#Hashtags are your friend

Contributing writer and social media intern Elizabeth Evans begins a series of posts for authors on working various social media sites and using them to promote their work. The first in the series is on the platform Instagram.

Instagram is a photo-based social media platform that has been around since 2010, and has undergone many changes since being purchased by Facebook in 2012. Instagram, at its heart, allows users to post pictures and videos, as well as record “Stories” and host live chats through Instagram Live.

So you’re probably wondering, why should I get an Instagram? What are the benefits of using a photo platform to me, a writer?

First, it’s about building your brand. Think of your work like a small business.

You want your readers, your customers, to stay engaged and interested in you and your work, beyond just when you have a new book coming out or when you’re on a book tour.

In Brandignity’s 2016 post “8 Benefits of Instagram for Small Business”, the number one benefit on their list is “Customers Search for the Brand.”

In this case, you are the brand. People go on Instagram to search for and follow you in order to stay updated on your new work, upcoming readings and events, or to just check in and see what their favorite author is up to these days.

Your brand is not just your books or your events; it’s you.

Kickstagram, a service that provides Instagram marketing, says that the most successful businesses on Instagram understand it’s not about just directly selling their products (in this case, your novels or poetry collections).

“The most successful Instagram influencers showcase images that are unique, uplifting, exciting, and aspirational. They create a meaningful persona that other users want to engage with.” – Kickstagram, “5 Big-Time Benefits of Instagram for Your Business” (Jan. 16, 2017)

As an author, you’re in the perfect position to create that “meaningful persona.” You have the opportunity, by sharing images of your influences, inspirations, or even just your workspace or world around you, to build this persona, this brand, with the goal of your readers engaging with and remembering you, making it then much easier for you to sell your work to them as they are already familiar with you and your brand.

You also don’t want to dismiss an opportunity to protect your brand.

This 2016 article from CSO outlines five tips for protecting your brand, and their number one tip is to “Create your own social media presence before someone else does”.

“Companies should have an official presence on major social media sites, even if they don’t use them often, says John LaCour, CEO of PhishLabs. … Many social media sites offer icons or flags that identify legitimate sites, he adds.” – CSO, “Five tips for protecting your brand on social media” (Oct. 3, 2016)

Again, keep in mind these articles are geared more towards businesses, but the same rules apply. You wouldn’t want someone masquerading as you on social media, right? So take the extra step and establish yourself before someone else has the chance to.

You also have the option of getting a verified account, which, like on Twitter, puts a blue check mark next to your name, verifying that this account is indeed you and making it harder for impersonators.

Second, Instagram is fairly easy to use.

One big benefit to Instagram is you have the ability to link your account to other social media platforms you may already have. At first, adding a whole new platform can seem like adding more work on your already full plate, but not so.

Instagram can be linked to your Facebook, your Twitter, even your Tumblr page. Currently, only Tumblr and Facebook will display your photo, with only a link to your Instagram post appearing on your Twitter page, but there is a work around outlined here that is free to use that fixes that.  (I highly recommend the work around, for the very reasons that author Diana Urban outlines so well in the article).

Instagram provides you the option of posting a photo once, sharing it across your major platforms and then you’re done! Linking your accounts is incredibly easy: just go to your account settings in your Instagram app, and login to your other accounts. You also have the option of choosing NOT to post your Instagram photos on Facebook or Twitter on each post, so if you want to run an Instagram-only giveaway or event, you can do so.

The ease of Instagram also applies to our friend, the hashtag.

Hashtags allow users to search for posts that are relevant to their interests. For example, if a reader were to search the #historicalfiction tag, they would be able to find novels and authors with that tag that they would possibly be interested in. Hashtags help narrow down the WIIIIIIIIDE expanse of posts and people on Instagram to a much more manageable pool they can peruse.

But hashtags are a double-edged sword. Instagram in a 2012 blog post gives three pieces of advice when it comes to hashtags: Be Specific, Be Relevant, Be Observant.

