The Instagram Loop: A Brief History
In approximately late 2016 to early 2017, the Instagram Loop made its appearance as a way to run giveaways on Instagram. Here’s the premise: A group of Instagram accounts, anywhere from about 5 accounts all the way up to 30 (according to some sources)* work together to run a giveaway as a means to gain followers and exposure.
*Most likely, early Loops were limited to only 15 participants, as only very recently (Summer 2018) has Instagram increased the number of people that can be in a DM group, which is now limited at 32 people/accounts. If Loops were formed prior to that increase, the Loop organization would have to take place in another medium, such as email.
The Key to a Successful Instagram Loop is Cooperation;
Everyone Must Work Together. At the Exact Same Time.
Here’s how an Instagram Giveaway Loop works:
- All accounts that agree to be a part of the giveaway determine the following: the item or service to be given away to the winner; the script to be used in the caption to explain the giveaway; the exact time that everyone involved will post the giveaway to their account; a loop hashtag that everyone will use; the rules of the giveaway including time frame; typically a graphic/image that every participant will post (common, but optional.)
- A Loop Order is determined (we’ll discuss ways to determine an order in a bit…) This is important because each account must tag the next account both on the post and in the caption to make it easy for followers/viewers to loop/tap around to the next account.
If the Loop order is:
Account 1 tags Account 2
Account 2 tags Account 3
Account 3 tags Account 4
Account 4 tags Account 5
Account 5 tags back up to Account 1
Pretty simple, right? A loop or circle is formed, and the follower is taken on a little journey to visit each of the accounts.
It’s customary that to be eligible to win the giveaway, the entrant must follow ALL of the loop accounts. (It’s easy to see if someone is following you, did you know that? Even if you have a bagillion followers! On your Instagram profile page, tap the number of followers you have. At the very top of this list, you’ll see a search field. Just start typing in a username, and you’ll see quickly if that person/account is following you.)
It’s also customary to have entrants tag a certain number of friends’ accounts, to spread the word. All of those details must be outlined in the caption.
You could even add extra entries if someone posts about the giveaway on their own account or in their story. (This gets a little more complicated though- what if thousands of people actually do that? Then you have to track all of those extra entries and it could get really crazy, an administrative nightmare. You want to ensure that you’re building trust with your followers – if they post the giveaway to their story, they should have a reasonable expectation that they’ve received an extra entry. (There are apps you can use to help you draw a winner, but that’s a discussion beyond the scope of this post. I may test some out and write about giveaways in more detail in the future.))
Ok, so that’s a short overview of the Instagram Loop Giveaway. But what about a regular loop?
What is an Instagram Loop and how does it work?
So, these started to appear in mid-late 2017 once folks caught on that the giveaways were a great way to gain exposure and followers. It’s essentially a blog circle…for Instagram. You follow the steps above, but without the giveaway component and without the requirement to follow and tag. Think of it as the *new* version of a Follow Friday.
Essential Elements of an Instagram Loop
- A Loop Facilitator
The loop will most certainly fail and die a miserable death if there isn’t at least one person who is in charge. That person must also be sort of organized and on top of things. (I was once in a loop where the facilitator was such a hot mess that it was a disaster and almost everyone bowed out because we could see the train wreck in our future. The post times kept changing, the themes kept changing and getting weirder and weirder… Yeah, no bueno. (Sorry, if you’re reading this. But it’s true. Lesson learned.)
It is vital that the facilitator lay out all of the details of the loop in advance so that everyone is very clear on everything. I would argue that this should be done during the Loop Invitation Phase, which I’ll discuss in more detail below. She should also send reminders and repost the script, theme and order as needed.
2. Roll Call and Loop Order
Now, these can be one in the same. It makes it super easy! By “roll call” I mean, who’s in? Who is able to post at exactly the post time? Many loops will post at the same time every week, for example, every Tuesday at 2pm EST for 6 weeks. There will be weeks when a member or two will not be able to post at the time for various reasons. So, they need to be left out of the loop order, or the loop will be broken.
Methods to determine Loop Order:
Random, make-it-up-in-my-head order: I know this is what some loops do, but it’s a lot of pressure on the loop facilitator to come up with an entirely new order every week (if the loop continues for a period of time.) And the facilitator is scrambling to figure out who’s in, scrolling through hilarity in the DM comments to find out who actually can post today. I don’t recommend this method.
