led to business or insight, or some sort of good collaboration in the future.
I always take the time to talk with anyone, whether I’m giving them advice, or I’m seeking advice or just a casual chat because when you’re nice and kind, people will remember you. Then when you cross paths again, and there’s something that you can actually help each other with, that can really be beneficial. That little extra time you gave them will help you stand out.
Joe: Yeah, that’s fantastic. Don’t be a snob. Don’t think, “what can this person do for me?” You’re absolutely right. I will try to remain unspecific here, but I know somebody in the space in which we both hung out where this person complained about the WordCamp I organized to me without really realizing I was the one who organized it. And he was also a WordCamp organizer so I’m like, “Dude, first of all, know who you’re talking to” and like, “You know how hard it is to plan a WordCamp. Why are you like this?” So, yeah, be nice to everybody. I love that.
Andrea, this has been great. Thanks so much for joining me. Where can people find you?
Andrea: Definitely on Instagram. My username is Capsule Suitcase. You can follow me there. You can also find me on Twitter where I mostly talk about WordPress and hosting. So that’s more of a space to find me in the tech industry. My username there is Andrea Zoellner.
Joe: All right. I will link to all of that and all of the stuff that we talked about over on the show notes at HowIbuilt.it. Andrea, thanks so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it.
Andrea: Thank you so much, Joe. It’s been a pleasure.
Outro: Thanks so much to Andrea for joining us today. I loved all of her tips. Being consistent. I think that’s important in just every aspect of social or creating content. But it’s a little easy for me to forget to be consistent on Instagram because up until now, I’ve just been using it to post pictures of cigars and pictures of my daughter. And I want to be more intentional. So set yourself up for long term success.
The invest of money in a photographer, I thought that was incredible because her pictures look amazing. You see people with great looking photos. And honestly a photographer, you know, it doesn’t cost that much. So if you were going to spend money on ads or followers, which Andrea said definitely don’t do, instead, invest that money in a photographer. Just a couple of hours for a session will not be very expensive. Of course, that’s depending on where you live.
She also offers a lot of really great tools. I can’t say enough nice things about this interview. Like I said, I learned a lot. I know that my Instagram game will improve because of it. So, thanks to Andrea for her time. You can find everything that we talked about over at HowIbuilt.it/175.
Thanks to our sponsors, iThemes, Lighttricks, and CircleCI. Their support has been fantastic, and they help the show get to where it’s been. So thank you for listening. If you liked this episode, be sure to like—or not like, that’s a YouTube thing and the Instagram thing—be sure to rate and review in Apple Podcasts. If you have any questions about anything we’re talking about, feel free to reach out to me on social media or email email@example.com. And until next time, get out there and build something.
Free Email Course!
5 Fast Fixes to Grow Your Podcast.
Wondering why your podcast growth is stagnating (or non-existent)? You likely just need to make a few small tweaks to see growth. In this free email course, we’ll go over what they are, why they work, and how you can implement them. Sign up below to have it delivered instantly.