Are you a photographer trying to get more Instagram followers? One of the most common tips you hear for growing your tribe is to share your best work. As actor Steve Martin famously said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
It’s fantastic advice. Unfortunately, even if your pictures make the Mona Lisa look like a finger painting, it’s easier than ever to be ignored. Instagram now has over 500 million users posting more than 52 million pictures every day!
Should photographers join Instagram?
When Instagram started out, it was meant to be a place where people shared basic moments of their daily life. As it grew in popularity and saw everyone from movie stars to presidents sign on, posts became more curated. Top names in the photography world from National Geographic to Magnum photographers joined too.
Although some argue this was the death knell of Instagram, an end to sharing our unfiltered selves through Gingham-filtered glasses, others saw an opportunity. Photographers found it inspiring to be part of a global social network, one where everyone speaks the same visual language. And companies found a new channel to market their goods.
Some naysayers think Instagram, which is a mobile-first social network, is a second-class platform. What photographer wants their pictures to be viewed on a tiny mobile screen? The fact is that today almost 80% of social media time is spent on mobile devices.
Whether you are a pro trying to market your business or a hobby photographer wanting to interact with like-minded people, you need to be where your audience hangs out. Instagram is that place.
Something terrible about Instagram
Steve Martin’s advice about getting discovered was great, but it doesn’t work as well in the Instagram Age. There are plenty of photographers who struggle to find an audience. P.T. Barnum gave some more pertinent advice when he once quipped, “Without promotion, something terrible happens…Nothing!”
On Instagram, you need to be proactive when trying to build your following. Unlike Facebook, there is no Share button to help new people discover you. Also, the Instagram algorithm doesn’t do much either to put your pictures in front of new people. The majority of engagement on your feed usually comes from your followers, not people who randomly stumble on your work.
As a result, the best way to introduce your photos to a new audience is to get other Instagram accounts to share your work. There are two ways to go about this. You can ask other photographers to share your work. Or even better, you can get featured on hubs.
Leverage hubs to build your tribe
Hubs are Instagram accounts that feature other people’s photographs. Think of them as a sort of variety show that shares what is happening in the world of Instagram. Each hub is like a channel. For instance, there are nature hubs, architecture hubs, street photography, and food photography hubs to name a few. A hub can be owned by an individual, a group of people, or a business.
This photo below I took in Malaysia was featured by the FreedomThinkers feed. According to their website, their mission is to inspire their viewers to travel the world. That aligns with mine so I was happy to share my image on their account.
Some hubs are run just for fun as a way to create community. Other hubs are backed by a company and exist to market a product or service. Either way, they’re a great way to expose your work to a new audience.
To get a hub to share your photo, just include the relevant hashtag in the caption of your photo. You can usually find out which hashtags to use in their account bio. If the hub owner likes your photo, they will share it and credit you by sharing your name and IG feed address. The exposure you get can, in turn, drive traffic to your personal feed, resulting in an increase of followers.
How to go viral on Instagram
Instagram is like the news, once one channel breaks a story, others quickly report on it as well. Many hubs copy their featured photo selections from other hubs. This creates a domino effect that can give you massive amounts of exposure.
For instance, my “Dark Towers” photo was featured on more than 20 hubs. One of those was on the Game of Tones feed which you can see below. I didn’t ask all of the hubs to share it, many featured my image because they saw it on another hub. Those hubs together had a combined follower count of over a million.
Having that many hubs share your picture doesn’t happen every day. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon to have at least a few different hubs share your photo at once.
If you’re curious how I created the look of this image, read my article How to Use Split Toning to Make Your Photos Stand Out.
5 Killer tips to get seen on Instagram
It doesn’t matter if you are a total newbie or seasoned pro, or if you have 100 followers or 100,000. There is a hub out there for all levels and types of photographers. Here are some tips for getting featured:
1. Know your hubs. To get featured you need to put the hashtag and/or tag your photo according to each hub’s request. Don’t just blindly tag a hub because it’s popular. Ask yourself if your work fits the style and quality of the hub.
2. Focus on your location. Geographic hubs are a great place to start. Look for ones that focus on a region like your city, state, province, country, or the place where you are traveling. Some examples are @ig_nycity or @uk. An added benefit to local hubs is that you can actually meet people in your area.
3. Search according to types of photography. Consider genre hubs like @nightphotography or @urbanromantix. They are great for discovering like-minded photographers.
4. Try for small hubs when you start. If you are new to photography and/or Instagram, start small. Aim for hubs with less than 10,000 followers at the beginning.
5. Share with brands. Don’t disregard business hubs. These are some of the largest out there. For instance, the magazine Travel + Leisure @travelandleisure has over 2 million followers and regularly features photos from other IG feeds, as does @travelchannel.
The super secret to Instagram exposure
This is my final and most important tip. Follow the hub you’d like to be featured on along with the admin of the hub.
Some hubs will even direct you to “follow [insert name of hub admin(s)] to be featured.” The hub admins want exposure just like everyone else as they want to increase their follower count too.
If the name of the admin is not stated in the bio, look at the last few photos posted in the feed. There is often a note saying which admin selected the featured photo.
The Golden Rule of Engagement
Once you know who the admin is, friend them, visit the admin’s feed (not the hub), like a few of their photos, and then comment on one or two of their pictures. Be sure to write something that proves you aren’t a robot. In other words, don’t just leave a thumbs up or “Great shot!” comment.
Most importantly, don’t be human spam. Do not ask the admin to view your feed. Do not ask them for feedback on your work. And never ask them to feature your photo.
If you take the time to interact with the admin’s photos, it’s possible they will visit your feed. And if they like what they see, you just might get featured. Reciprocity is the Golden Rule.
In the end, the hub admins are like gatekeepers, the editors of social network magazines. You want your photos in front of their eyes. Get them to know who you are. Connecting with a hub admin is the single most important thing you can do to get featured, besides creating amazing work of course.
Are Instagram hubs worth the effort?
Some might say social media is a waste of time. It’s undoubtedly better to be out with your camera than staring at your phone.
In my case, that Busan roof topping photo that was shared on 21 hubs got me a few hundred followers. It doesn’t really matter, though. Life is not a popularity contest. Whether you have one fan or one million, the most important thing for any photographer is to create.
On the other hand, the act of creating is deeply bound with the act of sharing. There’s nothing wrong with photographing what you love and keeping it for yourself.
But if you want to share what you’re passionate about with the most people possible, then let the world know. Or as writer and producer Dan Harmon put it, “Find your voice, shout it from the rooftops, and keep doing it until the people that are looking for you find you.”