How Photographers Can Thrive On Instagram… Even When The Algorithm Is Working Against You!

Has anyone else had it up to HERE with these 100k follower social media gurus telling you that the secret to Insta-success is:

  1. Be consistent.
  2. Be yourself.
  3. Have fun! 😝 LOL

…really, Margaret? Really? THAT’S how I’m going to gain a thousand followers a week? That’s all you got for me!?

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If you’ve been a photographer for a little while, you probably remember the days when you could post a banger of a photo with a quote from The Notebook and get 200 likes in five minutes. And if you’re new, gather ‘round, my children while the olds tell you of the golden days.

But whether you were there to experience it or not, I’ve got bad news, gems: those days are gone long gone.

Let me reassure you, though: it’s not just you. You’re not the only one seeing a drop in engagement and decline in genuine interaction with your content. You’re not alone. This is an everyone problem.

That can still be really scary, though, if you rely on Instagram to advertise your business! As soon as we master the algorithm as it is, it changes. And there’s almost no real guidance on how to manage it well. Unfortunately, even the “experts” are just making guesses—lucky guesses that occasionally show results for sure, but guesses nonetheless.

And guesses are no way to run a business.

So, let’s talk about a few concrete ways you can succeed on Instagram, even in the middle of the constant change hurricane you’re being forced to weather.

But first, let’s agree on an essential point—vanity metrics mean NOTHING.

Huh? What are “vanity metrics?

They are those sweet little gold stars that say “Good job! You did it! Hurray!” on social media, including likes and follower counts.

And allow me to blow your mind: if you’re trying to successfully leverage a social media account to build a business, these numbers mean nothing. In fact, they can hinder you more than they help.

The first reason vanity metrics aren’t helpful is because of the most hated four-letter word this decade: BOTS.

How do you know if a like or follow is coming from a real person? Consider the king daddy of Twitter, Elon Musk. He has over 102 MILLION Twitter followers…or so it appears.

Slate article from June 2022 claims that anywhere between 20 and 60 percent of those followers are actually not even human! I’ll do the math for ya: that means it’s possible that 61 MILLION of his followers don’t even exist!

If that can happen on Elon’s Twitter account it can sure as hell happen on your Instagram. I mean, every time I have a reel that gains even a little extra attention, I have to remove hundreds of new bot followers from my list! So, likes and follower counts just don’t tell us much.

And secondly, even real likes and follows don’t pay the bills!

You’re a business owner selling a real service, not a Kardashian making bank shilling the latest in trendy makeup. A check doesn’t show up in the mail to reward you for hitting a new follower benchmark. So, even if you have 12k Instagram followers, it’s meaningless if those followers aren’t at least intrigued by the services you offer. In fact, it can make posting even more frustrating because it’s giving you a false sense of your own popularity.

Instead of trying to attract any old eyeballs by any means necessary, you need to attract the very specific eyes of your ideal client!

Now that we’ve built the foundation, it’s time to start laying the bricks. Let’s talk about attracting those ideal clients (a.k.a. future clients) on Instagram…and having fun while doing it!

1. Don’t rely solely on Instagram to market your business

I know, I know…how the heck is telling you to get OFF Instagram helpful in succeeding ON Instagram? It seems super counterintuitive! But this is actually the place to start for photographers. Why? Because you’re not freaking Nike paying an entire marketing department to click, scroll, and post. You are probably a one-woman show with limited time and energy to devote to your business. So, it’s vital that you use both wisely.

Relying solely on a social media platform that has no incentive to serve you is a recipe for frustration, burnout, and an empty booking calendar. Instead, rely on things you have complete control over like your website, blog, and email list to attract and serve your clients.

(Psst…hey paid subscribers! You’re going to get a WHOLE lot more guidance about this later this month! So, stay tuned!)

When things you can control are running smoothly, you’ll be able to develop a healthier relationship with Instagram. You won’t be panic-posting, constantly praying to go viral so you can book clients. Instead, you can lean into the social aspect of the platform, building more personal bonds with your followers and giving them a peek into how you do what you do. Once the pressure is off, the fun can begin!

2. Optimize your name and bio

But what if someone IS looking for a photographer like you on the ‘gram? Well, you better pop up when they come a’searchin! A great way to do this is to incorporate the SEO keyphrase you use on the about page of your website into your Instagram name. This ensures that you will pop on the list when a potential client searches for a photographer using one of your primary key phrases.

Next, optimize every bit of real estate in your bio so potential clients can more easily find you! This is absolutely critical because Instagram is now, more than ever, a search engine. Make sure your industry, what you do, and who you serve is in that bio! And I know that’s tough to squeeze into a tiny space, so really take some time writing this one.

Here are some things to consider adding into your bio:

  • What do you do?
  • What area do you serve?
  • Why should they book you?
  • What will catch the eye of an ideal client?
  • Do you have any special deals going on right now? 
  • What should they do if they want to book you?

But don’t forget the personal aspect in the rush to optimize! Instead of changing your name to “Houston Wedding Photographer” make it “Molly | Houston Wedding Photographer.” This makes it possible for people to search for you by name, search for your name in their DMs, and actually relate to you as a human being.

3. Create reels your ideal client wants to see

If you want to gain followers on Instagram, the trick is to lean into the new feature the top dogs are trying to push. I know it’s annoying, but when you’re playing on someone else’s playground you have to follow their rules.

