My favorite thing about running a small business is hanging out on Instagram, my favorite of the social media channels. My feed brings me gorgeous wedding photography, posts from travel bloggers and cute puppy pics. You know what’s even better about this little corner of cheer amidst the strange place that is the internet? Instagram is also an incredibly effective marketing tool. Let me share some Instagram tips and tools.

I’m writing this right after booking a wedding where the bride found me on Instagram. She lives out of state and searched on Instagram for Virginia wedding photographers. That’s actually how I booked a photographer when I wanted to do a photoshoot in Paris. I just followed #parisphotographer for a few days and then reached out to a couple photographers I liked.

How do you use Instagram?

And that’s lesson number one: consider how you use Instagram and assume others are doing the same.

When do I have time to go on Instagram, for example? Well, my commute into Washington, D.C. via the Metro (I’m not Instagramming and driving!) and then my commute after work provides some solid Insta time. And then maybe later in the evening while I’m unwinding. What are the peak engagement times of my followers? On weekdays, there’s a bump around 9 a.m., a bump around noon, another around 5 p.m. and the last one of the day around 9 p.m. That’s while people are commuting, are on their lunch break, are commuting again and then unwinding. Clients; they’re no different from us!

The same goes for hashtags. What are people searching for? Well, if you’re planning a wedding in Virginia, then #virginiaweddingphotographer makes a lot of sense. Also: #northernvirginiaweddingphotographer #alexandriaweddingphotographer #dmvweddingphotographer (DMV is common shorthand for District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia) #dcweddingphotographer.

If you don’t use Instagram yet, or if you aren’t very active, just spend some time lurking. Follow some local small businesses or creatives you admire and see what they’re doing. You’ll find your rhythm.

How often to post on Instagram

Lesson two: post consistently or don’t bother. Here’s the thing. Every post has an expiration date. No, it won’t disappear, but it will be harder for people to find. Search a hashtag, any hashtag. How long do you spend scrolling through the posts? Do you look through a dozen photos? Two dozen? You probably don’t look through more than that. Well, no one else is either.

The more people using a hashtag, the faster your post will drop below what anyone is seeing when they search it. This is why it’s good to have a variety of hashtags: the really popular ones will get you some engagement soon after you post, but those more niche tags will keep your content at the top of their queues longer. My posts will get lost quickly on the #weddingphotography feed, but have good staying power with #northernvirginiaweddingphotographer. Even on the niche hashtags, your images will fall down below where anyone is scrolling eventually so daily posts are best.

Consider twice-daily posts if you have enough good content BUT SCHEDULE THEM AT DIFFERENT TIMES. I see people who post three or four good photos all at the same time. If they would schedule those posts over several hours or a couple of days, their brand would be top-of-queue longer. Instead, these people just send out all their content at once so it all gets lost downfeed at the same time. Makes no sense.

Effective hashtagging on Instagram

And now, not to make everything super confusing, but all of those hashtag rules apply only if people are searching a hashtag for “recent” images. If they are searching for “top” images then other factors matter more than how recently you posted. As of today, an image I posted on Sept. 24 is showing up as one of the top 9 posts for #northernvirginiaweddingphotographer. This post is almost a week old but still prominent on a feed where I want to be visible. Why that image in particular? Well, no one knows exactly how the algorithm works, but quick engagement (ie. likes soon after you post), authentic comments (not those from bots), saves and people clicking on “more” to read your whole caption all contribute to the algorithm deciding that your post is quality content deserving of a top spot.

Now if I switch over to the “recent” posts from this hashtag, I’m also in the top nine with a different image I posted about an hour ago. This means that however people are searching this hashtag, my work will be displayed prominently.

Let’s think about why the post from Sept. 24 is in the top nine for #northernvirginiaweddingphotographer. 1) it’s a cute shot but 2) I posted on a Monday morning and used some hashtags that I knew would generate engagement quickly: #goodmorning #mondaymood and #bridesmaids. Then in my first comment (and that comment counts toward good engagement!) I used the more niche hashtags. First I got the quick engagement, so Instagram decided it was good content, and then I got longer-term engagement from those niche tags, followers and people I tagged (including the bride from this wedding and the venue, who both commented).

Instagram tips and tools

So, you’re thinking, wow Erin just spends all her time on Instagram. Good thing she’s getting bookings out of it.

But I don’t spend that much time. I spend about an hour a week scheduling Instagram. Then I do check in daily for inspiration, puppy pics and engaging anyone who’s commented on my feed. But the truth is there are plenty of apps out there to help us small business owners.

I’ve used several Instagram scheduling apps. Right now, my absolute favorite is Tailwind. Tailwind will autopost your content when your audience is most likely to engage, however many times a day you would like to post. It also offers hashtag suggestions, color-coded to show you whether the hashtag is a popular one or a niche one (remember why that’s important!)

While Instagram business accounts provide some good insights, When To Post makes it just a little easier, showing the top three times a day that YOUR followers are active. This one is free J

Canva is my I’m-not-a-designer-but-this-looks-nice secret. I use it to create simple graphics showcasing snippets of client reviews, simple ads and out-of-office messages. Canva offers a “Canva for work” option that allows you to save your brand’s color palettes and such, but I used their free service for months and it works wonderfully.

If you’re in need of a free scheduling service, Hootsuite is a marketing industry standard. I use it for my travel Instagram account (Blonde Explorer!) and it works fine.

Social media marketing is a big topic and this is just one little piece of it.  I get a lot of questions about timing and hashtags on Instagram so I tried to address those. Get in touch if you have any questions or would like me to address another topic!