Updated – June 2022
Social media can be hard to crack, and one of the platforms I’ve seen authors and bloggers struggle to get the most traction on is Instagram! While I’m no expert, I have been seeing a steady uptick of followers, likes, and comments on my accounts. My personal Instagram just reached 10.4k followers with just a little over 600 posts. Today I’m going to give you some tips on how to grow your Instagram audience, what to post, what to include on your profile, and more!
Sprucing Up Your Profile
The first thing you want to do is look at your profile page. Once there, you’ll find two very valuable pieces of your Bookstagram success puzzle!
Making Your Name Count
First, there is your name. The spot for your name on Instagram can be utilized to include some keywords about your profile. I like to put a little separator after my name like this: | Then I type something which is important to my account. My account is all about reading books and being an author, so I put Author and Blogger after my name. These are two things users can expect from my posts, and by putting them beside my name, I am helping boost my search results when others use the search terms: author or blogger. This helps me get discovered, which is one of the main struggles on Instagram.
You can also sprinkle in some hashtags that pertain to your profile inside your bio! I like to throw some emojis in there too to make it fun! (They also stand out nicely in dark mode, which a lot of mobile users have turned on!)
Jumping The Link Hurdle
Another struggle of Instagram is the fact that hyperlinks do not work on the platform. You can type a link, but it is not clickable. Many people combat this obstacle by putting an important link in the biography section of their profile. You’ll see many examples of posts that say “link in bio,” relying on the person who views the post to know to go to the poster’s profile and click on the link provided there. The problem with this is every time you want to post a new link, you have to change that link in your bio, and old posts will no longer be valid. This is why I use a nifty little website called Lnk.Bio. There are a few other services like this one out there, like LinkTree and Fuzed Link, but I find Lnk.Bio is the most powerful and easy to use. It also helps that instead of needing a subscription, they offer one-time buy options so you have the product and all updates for life after paying just one time. The price is not huge either! It’s less than 1 month of Linktree Pro! (Quick note to let you know I am in no way affiliated with or compensated by Lnk.Bio, I just love it that much!)
What’s so special about these services and how does it jump the link hurdle? Well, these websites act as a landing page where you can direct users with the one link most social media platforms offer you in your bio section. So, instead of using your website in the bio, you will instead use the custom URL that the service provides you. For example, mine are lnk.bio/clcannon and lnk.bio/fictionatlas.This link in your bio will actually redirect users to a whole page of links with custom thumbnail pictures and text, so your user knows which links to look for. The pages are constructed in such a way that most people don’t even know they’ve left Instagram. It looks very organic and helps you share multiple links with ease! You can also customize and change these links at any time! Most of these offer link click tracking and pixel information. And with Lnk.Bio, you can even schedule links to expire after a certain date, categorize your links in groups, highlight important links with an animation effect, or to be attached to a certain Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok post, which is really handy! Here is a screengrab of my Lnk.Bio account. I have not taken advantage of all the benefits yet, but I’m very happy with my experience thus far. They now even have a shop feature where you can sell products directly on your bio page! This is a great tool for authors to utilize!
One of the things I see people not taking advantage of enough are hashtags!
More is Better?
Did you know you can use up to 30 hashtags in each post? So why not use all thirty instead of one or two? Well, it used to be the case that the more hashtags the better, but Instagram has actually changed its recommendations this year. Now three-five hashtags are said to best. This doesn’t mean you can’t use thirty, the platform still allows that many, but now, instead of increasing your reach, you’ll be dividing it.
Instagram uses hashtags heavily in its search function and bases its algorithm on which hashtags users are viewing, liking, and favoriting the most. This is where strategy comes into play! You don’t want to use hashtags that are too broad, you’ll get lost in a sea of posts, but you also don’t want to be too niche. A good mix of general hashtags, branded hashtags, and more drilled-down hashtags are recommended.
The Right Stuff
Branded hashtags? What are those? Branded hashtags are hashtags you can use to identify your specific audience. it can be as simple as your author name #CLCannon your book title #InTheKingdomOfDreams or you can jazz it up a little by using a something unique to your books or following. My Street Team is called C.L. Cannon’s Unforgettables so I could make the hashtag #BecomeUnforgettable or just #Unforgettables or #CLCannonsUnforgettables. The goal is to be able to click on the hashtag and only see posts that are relevant to you and your books.
There are specific hashtags you should avoid, like generic and overused hashtags such as #books #adultlife #teens #woman #women #like and #humpday. These have been used so many times it’s like throwing your post out into the void. You’re not going to get traction from it because there are so many posts with these hashtags, and there is also a theory that generic tags like this are shadowbanned, though no one has come up with a solid answer on if that is true or not. Better to just avoid them altogether. Here is a list of some potentially shadowbanned hashtags!
