• Simply Slow

    Ten Ways to Build Community on Instagram

    29 March, 2018

    Following on from my last post about why I love Instagram, I wanted to bring together some suggestions for how to make the most of its uniquely brilliant community spirit. I’m a very long way from being an expert, but my small following is made up of such a wonderful bunch that I’ve quite often been asked how I found them, or how they found me.

    I’d just like to say right now, though, that if you’re here to find out how to get 50K followers in the shortest possible space of time, this is not the place for you. Growing your account in that sense is absolutely not what I mean when I talk about ‘building community’ and a large following does not necessarily equal a group of genuinely engaged and likeminded people. In fact, in the age of bots and fake profiles, it’s fairly common to come across big accounts with very low levels of interaction. And to me that interaction is what it’s all about – not for fame or fortune, but for the chance to create real, meaningful connections.

    So, how do you do that? Here are the ten things that have helped me most…

    Use relevant hashtags

    Taking the time to source creative and relevant hashtags (and using them appropriately) is a great way to target your posts towards particular types or groups of people and tap into specific audiences. Doing this is not just about getting your own content seen, though: browsing hashtag galleries can also lead you to accounts with a similar feel to yours, which usually means you’ll have something in common with the people behind them. In the same way, joining in with hashtag projects – collections intended for regular posting on a specific theme – is a brilliant way to get talking to others with shared interests, as the topic of conversation has basically already been set. If you don’t know where to start with hashtags then sign up for Sara Tasker’s monthly email list (scroll down until you see the “Hashtags for Instagram” header), take a look at what’s being used by the accounts you admire, or simply ask your followers for some ideas.

    Use the ‘suggested accounts’ feature

    When you follow someone on Instagram, usually a list of other similar profiles is displayed along the top of the page. You can also find these recommendations by heading to an account you like and clicking on the small downward arrow under their ‘following’ count. I can’t say that many – if any – of these suggestions have lead me to great friendships, and of course this tool doesn’t help directly with striking up a conversation, but it’s a good place to start for broadening the pool of people you might like to connect with.

    Be human, and be yourself

    This may sound like an obvious point, but sometimes it seems as though people forget how to be human online. With so many accounts competing for social success and the dreaded algorithm making it increasingly harder to get noticed, I find it’s becoming increasingly common to see people putting out content that doesn’t match their personality (in the hope that it will be more popular with their audience) or omitting any trace of the mundane or negative aspects of life from their feeds to avoid the chance of being unfollowed. But, to me, that’s just not real: nobody’s life is perfect, and we can all tell when someone is pretending to be someone or something they’re not. My favourite accounts are always the ones that feature an honest glimpse into a person’s everyday reality, and if that means seeing a picture of something other than a pretty flatlay or reading about a bad experience then that’s fine with me. More than fine, it’s good, because it’s real. Yes, Instagram is about beauty and creativity and inspiration, and I want my feed to be full of those things just as much as the next person – but I also want them to be genuine, because true friendship can’t spring from anything less.

    Engage

    I know this term gets thrown around the Insta-world all the time, and it seems like basic common sense, but I think it’s worth repeating. I’ve frequently stopped scrolling through my feed to admire a beautiful photo or a well-crafted caption, only to continue on my way without taking a few extra seconds to double-tap or leave a comment – not because the content wasn’t worth it, but because I almost forget that I need to do those things to express my appreciation. As silly as that may sound, I think it can be quite easy to feel that our positive reactions are somehow implicit and that the creator of an image will just ‘know’ that it’s great without the need for tangible confirmation. But is that how you feel? Do the likes and comments have any less impact if you’re confident in the quality of your post? If a real life friend showed you something incredible that they’d made, would you just stand there and say nothing? Of course not. Everybody needs to feel seen, heard, and valued. So tap that heart or leave a few words of encouragement; let’s cheer each other on.

    Take an online course

    Although making friends shouldn’t be the sole motivation for choosing to take an e-course, it’s certainly an added bonus. I’ve taken a couple now and have found them to be great places to find community: they’re full of people with a passion for the same thing, which instantly provides an element of common ground. Learning as part of a group also seems to automatically trigger a sense of classroom camaraderie (starting a course feels a lot like the first day of school!) and the inclusive and open nature of the forum-style discussion spaces makes it a lot less intimidating to jump into conversations without feeling rude or intrusive.