Spreadsheet method: The Facilitator keeps a spreadsheet with the loop order every week, and uses a randomizer function to automatically change the order every week. Ok, y’all, I actually have done this. I am a lover of spreadsheets! I won’t go into details, but you can google how to do a randomizer function in a sheet. Even though this method satisfies my inner-nerd, alas, I would not recommend it. I only did this method prior to learning about the Roll Call Method, which is now the way that I’d suggest you create the loop order.
Roll Call Method: The easiest and best way to create the loop order. About a day or so in advance of the post time, the first person (could be the facilitator, but doesn’t have to be) comments in the DM thread with their @username. The next person to say they’re in will tap and hold, then copy, the comment with the @username. They’ll paste it into a new comment, then add their own @username. Then, the third person will copy, then paste, the @usernames, then add their own. The thread will look like this:
Please forgive the spacing! It’s a lot cleaner within the DM thread.
This will continue until either a cut-off time, perhaps an hour prior to the post time, or right up until post time – that’s up to the facilitator to decide or group consensus.
The last person to comment and add their username at the end will tag up to person at the top, @username1.
3. A definite post date & time along with LOTS of reminders. The biggest obstacle of a successful loop is when someone neglects to post at the exact time. I used to only put one reminder on my calendar, 10 minutes ahead of time. What I’ve found, for me, is that is simply not good enough! You’d be surprised that if I have my post saved as a draft, and my hashtags ready, I can still literally FORGET to post even after a reminder only 10 minutes prior! I get into a new task, or my kid needs something and POOF! Totally forgot to keep an eye on the time.
Step-by-Step Instagram Loop Post with Reminders:
Now, I put the Loop Post as a timed event on my calendar. Then, I set a reminder a day ahead to remind me to add myself to the Roll Call.
Then, I set a reminder a few hours before, just in case I still haven’t figured out which picture I’m even going to post! (This is like every week, I swear!) That way, I have time to select a picture and edit it.
I will also, at this time, create a draft of the post, including the tag on the picture (more on that in a bit), pasting the script (if applicable) and @mentioning the next person in the loop in my caption. (The next person is subject to change, especially if I’m the last person to be on the roll call – someone might jump in after me.) Then, I get my hashtags ready. I always have 30 tags ready to go before I make a post so that I can paste them into the first comment before I receive any other comments. Just keeps things nice and tidy. (In my caption, I’ll include the Loop Hashtag, but I’ll leave off the # symbol until after I paste in my 30 tags into the first comment.)
You can also go in and add more hashtags to your caption if you like. If you feel that your image is pretty good, go right ahead. A loop post should get great initial engagement, so if your image is a good one, your chances of getting pushed into more feeds and getting featured on a hub increase. I wouldn’t add an additional 29 tags though – Insta will pick up on that and you will not be able to edit your hashtags ever again – you’re basically locked out. If you post the best underwater image EVER and then tomorrow @jjcommunity announces an Underwater Theme, you are basically screwed. Sawwy. So, keep your caption tags to about 25 and you should be fine.
Ok, so a few hours before, I save a draft of my post, all set to go. I have my hashtags ready.
Back to reminders: Then, I set a reminder 10 minutes in advance. For me, that’s a good time frame. For you, it might be 20 or 30 minutes. This reminder is just to get my mind right. I’m not gonna hop in the shower at this point or start an intense project. I’ll do something fairly casual that I can stop when I need to and won’t suck my brain in.
I set a reminder for 5 minutes in advance. At this point, I check over my saved draft, check the DM thread to make sure that the loop order is still the same (do I need to change my post tag and caption?) And I copy my 30 hashtags. I’ll probably comment in the DM thread that I’m ready to roll. (This should hopefully signal to other loopers that it’s almost time too, if they get notifications or happen to be scrolling around on Insta.) I’ll also make sure that my internet connection is working.
I also have a reminder for 2 minutes ahead. Why? Because I’m THAT forgetful. Really.
