I get asked regularly about how I grew a following on my instagram account. And I typically start with one question: why do you want to grow a social media following?
For the likes & the clout?
To share your journey as a rider or with your horse?
To promote your products or service for your business?
To be more popular than the other girls at your barn?
To get free stuff from brands in exchange for posting about their products?
To get paid just to be yourself & replace your full time income?
January 2020 vs January 2021 (over 4x growth in one year!)
None of the answers are wrong per se, but some of them will stand the test of time better than others. If you're only in it for the popularity and the likes, you likely won't be able to handle the grind that is involved with growing any sort of social media platform.
While there is a TON of good & exciting things that come from growing your personal brand on social media, there are definite downsides that might not seem obvious, so I'll start there!
Things to consider before you decide you want to grow your personal brand:
It's going to be a lot of work. The likelihood of posting one photo you snapped on your iPhone, it going viral, & you instantly having 100k loyal followers on instagram is slim to none. You're going to have to put in a lot of time & effort, even to just reach 1,000 followers. I spend hours planning photoshoots, reaching out to brands to collaborate, editing pictures, responding to comments & DMs, typing up thoughtful posts, & that's just the beginning of it. Social media can truly be a full time job & involve a lot of effort. I often get the "oh you're so lucky you get free stuff from brands" comments. What I don't think people see is all the behind the scenes. It has taken me years to get to this point. Years of being up at midnight responding to comments, engaging with other accounts, writing out posts, & learning how to use social media to spread my message. So yes, I am incredibly grateful to work with awesome brands & get to use their products, but I also have to haul out my thousands of dollars in camera equipment to the barn, clean the ponies up, find an assistant, get my husband to come take pictures of me, edit the photos, upload them to digital albums. & deliver them to brands. It's not as simple as just snapping a quick picture and posting it. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that most followers will never know about!
Putting yourself out there, you are open for a lot of criticism. I've gotten my fair share of hate & criticism simply for posting my opinions, or even just a photo of me riding. There are unfortunately a lot of bullies on social media & you need to consider whether or not you can handle the criticism before you put yourself out there. Will your mental health be ok if you get a bunch of comments criticizing your riding? Will you be devastated if a post you worked really hard on only gets 10 likes? What if you lose a bunch of followers who disagree with a comment you make? Just be aware that there are negatives & make sure you are prepared to handle them before you put yourself open for the public to criticise.
What can you offer to your followers? Why would they want to follow you? If your only reason for wanting to grow your instagram is so you can get free stuff from brands, you likely won't make it very far. You have to have something to offer, some way to serve your audience. Even if that just means entertaining them with videos of you jumping your horse or making funny fail videos, think about what you can do to serve instead of what you stand to gain from the experience.
I don't say any of these things to discourage you from growing a personal brand & trying to captivate an audience. I just want to make sure you're aware of just what it means to grow a personal brand!
I absolutely love getting to interact with people on instagram. I have followers who have become friends. I have had more support and encouragement than I could've ever imagined. I have spread my message about how I've overcome anxiety & depression and received messages that move me to tears about how I've impacted someone. I am so truly grateful for the platform I have to engage with the equestrian community that I love so much.
I strongly encourage you to build a personal brand if you have a message, a story, or a business that you want to bring awareness to!
Here are my top 7 tips for how to grow your instagram following:
1. Post quality photos. Don’t post a blurry mess that looks like it was taken from 2 miles away. Instagram is a visual platform, so the better quality and composition your photo is, the better chance that you’ll be able to get people to stop scrolling, read your post, & engage with your content. I think of the image I post as the handshake and the caption as my intro. The handshake gets the conversation started, but you can’t just leave it at that. You have to follow the handshake up with a great caption!
2. Talk about what you’re passionate about. Don’t just post random quotes or song lyrics or not write anything at all. Write captions that are captivating by talking about what you know and love! Give advice, tell a story, or entertain with each caption.
3. Respond to every single comment. Yep, unless you’re getting hundreds of comments, you need to be responding to every comment left on your posts. Someone took enough time to comment on your post, now be kind enough to respond. Imagine going to a dinner party and someone walks up to you and says, “oh I love those shoes!” But instead of responding, you just walk away... that’s what not responding to comments is like! When someone says something nice on your post, act like a human being and respond with gratitude. It’s simple really, engage with others the way you would in person... it’s called SOCIAL media for a reason.
4. Hashtags, hashtags, hashtags! You can use up to 30 hashtags on any post. To figure out what hashtags to use, type in one that’s related to your business into the search bar, such as #equestrian, and then look at the “related” hashtags section to pick some more. You can also browse through some accounts that are related to your business & see what hashtags they’re using. Once you’ve got a variety of hashtags that will apply to all your posts, use the text replacement feature on your phone (under keyboard on iPhones) and use a shortcut to save your hashtags so you don’t have to type them all out each time. Once you’ve got them saved with a shortcut phrase (I use #cbp), type that into a comment right after you make your post and all your hashtags will pop up. Add/remove hashtags as needed to be specific and relevant to that individual post, but having a base of hashtags saved into your shortcut will save you so much time!
5. Instagram stories are so important for keeping people interacting with YOU! The more you can show your face, what your days are like, your horse, your personality, etc the more people are going to get to know you and want to engage with your posts. Yanno how you ALWAY make sure to like and comment on your sisters or your BFFs posts? The more you show up in your stories as a regular, relatable human, the more likely people are going to be to show up & engage with all your posts.
6. Respond to DMs. If somebody reaches out with a question, comment, etc, respond! Same concept as with responding to comments... don’t leave people hanging!
7. Be consistent. You can’t decide to post one day and then not post again for 3.5 weeks. Social media is a long game. You’re not going to gain 100k followers overnight, but if you are persistent and consistent, you can grow a loyal following of likeminded people who support you & are excited at the idea of working with you or buying your products!