Let’s talk Instagram shall we?
Ain’t no shame in my game, I love the ‘Gram. I check it all of the time, love following girls that I’ve never had the chance to meet in real life (but feel like I know everything about) and get a little thrill out of snagging a shot that I know will be just perfection in my feed.
 Insta can be a huge asset to a blogger and while my feed may look like an effortlessly (semi)styled snippet of my life, it definitely hasn’t always been that way. I’ve worked hard to develop a feed that I am proud of so that followers, brands and fellow influencers want to hop on my crazy train, work together and collaborate. 
As I started to write this post, I realized that I needed to break it down into two posts, so today we’re going to chat about what you should and could be doing to grow your feed and develop your Insta presence. Tomorrow, I’ll go into the details of my particular feed – the apps I use, how I snap my signature style and I’ll spill of of the answers to the burning questions that popped up on my feed today.
And, while I’m no pro, as with pretty much every other topic I discuss on this little slice of grammatical Heaven, I have learned things the hard way and am happy to share my blunders so that you can pass Go and head straight to being an Instagram super star. 
Top 10 Instagram Tips and Tricks to Grow Your Followers
1. Use a great photo for your profile photo
If you are a blogger or social media influencer, then you should have a gorgeous, crisp profile photo. Not a selfie, nothing dark and no group shots where you are a tiny blip in the background. Your profile photo and a quick flick of my thumb through your feed are the two things that I’m going to see the minute I open your profile. If you are a blogger or social media lover, you should know and appreciate the value of a great opening image. We all place strong images as the headliner in our blog posts because we know it will be the first impression a reader sees in Blogger, Bloglovin, Feedly etc. If you don’t put any consideration into your profile image then I’m probably going to assume you don’t put much effort into the images in your feed either. 
The good news is that the Instagram profile photo is super tiny so you can use a cropped image of yourself if you don’t have a great head shot. (P.S. If you don’t have a pro photo of yourself solo, grab your camera and a tri pod – they can cost as little as $15 – set the self timer and get to snapping.) 
Just please, no matter what, do not use a selfie. 
2. Let your personality shine in your captions
Instagram is a community so let your followers see who you are. I use the same tone and style in my Instagram captions that I do on my blog because that’s who I am. Often times, I may post a photo that isn’t spectacular or of anything particularly earth shattering because the caption is really the message that I want to share. 
I follow a handful of bigger fashion bloggers and while I know where they shop, I know nothing about their personalities. Every caption is something like “loving this sweater, like to know it”. After a while, that gets old for me. I might post the same photo but my caption would be something along the lines of “finally peeled my mom bod out of yoga pants and into this sweater (that feels like pajamas)”. For me, there’s no need to hide this crazy light under a bushel so I’m gonna let it shine.
3. Use your real camera.
I’m going to tell you right now that if you are lusting after a feed or wondering how someone manages to have the most beautiful images in the world, the answer is that they are not using their phone as a camera. Pull out your big girl camera and use it. I use an entry level DSLR (the Cannon Rebel) and shoot with either the kit lens or the Nifty Fifty
But here’s the real secret: I use a wireless SD Card. That means that I snap a photo on my real camera and then upload it from my camera to my phone, edit it and upload it to Instagram. It takes maybe 60 more seconds than using the camera on my phone but the results are so, so worth it.  I currently have an iPhone 6+S (with the newest camera technology available) and I still notice a difference between a photo shot with my phone and a photo shot with my camera.
4. Choose a cohesive look to your feed
If you take a peek at a feed that you love, you’ll probably notice one thing: the feed has a particular photo style or look. I like white, bright photos. It’s just my jam. I love when other feeds embrace a moody, dark style (Audrey Roloff’s feed is unreal) or a wild, colorful blend (Chalk Full Of Love is a fave) and run with it. Once you figure out what your style is, try to stick with it. As you scroll back through your feed, the photos should look like they belong together. 
There are a few ways to accomplish this:
Brace yourselves, because this may sting a bit, but the number one way to achieve a cohesive look is simple: don’t post every photo that you take. This is especially hard for those who love to post tons of photos of your babes. It’s hard to be objective and see that a photo of your sweet little one may not be the best composition in color or style. Because you love their button nose or baby curls, you’ll post away and the next thing you know, there’s no rhyme or reason to your feed. You’ve got to take a tough stance and post the cream of the crop. Stay strong mama, you can do it!
If you use an editing app, use the same method of editing for each photo.
I’ll go further in depth tomorrow, but I actually don’t use filters (ever. at all) . I do use Afterlight to edit photos but the only thing I do to a snap is brighten it. And sometimes I brighten it a lot. Guilty as charged.

