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Jul 19, 2017

Grow Your Instagram: MY TOP TEN TIPS!

Readers, I am guessing that most of you are familiar with Instagram.

I actually had very little awareness of it until I got an iPhone two years ago.  I quickly joined Instagram because a) it seemed like a fun idea and, b) since I was already accustomed to taking a lot of photos for my blog, it didn't require learning a new skill set.

Originally I used Instagram to share photos of things that weren't strictly sewing-related: pretty tulips I'd seen in the park, what I ate for breakfast, the abandoned shoe I spotted in the trash.  My Instagram feed was casual and fun and served no practical purpose.  But things change and, over time, I realized that I could use Instagram to communicate more immediately about sewing than I could here on my blog.  Since Instagram is mostly photos, it was easier and faster to post there than here.  While I've stopped writing daily blog posts at least for now, I post on Instagram every day.

It look me more than a year to reach 1,000 followers, but things picked up quickly after that -- and much more quickly after I reached 10,000. Somewhere between 1K and 10K I became more strategic about my Instagram feed.  It made a difference.

Below I explain what I did, and you can do too.  I want to be clear, however, that it's totally fine not to want to grow your Instagram following (if you're even on it at all).  Maybe your feed is simply an archive of your day-to-day activities for yourself and your friends and family.  Maybe you just like taking pictures and editing them, or not editing them at all.  Social media exists for us, we don't exist for social media, if that makes sense.

If you are interested in growing your following, here are ten ideas that helped me.

1) Define the focus of your Instagram feed so when potential followers land on your page, they know what you're about.

Unless you're a photographer and every image you post demonstrates your talent regardless of the subject matter, come up with a clear idea of the kind of stuff you'll be posting on your feed.

I follow all sorts of people -- the Danish barista, the cute party promoter who spends weekends on the Jersey Shore in skimpy speedos, the portly middle-aged guy with the amazing cuff link collection, plus sewing friends I've been following on my blog for years.  But I have a clear sense of what I'm going to be finding on their feeds because their feeds are clearly defined.  I like the predictability.  Remember that, even within a narrow focus like home sewing, there's a huge range of related content: sewing machines, fabric, patterns, fashion, thrift store finds, completed projects, etc.  If your feed is random it's harder for potential followers to know what to expect and less likely they'll choose to follow you.

2) Make your feed less about you (and your pets and your kids) and more about what your followers are interested in (which may be your pets and your kids, in which case you're fine).  Be of service.

Naturally, your feed is an expression of you, your life, your interests.  But as you start growing your following, you will have a sense, based on the number of likes and comments, of what really resonates with your followers.  I used to post photos of anything and everything, but it became clear to me that most of the people following me loved to see photos of vintage patternmaking and draping book illustrations, almost anything I draped in muslin at FIT, detailed photos of my sewing process (as opposed to just completed projects), and photos of my vintage sewing machines (especially anything in an unusual color like pink or green).  They were less interested in my many selfies (tough to accept but true), photos of discarded underwear found on the streets of New York City (no joke), or my dinner.

When you think about posting a photo to your feed and you want to grow your following, ask yourself, Does this support the interests of my followers or do I just think I look cute today and hope you think so too?

3) Remember that while American sewing blogs are largely followed by native English language speakers in the USA, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia, Instagram is truly international. 

I have followers from places I couldn't locate on a map if my life depended on it.  They are (mostly) real people (as opposed to spam accounts -- I spot check) and they probably will not "get" a clever visual joke or understand something of strictly local interest (like politics; best to avoid it).  If you want to cultivate a wider range of followers, think about what might excite them and what might leave them scratching their heads (or headscarves) and clicking Unfollow.  Then again, you can't be all things to all people -- it's a trade-off.

4) Support other Instagram members with your active participation.  

I don't know if this is a karma thing or if it actually affects the ever-evolving Instagram algorithm, but it's a great idea to use Instagram in a reciprocal way, time permitting.  That means liking other people's posts (if you do like them), responding to comments, and sharing feeds you enjoy with other people by including a link.  It feels good to do this and it's a great way to make new friends.  I consider it good citizenship.  Also -- and I've been guilty of not doing this -- if you're sharing someone else's content, link back to the source or cite it in your caption.

5) Learn to use hashtags.