So what hashtags can you use instead? There are literally thousands, but here are some of my most used hashtags! Depending on your genre, you can use some variation of these to match. It’s always a good idea to look at the hashtags used by successful authors in your genre.
#bookstagram #bookworm #yafantasy #igreads #bookgeek #bookgram #bookdragon #totalbooknerd #bibliophile #bookish #epicreads #igbooks #booknerdigans #instareads #allthebooks #bookstagramfeature #ilovereading #bookcommunity #bookaddiction #bookobsessed #goodreads #instabooks #bookblogger #readersofinstagram #ireadya #youngadult #yareads #yalovin #booklife #bookstagrammer #bookaholic #instabook #booknerd #booklover #bookphotography #bookworld #greatreads #toread #becauseofreading #booksofinstagram #bookishfeatures #authorlife #authorsofinstagram #bookmail #yabooks #yalit #timetravel #bookshelf #bookishlove #readabook #readerslife #readersgonnaread #booknerdigan #tbrlist #bookishdelights #tobereadlist #readingtime #readingpile #bestreads #bestbooks #epicbooks #bookpages #fantasybooks #scifibooks #epicfantasy
Make It Snappy
Typing out hashtags can be very time-consuming, especially if you’re trying to remember the best ones to use. One trick I use is to put my favorite hashtags in a note on my phone. I use Color Note, but there are plenty of note-keeping apps on both Android and iOS to choose from. I put my favorite hashtags in a note and then copy and paste that into my post, adjust depending on the genre of the book I am posting, adding in the name of the book, etc. Viola! Done!
Where to Hashtag
One debate that has arisen in recent years is where to stick these hashtags after you’ve cultivated them. Some people like to put hashtags in the first comment of their post to keep the post caption looking cleaner. Most studies have shown that putting the hashtags directly inside the post is the most effective way to get your post noticed, and that is what I recommend. If you don’t want the hashtags to show when your caption is displayed, just space down a few lines, and they’ll be under the cut.
Tagging Authors, Influencers, and Brands
If the content you are posting includes a product, review, or is inspired by an influencer/author, etc, It’s a good idea to tag that person, influencer, author, or brand in the photo. For example, if I am posting items I got from a book subscription box. I will tag the box company like @owlcrate or @litjoybox, etc., then I will tag the author of the book or books, and the publishing company of the book. If there is artwork on display, I will tag the artists. Tagging people who probably have a larger following than you is a good way to not only get their attention, and sometimes a comment, story shoutout, or Regram, but also a good way to get on the radar of fans of those accounts.
Content, Content, Content
None of these tricks or tips I just taught you will be any good if you’re not focused on creating the right content.
If you’re going to be taking your own pictures (which usually convert better than anything you make in a graphics program), you need to know how to take the best photos. Instagram photos especially, often focus on using natural light. Taking photos in the morning or afternoon, usually, give your content the best lighting. If you can’t take advantage of natural light, try to take your photo in an angle that doesn’t leave looming shadows over the items you’re photographing.
Some people say they don’t have the time to take Instagram pictures. I get it. We’re all busy. One thing I like to do is take several photos when I do have the time so that I can save them on my phone and use them later. I try to take these on the weekends when I have a bit more time on my hands. Try scheduling a day to take photos. Thirty minutes to an hour of your free time can save you loads of time later in the week when you don’t have time to drag props out. And in case you don’t have time for even that, be spontaneous! Sometimes I just take pictures by throwing a book (very gingerly) into a pile of leaves, against a tree, or even in snow one time! (Yes, my neighbors think I’m insane!)
Prop It To Me Baby
Another obstacle that many face is where to find props. I have taken advantage of items from book box subscriptions, bookmarks I’ve collected over the years, presents, and even everyday objects for some of my shoots. Mostly, I use nature. Most of my photos are taken outside on my lawn, in front of one of my trees, and even on the pavement! You can also pick up some cheap props from flea markets, craft stores, Wal-mart, and dollar stores! You can use poster board, other books, blankets, tables, old slabs of wood, just about anything for a background. I also love to use fake flowers in my posts. I find these on sale for $1-3!
Color Me Red… Or Blue…Green Maybe?
Color is another factor in making your Bookstagram pop! I’ll often get props, bookmarks, candles, and just books with the same color scheme to create a beautiful color-themed post.
