Most people think of Instagram as a place to browse pretty pictures and see the day-to-day of celebrities’ lives, but since starting my business, it’s become one of my favorite ways to bring in traffic and clients to my site on autopilot. It goes without saying that as a documentary photographer, you should definitely be using Instagram to get your work out there and in front of an audience that maybe wouldn’t stumble across your website. If you use it the right way, you can really increase the number of people who see your photos and like, comment, and follow you. And the more people who see and follow your work, the more traffic your website will get. That traffic definitely leads to more clients.
It took me a long time to figure out how to use Instagram in a way that could grow my business – I read a lot of blog posts and took some social media courses, but once I figured it out, my favorite social media platform got even more love from me! I now use Instagram to let my business grow even when I’m not there and I know it’s not a fluke. Even my clients have been able to use them! These tips don’t take more than a few hours a week to implement and some of the tricks are one and done, so once you fix them up, you never have to worry about it again! They’re small things, but trust me, they make a big difference.
1. Update your Instagram biography.
It’s really important that your Instagram biography be “on point” as the kids say. Because social media is pretty casual, we tend to slap up a biography without thinking about it too much, but your profile should follow a really specific format for you to be able to optimize your chances of Instagram recognizing you as a valuable member of its community. Instagram searches for keywords when recommending people to follow, and having a well-written bio will help you.
The most important thing is your name. You definitely need to keep your real name in your profile, but you should also add in brackets what it is that you do. For example: Jane Doe (Documentary-Style Family Photographer). Because this part of your profile is bolded, it stands out and if someone casually clicks onto your page, this information is going to be one of the first things that they see. If you can’t fit what you do next to your name, make sure it’s the first thing that you put in your bio.
Your main bio should always start by getting more specific about what it is that you do and where you are. So if Jane shoots day-in-the-life sessions and she lives in Nashville, her bio might start with “Nashville-based, Shooting the Day in the Life of Families” or “in-home photographer based in Nashville.”
You can follow up this introduction either with a tagline about what you do or with some personal details that will help to hook casual browsers into followers (and potential clients). For example, if Jane is a mom, she might say something like “Proud momma bear to 2 cubs & a terrier.” Having personal touches like this helps people form a connection with you, and they’ll want to follow you and check out your work.
The last part of the bio – the URL – is the big thing that I see people getting wrong on their profiles. Most people just link to their main page or to their portfolio. The page that you actually want to be linking to is the page where people can find out more about your session experience or a link to opt-in to a great piece of information (pricing, quiz for potential clients, etc.), such as your Client Guide. It’s really important to tease a little about your packages with clear details about what your clients can expect out of a session with you. It’s even more important to link that with action words in your bio (more on that in the next tip!). Remember, if people are on your Instagram page, they can already see your work and if they’re clicking through, it’s because they like it. It’s so easy to get distracted on Instagram that you only have a small window to get someone to click through to your site – you don’t want them to see more photos. They’ve looked at your work already on your profile. They know that they like it. Now, you want them to take the plunge and actually move a step closer to working with you by leading them right to your packages, then take control to have the ability to get in front of them again by getting them on your email list.
Business coach Jenn Scalia does a great job of putting all of this together. She couldn’t fit everything that she does into her name, so it’s the first thing she includes in her bio. She then follows it up with a clear description of what she does, and asks people to take a clear action and she links them right to her Facebook group, which is how she gets the majority of her new clients, and not her website.
2. Include a call to action in all posts
I can’t stress this enough: People need to be told what to do, especially on Instagram. Tell me in the comments if this sounds familiar: You’re looking at someone’s photograph and you go to like it. You mean to click out of the profile, but your finger accidentally taps on a hashtag that they’ve used in their post instead, so you look through and like some photos in that hashtag. And on, and on, and on. Next thing you know, you’ve been on Instagram for a half hour.
The only way to avoid that shiny object syndrome is to give people a clear direction of what to do. You need to tell them what they should do, whether that’s leaving a comment about something, clicking on a link in your bio, following you, etc. There’s a lot of different actions that you can ask people to take, but every single post should have some kind of action.
Let me put this into some practical terms for you. Let’s say that you want to grow your e-mail list because every email = potential client or press opportunity or referral. Remember, even if someone lives in Paris, chances are, they’ve got a friend whose cousin is getting married in Nashville, where Jane is taking her wedding photographs. You’d be surprised how easily word travels when you help guide people there.
So, if you’ve posted a picture from a recent shoot that you did of a wedding that took place in the rain, you might post something like: “I was so honored to be a part of Jane and John’s special day. Even though it was raining, you can see how happy they are. Get a free copy of my top five essential items every bride needs for wedding photos in the rain by clicking on the link in my profile (@janedoephoto)”
Danielle of the Merriweather Council does a pretty great job of demonstrating call to actions in a post. While I don’t recommend multiple call to actions in the same post (“Don’t miss the replay,” “Watch it now,” and “Join us now” are all calls to action), because it confuses the reader, it’s an excellent post to show you call to actions in action. I also don’t recommend leaving a link like she did at the end there. It’s difficult to copy a link on a phone and people can’t be fussed with typing the link out in a browser on their mobile device. I would recommend that she follow my advice and replace the bit.ly link with “so join us now by clicking the link in my profile (@merriweatherc).”
The active link to her profile will let viewers click through and then get the working link right away. It’s a much faster process.
