About a month ago, I needed a change. I had just lost a non-profit I had been working nearly a decade to build, and the end was fast and devastating and truly unexpected. I found myself in California, one of my favourite places in the world two weeks after it happened – for a non-profit conference, which had a cruel sense of irony about it. As I sat in my beautiful AirBnB in Venice Beach, I experienced a whole boatload of feelings. Should I try and start over? How long should I wait to try? Should I stop working for myself and get a normal job? Should I go back to school? Should I totally change careers?
And it hit me that the thing I really loved the most was what I was doing at that moment (even though I didn’t totally enjoy this particular trip for existential reasons)… travelling. So I made an extremely impulsive (a word I would never use to describe myself, by the way) decision to start a travel Instagram account.
I had already been following a few of the really big travel accounts, and from time to time, I would wonder how they had gotten started and then how they managed to grow to have hundreds of thousands of followers. At one point I had even messaged Siobhan (@agirlwhoblooms) how she had done it, and she was kind enough to respond, saying: little by little, posting something new every day.
So there it was. I had a new Instagram. Zero followers. I put a first post up. Was shocked when I woke up the next day to 15 or so likes. Posted again the next day. Gained a few followers. Came home from California and really started to think about what to do with this account. I started reading everything I possibly could, and a lot of the information out there says the same thing, so it felt simple to put together what works.
As I went, I also found a few accounts who had massively helpful blogs and were so open about sharing their knowledge of how to grow your social media and blogging presence, which I would highly recommend you check out: Charlotte from Charlie’s Wanderings, Laura and Nicolas from Passport in One Hand, and Ellie from The Ginger Wanderlust.
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✨COMMUNITY OVER COMPETITION✨ * Have you ever thought: it’s too late to start a blog or Instagram! Too many people are doing it already!? * Well take those thoughts and throw them through the window! * It’s never too late to start! One of the main reasons why I started my Instagram Challenge was to create a community. A group of people who have the same goal, the same questions and who are now able to find each other * I will never be the one to say that becoming successful on Instagram is easypeasy. It’s not! It’s a lot of hard work and most importantly persistence. There will be a lot of days where you’ll want to throw your phone against the wall BUT there will also be days where you meet new people who eventually turn into friends * 📷: me and my tripod * #charliesinstachallenge #germanytourism #exploregermany #pocket_germany #bestgermanypics #alluring_deutschland #revolveme #moodygrams #mg5k #agameoftones #tonekillers #gramslayers #rsa_outdoors #wekeepmoments #obersee #berchtesgaden
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⚡️HOW ARE WE ABLE TO TRAVEL FULLTIME?!⚡️. • Do you remember we asked you in one of our posts what you wanted to learn more about?! We finally made a video where we answer all these questions!!! How did we started? Can you just quit your job? How do we afford it? How do we earn money? And so much more!!! 🙌🏻. • Go to the link in our bio to watch ❤️❤️❤️ hope this video helps some of you and gives you a bit more insight into what we do! With love, Laura & Nicolas xxx
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Because Autumn is jumper season 💁♀️🍂 :::: Have you noticed a dip in your Instagram story views? 💩 Read on for my top tips on how to increase your story views and engagement! ⭐️ Show your face on your first story of the day so your followers easily know who’s story they’re watching and are more likely to watch til the end. ⭐️ Write what you say on your stories – the majority of people don’t watch stories with the sound on, you don’t want them to skip your stories just because they can’t hear what you’re saying. ⭐️ Get your followers to engage with your stories either through Instagram story stickers (quiz, poll etc) or through asking your followers to reply to certain stories with advice or sharing interesting information that will encourage your followers to share the stories with others. This will show Instagram that people find your stories interesting so it will show it to more people! ⭐️ Try to get your followers to spend as much time as possible on each story (this shows Instagram that your followers like your content so it will show more of it to them) – make the text really pretty, write something informative or use multiple photos/videos on one frame. :::: For more top tips head to my new blog post on how to get more Instagram story views (link in bio and stories) 💫 :::: 📍South side of the Tuileries (running alongside the Seine) :::: #thewanderlustfamily #tuileries #tuileriesgarden #louvre #jardindestuileries #louvremuseum #autumninparis #parismycity #iloveparis #sheisnotlost #prettylittletrips #francefr #autumnvibes
What I found was missing, though, was the perspective of someone who was really talking about starting from scratch. It wasn’t like I had 1,000 followers already and wanted to go to the next level; I was building from ground zero.
