Instagram tips

Instagram: rules of engagement

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I started taking Instagram seriously in March 2016. I had fewer than 1,000 followers then. I didn’t know anything about engagement. I enjoyed being part of something, making friends and getting to know people. I just wanted to join in with this really creative community.

I had no idea that Instagram could become a business.

I think you need that passion to do well on Instagram. If you’re not passionate about your account, nobody else will be. Once you start trying to make a business of your Instagram account, it’s easy to forget that and get caught up in the numbers game. You assume likes and followers equal success.

So maybe you try following and unfollowing people for hours on end, or liking thousands and thousands of posts, or even paying for followers.

None of that works.

You’ll piss off the community you’re trying to be a part of.

So what does work?

You need a high level of engagment. Once you’ve got that, likes and followers will naturally come. Here are a few Instagram tips that worked for me back in March and that continue to work for me now:


Hashtags are fundamental to engagement on Instagram. Using hashtags is the only way people will see your content if you don’t already have a large following.

Instagram allows 30 tags: use 30 tags. (We all know people who trick the system and use far more. I’ll explain whether or not that’s a good idea in a separate post.)

Find somebody who does similar stuff to you and make a note of their tags. Use those tags.

Use notes on your phone to store your tags. Categorise your tags. For instance, I have one set of tags for my facades, one for landscapes and one for lifestyle stuff.

When you post your image, paste your hashtags immediately into a comment. That way they’re kind of hidden and your caption looks nicer.

Also, something that’s worked for me is having 5 larger tags in my caption and 25 smaller, less generic tags in a comment. Doing this will help you see an influx of engagement when you first post your image.

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Obviously awesome pictures will help you get more likes and comments, but there’s more to it than that.

Use your captions to allow people to get to know you and your personality. Think of your captions like a kind of journal. It’s easy to copy a cute or meaningful quote. We don’t want to know what Oscar Wilde or Winston Churchill said a hundred years ago. We want to know what you’ve got to say today.

Only share your best pictures. Leave the rest for Facebook. I’m prone to the odd panic post (as my long-term followers will know). But if you’re not completely happy with the picture, you’ll only go back and delete it later.

Always have the square in mind. If it’s not a square, only your followers see the full image. So make sure the important details fit into that square.

Think about how people look at images. You’re not posting pictures for yourself, at the end of the day. It’s about posting stuff you like, but presenting itย in a away other people like.


If you post an awesome picture, people are more likely to click on your profile. So those people want to know pretty quickly who you are and what you do

Keep your bio concise. Don’t be tempted to use tacky business and marketing jargon. It’s confusing. You’re not a Visual Content Creator and Curator. You post photographs, so you’re a photographer. So say you’re photographer. Being a photographer is cool.

Try to come up with a catchy and original handle name. If your own name has a nice ring to it, then use that. Mine, unfortunately, doesn’t! Useย something simple and memorable.

Most importantly your images need to stand out when somebody clicks on your profile. My best advice for this is to use VSCO. Choose a couple of filters that work for you and stick to them. The best Instagram accounts have a very distinct, coherent editing style and colour palette.

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Commenting & liking

There’s certainly ways we can draw more people to our accounts with some of the stuff I’ve already mentioned, but we have to do some of the leg work too.

Click on the hashtags you use and spend a bit of time each day looking through the images posted into that tag. Like pictures you really like. Leave meaningful comments (not just emojis). Click on people’s profiles and like a few more of their images.

If you do this regularly you’ll start to notice circles of people who sort of virtually hang out with each other. If one person from that circle follows you, it’s likely others will too, if you engage with them.

Reply to comments on your own posts. I don’t always reply to every comment I receive, simply because I don’t always have the time. But I always try to post when I know I have a bit of free time to engage with people.

This is the stuff I wished I’d known when I first started out. Have I missed anything? Have you tried any of the above and it hasn’t worked out for you? Let’s get a discussion going guys. I’m still learning too!

19 thoughts on “Instagram: rules of engagement”

    1. I am an instagram newbie and I really did! Thank you so much for sharing, Carolyn. It can be such an overwhelming, but paradoxically nurturing community to join that a few ground rules from the ‘seniors’ are always so very welcome. Look forward to more of your posts. Your account has been an inspiration – a perfect mix of wonderful captures paired with your full of sense of humour captions. I like it.

