Otherwise known as
“The Four Best Ways to Increase Engagement on Instagram…”A few weeks ago, I gave my first (of hopefully many to come) live webinar to an audience of Click Pros, entitled The Four Best Ways to Increase Engagement on Instagram. (Click Pros are a group of elite photographers who have demonstrated technical and creative excellence. To learn more about the benefits of becoming of Click Pro and the application process, click here.) It was a topic that I’ve spoken much about over the past few years, on live streams and in DM threads, but have never really sat down to write it all out, to think it all through. Even though I had an outline for the webinar (which can be found in the Click Pro Facebook Group), many times I went on tangents to answer questions or as thoughts popped into my head. I am the Queen of Tangents. (Which drives my husband nuts.) I often found myself referencing The Great Meg Loeks, mostly because everyone knows who she is, but also because she was such a perfect example in so many of my tips. When Meg hit the huge milestone last week of hitting 150,000 followers on Instagram, I wanted to post on @photographerhack to commemorate it, as many of my friends were doing using the hashtag #meghits150. Because I view @photographerhack as a way to teach, add value, or inform, I thought I’d also take that opportunity to express why and how I thought she had been able to accomplish such a feat. I think I can safely use the word “feat” because I don’t know of any other photographer in the genre of family and child photography that has reached that level of following.
As I tapped out my caption, I realized that the reasons I was about to list were also precisely the Four Best Ways to Increase Engagement.
She’s generous. She engages. She invests in people and the Instagram Community.
She writes witty, heartwarming captions that show her followers a little bit of her personality and which add to the visual part of the post, the image.
“September is pediatric cancer awareness month and we are going gold for big brother, and all the children & families who have been effected. 🎗 When Leo was diagnosed Woody was just two years old. He didn’t fully understand what was going on, but he knew his big brother was sick. He was incredibly intuitive and this shocked me for being so young. There were times Leo would come home from the hospital and Woody would lay next to him and hold his hand without saying a word. He has such a tender heart. This is the one trait I’m most proud of with him… his compassion for others.” ~Meg Loeks People, I’ve said it so many times and I’ll say it again: I believe your caption is nearly equally important as your image. If you’re not writing captions at all, you are seriously missing out and leaving a lot of engagement on the table. Your caption should give people something to respond to. Help them. (Help me, help you. (Those article is riddled with movie quote references…)) I run what are called Engagement Posts. They’re similar to a pod, if you’re familiar with those. I also participate in them. I know, for me, if I am supposed to engage with an image and the poster gives me no caption, I sometimes struggle with what to comment. I’m left with “Beautiful shot!” or “Such beautiful light!” or “Adorable picture” and the like. Unless it’s a jaw-droppingly awesome image, you make it super tough on your viewers to engage with you. (I’ll say it again, only Candice Gleason can get away with no captions. But her images say it all – no words necessary. Most of us aren’t that great, ok people? Tough love.) When you write a caption, you add a little color commentary to your image. A little backstory, a little of your personality. This is important. Now, I am a caption-reader. Some of you aren’t. But google around – you’ll find that most Insta-gurus DO encourage you to write compelling captions. You get two parts to an Instagram post – the image and the caption. Don’t ignore 50% of your post. Many people object, saying, “I’m not a good writer, I never know what to say…” Well…practice. There was also a time when you weren’t a very good photographer either, right? It’s always practice. Even writing. You don’t have to be a “writer” to write engaging captions. But you should write from the heart. And this takes some practice. Julia Cameron in “The Artist’s Way” encourages “Morning Pages” – an exercise where you’ll write out three pages about anything or nothing at all every morning. Not to finish a book or publish anything, but just to get used to the habit of writing and finding your voice. Steven Pressfield of “The War of Art” stresses the importance of showing up and writing every day. So does Liz Gilbert. These famous writers don’t emphasize the fact that they’re naturally gifted or smarter than you… They insist their success manifested out of….practice. If you practice writing captions, you will get better and better. Here’s a tip: Your captions don’t need to be long. (Mine are, but that’s my preference – again, I post for me, and if I write a long caption, it’s because I have words I want to remember and come back to someday.) They can be short & sweet. More people will read them if they are. But they should reflect your heart, your perspective. Here’s an example that I’m paraphrasing from Jenna Kutcher. And this is especially important if you mostly post client work. Client work is tougher for engagement because I don’t know these people. You may take amazing images, but why should I care? I don’t know them, and I probably never will. Yes, they’re a