Something terrible happened last week (brace yourselves)…. My phone died. I know. No more taking of photos no phone calls (but what if the school need to get hold of me?!) and no random scrolling through social media (which is work, you understand) while sitting in cafés…. I took my laptop to the local café while my son was at an after school club, but the wifi was so terrible that I couldn’t even manage to mark my Etsy orders as dispatched, so I gave up.
The worst thing about the whole episode isn’t realising how addicted I am to that random scrolling (and marking my orders as dispatched as soon as I leave the Post Office), as I was already pretty aware of that, but how vulnerable I feel without a phone. If something goes wrong I’m stuck and on my own. If my son is sick or something happens at school, it could be hours before I know. Mr M kindly reminded me that this was just how it was 20 years ago. A couple of friends told me a digital detox would do me good. Maybe, but I don’t think any of them were about to spend their entire day worrying that their child was OK (and yes we coped 20 years ago, but it’s better now isn’t it?!).
This all leads me on rather nicely to something I use my phone for A LOT - Instagram. My relationship with which seems to become even more passionately love/hate by the day. Forcing a (sort of) a break (I could still post photos I’d already taken via my iPad) at just the time when I’m starting to enjoy it again, was challenging but this is possibly a good time to reflect on the time I’m spending on it. Getting new followers is so very hard – I have honestly tried every single tip suggested to me over the years, the only thing is I won’t pay for them (and I’m starting to suspect that rather more people than I realise have – not accusing anyone here!) – but what I’ve experienced lately is a bit of a surge in engagement. I wonder if this is because I’ve started to think more carefully about what images work, but at the same time I’m not religiously striving for an immaculate looking grid any more. Here’s what I’ve discovered since the start of the year:
· People like seeing me – goodness knows why. Doesn’t have to be my face, the back of my head will suffice (but my hands or feet won’t…). The most popular posts feature my face (or back of my head!) AND my work (although the work is preferably incidental to a shot of my ugly, shiny, ageing mug. Of course…).
· So people DON’T like seeing my work as much. Which troubles me as I need to make money from that (rather than my face!!!). However, if the work is on the wall of my studio or being held by me it helps. People LOVE studio photos.
· Posting less often seems to work well. Also the timing seems to matter again – when it appeared to be irrelevant for quite some time. I’m finding 5.30-6.30pm to be the sweet spot for maximum engagement – but this is different for everyone and it depends on when “your people” are killing time on Instagram. Mine are often on their way home from work (but of course Instagram now continues to show images in people’s feeds for DAYS…).
· I’m taking just as many photos (or I was until my phone broke) and saving them up for posting at later dates if I need to (thank goodness I did that!).
· The photos I assume will do really well often don’t. However, I have seen more with 100+ likes than I ever have, all since the start of last month, and in all honesty I’m not sure why (but see my thoughts at the end of this post).
· People always like a good shot of a pretty house.
Lots of new followers appeared last week thanks to the lovely Sarah Hamilton featuring me on the Just A Card Instagram account (on the weekly “have you met” feature – check it out and like Just A Card there if you haven’t already – you never know she might feature you!). 135 new followers and counting (it took me nearly a year to get from 3,000 to 3,500 so that’s really something!). I also got a boost from Joanna Payne’s #colourmyeveryday challenge a couple of weeks ago, which took me to that 3,500 mark.
I’d definitely recommend actively getting involved in campaigns like Just A Card (not only because you love and support it – which I hope you do – you do realise I’m the blogger yes?!) and with Instagram hashtag challenges like #colourmyeveryday and #marchmeetthemaker (organised by the lovely Joanne Hawker - I’ll be joining in with that again in a couple of weeks!), but I still think you need to ensure that whatever you post for these challenges is consistent with the rest of your feed – I’m stressing consistent rather than perfect or immaculate. I did use #colourmyeveryday to share quite a lot of my work (and pictures of me as they encourage engagement – so I need to get over it!), and probably more so than most of the other people involved, but it worked and I even had some orders.
I think the key is not to rush to post whatever you can think of first thing in the morning, and maybe to plan a little more if you’re that way inclined. This applies whether you’re taking part in a challenge or not. As #colourmyeveryday only lasted for a week it was easy for me to plan the following day’s post on the previous one, but for #marchmeetthemaker I think I’ll need to be a little more methodical. I’m also thinking of ways to work with the prompts in a more creative way, in order to elbow some of my work in there somehow when it isn’t obviously about that… Most of the strongest accounts I follow have feeds that are, almost exclusively, that artist’s work and nothing else at all.
So this leads me on to what to do with all of those other photos I take! I started a second Instagram account about two years ago for the stuff that doesn’t fit on @madebymrsm – but I don’t post to it that often, however I’m starting to try using Instagram Stories a little more. I’m using this to share images of a day out, for example, either as it happens or later that day. I really didn’t think that Stories made any difference whatsoever to my follower numbers or the engagement on my feed posts, but having used it more over the past six weeks or so, I think it does. It’s also a good way to share the photos I like and are relevant but which I may not consider to be strong enough for either of my accounts.
So where does this leave me (other than feeling vulnerable without a phone!)? I’ve given up on ever reaching the magic 10k followers as I’m pretty sure the only way I’ll get there is to part with cash, and what’s the point of that if it doesn’t increase engagement too? I’m going to try sticking to my new formula of pictures of me and my work with the occasional other (preferably colourful) thing and see how that pans out. If the increase in engagement reverses again over time, them I suppose I’ll have to shake it up again.
A quick word about hashtags in general, rather than hashtag challenges, before I go. I keep a library of them as notes in my phone (which is thankfully in the cloud – I almost stopped breathing when I thought I’d lost those – oh dear…) and I add to, delete from and change this all the time – whenever I spot a new relevant tag. I store them in blocks and scroll through for whichever block of tags is most relevant for the post. This means I very rarely use exactly the same tags for several posts in a row. It’s interesting to note that the recent spike of engagement I’ve experienced has been since I finished my 365 project (for which I used the same hashtags for every post – one each day) so I wonder whether that rumour about overusing tags (or shadowbanning or whatever) is true. Either that or the tags really don’t make any difference at all!
The queen of Instagram, Sara Tasker (of @meandorla fame) has always said that the only trick is to take really good photos – I take this as a sign that mine aren’t, and never have been, good enough! But I think she does have a point. Continuing to improve photography (once I have a working phone – although this whole episode has prompted me to get the DSLR out again after a prolonged break) and posting only your best work (so better to post nothing at all than something substandard for the sake of it) may be the way forward. Let’s see if I can get to 4k….