At this point, I’ll honestly sit there, staring at my phone like a crazy person. I’m logged into my Insta account, but I haven’t yet tapped on the + button to post. Why? Because doing that blocks my view of the time. I don’t rely on my own clocks, but I cross my fingers that all iPhones everywhere are synced to some master clock. (Is that real? I have no idea…)
At the precise moment the clock strikes the post time, I’ll tap the +, tap my saved draft, Next, Share. BOOM. Loop post complete. Then, I’ll paste my 30 tags into the first comment. Next, I’ll tap “…” in the upper right corner of my post, select Edit. Now, I’ll add the # in front of the loop hashtag and save it. Then, (whew, are you keeping up?? This all happens very quickly!) I’ll go back to my Notes app if I have additional hashtags I want to add to the caption. I’ll copy those, open up Insta, tap the “…” to edit, then, I’ll paste those bad boys in at the bottom. BAM. Loop post done on my part.
Next, I tap my tag to be taken to the next person’s account. I’ll tap on their most recent post, hoping to God that it was literally posted within the last minute or so. If not, if it’s from freakin 2 days ago, Houston, we have a problem. More on that later.
Let’s pretend that all goes swimmingly and the next person posted according to plan. I like and comment on their image, using a thoughtful 4+ word comment (emojis don’t count toward the 4, but are a nice little addition.) Then, I tap their post and on to the next account. Rinse and repeat until I make it all the way around my loop to my account.
This whole thing should really only take 5 minutes max. Unless there are issues…Then, well, it just depends.
If the loop is broken, somebody’s gotta change their tag and caption to skip the slacker so that the loop maintains its integrity. In order to be able to do this, you must stick around! You must go back and check the DM thread to see if any drama ensues. If not, then just comment, “Lovely loop, ladies!” and be on your way.
If the slacker shows up, you can be kind and re-tag and re-edit the caption to include her. It’s the right thing to do. Unless it’s over an hour later or more, then, sorry girlfriend. There’s next time.
4. Tag the next account @username in BOTH your caption AND on the actual post. (I know, you’re like, number 4? How are we on number 4? Well, I bounce around a lot. Tangents. Go with it.
This is actually the most common mistake I see in loops. (Outside of the slacker not posting.) Most people get how to @mention the next @username in your caption, but many people forget to tag the actual post. When you’re creating your post (preferably as a saved draft, as mentioned above) below your caption you’ll find the option to “Tag People.” Tap that. Now, tap somewhere inconspicuously on your image to add the tag. Or just slap it on the center. I prefer to place my tags in an area of negative space so that it doesn’t block a pretty part of my image. But that’s just me.
If your loop post is a carousel post, meaning, you can swipe to see additional pictures on the same post, I’d suggest you add the tag to each image in the carousel post, and most importantly to the last one. It’s a logical journey for the viewer to swipe through the post, get to the last image in the carousel, and then want to tap to the next person in the loop. Make this easy for them! All you gotta do is add the tag to your first image, then swipe to the last image and add the tag there too.
5. You must be prepared to post at the exact time and allow for 5-10 minutes after the post time. If you have an important meeting at 10am and the post time is 10am, so you’re like, “cool, I’ll post at 9:59am and then see ya!” No. That is not acceptable loop participation.
Some people use a third-party app to post for them. I do not recommend this for a loop post. For everything else, sure, do what you want. But not for a loop. You do need to be present.
People will be annoyed with you if you screw this up. Just be prepared for it.
Optional Elements of a Loop Post
- Themes. Some loops will have an overarching general theme, such as Summer, Faceless, Nature, or a color. Some ongoing loops will change their theme every week, like a sub-theme. An example of this would be a loop that posts every Thursday and their overall theme is Summer. Their hashtag is #thisisourfunsummerloop2018. Week one theme: Water. Week two: Chillin’ Inside. Week three: Harsh light/full sun. Week four: Sweet Treats. Week five: Color Blue (skies, water, etc.) Week six: Adventuring. You get the point, right? There’s an overall theme and then weekly sub-themes. These are HARD. I’ve done this before. If you need a good kick in the pants to stretch you, then go all out. But not everyone might be as hard-core as you are. Be prepared for there to be a smaller “in” group every week if people don’t have a picture to go with a particular theme.
