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Instagram | Why it's Great for Writers?
All the Ways Writers Use Instagram to Reach More Readers
I’ve recently made the bold choice to stop using Twitter as a place for promotion or as a tool to search for readers. I came to the conclusion that whenever I use Twitter I never come away from it feeling like I gained anything of usefulness or knowledge. Instead, I feel like I just wasted a lot of time scrolling endlessly to see things about people I don’t know nor care about. That is no way, for me, to propel my brand forward and that is what I hope to use any social media tool I engage in.
Therefore, I’m only using Instagram and I’ve made this decision official as of mid-August. I didn’t make a grand announcement or anything. What I’m doing isn’t groundbreaking or Earth-shattering news. I’m sure I’m not the first person to do this in the end. But I do find when I scroll through my Instagram feed there is much more content that is useful to me and that I feel more engaged in and less icky about when I close the app for the day. That can be based on the accounts I follow on one platform versus the other? Or it can be what I suspect, which is the aspect of images that is necessary for Instagram but isn’t for Twitter? When you throw in the fact that to use Instagram you must use an image (whether created or an actual photo of your life) it changes the caliber of a post. At least, I find it does for me. I have to think much harder and longer about my Instagram post than I ever had to for something I’ve posted on Twitter.
Since switching gears from using Twitter to using Instagram I’ve picked up on a lot of differences between the two platforms that I’ve taken note of along the way. Many of these might seem obvious to you, but coming from someone who only dabbled in Instagram and never spent any length of time in it, at least from a marketing standpoint, these were much-needed helpful tips for me along the way. I hope at least one of these points helps you as well. I’m going to break this down into different sections of Instagram that each serves a purpose and is important to be mindful of with each thing you post:
IT STARTS WITH THE IMAGE
Writers often will say they don’t use Instagram for promotion because how can they promote words? And I hear ya. I felt the same way until I started following other writers who were a step or two ahead of where I currently am in my writing journey and I noticed something right away. How they were using their Instagram was far different and less complicated than I was making it out to be. For starters, Instagram is a better outlet for sharing the journey (through images) than the content. Meaning, stop thinking because all you have are the words you’ve written for your story that that’s all you’ve got to offer. If your intent with your manuscript is to publish it someday, then think about this:
What can you compare your story to? Don’t answer, “nothing.” Cause to appeal to an audience (any) you need to be able to compare your work to something they already like so they will be interested in what you have to offer. Include other book series, author writing styles, movies, television shows, music, etc. Whatever visual medium that will fully encapsulate what kind of story you’ve got written is key!
Who do your characters look like? Again, don’t say they don’t look like anyone. I’m not asking “what” they look like. That’s best left for the pages of your book. But if you had to pick a famous celebrity or character from another famous series on tv or in a movie, then that is the answer we are looking for. And hopefully, your answers here will connect with your answers to the previous question.
What does the location look/feel like? Again, if we’re talking a GOT meets Lost vibe then those are popular series that you’re guaranteed people who already like those shows will instantly be able to understand what your story is going to be about.
I know there can be a tendency to feel like you don’t want to come off as a copy of something else and you want to be “unique” and “different” and therefore don’t want to admit your story is like something else that’s already been done. But doing this is an advantage, not a disadvantage. I’m more likely to want to read something that claims to be similar to a show I love than something that can’t be compared to anything at all. Why? Because as readers we like what we like and we gravitate towards our likes (cause we know them well) rather than take a risk. Especially, if that risk is with an unknown author.
Once you have answered those key questions your next step will be to go off into the rabbit hole that is the internet and find images for all that you just mentioned. Whatever tv show, movie, book, celebrity, location, etc. images you can find, copy them to your hard drive cause you’re gonna need them.
A great place to do the next step is Canva. It’s highly recommended by almost anyone who is creating graphic designs because it’s free, it’s web-based, an app on any device, and for the most part, it is user-friendly. I still have a bit of a hard time navigating how to use it but that’s just because I come from the Adobe world and until recently I was using Adobe Spark to create all of my graphic designs.
What you’re going to want to create in Canva (on a 1080px x 1080px canvas) are graphics that will combine the images you pulled off the internet with some words letting the person seeing your graphics know what they are looking at. So, for instance, create a graphic with images of all the tv shows and movies that it’s just like, put some words to that effect, and boom you got yourself a post that will at least pique the interest of someone who may have just done a search in Instagram for that movie or tv show.
CAPTION WITH PURPOSE
You’ve got the image, but that’s only scratching the surface of the other things you now need to do with that image. Unlike Twitter which has a character limit per tweet, with Instagram there seems to almost be no limit to what you can write in the “caption” section of your image. Basically, what you see right under the image when you’re scrolling your own feed.
Early on, when Instagram was just in its infancy, many users felt it was detrimental to put so much copy in the caption that you had to click “more…” to read it all. That thinking has changed completely. Nowadays, people are writing entire stories in their caption, and in many ways, it’s working in their favor.
So, as writers, should we take advantage of the caption space and copy/paste our favorite parts of our manuscript? I caution against that. By all means, if you have a favorite line(s) from your manuscript, put that into larger, fancier, text and create an actual image in Canva with it. But unless your caption is relevant to your image, don’t just put scenes from your story with no real context.
Instead, tell a different story. Tell the story of how you came to create the story you wrote. What influenced you or drew you towards that specific genre that those images you have in your graphic design invoke? Tell us how they are similar? Style? Tone? Language?
Throw in some emojis to separate lines or denote those bombshells you’re dropping that you don’t want the reader to miss.
