Six. That’s the highest number of Instagram likes I got on a photograph during my entire vacation. I was traveling alone for the first time and I felt like sharing my trip with the world. I uploaded pictures every day, hoping to entice my followers with my newfound photographic wanderlust. So when what I envisioned as a downpour of red hearts turned out to be more like a drizzle, I was disappointed, to say the least. I consider myself not only a seasoned traveler but also a photographic connoisseur. I idolize Helen Levitt’s ability to capture the souls of the people she portrays, the wicked sense of humor with which Martin Parr reveals the essence of a culture, and the stark beauty of Fay Godwin’s black-and-white landscapes. So what was I doing wrong? Surely my travel-savviness coupled with my trove of photographic references should have been garnering me heaps of virtual warmth in the form of Instagram likes but alas, no. Faced with this puzzle, I decided to talk to some experts to learn what I was doing wrong and improve my Instagram game for once and for all.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
“Who are you again?” The reaction I got after getting in touch with a famous travel Instagrammer via private message made me realize that my profile was missing something
essential: an identity. A well-crafted Instagram bio tells your followers what they can expect to see on your page so they can decide if it’s relevant to their interests but it also creates a first impression, so it’s important to make sure it’s as descriptive and specific as possible.
Write something eye-catching that will make people want to find out more and don’t be afraid to use emojis. In my case, I decided to highlight my love of travel, photography and food. If you have a website or blog, go ahead and link to it here: Instagram only allows links in your bio, so if you wish to include one, this is the place.
BUILDING YOUR OWN HASHTAG STRATEGY
One of the things I overlooked on my quest for Instagram stardom is the importance of hashtags.That tangle of words that people add to their captions actually means something: hashtags help other people connect with your content. I learned the hard way that
#MyLuggageGotLostButAtLeastImSippingDaiquirisOnTheBeach is not a great hashtag to use. Rather than making up hashtags, find out which ones are most effective. As German travel photographers Marcus Hofschulz and Christof Schoppa—of famed Instagram account Into the World—so wisely told me, “Doing a little bit of hashtag research will help you get more likes. If you are using a popular and relevant hashtag that people are searching for a lot and your posts perform well, your content will appear at the top of the search for those hashtags or that location. People will then click on your post and that will help you boost your engagement and grow followers.”
After listening to these wise words, my days of using hashtags willy-nilly were over: it was time to build a strategy. Follow this advice and you too will master the art of the hashtag in no time:
-Be specific: Although you might be tempted to use generic hashtags such as #picoftheday or even #likesforlikes, keep in mind that the object of hashtags is to categorize posts, so the best way to reach your target audience is to narrow your scope. Generic hashtags elicit generic followers and often bots. Your aim is to build a dedicated fan base that will react enthusiastically to your photos. In short: you can only use up to thirty hashtags, so use them all but also choose them well, to maximize your exposure.
Using a mix of broader and more regional hashtags tends to be effective. During my trip to Budapest, for instance, I researched the most widely used local hashtags and decided on the following, according to popularity:
#ThisIsBudapest | 49k
#WeLoveBudapest | 49k
#BudapestGram | 31k
#IG_Budapest | 27k
#IG_Magyarorszag | 25k
#BDPST | 16k
#BudapestByNight | 14k
#Insta_Budapest | 11k
#IG_Hungary | 17k
I then added the following, more general travel hashtags, to widen my reach. Here are a few samples:
#wanderlust | 50m
#adventureseeker | 200k
#doyoutravel | 1.8m
#lovetotravel | 1m
#roamtheplanet | 2.5m
#nomadiclife | 110k
#postcardsfromtheworld | 1.5m
#solotravel | 1.7m
After that, I still had a few hashtags left before hitting the limit, so I decided to think outside the box.
Since many of my pics were taken from my luxurious hotel in Budapest, I decided to use hotel-specific hashtags as well:
#viewfrommyroom | 1m
#hotellife | 750k
#besthotels | 100k
#luxuryholiday | 100k
#hotelfun | 50k
-Be strategic: Your aim is for your photo to be among the top-ranked photos within a particular hashtag. This will give you greater exposure, which means more likes. While it might seem counterintuitive, it is better to start off with hashtags that have fewer posts (100k, for instance). This is because they are less competitive and will allow you a better chance at fighting for one of the top ranks. Daily hashtags and challenges are a great place to start. If you need more help, apps like TagsForLikes quickly analyze the most popular hashtags and organize them into categories for you to make hashtagging a breeze.
-Be tidy: For the love of all that is good, do not include your hashtags in your caption! It may seem trivial, but as an essentially visual app, aesthetics are everything on Instagram and including hashtags along with your description of the photo can look messy and detract from your message. Instead, type or paste your hashtags as a comment below your post, and if you want to be extra tidy, type five individual periods on five individual lines to keep those unsightly hashtags tucked away beneath them.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION
There is one thing that all successful travelgrammers seem to agree on: while there are certain cities that will always pick up more likes, the most important thing is the quality of the material you’re sharing. Oliver Vegas sums it up best: “The pattern is clear: people want incredible sensations and places.”
Norwegian photographer Marianne Hope, says “My focus and drive is foremost on taking good and inspiring images of the places I visit and hopefully inspiring others to want to visit those places”. When I asked her about the images people seem to like best she said, “Simplicity and peaceful composition work well on the Instagram format. I guess this is because the images are relatively small and the viewer has to notice and appreciate the image within a very short time span.” She advised me to focus on my photography skills, to “be exciting and new”, and to interact with others in a genuine and personal way.
Gabriel Semper—a Spanish photographer with a wildly popular travel and lifestyle account, Kainx—emphasizes the role of emotions in reaching an Instagram audience: “When you manage to make your followers say ‘I’d love to go there’, ‘That’s going to be my next destination’, or ‘That’s not how I imagined it’, you know you’ve reached your audience and sparked the cycle that inspires travel.”
After listening to the advice of these experienced and talented travelgrammers and trying it out for myself, I now have some advice of my own to give: Find a unique perspective,
make it your signature and, above all, remember to enjoy the ride. After all, that’s what traveling is all about. As Gabriel Semper says “If a place inspires you, moves you or surprises you, that is what you must try to express to your audience. If you manage it, that is more important than getting likes.”
JESSICA DECAMP I 24/01/18
Photography by Cordon PressMAKE IT REAL NOW