But like we discussed earlier, increasing your following isn’t actually the goal. You want to increase your ideal client following! To do that, think about the kinds of things your ideal client is searching for. What are they already watching? What do they wish they could find? Now, make reels that speak specifically to them!

If you’re a wedding photographer, that could be wedding inspo, planning advice, or engagement photo style guidance. If you’re a family photographer, it could be wardrobe tips or ideas on how to get kids to cooperate during a session. If you’re a newborn photographer, it could be nursery styling ideas or ways to prepare for post-baby life. You get the idea!

Here are a few client-focused reels to get the ideas rolling:

  • [adjective] + [location] + [type of wedding], like “Elegant Palm Springs Winter Wedding.” Show a series of photos you took at the wedding, kind of like a mood board. Many brides-to-be will be looking for inspiration like this!Reel by Aubrey Beth Photography about eloping in Aspen, CO.
  • How To + [thing they need to know how to do], like “How to Plan a Perfect First Look.” This will reach potential clients who are dreaming about their perfect day but haven’t made the leap to plan anything major yet. These reels will show clients that you’re knowledgeable in your craft and have tons of tips to help them out. 
  • [timeframe of session] + [type of session] + [location of session], like “Early Summer Engagement Session in Joshua Tree, California.” These session reels will be a great way to get referrals because the couple is likely to share them on their social media and send them to loved ones. These session reels are also a great way to show potential clients the amazing photos and fun they’ll have when they work with you. 
  • [when they/if they/if you think] + . “What to do if it rains on your wedding day.”  Your potential clients likely have lots of fears about the session they’re considering booking. Ease their fears with a reel they could discover entirely on their own!
How Photographers Can Thrive On Instagram Tip One
Reel by Jessica Billings Photography on what she does for her couples during an elopement.
How Photographers Can Thrive On Instagram Tip Two
Reel by Anne Blodgett on how to conquer judgments around boudoir photography.

And try some Reels related to photography and some that aren’t but that your potential ideal client will relate to at this point in their journey! That allows you to put out feelers to people who haven’t even yet begun to consider the role photography plays in their journey.

But if reels just aren’t your thing, don’t worry! Our next two paid newsletters are going to go in HARD on how to create amazing reels that attract ideal clients. We are even going to give you some templates to follow!

4. Make story highlights that help potential clients decide whether or not to work with you

Instead of dumping a bunch of random stuff on your highlights (like your trip to Italy or your adorable-but-not-super-relevant-at-the-moment-sorry children), use them to inform ideal clients what it’s like to work with you, what they’ll miss out on if they don’t, and how to get started!

Here are a couple of ideas (complete with examples from some of our clients!) to get your story highlights off to a great start:

  • [location/category] + [weddings/elopements]. “Hawaii Weddings.” This directly targets clients in that specific area. Bonus points if you work testimonials into this section naturally! 
How Photographers Can Thrive On Instagram Tip Three
Jessica Billings showed eloping couples what their Colorado or Montana elopement could look like.
  • [location] + vendors. “MI Vendors.” This helps your clients who are looking for vendor recommendations stay right here on your Instagram page rather than tap-dancing all over the internet to look for them! It also shows your knowledge and your expertise, promising more goodness ahead to clients who choose to book. Not to mention this is a great way to start building relationships with vendors, so don’t forget to tag them!
  • How to Book: Let’s stop wasting time, and get intrigued potential clients booked! Create a series of stories sharing the essentials of your services and what to do if they want to work with you! This helps shepherd clients through the booking process more smoothly because all the information they need is right there!
How Photographers Can Thrive On Instagram Tip Four
The Creative Business Coach helps clients get started quickly and easily.
  • [what to/how to] + [thing your client is nervous about]. “What to Wear: Boudoir.” Answers to questions that might be holding your client back from booking are great things to include in your highlights. One of these helpful stories could be the thing that tips your client over to booking!

5. Write captions as if you’re speaking to a client over coffee

OK, so it turns out “have fun” is actually a really good tip when you’re trying to break out of survival mode on Instagram! Remember, people who don’t run businesses here use the platform to unwind. They want to have a good time! So, they’re more likely to give you a follow if you’re having a good time, too.

Instead of using your account to exclusively market your services in the most detached, business-y voice you can fake, write captions that feel warm and relatable. To do this, imagine you’re at a coffee shop consultation with your new favorite client—one who you clicked with instantly!

How would you speak to them? What words and phrases would you use? Which ones would you leave out? What would you talk about? What do they want to hear more about? What would they rather you skip? Let them be your guide!

Instead of getting upset or totally giving up on Instagram, give these five tips a try. Then, let us know how they worked for you! It’s a tough world out there on the ‘gram, gems! We know. But you’re a resilient creative. You’ve got what it takes to succeed. To thrive.

Did your ears sad dog droop when I said you need to market your business OFF Instagram just as well as (if not better than!) you do ON the ‘gram? Let me give you a hand, either through our signature two-day copywriting experience, the 90-minute strategy intensive, or the template shop!

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I’m Erica, the brains behind the clacking computer keys! I’m an introverted extrovert, a sympathy crier who also loves to box, a person who reads comic books while wearing floral dresses…and plants flowers in Wonder Woman t-shirts. I’m a crazy collection of opposites and beyond excited to turn your astonishing personality into words that will build your business.

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