Skip ahead, and I have now been at this for just over a month and have decided to make exactly what I had been looking for! In that time, I’ve grown to have almost 130 followers with about half of them being new in the last 10 days or so (so I’ve been averaging about seven new followers per day, which is almost 300% more than I was getting before that). And truly, I know that is nothing. But considering all but about five of those people are complete strangers who know nothing more about me than that they like my photos or what I have to say despite my having essentially no history, I don’t think it’s doing too badly. I clearly don’t have all of the answers, but below are just a few of the things I’ve learned along the way which you might find helpful.
And note that while this blog is geared toward a travel account, I imagine many of the below principles would apply to other niches (fashion, health, fitness, beauty, baking, parenting, etc)… although I could be wrong!
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Tips to starting a travel Instagram from scratch and how to become a travel influencer
Consider your name
You could argue this isn’t important right at first, but I honestly think you should consider it sooner rather than later because it’s going to become your brand. If all you want to do is have an Instagram, and you know you don’t want to go down the road of monetising it, then I guess you could change your name 100 times before settling on something.
But assuming you want to start a blog, a Pinterest, or other social media channels, your moniker is really important. 1) it will become what defines you, and 2) you need to make sure you choose something that is available across all channels so that you have a consistent handle for all of your accounts.
Beyond just starting my own travel insta, having run a performing arts non-profit with several arms each with their own branding, I feel comfortable speaking on how to choose the right name for yourself. Essentially, you have three options:
- Using your real name: Straight and to the point. I feel like I’ve seen this done the least. I personally didn’t want to go this route, first of all, because my name is already associated with other long established businesses, but also because I wanted something that indicated what my content would be… so people would know what to expect. So instead I decded on…
- Creating a catchy niche name: I knew this was the way I wanted to go, but let me tell you, I had to go through like 25 different options before finding one that wasn’t taken (fun fact: I really wanted Have Passport Will Travel because I’ve always joked that someone ought to put that on a tshirt for me, but alas, a lot of others apparently were in on my clever tagline). For the first week, my IG handle was Dreamer On A Dime because I wanted to focus on how I travel on a crazy tiny budget, but once I started to really think about pursuing this, I decided I didn’t want to box myself in. What’s important is that you choose something in your niche so that you’re identifiable. Google “words associated with travel” and see if any of those words inspire you.
- Your name + your niche: When I tried and failed given what was available as a catchy niche name, I considered using my first name plus a travel word (@adrianeadventuring was the most considered because I ardently adore alliteration :P). LizzyWanders or EricaOnTheRoad or RachelsPassport not only tells people you’re a travel account but also has a nice personal touch. I decided not to go this route because my name is so identifiable that I didn’t want to come up as a suggested account to people in my real life and have it be really obvious that this is what I was doing until I chose for them to become aware of it (still haven’t shared any of this with them either).
Embrace your strengths
So much of what I found as I was starting warned that because the Instagram travel influencer market is so oversaturated – which it 100% is – it is really necessary to find something which makes you unique. I found this to be SO intimidating. The only thing I could come up with is that I often travel with my dog (by the way, I don’t think this specific content exists on IG), but there are certain countries I wouldn’t take him to because of long quarantine requirements (Australia, New Zealand, Iceland to name a few). I figured I could incorporate travelling with my dog and having dog-friendly travel guides as a part of my schtick without completely branding myself around that.
And so here’s my thought on this: don’t worry so much about zeroing in on what will make you stand out from everyone else – at least not yet – becuase you already have what makes you stand out… and that’s the fact that you’re unique to begin with. (Woof with the platitude, Adriane.)
Be really honest with yourself: what do you do super well? I came into this as a photographer, so I knew that I only was going to allow myself to post professionally captured and edited photos, and I think that’s been a big draw. If you’re a really good writer, use your photos to tell a story. If you have an insane closet, show off your incredible fashion sense. That said, over time, evaluate what skills you need to improve upon, too, and practice every chance you get to get better.
Two last things I think I should note here. First, if you have a partner with whom you travel (or would like to travel), you should try and decide early on if you want to showcase yourselves as a couples account or if you want one person to be the face of the account and the other to be the photographer. Secondly, I started off wanting to just show destinations (because I HAAAAAAATE to be in photos) and quickly concluded I’d probabaly get further more quickly if I was actually in them. I bit the bullet and did some self portraits with a tripod and, much to my chagrin, noticed a huge increase in my engagement. Do with that as you will!
