The first question uninitiated writers may ask—and it's a great question—is, "Why should I mess around with Instagram?" After all, it's one more social media site and focused on images as opposed to text. So why?
The simple answer: It's where the people are. Depending on whether you count YouTube and Reddit, Instagram is either the second or fourth ranked English-speaking social media network (based on traffic). Of course, Facebook is the other social media site.
Another answer: It's where the young people are. I joined Instagram, because my teenage boys pressured me to join. And I've learned to listen when others encourage me to try a new social media network, especially when they're younger than me.
But again, it's an image-based platform. So how can writers use Instagram effectively? Below are 10 things to consider.
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What Should Writers Post on Instagram?
Before we launch into this list, make sure you create an account. It's free and easy. Go to instagram.com, add a head shot, include a concise (and interesting) bio, and don't forget to include a link to your website or blog.
1. Writing Quotes
I love sharing quotes on the Writer's Digest Instagram account. Many come from the magazine or content from our website, but quotes can come from anywhere. If you'd like to play around with this, try using an image-creation site like Canva to create interesting quote images that you can share with your followers.
2. Share the Writer's Life
Where do you write? Take a picture of your desk, work station, bus or subway seat, shady tree, etc. Share your version of the writing life on Instagram, whether that means taking selfies in interesting locations or snapping pics of writers at events, books at bookstores/libraries, or (insert great writer's life image idea here).
3. Ask Questions
It's hard to say "social media" without saying "social." (Go ahead and try it.) As such, make sure engagement is part of your strategy regardless of the platform. And one tried-and-true way to engage is to ask questions. Ask for book recommendations, potential character names, plot twists, and any number of other things. People love playing along and being human. So ask away.
4. Share Actual Writing
Many poets have learned Instagram is a great place to share their poetry. In fact, Instagram has launched more than one career, but that doesn't mean Instagram is only for poets. Of course, flash fiction might work as well for sharing complete pieces. But what about interesting scenes or short snippets of dialogue. You're a writer; don't be shy about sharing a little writing here and there.
5. Give Things Away
One popular trick that continues to work for building followers and engagement is to give things away, whether it's advanced review copies of books, signed letterpress prints, posters, and so on. If you give things away, be sure to share what people have to do to be eligible and how you will go about drawing a winner. And, of course, be sure to announce the winner with another post!
6. Promote Stuff (Sparingly)
It's common to see people promote the idea of using an 80/20 split for content vs. promotion on social media. However, I think it's much better to do a 95/5 split. That's one promotional post for every 19 non-promotional posts. If you post daily, that comes out to one or two promotional posts a month, which is plenty for an author.
7. Use Hashtags
One of the best ways to get found on Instagram is through the strategic use of hashtags. With each post, share a short (or long) thought followed by 10-20 relevant hashtags. For writers, tags like #writingcommunity, #IGwriters, and #writersofinsta are popular, but include others that are more specific to whatever your post is about. For instance, a post about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might include hashtags like #ArthurConanDoyle, #mysteries, #SherlockHolmes, #MyDearWatson, and #Moriarty (or even something seemingly unrelated like #Cumberbatch or #BakerStreet). This is a great place to see which hashtags other similar writers are using.
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8. Share Stories
You might think I covered this in the fourth point, but I'm actually referring to Instagram Stories here. Instagram Stories is an application that allows users to share images or short videos for a limited period of time. These posts don't stick around on your profile forever, but they do offer people a way to engage with you and can draw people to your profile (to see those stickier posts).
9. Think Big Picture
Each post you share on Instagram should be able to stand on its own. However, sophisticated Instagram users think about how their posts look when cobbled together on their profile pages. Some writers will post in a way that patterns emerge. For instance, some writers will alternate between text-based images and selfies. Or they'll play with color combinations.
For all of the preceding points, remember to experiment and consider what's working or not working. Writers (like other artists) make their mark on the page by being creative. There's no reason to abandon that creativity when using social media. See what others are doing, imitate what you like, and then try things that have never been done before...or at least, things that have never been done by other similar writers before. Be unique and have fun.
Bonus Tip: Post frequently and consistently. This is one of those social media 101 tips that I give regardless of social media platform. The reason? Frequent posts (once every day or three) helps let people know you're there and using the platform. Consistency helps people know when to expect posts.
Instagram is the type of platform that works best if you're posting daily most of the time. In fact, multiple posts work better on this platform than some. But, as with all social media, trust your gut and remember to always put your writing first. After all, social media is meant to complement your writing career, which doesn't exist if you're not writing.