gorgeous family, but…why would I be compelled to comment, other than “Can you ask mama where she got her dress? I love it!” Let’s say you’re a wedding photographer and you’re about to post an image of a bride about to walk down the aisle. She’s standing with her father, nervous and excited. You nailed this image – emotion & connection, it’s a legit great image. Now you post. I’ll give you a couple examples of captions: Caption 1: “About to walk down the aisle…” Caption 2: “He looked at her, knowing he was about to give away his baby girl.” Caption 3: “This one just gives me all the feels… As a wedding photographer, I knew I had to capture this moment perfectly. I positioned myself to get a little rimlight around the bride and her father, against that darker background. I bumped my aperture to 3.5, not knowing where they’d stand exactly, but I knew I had to have both of their expressions in focus. And then I waited and observed. I heard the music playing, the wedding coordinator start buzzing, and then, it happened. This moment right here. They looked at each other, and with a lifetime of memories between daddy and daughter, nervous and excited and every other emotion, he said, “I love you baby girl,” and tears welled up in her eyes. For more beautiful images from John & Katie’s wedding, visit my blog. Link in profile.” Caption 4: “I knew I had to capture this moment perfectly – the moment just before she would walk down the aisle, fulfilling every girlhood dream. And the moment that he would give his baby girl away. I couldn’t help but think about my own wedding day. I stood in a tent and waited for the right music to play. My Dad, usually soft-spoken, was especially quiet. It was just the two of us. My sister had just left us to take her stroll down the aisle as my Maid of Honor, making us laugh with her best Steel Magnolia impression, “It’s time! Daddy! It’s time!” What about you…what do you remember about the moments just before you made your big walk down the aisle? For more of this lovely wedding, click the link in profile.” Ok, those are 4 very different captions. And each one might hit you differently. Maybe you like short & sweet. But do you see how Caption 1 is a bit too Captain Obvious? Should I create a new phrase and call it “Caption Obvious?” I don’t think you need to just restate the obvious with your caption. Maybe think of an interesting word or take on the image that isn’t quite so obvious. Like, “Anticipation” or “The swirl of nervousness and excitement.” Don’t just use a caption that simply states what the image is, as if you were keywording it for Google. I like Caption 2 a bit better. It draws out a little emotion, doesn’t it? Caption 3 is a bit more engaging because if your primary following consists of photographers, they might want a little glimpse of the behind the scenes and what you were thinking as you shot this. The key is this: It’s about YOU. Nobody cares about a bride and dad they’ve never met. Give them a reason to read your caption, tell it from your perspective. People have chosen to follow YOU. Not this bride and her dad. I think Caption 4 is probably the best and will get the most engagement. First, it asks a question. That’s always a good idea. You can’t do that with every single caption, it’ll start feeling cheesy and inauthentic. (I have to admit, I don’t love posts by “marketers” that always says “Double tap if you agree” or “tag a friend who needs to hear this message.” You can only get away with that occasionally. Please don’t do that for every caption. But if you post on a Friday, why not say what your weekend plans are and ask, “what are you up to this weekend?” If you post a picture of your kids helping you bake cookies in the kitchen, why not say that you found this recipe from Ina Garten and it’s sooooo goooooood! And ask, “what’s your favorite cookie?” Or, “do you have any cookie recipes to share?” Or, “ what’s your favorite thing to cook with your kiddos?” Back to Meg. She mostly posts images of her family. I do think it’s easier to write heartfelt captions about people that you love and that show up often in your followers’ feeds, rather than client work. But go ahead, scroll through Meg’s gallery and read her captions. She just adds a little backstory, a little color, to an already amazing image. She gives her followers something, in addition to the image, to respond to. I often find myself responding to her caption, rather than simply her image. She never writes a novel, usually just something short & sweet. But you can clearly get a sense of her personality from her captions, in a way that is different than if you only saw her pictures.
She gets in the frame so you can see HER too.
And lastly, her work is just damn good. It’s well thought-out, it’s well shot and executed, it’s beautifully edited. It’s just good.
I should note that I did not consult Ms. Loeks for this article. I guess when you’re an Insta-celeb, you can expect people to gossip about you! But these are my own observations of her, as someone I do not know well but have been a fan of for several years. I should also note that she’s always been extremely kind and generous to me. Any time I’ve ever DM’d her to ask her anything, she thoughtfully replies and is helpful. I’ve heard from many HubHack members that they heard of my service from her. (In fact, I can’t even include in print the words that came out of my mouth when I saw her name sign up to be a member a long time ago – I’ll let you use your imagination.)
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