Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Instagram. In just over a year it's become a household word. Recently purchased by Facebook for one billion dollars, I describe this social media platform as "Twitter for visual learners." A quick way to share a moment without the words.

I've been a devotee since the very start. In many ways, my iPhone (with its quite-good camera) has replaced lugging around my "real" camera for the every day. Lots of people have begun to use their phone the way our parents used the Polaroid camera: snapping away at the seemingly-mundane parts of daily life. And instead of saving ourselves for special occasions, we're back to taking photos each and every day. 

Rob Delaney (comedian, hysterical) has noted that Twitter taught him a lot about writing: editing himself, telling a joke in fewer, funnier words. I'd say the same thing about Instagram. Because the commitment is low-stakes and it's so easy to take photos with your phone, I spend far more time on composition and story-telling than I do when I bring out the big guns. Technical image quality becomes secondary and I'm reminded to say something. It's also an opportunity to, perhaps, take photos in a way you might not normally. I always try to remind myself to pull back and show more of the context, to give a little more information. And this kind of round-the-clock image-making keeps me nimble and thinking about light and composition which informs my professional work, too.

Earlier this year, my friend Ryan and I taught a class about Instagram at the Mommy Blogger Conference to End All Mommy Blogger Conferences, Blissdom. It was fun and moderately successful, so I thought I'd share some of our tips from that class here. 

(All photos by me, except the bottom right. Shot by T.J. and given the Brannan treatment through my feed.)

Now, let me start by saying this: Do Instagram however you wanna do it. I'm not saying my way is right or better. This is just information and my personal approach to the app and social networking in general. I get a lot of questions about followers and technique and whatnot, so here's what has worked for me. Warning: Obnoxious lingo forthcoming.

1. Consistency
Easily my number one piece of advice. Like any part of your online persona, your point of view is critical. Think about it: The only reason you follow anyone in social media (or the real world, ie. your friends) is because you love their take on the world around them. The only reason you watch Oprah or read Vogue instead of Cat Fancy or use the same cleaning products year after year is because those brands speak to you. They are consistent. They are reliable.

People want to see and fall in love with the way you see the world. 

So that's easy - If you're the one taking the pictures, your point of view should be obvious, right? Not necessarily. Where Instagram is concerned, a surefire way to create a distinct and consistent point of view is to use ONE filter. Marry yourself to it. Decide what tells your story best and commit. As time goes on, people will see your image and know that it's you. Furthermore, when a new follower is deciding whether or not to follow you, they'll take one look at your profile and have an animal attraction to it. Humans love consistency. Predictability. The familiar. Pattern. I use Brannan. If I take a picture and it doesn't work with Brannan, I don't post it. It's as simple as that.

1.1. Grid Maintenance
This is a big one for me. Remember, potential new followers will look at your Profile Page/Grid to determine whether or not they dig you. If the thing is all over the place (ie. no point of view, no consistency, no "brand") they will likely click out and never look back. But if they like those 16 images and they appeal to their deep-brain need for pattern and consistency, they'll probably follow. So, keep an eye on that opening page. If something jumps out at you, if it's glaring and distracting and takes away from the images around it, delete it. Just go in there and delete it. You'll always have the picture, your current followers have already seen it. So all it's doing now is sore-thumbing it amidst your otherwise lovely grid. 

2. Branding
Each of us uses the internet to varying degrees. I happen to be a fairly active person, what with this blog, Twitter, Instagram and a general emotional-reliance on all of it. Over the years these places have become an outlet to build a persona, share my life and work and evolution. I joke regularly about brand-management. But, if you take any of this at all seriously, it's not entirely a joke. There's something to be said for creating and maintaining a consistent point of view to which people are drawn. Martha Stewart does it. At some point in her career, her point of view and genuine, personal approach to living her actual life became a brand. And when people started wanting to live with (and up to) that brand she became a logo. But don't lose sight of the fact that it started in a very real place. Points 1 and 2 go hand-in-hand, so I'll say it again: Humans love consistency. Live your point of view.

2.1 Brand development
This can be elaborated upon. While I think being consistent is absolutely #1, I also think each social media platform can allow you to develop and finesse your brand. To put it in fairly simple terms: I started my blog in 2008. It was then and has remained fairly sincere and pleasant. My Twitter is considerably more brazen/sarcastic/cuss-laden. And my Instagram feed is, by all accounts, balls-out twee. Now, these are all genuine aspects of my real-world personality, but when you combine them, you get a sense of my fully-formed point of view. Some people may avoid my tweets because they're not into the F word or my pop culture commentary. Some people may avoid everything else because they are. All I'm saying is, know your audience and cater to each appropriately. 

2.2 Because all of these platforms are interconnected (Post to Facebook, Share on Twitter!, etc.) it's critical to remember the invisible line drawn between each. Do not feed every single Instagram through Twitter. Do not post all your Tweets to Facebook. Remember that each audience follows you for different reasons and one thing may not translate to another. Fact: Twitter audiences do not care about pictures of your feet. Instagrammers love it. So don't shit where you eat.

I'll post more in the InstaGrammar School soon. Next up: Social Networking with Instagram for your professional development, app recommendations and my technical tips to get the most out of your iPhone camera. 


  1. I started following you just before your followers grew exponentially and it's been fantastic watching you built and maintain your brand. Additionally, I follow your blog and your Twitter feed and seeing the three link up has been interesting. There's some good stuff here (I've already embrace the one filter philosophy and have been really happy with it). Thanks for the wisdom.

  2. I love this post.

    I think I picked up on your "use only one filter" technique and I started only using Valencia. I love it, and if it doesn't work with the photo, I don't waste time going through every single other filter. I step back, and try to take a better photo. Try... don't always *succeed*.

    Anyways, this is great. Your Instagram feed is exceptionally well-edited and inspiring.

  3. Love your advice! I need to use it and clean up my instagram and blog both! Also love seeing photos of the lake as they have been missing for far too long

  4. I love this! Thanks for the advice. I never would have thought about only using one filter. Though, if I think about it, I do have a love for Valencia....

  5. Thanks for the tips! I just went in and deleted a few...but sadly my go to filter for stuff isn't so good for people. But I like your advice - it's simple but so true.

  6. Very, very good, Jason. Excellent all around advice. As someone from a "slightly older" gen than you, I haven't really taken the value of Instagram, twitter (especially), and Facebook as a tool for building my company's brand as a decorative artist all that seriously. I'm thinking that perhaps I need to pull in my chair and take a closer look.
    I have a great website, but perhaps I can do better.

  7. Very good tips, very smart, thank you!

    (Why not set up your blog domain properly?)

  8. Love these tips and have definitely noticed the consistency on your grid. My personal account is a mish-mash but once I get my Bespoke one going, I'll definitely be returning to this for guidance :)

  9. I love this. I keep wanting to stick to one filter but I haven't been able yet! commitment-phobe, what can i say!) But the consistency whore in me really wants to get on that. maybe today can mark the beginning. (this morning doesn't count)

  10. Great advise. I am getting an iphone soon, so this helps me since I am new to instagram.

  11. you are brilliant-looooveee this

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