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Welcome to Belle Isle, a little island in Detroit which recently was give a state park designation 💙 . First, I’m really excited to share this photo because when I meet people when I travel and tell them I’m from Detroit, they’re usually like: whoa is it scary there? So I’m guessing this is a view of Detroit most people haven’t seen and wouldn’t expect 💁🏼♀️ Isn’t this building just dreamy?? 😍 . What is the dreamiest place you’ve been to? ☺️
Post every day at the same time
So Instagram has really incredible analytic tools that I’d highly recommend using (and for this reason, you should create or convert to a business account so you have access to them). Once you have 100 followers, it also gives you details on your followers, such as male:female ratios, where your engagement is coming from by city and country, and day-by-day and hour-by-hour breakdowns of when your content is being seen, so you can see your peak engagement times.
If you already have 100 followers and have access to this, figure out the time of day your photos are most typically being seen over the course of a week, and try and have your content ready every day at that time.
And if you don’t have 100 followers yet, pick a time. The big accounts I follow from Europe tend to post between 6-9am EST; I find I do best posting between 9am-noon EST. Whatever time you choose, try and stick with it within an hour in either direction. The most important part of this is to post every day. Even if you’re not travelling, find something. Post throwback photos, or what I’ve been doing is to showcase spots where I live – I think this is a great solution because you can come up with content and you can show people why where you’re from is unique and worthy of visiting!
Yes, this is a lot of work. If you work a full time job, you’re going to be burning the candle at both ends to pull this off, but if you want to grow, I really believe you have to at least try and put the work in. What I’ve found works well for me is to plan 2-3 days per week to shoot at least a week’s worth of content to help make it more manageable. You can also plan your feed with apps like Planoly (the free version works just fine), and if you need to, you can schedule posts straight from the app, although I haven’t been brave enough to try this yet because I’m afraid it will kill my engagement, which I get through a ton of interaction with other accounts around the time I post (more on that later).
Random tip: Try and stick to portrait dimensions for your feed. I’ve noticed all of the big accounts only post portrait (longer in length) rather than landscape (wider in width) shots on their Instagrams. My guess is that it’s because it’s better suited to smartphone screens and is more captivating.
Instagram allows for up to 30 hashtags either in the body of your post or in the comments. I haven’t found that one works better than the other, but it is important to use them. I would argue that the only reason I gained followers and likes early on was because I was smart about hashtagging.
When you choose your hashtags, try and choose those which are:
- Related to pages which regram photos: this works well, not only because a lot of other travel IGers follow these hashtags and in turn are more likely to see and engage with your posts, but at some point, maybe one of your beautiful photos will get regrammed by an account; this hasn’t happened to me, but I understand that it’s like hitting the follower jackpot when it happens!
- Associated with travel (or whatever your niche is)
- Location specific: look up the hashtags associated with where your photo was taken
- Not hugely used: I was making the mistake early on of using the most popular hashtags when in reality, I was burying myself in a pit of other photos which would more likely than not ever be seen; rather, it’s more effective to use hashtags which have been used 100K times or less
For what it’s worth, I try and use 15-25 hashtags per post. I think it’s working, but there might be a better method. I have read that you should switch your hashtags up around every 30 days, so I’m about due to switch things up!
Engage, engage, engage!
One thing I think everyone agrees upon, and to which I can attest as a person who has run several other Insta business accounts, is that the Instagram algorithm is a complete mystery! There is apparently a rhyme and reason to how and when and why your photos get shown to users, both those who follow you and those who don’t, but heck if I know.
What this translates to is that you really have to be willing to put the leg work in to try and be seen. I’m pretty happy with the fact that a lot of my photos have wound up with 80-90% engagement (engagement = an average number of likes across your most recent post divided by your number of followers). That’s extremely abnormal in the big scheme of things, most accounts are really happy with 20% engagement, but because I’m such a tiny account, I think it means there’s a method to my madness.
So here’s the deal: I learned my engagement tricks 100% thanks to Charlie’s Wandering’s #charliesinstachallenge (if she ever does one again, I highly recommend participating and would more than likely do it again myself!), which means I’m not comfortable revealing this as it’s not my information to share.
