Another week, another new social media platform. You might think we would have run out of new ideas and methods for digital connection by now, but the list of possibilities only seems to keep expanding––and in some cases, though not all, the platforms are enduring. Instagram is one of those platforms, and it may just turn out to be one of the most useful ones there is for the self-published author looking to dive into the whole marketing-by-networking process.
It’s not that Instagram doesn’t have its fair share of detractors (believe me, it does)––but then, which social media platform manages to keep all of its users happy, all of the time? There are journalists out there who firmly believe that marketing your books through social media is an endeavor bound and doomed to fail; they are, however, in the minority. And a lot of authors, like indie poet Mirtha Michelle, have found promotional success after creating authentic and dynamic relationships with their fans. “I don’t try to be anything I’m not,” she writes. “I’ll post pieces of who I am.” All social media platforms present opportunities to connect in this way, but Instagram in particular has found a dedicated and loyal user base––industry professionals are beginning to recognize that Instragram’s model of encouraging its users to post images of day-to-day activities is something we can rely on to stick around, unlike some other quote-on-quote “faddish” platforms.
So, what is Instagram? To tell you what it is, we first have to clear up the biggest myth of all––that is, what it isn’t:
Debunking the Great Instagram Myth: “It’s all cats, lattes, and what you had for breakfast.”
Instagram is one of the most streamlined social media platforms out there, in part because it has been engineered almost exclusively for “mobile” use––that is, as an app for smartphones. Users snap a picture on their smartphone’s built-in camera of what’s going on around them, edit it to look artsy or gritty or incandescently pretty using one of the app’s “filters,” and then post the picture for their friends, family, and other followers to “like” and comment on. Users have only to scroll through their feeds with the swipe of a thumb to view all of the pictures taken by all of the people they follow. Ease of use and the built-in appeal of a visually-driven interface makes Instagram an engaging digital space, and it has evolved to allow users to post short videos in addition to their pictures.
Instagram is generally, in my experience, an upbeat place––rife with photos of waterfalls and meadows overlaid with inspirational quotes, self-aware embarrassing selfies, and the ever-evolving memes. Everyone has figured out how to tweak it to best represent their lives and interests: hikers, climbers, birdwatchers, and other lovers of the outdoors post their daring feats and snaps of dawn over this or that lake; artists post videos of their works-in-progress as they go; cooks and bakers post snapshots of their (artfully) dirty countertops; and authors post quotes, snapshots of their bundled manuscripts, and tantalizing glimpses of their laptop screens. There are plenty of cats, and lattes, and half-eaten breakfasts to be found if you follow folks who are prone to disorganization, but most Instagram users are part-way through the process of developing a personal “brand”––and many are more interested in showing you who they are than in showing you what they eat. Follow these people––these authors.
Top 5 Best Practices:
1. Go for the gut. Instagram is about intimacy. Remember that, if you remember nothing else about this post. Your followers on Instagram aren’t interested in posts that keep them at arms-length; the whole reason they follow you is that they want an “inside look,” to “go behind the scenes” of your life, even if you’re just a moderately successful accountant from Atlanta. Posts that show a glimpse of your heart and your goals as a writer, or a slice of a rough day, are more likely to engage your fans. If you don’t care about the content of a photo, that’s a good sign that they won’t either.
2. Think regular, but not too regular. You don’t have to sit down and block out a schedule for the next six months, but it is a good idea to plan a regular post––perhaps once a week––that your followers (your readers!) can count on seeing pop up in their feeds. It’s also a good idea to allow plenty of room for spontaneous posts that reflect your mood at a given moment, and those all-important surprises that transform a day into an important day. Just don’t clutter up your followers’ feeds with repetitive or blasé posts that tempt them to keep scrolling and scrolling past all of your hard-won new content!
3. You’re in the inspiration business, so share yours. ‘Nuff said, really. One of the fastest ways to a reader’s heart is to talk with them about the backstories to the works they love best. Reading is about imagination, and inspiration, and participation––every bit as much as writing––so time spent sharing how and why you create what you create … is time well spent. Show your readers the emotional or physical worlds that they encounter in your books––snapshots of the real café you frequent that inspired the one in your latest novel, or the skyline of the city in which your novel is set, or a landscape overlaid with a quote that you turned to when facing your greatest discouragements––or that your characters turned to when facing theirs.
4. Use the hashtags and @username functions. I think I’ve about over-talked the importance of hashtags elsewhere (especially in my Twitter primer two weeks ago), but I cannot overstate the fundamental utility of these built-in functions. Findability remains key on any platform, including Instagram, and despite its visual nature it’s just as entrenched in metadata as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. People will still find you (and you, them) using keyword searches and hashtags, and they’ll respond to your material if they receive notification that you called them out by name. Host giveaways! Post a weekly “top fan” award! Use the system, above all, to interact with those all-important followers!
5. Don’t posture. All social media platforms are saturated with posts that the average user will find narcissistic and annoying, and although we can most definitely argue the merits of positive self-image and self-affirmation, it’s best not to turn your Instagram feed into a continual parade of any one type of content, especially the kind that forgets that connection requires conversation. Keep your pictures diverse, in nature and editing and subject, and your Instagram followers will feed on your creativity, your (carefully curated) spontaneity, and your interest in them.
Most Overlooked Feature:
The “Direct Message” function of Instagram, hands-down! You can send a private or semi-private message to up to fifteen followers at once, and although this feature won’t exactly broadcast your news and message to the general public, it will most definitely help build that sense of intimacy that I mentioned in point #1, above. You can use a DM to announce giveaway winners, or to surprise and delight a few select followers with bonus material! A DM feels much more intimate, and meaningful, than a picture any one of a hundred thousand people can see––and on Instagram, intimacy directly translates to lasting engagement with your fan base. Together, you and your followers can finish this sentence: “A picture is worth a ______________!”
I hope you’ll join me in building this Social Media Primer! If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of social media know-how. ♠
||ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.