 If you use a filter or combo of filters, find the one that you love most and use it often. 
For me, the biggest way that I create a cohesive look to my feed is by using a white board. Admittedly, this is honestly my biggest Instagram trick. I shell out $3 on a foam white board from Michael’s and use it as a background for my coffee cup, new shoes, fave baby toy, loaf of bannana bread, whatever. If you don’t have a bright, visually clean surface in your house, a white board is going to be your best friend. You can move it around to the area with the best light, toss it if you accidentally spill coffee on it and will always provide a gorgeous, crisp image. 

If you aren’t into a white board, consider using your sidewalk, a fun rug or the tile in your bathroom – any look that you like as a photo backdrop that you can access easily and pop it into your feed every so often for a bit of continuity.
 5. Shoot in natural light
Because I like a white, bright feed, I only shoot in natural light. If you shoot in lamp light, in a darkened room, in over head lighting or in the evening, your photos will have a yellow tint that cannot be completely removed with editing apps. That does mean that I can’t always gram a shot of my dinner (you’ll notice that I rarely post photos of girl’s night out drinks or a great meal) but I don’t dig the yellow light in my feed so it’s worth it to me.
6. Be an active participant on your own account
First and foremost, Instagram is a community. You are witnessing a snap shot (even if it’s a staged one) of someone’s life. Births, weddings, daily struggles, small victories, they are all out there for world to see. Be a part of the community beyond posting a photo and caption. If someone comments on your photo with a question, be sure to answer it (yes, even if it’s something you’ve answered a million times before), if someone requests a source, by all means, source it and so on. Basically, be nice!

7. A little staging never hurt anyone
Spend two seconds to make sure your considering the details of a shot. My friend Cait told me she wanted me to cop to how I manage to make my house look clean in my Instagrams. Um, it’s not. I just made sure that I kicked all of the baby toys and dog beds out of the way of the shot before I snapped it. I prefer to present a balanced version of my life so I do post unstaged photos but if I’m shooting a product or recipe (you know, something you might want to look appetizing or pretty), I knock the dust bunnies out of the way. 
When staging a shot, make sure that what you’re using to set up an image gives the vibe that you’re going for. For example, don’t use a shaggy rug as a back ground for food – I mean, would you really put a loaf of pumpkin bread on a sheepskin?
8. Know your prime times
My best time to post on Instagram is around 8:30pm. Loops tend to go live at 8pm and 9pm EST and I don’t want to get lost in the fray. At 8:30, most of my East Coast mamas are over the dinner time and bed time hump and my West Coasters are burning the last few minutes at work and appreciate the distraction. You may have a different prime time and while you can find quite a bit of research on when the best time to post may be, you might find that your followers don’t fit a mold. Know your community and do what works best for your followers (ie: use trial and error to figure out when your followers are most active)
9. Always tag sources
 There are two great reasons to tag your sources: 
1. it helps your followers if they are interested in something they spot in your feed
and 2. you never know when a brand or shop will pick up your photo and share it, exposing you to entire new population of followers! I was recently re-grammed by Home Goods who has a following of 1 million. 
Quite frankly, I didn’t think the photo was the best ever, but I tagged the sources because I thought someone out there might want to know where my cute sign was from and Home Goods spotted it and posted (and so did the artist of the print!). I’ve also been re-grammed by Casetify, Delta Faucets, Rugs USA and Hobo, all because I took well staged, clean, crisp images and tagged sources! Each time I’ve appeared on a brand’s feed (or a small shop’s), I’ve gained new followers that may have never found my feed otherwise. Those followers may stumble to my blog and I might end up with new blog followers, too.
10. Check Your Direct Messages
So, in my opinion, Instagram has some work to do in the DM Department. I don’t know about everyone else but I rarely get a notification or that little orange circle next to my inbox when a new DM comes in. To complicate things further, IG now has a process that requires you to accept a message from someone new. I check my DM’s every day or two just to make sure that a message or notification hasn’t come in. I often have one and did not receive a notification – and nobody needs to have the reputation of being that girl who doesn’t bother to respond.
Bonus Tip: 
Purge Your Feed
I know this is hard for some people but I do it all. of. the. time. If a photo isn’t helping your feed maintain the aesthetic that you’re aiming for, then by all means, delete it! Yes, even if it has a ton of likes or comments (just be sure that you’ve responded to the comments). I’ve actually deleted some of my highest liked photos because I didn’t like the way it blended with my feed. I’ve also kept a less than popular photo or two because I genuinely like the style or photography. It can be easy as a blogger or influencer to be most concerned with the popularity of a photo but if you love the way it looks and are proud of the aesthetic, then keep it! If not, delete that rogue photo! 
So, there you have it, the nuts and bolts of Instagram. Tomorrow we’re talking style points baby!