Be Specific: Instead of just tagging your post #fiction, try #historicalfiction or #literaryfiction to narrow it down and find a more targeted audience.

Be Relevant: Don’t clog your post with random hashtags in an attempt to reach a wider market because it will turn off those who might genuinely be interested in your work.

Be Observant: Look at other posts from other authors and publishers and see how they tag similar works. Maybe you’ll discover a hashtag you didn’t think of!

Third, there’s a lot of options with Instagram, a lot more than you think, due to extras like Layout, Boomerang, and Hyperlapse. If you want to really provide a unique, fun and engaging experience for your followers, play around with a couple of these apps.

Hootsuite compiled a list of 14 Instagram apps, which includes Layout, Boomerang and Hyperlapse, with some tips on how best to use them. They also include a couple of apps to help you determine the best time to post on Instagram for the maximum amount of engagement, which is perfect for those times when you’re selling your latest work or advertising a speaking event.

They also point out the concept of “reposting” or “regramming,” where you can share a post from someone else’s account on your own page.

Say a fan or an event organizer took a photo you wanted to share. Through Hootsuite, and a couple of different third-party apps, you can share or “repost” that person’s photo on your own page. What makes it unique on Instagram is that the person’s handle and profile photo appears on the reposted image, so you are able to automatically give credit to the person who originally posted it, almost like retweeting or sharing on other platforms.

If you don’t want to use Hootsuite, there are two popular repost apps (available in the App Store and on Google Play) called Repost for Instagram and Repost It for Instagram. There are several others available, so find one that works best for you. All come with easy to follow and remember instructions.

Reposting is just another way for you to engage with your audience and build a rapport with them. Readers and customers get excited when their photos and posts are shared by their favorite authors and celebrities, and it shows that you see them.

Fourth and last for now, Instagram Live.

People are looking for ways to engage directly with their favorite celebrities and authors, and one major way they’re able to is the livestream. Instagram, like Facebook and Twitter, has now incorporated a Live function where you can start a livestream and your followers are alerted and invited to join you. There, they can send you comments and ask questions in the moment.

Instagram Live and Stories also have one added bonus: if you keep them updated regularly, you stay at the top of your follower’s feed.

Social Media Examiner provides this EXCELLENT look at how Instagram Live and Stories work, even providing screenshots of how it looks for you and for your followers so you know you’re doing it right.

In addition it gives you benefits to using the platform:

 

Great Ways to Use Instagram Live

So what are some good ways to use Instagram Live for your business? Think about the types of videos you’d like to shoot on the fly with your smartphone but not necessarily save. Or consider what kind of video you’d want all of your audience to be notified about.

Here are some ideas for your first and forthcoming live videos on Instagram:

  • Launch a new product or make a big announcement.
  • Show behind-the-scenes looks at what happens at your office, your factories, and so on.
  • Do a live Q&A with your audience.
  • Hold a live chat about major changes in your company, industry, and so forth.
  • Celebrate a major milestone with you and your colleagues.

No matter what you choose to broadcast, Instagram Live is a great option if you’re looking for a video platform that won’t store the video or only let you show the video to your followers.

– SocialMediaExaminer, “How to Use Instagram Live” (Dec. 28, 2016)

Note that last part. If you want to save the video or have others be able to view it in the future (like with Facebook Live, where the video is posted and saved to your page), Instagram Live is not your best option. You’d be better off recording it as a video and posting it or using a different platform.

Elizabeth Evans is a journalist-turned creative writer who loves nothing more than curling up with her laptop to write fiction and poetry. When she’s not writing, she’s painting, cosplaying at comic conventions, or trying to catch up on reading from her overflowing bookshelves. She’s a self-professed nerd in love with all things Marvel, Supernatural, science fiction, and fantasy. She currently resides in Huntsville with her cat son, Dean, where she is pursuing a Master’s of Fine Arts at Sam Houston State University.

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