- A loop hashtag. Although I think every loop creates a hashtag, it’s truly not necessary. Your followers will follow the loop around by tapping on the post or @username in the caption. A hashtag is nice, but definitely not a requirement. Plus…all the witty names are starting to become taken! Which is why you should always search for your hashtag idea before using it. It’s possible it’s been taken before. You can usually get away with adding “loop” or the year to get around that. But don’t use a hashtag that’s been used before, as it totally negates any value of having a loop hashtag.
A word on loop hashtags: Do not, for the LOVE OF MIKE, use a loop hashtag for a loop that you are not in! Ugh. So annoying! That’s a fairly lousy way to try to garner some attention. Really. Don’t do that. It’ll only make you look bad. You are not getting good attention, I promise.
3. A caption script. While most loops use one, it’s not required at all. It can be cute and catchy, it provides some bit of consistency among the loop posts, but it’s truly not needed. And if you have something to say in your caption in addition to the script, you can go ahead and add that to the bottom, after the scripted part. I will say that it looks better if everyone uses the same script (via copy/paste) rather than 10 different versions of the same script. If you forgo a script, it’s totally cool! But do make sure that loop participants at least include something to the effect of, “Today, I’m joining in with a group of photographers to share our interpretation of the theme, xyz. Please follow the loop around by tapping the image. Next up is FirstName of @firstnamephotos.”
Best Practices for doing a Loop Post on Instagram
Well, while the text above is chock-full of best practices, here’s a little summary for you.
Stick around to engage with your loopers. Some loops might not make this a requirement; the facilitator would need to expressly state that for it to be a rule. But it is generally expected. If all the loopers agree to engage with each other after posting, Instagram’s algorithm should pick up on that and push your posts into more feeds, possibly make it onto the Explore page, hit Top Nine posts for your selected hashtags, which should result in hub features and more exposure and followers. (Provided that the image you posted is a good image – does it have the elements of Light, Composition, and Moment? Is it interesting? Is it beautiful? Does it evoke an emotion or reaction? If not, then…it’s probably not going to get featured. Keep practicing, dear one.)
Use a Saved Draft. I cannot imagine doing a loop post without a saved draft. That would be so stressful! If you’ve never done a saved draft before, it’s so easy! Instead of tapping “Share” to post, tap the “<” button to go back. Then, tap it again <. (Upper left corner.) Now, you’ll see the option to Save Draft. When it’s time to post, tap the + button as described above, and you’ll see your Drafts on top of your All Photos. Tap the draft, tap Next, then Share to post. This is also a great way to batch your posts in one sitting to have ready when you need them. (Just have those hashtags ready!)
How to Create a Loop on Instagram – Getting Started
If you’d like to create a loop, be sure to read this article! Then, it’s time to invite some friends. Just because Insta allows up to 32 people in a group DM, doesn’t mean that ANYONE in their freakin right MIND would ever tap around a loop for 32 people. Keep it to 8-15ish. I think 10-12 is a sweet spot. You get the benefit of engagement and leverage the other accounts’ followers, but you don’t annoy people with a gigantic loop.
Also, while I’m on a soap box, don’t join so many loops that every time post you make is a loop post. That just gets old. Your followers will get sick of it and they will never bother to tap the loop around. I promise.
But step one to starting your own loop is to determine the time, length, theme, script, hashtag, etc. Determine the “rules.” Set the agenda. Then, send individual DM’s to people to invite them, and give them all the details. I believe that if you tell people ahead of time what to expect, they will be more willing to join in. If you leave it vague, like, “hey, ya wanna join a loop?” then you make it easy to say no.
For some ideas on how to do this, you can also check out my Follow Friday tutorial. The most important thing is to check that fear of rejection at the door. More than likely, if someone says no, they’re probably overcommitted to too many loops or are just not into them. That’s totally cool. Maybe the time/day doesn’t work or they’re not into the theme. No big deal. Move on.
I started a loop in the Spring and was pleasantly surprised at how many people said yes right off the bat. More than I anticipated.
I hope all of that helps, gosh I hope so!
What questions do you have? Do you have any tips or best practices to share? Hit me up in the comments or send a DM to me @photographerhack.
What is HubHack? It’s your Personal Hashtag Assistant – providing you all the hashtags you need, every day. We do engagement posts (like an instagram pod or engagement group, but better) and even Loop Posts (like a Loop Group as described above, but it’s more one-off.) For more info and to sign up, click here.