What I believe I can freely say is this:
- Make sure you are responding to all of the comments on your posts
- When someone comments on your post, go to their page and comment on their latest post; this may start a beneficial back and forth engagement
- Comment on as many other recent posts as you can… and I find accounts with 50K followers or less are much more likely to reciprocate
- I try and respond to questions when they’re asked in posts and personally find those comments to be much more rewarding than when someone gives me a generic “beautiful photo!”
More on this later, but I also am a firm believer in commenting and engaging in an authentic way. Sometimes it’s just not possible, but I really try to write thoughtful comments, and I always take more time in responding to a comment which is specific to my photo or caption. Marketing basics say to establish relationships with people, so I believe 100% in creating connections to aide in growth!
This post is one on which I far and beyond got the most comments!
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Pretty picture? Let’s talk about what a freakin nightmare it was to get it 😂 . For starters, I really don’t like photos of myself. I’m the person behind the camera… always. But I’m forcing myself out of my comfort zone, so 🤗 (those are sarcastic jazz hands in case you were wondering) . Okay now to actually get the photo. I wanted to be there right at sunrise, and right off the bat, I’m running behind (I seriously hate being late so much) and *of course* traffic is terrrrrrrrrible getting downtown. So I’m annoyed. And I don’t get annoyed easily, so I’m annoyed that I’m annoyed. . I get there, park, and realise… I FORGOT MY STUPID TRIPOD 🙄🙄🙄 Like what is this, amateur hour?? (Side note: I did the same. dang. thing. yesterday so I felt doubly dumb.) No way was I turning around to get it and come back, so I MacGyvered something out of the stuff I had with me… and it was naturally super windy so I was in fear of thousands of dollars of camera equipment plummeting to its demise at any moment. . Finally things are going fine when the temperature dropped seriously like 10 degrees. And it was already cold before. And then it starts *snowing.* And I’m already sick, so I think: this is how I wind up with pneumonia, it’s fine, it’s all fine 🙆🏼♀️ . At this point, I figured I either got a workable image or I didn’t, packed it all in, and left 😂 . PS I treated myself to a delicious breakfast at one of my fav spots in Detroit after this whole debacle (check my stories), so that was a win 🥑 . PPS The moment I got home, I went and threw a tripod in my car 🙄🤦🏼♀️ . Who else has a nightmare photo story (please share and make me feel better about my life 😂)?
Use the power of stories
In narratives, yes, but in this case, I mean use Instagram stories. Posting a few stories every day will help gain exposure for your account while also building rapport with followers or potential followers. I try and tag every story I post, either with a location tag or a hashtag or both. I don’t have a ton to say about this, but if you didn’t read the tips and tricks from The Ginger Wanderlust’s post above, you should scroll back up and check it out!
Use and develop your voice
This ties in with so many things above. Be honest. Be true to yourself. If you’re silly, be silly or tell jokes or make dumb puns. If you’re a really great storyteller, tell stories. If you’re having a terrible day, talk about it – everyone has bad days, so people easily empathise and it creates a connection. If there’s a hilarious / awful / ridiculous / bizarre story behind your photo or how you got your photo, talk about it!…everyone loves hearing the tea!
Some other things I would recommend you do:
- Introduce and reintroduce yourself from time to time, and dedicate posts every so often to facts about yourself. Doesn’t have to be elaborate, but let people learn who you are, and invite others to share about themselves in the comments.
- Ask a question in your post that’s relevant to your photo and whatever the theme of your post is. Again with marketing basics: people are much more likely to respond when there’s a call to action.
- If you’re having an off day and have nothing to say, just say that. But I really dislike when accounts will be like, “Paradise”…followed by a bunch of hashtags and that’s it. If you have 100K followers, you can get away with that and will still have engagement, but chances are that us little guys won’t.
I should also add that I am a firm believer in having integrity with what you post. If you photoshop a barricade out of a photo, put a disclaimer in so that someone doesn’t see it and decide to jump the barricade to take their own photo and wind up seriously injured (or worse). If females should use caution or travel with a male companion to certain destinations, say so. And for the love of god, please don’t promote unethical treatment of animals.
If you’ve been thinking about starting a page, just do it! You’ll never know unless you try!
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I hope you found this helpful! I’ll try and update as I try and get a handle on things myself. Were there any questions you have that I didn’t answer? Let me know in the comments!