    Join Twitter chats and Facebook groups

    It may seem counterintuitive to move away from Instagram when that’s where you want to be spending your time, but looking up your friends on other social media platforms can be a great way of enhancing your connection. I’m still finding my way with Twitter, but when I’ve managed to take part in #theinstachat (run by Sara Tasker of @me_and_orla) I’ve found that the discussions are a really fun and social place to get to know my Insta-pals better. I’m similarly new to the idea of Facebook groups, but I’ve just joined Barb from @herinternest‘s “Her Insta Nest” and Lucy Lucraft‘s podcast group. Both are full of people I know from Instagram, and I can’t wait to get more involved. I’ve even set up my own group, The Slow Adventure Club, and would love to see you there! It’s only tiny right now, but I hope it will grow into a space for likeminded people to have meaningful conversations.

    Be thoughtful

    Speaking of #theinstachat, this point is taken straight from last week’s discussion and was raised by Charlie Budd of @thetallphotographer in the midst of a conversation about how to reach out to others online. Charlie’s advice was to “be genuine, be thoughtful, be kind, and give. The more you give, the more people will want to connect with you.” There is so much truth in these words: just think about how you feel when you receive a heartfelt, personal comment on a post compared to when someone just leaves “love it!” or the heart-eyes emoji. The latter happened to me when I published a photograph of a forget-me-not from our garden…under which I had written that my Grandpa had died. A classic example of a superficial response to an image with no awareness of its context or meaning. Of course, there are moments in which those kinds of reactions have their place, but they’re unlikely to spark a sense of shared understanding or companionship. Carefully chosen words, however, can show so many things – empathy, gratitude, joy – that could lead to a real connection.

    Listen to podcasts

    Again, this might sound like a strange tip for building community when you consider the fact that listening to podcasts is usually a pretty solitary activity. But it’s not so much the act of listening itself that’s important here – the magic lies in what happens afterwards. If you come away from a podcast episode feeling more inspired, uplifted or knowledgeable than before, you immediately want to share that feeling with others. You recommend it in your next Instagram caption and, hey presto, that opens up conversations – not only with those who value your suggestion, but with those who’ve already listened to the episode and enjoyed it too. In another scenario, you might go on to join a Facebook group for the podcast (like Lucy’s, mentioned above) and find new connections there. Or, prompted by something you heard that was particularly interesting, you might do some further research on a topic that leads to the discovery of a new-to-you Instagram account or a course you’d like to take. Even before all of that, though, I find that simply listening to another person share their thoughts and feelings out loud can be enough to create a sense of friendship, whether you’ll meet that person one day or not. Because if their thoughts and feelings are the same as yours then you know you’re not alone, and sometimes that’s all we need.

    Be consistent

    This suggestion makes me a big hypocrite, because – in terms of my posting schedule – it’s something I’m not very good at. I absolutely love hanging out on Instagram but there are some days when I either don’t have a photo or have nothing much to say, and I’m very much against making noise for the sake of it. I want everything I share to be of value, and I’m still learning how to balance that with showing up consistently online. At the moment I’m posting every day and feeling great about it, but at times when I’m less inspired (or, let’s face it, less organised) it can be difficult to maintain that level of regularity. What I do know, though, is that the more frequently I post, the stronger the feeling of connection with my Insta-friends – which makes perfect sense, given that the sharing of information is such a fundamental part of human relationships. With this in mind, it’s important to maintain consistency in other areas, too: the tone of voice in your captions, the type of thing you post about, the way you edit your photos. All these things paint a picture of you, and the more true-to-life it is, the easier it will be for your ‘right people‘ to find you.

    Be brave

    Last but not least, just go for it. What’s the worst that can happen if you reach out to someone? Probably just the chance they might not reply, so there’s really nothing to lose. From the conversations I’ve had with many people online, we’re all in the same boat: wanting to make friends, but worried about coming across as a weirdo. Someone has to make the first move, so it might as well be you. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

    So there you have it. If you already feel like you’re part of a great community on Instagram, I’d be so interested to hear your thoughts on this – do you agree with these suggestions? Do you have any to add? And if you’re just starting out with finding your tribe online or if you’ve been struggling to make connections, I’d love to know if any of these ideas help. Please do come back and let me know how you get on!

    Maddy x

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