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As Instagram is getting ready to launch a new “Usage insights” feature that will enable users to see just how much time they’re killing on the platform (yikes!), many of us are likely to cringe in horror and re-evaluate the way we invest our time in this, and other, social media networks.

Whether you’ve been a long-time, avid Instagram user or just occasionally drop by to post or browse, the platform is a fantastic engagement tool for both individuals and brands. Still, I suspect some jaws will floor at the sight of just how much time we spend scrolling through our feeds. So today, I’d like us to talk about the things that make Instagram a social media engagement powerhouse and make sure the time we do spend on the platform is well spent.


We eat content with our eyes

More than any other social network, Instagram has always been about the visuals. Granted, it was about bad pasta photos and pixelated pet shots, in the very beginning, but it has steadily grown to gorge on some of the most stunning portraits, paintings, landscape and creative photography out there.

Obviously, photographers and brands that regularly use professional shots thrive in this environment but you don’t have to be a pro to catch your audience’s eye. Nowadays, everyone has a half-decent smartphone capable of taking a good photo and, with a bit of focus, good lighting and a clear goal in mind, anyone can post a visual story worth telling.

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During the past year, though, more and more free stock photos seem to have made their way onto the platform. In part out of marketers’ need to post visually consistent content  regularly and because it’s an easier, more cost-effective option than having to either hire someone to take photos or take them yourself.

While I have nothing against branded content on Instagram, I’m not a fan of using unaltered free stock photo on the platform. Not because there’s something wrong or illegal in doing so, I sometimes use edited stock photos too, but users have very short attention spans and when all you post are unaltered free stock photos, I feel like it’s too close to clickbait for my liking. That being said, I understand why some people use this tactic and the benefits they derive from it, it’s just not something I’m comfortable with.

It’s all about the moments

A lot of the posts that receive high engagement on Instagram manage to capture either every day moments people have gone through or stunning ones people aspire to. Whether they turn out to be snaps of things we’ve experienced or would like to experience, we binge on stories we connect with on an emotional level.

it’s my birthday. donut ask me how old i am. #23forever 📸: @sweatmoustache

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This is one more reason why I believe using unedited stock photography on Instagram isn’t doing you any favours. While it’s true that grabbing a really cool-looking shot of a cup of coffee involves little more than the effort required to find the photo, grabbing a cup yourself and finding an interesting context in which to share it with the world will help your own personal style come through and force you to be more creative about the stuff you post.

Forecast calls for lots of rain in Atlanta and Detroit, perfect weather for coffee or tea. This is hands down my favorite cozy cafe in Nashville @baristaparlor — I could just live there. Drop your recommendations of your favorite coffee shops (anywhere in the world)! :::: #rainydays #cafe #barista #tealatte #detroitbloggers #nashville #baristaparlor #coffeeculture #perfectdailygrind #hashtagbrew #baristababes #coffeehouse #lattelove #artofslowliving #kinfolkhome

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Is it easy? Hell no! Especially if you’re on your own, with basic gear like a phone and half a clue what you’re doing. Stick with it, though, and it’ll be well worth it, as your content improves, your captions get snappier, your timeline becomes more put together and you have much more of a sense of accomplishment, as your content gets higher levels of engagement.

You’re posting to communicate

Because Instagram is so visual, a lot of users tend to post a photo, maybe fork in some hashtags and that’s all folks! As with every social context, not just network, Instagram is a means to an end, and whether you’re a posting for yourself or a brand, that end is not selling more.

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Social media is about dialogue, since multimedia content packs much more information than written text, adding the right context to your content, is very important in making sure the right message sinks in. Because where there’s information missing, people are inevitably going to fill in the blanks with whatever feels more likely to them; and that’s not always what you might want to stick.

🍊

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Context, however, doesn’t have to go on for miles. You can wrap it all up with a pretty bow or, in this case, with a simple orange, making sure you convey to your audience the same elements that drew your attention to the scene, in the first place.

Keep it simple and human

Would you trust a machine to strike up conversations with perfect strangers in the middle of the street for you? Then why would you trust an automated service to post random comments on people’s posts on Instagram?

The more spoiled for choice we are when it comes to social media tools, the lazier we seem to get. Automation is supposed to make social media participation easier by performing tedious tasks like posting at specific times on your behalf. It’s not supposed to remove you from the network for a set period of time while you remain oblivious to your following and engagement.

Not only do tools that claim to help you grow your following or ensure engagement by posting comments for you defeat the whole point of being on social media, they don’t really work. Hootsuite’s Evan LePage ran an experiment, allowing one such tool to do the dirty work for him so you don’t have to. Here’s how well that went.

Not everything made it to final edits of @uglydelicious. One of the best things I ate in Tokyo was at Delifucious in Nakameguro. chef Shinya Kudo-San spent 10 years training as a high-end sushi chef. Logged in a lot of time Ginza Harutaka and was a co-worker of Daisuke Nakazawa. He gave it all up to open up a spot dedicated to fried seafood sandwiches. The team still buys the best seafood at Tsukiji every morning. I don’t think there is a fast food shop like this anywhere in the world. The same techniques and ingredients found in the highest end sushi-ya, now packaged in the local fish sandwich shop. For the show we made a shrimp patty burger. The Anago dog is sublime. You will never look at a fish filet sandwich the same ever again. Fucking Delicious = Delifucious.

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Instead of trying to take shortcuts that lead nowhere, look at what’s in front of you and just talk to that person. Not only does this humanise the profile you’re building online and make you look much more approachable but it’s a chance to have a real conversation with the poster and their audience. Now that’s the kind of visibility you want.


The Bottom Line

Not unlike LinkedIn or Twitter, Instagram promises to provide content creators with a soapbox from which to promote their ideas, causes, products, brands and even their own personas.

It only delivers on that promise, however, if we take the time to build interesting, relevant visual stories, engage in actual dialogue and use automation to facilitate this dialogue, rather than avoid it.

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