Navigating the world of social media can be pretty overwhelming, but more often than not we all have one platform that we gravitate towards the most. For me, that’s Instagram, hands down. I love me some Facebook groups and can get lost down the rabbit hole of Pinterest for days, but Instagram is where I’ve always spent the majority of my time and really worked to cultivate a community.
It’s no surprise, then, that I’ve learned a LOT about Instagram over the years. Even with algorithms and shadow bans and whatever else they throw our way, there are still some basic rules that stand the test of time.
Rules?! Yup, rules. More rules of thumb than laws of the land, but still good guidelines to follow if you want to not only have an enjoyable experience on Instagram, but make sure other people do too. Whether you’re using the ‘gram for business or pleasure, the general etiquette still applies.
There’s no real right or wrong (unless it’s copyright infringement, that shit is WRONG), but from my own experience and what I’ve heard from other bosses over the years, these are some of the dos and don’ts that can take you from #bot to #boss:
This is the one I hear about the most. Every few weeks the question pops up in a Facebook group: “Do I use the follow/unfollow method to get more followers?” and I can feel myself practically jumping through my screen to yell in warning, “NOOOOOO!”
No, no, no, and no.
If this is you, I’m sorry that this sounds harsh. But if this is you, I’m also here for your tough love wakeup call.
The follow/unfollow method is when you follow an account until they follow you back, and then you promptly unfollow them. You’re in it for the number boost, not the actual engagement. You clearly don’t care about that person or their account, but rather how they can serve you. If you’re the account that’s been unfollowed, it feels like the sleazy used car salesman of the Instagram world. It short, it’s rude AF.
Do: Instead, follow accounts that genuinely interest you, and ONLY accounts that genuinely interest you. Focus on how you can serve your followers, not how they can make your number go up.
Don’t: Follow everyone that follows you.
A lot of people feel that they are obligated to follow every account that follows them. If you’re using Instagram for your personal use, this one isn’t so much of a biggie, but if you’re using Instagram for business, then this is a big fat NO.
The most obvious reason is that as you grow, it’ll become impossible. I haven’t ever checked if there’s a limit of how many accounts you can follow, but that’s because I’ve never bothered to follow that many. Especially with the newest algorithm limiting the number of accounts you see in your feed, it’s important to be selective and curate who you actually want to interact with everyday.
It’s also an unexpected standard people place upon themselves, often at the beginning of their business. Unless people are the sketchy follow/unfollow type, they don’t actually expect a business to follow them back. It’s cool if they do, but not something they feel they are owed.
Plus, it can often look spammy when you have a ton of people you follow. It gives off the “follow/unfollow” or “bot” vibe. Years ago I heard a coach say the number you follow should be about a third of how many followers you have, but I don’t think you need to get caught up in the number game of percentages and fractions (ain't nobody got time for that). Just keep it in mind that it could affect how people view your account.
Do: Again, follow accounts that genuinely interest you. Fill up your feed with awesome, not obligation.
Don’t: Like a million pictures at once.
Ok, so obviously not a million, but over 10 gets their attention, and not necessarily in a good way. I once had someone like over 80 photos of mine all at once. I’m super appreciative that they enjoyed my content so much that they double tapped all those photos, but my initial reaction was one of creeped out, not flattery.
Do: Like and interact with 3-4 photos at a time. While the person who runs the account would love to know you love every single photo, usually following and interacting with a few at a time gets the message across.
This applies if you’re using Instagram for pleasure, but especially if you’re using it for business. Liking and interacting with a few photos is like a friendly wave. You’re basically saying, “Hey, I’m ____, and I think you’re cool!” Be a friendly waver, not a creeper stalker.
Don’t: Use bots.
This one gets me almost as worked up as the follow/unfollow method, and only gets second place because it usually comes back to bite the user in the ass eventually anyways.
Using bots means paying for followers, engagement, or any other weird and fake way of boosting those pretty little numbers. Sometimes they’re real people, sometimes they’re actual robots working their internet magic, but they’re always, always spam.
While they might boost your numbers, they’ll never get you genuine engagement or real, paying customers. It’s better to have a smaller number of followers that will actually jump at the chance to give you money than a whole bunch of fakes.
Plus, it’s super obvious. Gone are the days that you can fool the world with bots. I can almost always tell at first glance if an account is using bots to boost their numbers, and other people can too.
Instagram has gotten wise on it too. I’ve heard stories of people buying tons of followers only to have them either up and disappear (which makes you look absurd and obvs fake) OR their account is shut down.
Do: Focus on engaging and connecting with the RIGHT people. You’ll know they’re right because they’ll be interacting with you and handing you all their money.
Don’t: Steal other people’s photos
This one happens to me All The Time, often with people not even realizing they’re doing it. Even Tiger Beat (yes, the magazine of preteen years gone by) and I got into a beef about it once.
For clarification: stealing, in this case, equals reposting someone else’s photo with either no credit or credit so far buried (like in tags or comments) that it’s pretty much the same as leaving it out all together.
Do: Give credit where credit is due. I’m always thrilled when people share my images, because that means they connected with them in some way, but social media isn’t a free stock library.
Many people prefer to be asked before an image is used. I’m in the “just go for it” camp, but either way, the original account needs to be tagged in the photo itself AND the caption. Not buried in the comments – the caption.
I find it’s also better when you share a photo for a reason. Again, Instagram is not a free stock library (Pinterest isn’t either, but that’s a wholeeee other blog post). Talk about why you’re sharing the photo rather than just tagging the account in the comments and calling it a day.
Don’t: Alter a photo you repost.
Move over, follow/unfollow, because this is my biggest pet peeve on Instagram. Altering a photo you repost, usually in the form of applying a filter, is downright insulting (and if it’s a photo you’ve gotten from your photographer, there’s a 99.99% chance it’s in your contract and therefore ILLEGAL).
I spend a lot of time planning content, creating the content, and editing the content before I post it. I put thought and effort into everything I post.
You can imagine how icky it feels to see when someone changes that photo, especially when they tag me all over the photo, because that’s a complete misrepresentation of my work.
Do: Treat every photo you see as if it’s copyrighted. Share, with credit, but never, ever, ever change it. Plain and simple.
Don’t: Comment with just emojis.
Unless explicitly asked (which I LOVE to do!), commenting with just emojis or one word basically screams “BOT!” We’re so inundated with bot comments these days that even if you DO genuinely feel heart eyes or raised hands, it looks like you’re just a fake.
Do: Comment with an actual sentence, or at least 3-4 words that make sense. Things like “love it!” and “fabulous” don’t count.
Don’t: Post a million photos in one day.
You might be incredibly excited about something that’s happening in your day, but trust me, no one wants you to flood their feed. Posting more than 6 photos in a day comes across as excessive, in any circumstance.
Do: Post 1-5 times a day. Use Instagram stories if you have something that you want to share in real time or save your photos to spread out over time.
Instagram can be a really fun way to connect with people around the world, build a tribe around your brand, and really engage with people. It can also be a source of spam and frustration. Following these guidelines keeps you out of the spam/frustration spotlight and gives you the time to focus on the things that really do matter - community, engagement, value, and trust.