      1. Hi, Krissy!

        Thank you very much for reading and I’m really happy you think it’s useful.

        You’re right about Instagram. I imagine even the biggest accounts still have those overwhelming, down sort of days – but the sense of community keeps us all going, doesn’t it ๐Ÿ™‚

        And, what a love;y thing to say. I’m reading this with my morning coffee and you’ve made me smile ๐Ÿ™‚

  1. Thanks for all the tips! There are so many people on Instagram who follow you, and then immediately unfollow you once you follow (or don’t follow) them back. It drives me insane.

    Do you change the hashtags you use over time? Hashtags that used to generate engagement haven’t been working well at all for me over the past month, but I haven’t found any good replacements that work better.

    I wish I had known all this when I started Instagramming years ago! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Hello, Catherine — and thank you for reading ๐Ÿ™‚

    Yep, it happens to all of us – there’s not really much you can do about the follow unfollow thing. The bigger your following gets, the less you notice I guess – but it makes me mad too!

    My hashtags have definitely changed and developed over time – I’m always on the lookout for new, engaging tags. Maybe find a larger account which posts similar content to you and copy a few of their tags. It’s trial and error, I guess. But you’ll find something that works for you if you persevere!

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks Carolyn! I’m not a proper photographer with a real camera so I don’t think my Instagram will ever grow too much at this point, but I still enjoy sharing photos and learning about Instagram. I hope you’ll write more Instagram guides!

  3. Hi,

    I tried everything of these rules and it’s not working for my account anymore! I wish the algorithm will stop but I know it won’t ๐Ÿ˜Œ
    Maybe I use the wrong hashtags or the wrong filters! Or the wrong texts and pictures! I have to mention my account is in german! Before the algorithm starts I increased rapidly and my likes were more than now!
    Thanks for sharing

    1. Hi, Andrea.

      Yes, I’ll give you that – it’s definitely tougher with the new algorithm. But I sort of see it as a positive, because I’m urged to only post my very best pictures.

      I think, now, it’s less about likes and more about engagement – but I’m sorry to hear none of this stuff is working for you.

      Hashtag-wise, maybe find somebody who does similar stuff to you, who has more success with their engagement and make a note of their tags.

      I think the hashtag deserves a post of its own – watch this space!

      Good luck!

  4. Great article, thank you!

    What do you do when you’ve had your instagram for a long time, but are only now starting to take it seriously? I’ve deleted all the terrible photos, but the ok ones are like 80% of my page. Should I mass delete, start a new instagram or hope my much improved pictures will hide the old ones?


  5. Hey, Cassie.

    If you scroll to the bottom of my feed – my pictures looked a LOT different to how they do now!

    I’d say don’t delete them because people only really see the first few rows of photos when they click on your account.

    If you want to try a new style just start posting and see what happens.

    Good luck with it ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I thaught til now it’s the algorithm that causes this problem for my account but I see soo many accounts that increase soo good but maybe it’s the content or I don’t know! Are there more tipps for more followers? ๐Ÿ˜…

  7. I really love this.
    I always see people talking about how to gain a following on Instagram, but it typically is never very meaningful.
    I personally think Instagram is a powerful tool for awareness rasing and getting creatives involved in community development and social justice. Or, that is a dream floating around in my head.
    Thank you very much for writing this, and it is a pleasure to folllow you.

  8. I enjoyed this. Very informative! I’m happy to see others who believe in cohesive color coordination as much as I do. So I’m not solo crazy!

    Will you be offering a class in Italy this summer. Would love more information on that.

    Love your feed

  9. hello Carolyn,
    I’m still very new with Instagramand after a few months looking around I have ventured to open an account too. A few days ago I have bumped anyhow into your profil and fell in love with your pictures. Today I have read that you lead a blog. And the blog impresses me even more! Many thanks for the tips which you publish here. I will try it immediately. So I’ll read more from your site, and wish you a happy weekend.
    Greetings from Germany,
    Dine (Silberzart)

  10. I have had my Instagram account since 2012, but only started taking it seriously the past year. However, I am trying and working on all those tips I have and still am finding everywhere, but I can’t see that massive growth every tipster blogs about! I won’t complain, I am happy with my tiny account but every time I read these kinds of blogs it gets me wondering!

    And those following-unfollowing accounts are really annoying, I wish Instagram did something about those instead of messing everything up with some no-sense making algorithms.

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