One of the ways I discover Instagram feeds I like is by searching hashtags, which are basically key words.  I didn't get the hashtag-thing at first, but I learned.  If I want to connect with other male sewers, I might search under the hashtag #menwhosew.  If I want to see what other FIT students are posting, I search under #fashioninstituteoftechnology.  You get the idea.  It's probably the single most important tool to help people find you. 

6) Don't over-post. 

If you've been on Instagram a while, you know what it's like when someone you follow is out for dinner one evening and, in real time, posts 15 photos of her entire meal, including drinks and check, in the span of an hour.  I used to do this occasionally.  I'd go to the Chelsea Flea Market and post photos of all the cute things I saw there, one after another after another and so on.  Unless you're a flea-market fanatic like me, you might find all those images tiring.  I find that 3-4 images per day is plenty.  Sometimes I limit myself to 2.

7) Cull your feed.

I have copies of every photo I post on Instagram stored on my computer, so I don't worry about removing them from my Instagram feed and thereby losing them entirely.  I want my feed to present what I want to express in the clearest, most condensed way possible.  If something I post doesn't resonate with a lot of people or turns a lot of people off, I remove it. 

8) Unless you're posting material that's likely to offend a lot of people, don't make your feed private.  

If someone follows me and I see their feed is private, I won't follow them back.  I have no idea who they are or what they're posting.

Which brings me to...

9) Don't follow people just to get them to follow you back.

If someone is only following me because I follow them, what's the point?  Follow people because you genuinely like their content.  If they genuinely like yours, they might follow you back.  And if they don't, it may just be that they want to limit their feed to people they know personally, or who live in their home country, or whatever.  Not to be taken personally.

10) Always caption your photos.  Try to engage with your readers. 

It's a great idea to ask your readers questions (if you're genuinely interested in what they have to say).  Most people like to participate.  It helps to create a sense of community.  Community is a good thing.  Many of us are too isolated, especially us home sewers, right?


Readers, I'd love to know what you think of these ten tips (I really would!) and I'd love to hear about tips you may have.

If it's not on Instagram, did it really happen?

Have a great day, everybody!


  1. Good post and very useful even to someone like me who has a social media following but not on Instagram. It does sound a bit easier though as I have to spend much time unabbreviating etc so the auto translator can pick it up.

  2. I'd like to thank you for the efforts you've put in penning this website.
    I really hope to check out the same high-grade blog posts from you in the
    future as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has encouraged
    me to get my own website now ;)

  3. Peter,
    It's good to know so many others are enjoying you, and your ever expanding world. Modern times call for, actually require, an antidote - you are truly that, and more.
    One devoted fan

  4. A good set of "rules". And everyone likes pictures.

  5. Great post Peter!! I've been on IG for several years and now but only decided recently to focus my feed. So far it seems that finished garments are my best bet or questions when I have a doubt about what to do.
    Maybe it's due to the recent changes in the Instagram policy on hashtags but I feel that focused content works way better than #!
    Also, resisting to post baby pictures is SO HARD :-((

    1. Believe me, I know! 😉 What is Instagram's new hashtag policy?

    2. Google "Instagram shadowban". Apparently if you use certain hashtags, those posts are not visible to those who search by that hashtag, even though the post looks fine in your own feed. #dogsofinstagram is one of them?

  6. These are great tips. I have found the same to be true and it's really worked to up our IG following. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Great post. My teenaged daughter is the Instagramamaniac in our household. Very stategic feed of her artwork. I'm kinda social media'ed out...

  8. Awesome post! Follow me @anncie2001 I sew a lot for my son! That's another reason I read your blog.

  9. So, I must not be happening. I cannot start another place that I have to check regularly. I have enough already. I do miss your more frequent posts and hope that you do not decide to give up your blog in favor of Instagram. I must be getting old!

  10. Great tips! And nothing that's too difficult to accomplish.

  11. Salve Peter, No kidding I had no real idea of what was Instagram. Thank you very much for this article. I touch my phone to take pictures, to send pictures and answer calls. I rarely call others. I am probably the only dinosaure that reads you. Ciao

  12. I don't have an Instagram account but thanks for the tips (in case I ever do open an account.)

  13. I like these tips, but I really do miss the doggie pictures.

  14. Great post, really useful tips. It got me wondering why I don't make better use of my instagram account. I don't intend growing my audience but it is respectful towards the world havng this kind of posture you suggest. Thanks

  15. Thanks for the tips! As an Instagram newbie, I haven't posted, but look at other's, such as yours. With these tips in hand, maybe I'll finally take the plunge.

  16. And you do look cute in that selfie :)


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