Notice how in my example, I didn’t start my sentence with “If you want to get a copy” – I launch straight into the action “Get.” Danielle doesn’t use wishy-washy words either. Using strong action words will increase your conversion rate because you’re not asking them to make a decision, you’re pointing your visitors in a specific direction – to that free opt-in that gets people onto your e-mail list or to your paid product. Bonus tip: Creating an easy and free challenge is a great way to get people on to your list, especially if you have a business that offers products like courses or ebooks in addition to photo services. Bonus points if you have a specific hashtag that you tell people to use when posting their pictures.
Which leads me to my next tip.
3. Use hashtags
Hashtags are your bread and butter, my friend. Because Instagram is a search engine, the way that it organizes its posts is via hashtags, which are searchable databases of every post that’s ever been published on Instagram using that hashtag. If you want people to find your stuff, you really need to start using hashtags. They are literally your best friend.
The number one mistake that I see people making when they use hashtags in posts is this: They tag for themselves, not for their clients. What do I mean? Simple. As a photographer, I’m sure that the equipment you use – the lenses, the actual camera, editing software, etc. – is really important to you. But, if I can be blunt for a moment: your customer doesn’t care about that (unless your target audience is other photographers).
You can use a maximum of 30 hashtags in an instagram post, you need to make ’em count.
You want to use all 30 hashtags available to you in every single post because you want the most people to find, like, comment, follow, and buy your photos, courses, or packages. To get the most bang for your (totally free) buck here, you need to ask yourself the question: what would they be searching for?
To use Jane as an example, we know that she’s a wedding Photographer living in Tennessee. Some useful hashtags for her would be:
- #nashvillephotographers (I know this seems like a waste, but you want to cover your bases – instagram sees these as two separate hashtags and you want that bride to find you)
They’re all things that Jane’s ideal client would be searching for. UNLESS you’re hashtagging your town or county, I would try to make sure that the tags you pick have a minimum of 2,000 posts in them already (you can see this by using Instagram on your desktop). While around 20 of your hashtags should speak directly to your ideal clients, you can have 10 that are more general to help boost engagement on your photos (and make you look super cool in Instagram’s eyes). My recommendations are:
Of course, you should always add #fearlessandframed to your hashtag lineup for a chance to be featured in our feed too!
Instagram pro Alex Tooby puts hashtags to good use. She doesn’t use 30 (but she should – it’s a wasted opportunity) but her hashtags are clearly speaking to her client – people who want to learn about Instagram.
You can stick the hashtags in one of two places:
- After your text (not my preferred method)
- In a comment on your post. This is the method that I personally prefer because it doesn’t clutter up your caption, and once enough people comment on your photo, they disappear and nobody even sees them, but Instagram still keeps your post archived within those hashtags for people to come across.
4. Post testimonials.
Client testimonials are your best friend, and you should be posting them on Instagram. They won’t get as much engagement as your other Instagram posts (you can see here that the post only has 11 likes whereas Halley’s norm is somewhere between about 60-100 likes) but they can help you bring in clients FAST. The reason for this is that testimonials help anybody who is on the fence make a decision about you right then and there. Featuring your testimonials allows people an instant understanding of what it’s like to work with you. While you can promise people that you’re the best photographer who captures the most darling moment, people like to test reviews. Great reviews really go a long way in helping people take the plunge.
The testimonial (edited for language since we’re family friendly around here) is short and to the point. What people want to know is that you’re going to give them the excellent service they asked for, and hearing that you deliver from someone else is about the best thing that you can do for your business. Of course, you want to be linking them to your “work with me” or “packages” page in the bio.
5. Post consistently
The number one mistake that I see photographers making is that they don’t post on a regular schedule. That’s a BIG no no. For any search engine, consistency is one of the key ways to get you in front of more people. Search Engines like knowing that you’re posting Monday-Friday, or every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Whatever schedule fits in, but you should be posting on a regular basis. A lot of photographers only post when they have a new shoot to share with the world, but that doesn’t get you the traffic that you need on a regular basis to make sure that your followers know who you are and what you’re about.
If you don’t have any new work, feature another shot from some past work. Or, you can take the opportunity to show off your editing skills – post a split screen before and after so that people can see what a great editor you are. Start a series of tips where you tell brides about unconventional locations to take their photos, ten questions to ask before signing a photographer, etc. The sky is really the limit.
6. Bonus Tip: Use a scheduling tool
At Fearless and Framed, we use the FREE tool Later (referral link) to schedule all of our Instagram posts. Marie posts a mix of personal photos, blog posts, freebies, sale and products, and more. There are tools out there that will schedule and completely posts to Instagram, but since Latergramme is free… well, we stick with free in this case. You’ll sign up for Later (referral link) on their site (via your computer) and add the app to your phone. You start with 10 free posts per month, but you can either pay for more or earn more by sharing about the tool with your photographer friends (they sign up and use the tool for free, you get 10 more free posts added to your account). Scheduling posts in advance has been a life savior for keeping our Instagram account fresh!
If you run out of free posts through Latergramme, you can also start storing your photos in Dropbox and add the Dropbox app to your phone… then, when you have a moment to hop into Instagram, you can access your dslr photos that are edited and ready for IG!
Take the 20 minute Instagram Challenge. Take 5 minutes to map out 2 posts per day on Instagram over the next week. Take 5 minutes to research hashtags. Take 5 minutes to get set up with Later (referral link). Take 5 minutes to upload the 10 posts & captions to Latergramme. Watch your follower count and engagement rise!