Here’s a purple-themed post, and it just happens to be one of my favorites! I made this one with a poster board, one book, one candle, and two purple and blue fake flower bouquets!
Caption Me This
You may think that the photos are all that matters content-wise, and you’d be wrong. While the photos get people to look and to like, to get comments on your posts, you want to ask engaging questions. You can give an opinion: I love books with purple covers. Then you want to follow up with a question to get input from your audience: What book cover colors are your favorite? This encourages audience participation, which is key to building a successful Instagram. The more people interact with your posts, the more they will see the posts. This trains Instagram’s algorithm to show your posts to the most engaged users!
A Present To Be Present
The biggest mistake most people make is posting on Instagram sporadically at best. They’ll make a post, and then you won’t hear from them again for six months. This is a big no-no and probably an indication that Instagram may not be the platform for you. It’s definitely a platform that wants a commitment to keep you relevant! I try to post every day or every other day so my content stays fresh! Going long periods of time without posting anything at all can kill your reach.
You should also go through the people you are following from time to time to make sure they are still active on Instagram. If they are and you find yourself still enjoying their content, make sure you like their most recent posts and leave a comment on at least one. This will train Instagram to show you more of their posts, and it may also remind them to check out your content.
I try to take a few minutes every day that I would normally just scroll to pick a few posts to comment on. This helps you grow real relationships with other Instagrammers and also helps train the algorithm!
Tending Your Garden
As wonderful as it is to be present, you also have to be aware of when and if others are present and engaging with you! I like to take about an hour every month or so to go through the people I am following and see when they last posted and if I am still enjoying the content they are posting. If it’s been over six months with no activity, and especially if I don’t enjoy the posts I am seeing, I usually unfollow these people.
But cutting the dead accounts out of your Instagram garden isn’t the only way to liven it up. While you’re going through these people you follow, make sure you like and or comment on posts from people that you want to keep and whose content you genuinely enjoy! This will train the Instagram algorithm to show you more posts from these accounts and interacting with these accounts usually gets you a few follow backs and more interaction on your own posts.
I like to use an app called Unfollowers to see who is following me, who I am following that may not be following me, and who my consistent fans are. It’s not necessarily bad to be following a lot of people who aren’t following you. That is a common misconception. Remember that your Instagram is not only a marketing tool but a place for you to enjoy the works of others and foster real relationships based on mutual respect and admiration.
Tell A Story
Instagram stories are becoming one of the most popular methods of interaction on Instagram. There are several ways you can use these to your advantage. I like to use them for anything time-sensitive like sales, giveaways, or special events. You can also poll your followers or ask them a question. You can even have your followers ask you anything! It’s also a popular way to direct followers to your Instagram videos, or just to show your personality a bit by using one of the fun video filters. You can even save important stories in the Highlights section of your Instagram profile so they can be viewed anytime.
I’ve used Highlights to make informative sections on my profile. I have a Highlight for my books, one for my reviews, one for giveaways, and even one for people to find me on Wizards United, the Harry Potter version of PokemonGo! Try to make these both informative and fun! The videos don’t have to be very long and are, in fact, much better received if you stay within the 15-30 second range.
Reel Them In
With the massive popularity of TikTok, Instagram has placed a significant focus on its version of TikTok, Instagram Reels. These short videos are a great way to connect with your audience and relay important information, or just be a little silly!
Do use trending sounds when possible! These videos are promoted much faster in the algorithm. Just remember if you’re making a sales video, you’ll need to choose music for your reel that is licensed for commercial use. No one wants litigation to come their way because you thought Beyonce could sell your book for you.
What type of videos do well on Reels? Almost any video can become popular with the right audience and editing, but videos with an element of humor or self-deprecation are always popular and page flip videos are also a big hit! The more original the content, the more likely a video will do well. Book tags, put a finger down challenges, and older trends may not bring in as many views.
Can I just re-post my TikTok videos? You can, but some sounds may be muted and videos with TikTok’s watermark still present can be suppressed in the algorithm. You can avoid these problems by choosing your own music on Reels and using the screen record method or a special app like TikSave to remove the TikTok watermark.
I see a lot of authors participating in follow for follow threads. Unless you’re in a very specific group of people, like a group for your genre, you probably don’t want to participate in these. Following another author is not going to help you sell books or bring the right people to your content. I only follow other authors if I am generally interested in their work, or if their posts are visually pleasing to me because I like the genre they write or post about. It’s good to support others when you can, but if you’re not their typical fan and you’re just following them for support, you’re training the algorithm based on factors that aren’t typical and therefore polluting their organic reach and yours too.