MEGA TIP: Don’t write your caption in the Instagram app! Especially, if you’re intending to write a long one! First of all, the screen size is super small and you’ll find yourself scrolling up and down a lot to remember what you already said and fix any typos you find as you reread what wrote. And secondly, two-finger typing a long story isn’t the best use of your time. Instead, have a note-taking app open on your computer or any word processing app. Something where you can not only write your caption but save it as well. This is also extremely helpful when dealing with Hashtags because you can save the ones you’ll use over and over again and just copy/paste them with every new post.
When you’re ready to take what you’ve written and add it to your post, there are some ways to do that:
If you are an Apple-nerd like me there is this cool feature called “hand-off” that allows me to copy anything from one device (my laptop) and then paste it on another (my iPhone). If you’ve never tried it, go do it now! It’s life-changing! This feature only works across Apple devices that you own.
Use a web-based program like Hootsuite or Buffer. This way you can just copy/paste your caption from your computer. Just be aware by doing so, any cross-posting you’d typically do directly from the Instagram app will be unavailable unless you pay for their pro features which will allow you to share the same post across multiple platforms.
The final way, that I don’t recommend, is to just type what you want from within the app. It can be clunky and cumbersome but it’s doable but by doing it this way will keep you focused on getting that post out there.
Also, be sure to say “click the link in my BIO for more information” or something to that effect. You always want to make sure a CTA (call-to-action) is located in the body of your caption and preferably early on (like after your first paragraph if you’re writing a story) just in case the reader doesn’t read all that you had to say.
NOTE on LINK IN BIO: I just want to add this in here cause it’s important. You must have a link in your bio. Whether it be to your website, newsletter, Amazon Author page, etc. Whatever that link is, you need to make sure you update it and that every single “marketing” post you do is pointing the reader to the link in your bio. A great account to have is linktree or something similar to it. This will allow you to update links across all of your social media in one place and not have to try and remember where you need to make those updates. It also allows you to add, remove, update, and reorganize links as they become relevant to the information you are sharing across the social media platforms you use.
JUST HOW IMPORTANT ARE HASHTAGS?
In certain social circles, hashtags are the only way to reach new audiences. In others, hashtags are irrelevant and don’t work. Depending on where you fall on this is all in how you use them, which you use and if you’re taking the extra step to check the analytics afterward?
A lot of the “it doesn’t work” crowd typically aren’t taking the extra step to check the statistics, they are just going by how many followers they do or don’t get or how many likes they don’t get. This is not the way to gauge whether or not the hashtags you’re using are working. The best way is to look at the analytics.
If you are unfamiliar with what the analytics are, have never seen them in your own account (per post), or just don’t understand how to read them, you can check out my guide to how I navigate this back area of Instagram here.
At the end of the day, the strength of one’s Instagram hashtag game is dependent upon using the write one’s to reach the right audience. For instance, if you are looking for readers (a very broad niche) you wouldn’t use #writingcommunity as one of your hashtags. Why? Because that is predominantly visited by writers looking to build a community with other fellow writers. You’d do better to use #readingcommunity. I think you get my point.
Also, don’t use too many hashtags. A wall of hashtags won’t improve your chances. In fact, I’ve heard tales of Instagram making attempts to put a squash on the overuse of hashtags in posts. What methods they are using, I’m not sure. But you don’t want to get on their naughty list.
CROSS-PROMOTION NEVER HURT ANYBODY
The next part I think many of us overlook. I know I do sometimes and it’s usually because by this point I’ve spent so much time on the image, the caption, the hashtags, that I just want to post the damn thing! So, when it comes to where I should also share my Instagram post I could care less. But we should care! We should care very much! It just saves a lot of time and effort if we tick the little blue icons next to our various social media (that you’ve hopefully linked ahead of time) and boom, all set.
Luckily, Instagram doesn’t go too crazy with how many places you can cross-promote your post. You have exactly three options: Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.
Be aware that should you select Twitter you won’t actually see the image. Just a link to it. Which is a real bummer and I wish they were able to fix this. It forces us to use other third-party services that can be hit or miss with their accuracy on how they work. The most popular is tweet.photo but I find this site to not always work. Other options are Zapier or IFTTT. In both cases as well it’s been hit or miss as to whether or not they will work right every time. I suggest trying these out to find the one that works for you and then whenever you post on Instagram only cross-promote on your Facebook Page and Tumblr only from the app.
NOTE: Just under the social media area in a light grey is “Advanced Settings >” that most people (also, including myself) will overlook. If you’ve ever wanted to turn off people’s ability to Like or even leave a comment on your post, this is where you can do it! Try to remember that if there should ever come a time when you just don’t want to hear it!
STORY | REELS | LIVE
I can’t really speak too much on these two post options as I have not dabbled in them at all. Mostly because these take a level of creativity visually and a level of on-camera confidence that I just don’t feel I have at this time. That’s not to say I’m not building up to the point where one day I will have many Stories and Reels on my Instagram and probably drop in on my followers and host a Live! That is the goal.
But, if you have any helpful tips or ways that writers can utilize Story or Reels, I’d love to hear them in the comments below! I can use all the help and motivation I can get!
HIDDEN GEM: INSTAGRAM GUIDES
Hold on to your hats or any other garment that may fly off cause I guarantee you likely never heard of this “hidden” Instagram feature before. Back in November 2020, this came out and I didn’t hear about it! Though I wish I had because this can totally change the way you use your Instagram from a marketing perspective or just a personal one.
If you are looking for a step-by-step guide on how to use Instagram Guides, I have one here. This is just talking about the benefits of using it for yourself and how I am starting to use it in my day-to-day marketing of myself.
For starters, any old posts you may have that all go together? Trips you’ve taken, book updates you’ve shared, etc. The possibilities are only limited to what you can come up with for your brand!
Go for broke and please do share your Instagram account in the comments and let me know what Guides you’ve created! I’d love to check it out!
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