Putting into words the unwritten rules of Instagram etiquette for travel bloggers.
Spend enough time in travel blogger-specific Facebook groups and you’ll notice the one thing that unites or divide the nomadic community: social media etiquette. They’re the unwritten rules that dictate that thou shall not spam the group with self-promotive material, thou shall reciprocate in mutually beneficial ‘like-for-like’, ‘follow-for-follow’ threads, thou shall remove thy preview.
But when it comes to Instagram, there’s a very special set of rules for travel bloggers – although often unspoken, the disregard for such rules can leave one at the ire of the travel blogging community (or, even worse, tagged by the Facebook group admin as a non-reciprocater. The horror!).
Let them be unspoken no more: so that you don’t find yourself breaking the blogger code, here’s the ultimate guide to Instagram etiquette for travel bloggers.
Is it ok to play the follow/unfollow game on Instagram?
If there’s one thing that persistently seems to grind travel bloggers’ gears it’s the controversial ‘follow/unfollow’ game, an underhanded-style growth hack designed to keep ratios in check. Basically: it looks good to have a lot of followers, and to only be following just a few of them back.
Problem is, it’s really, really hard to get away with, and any travel blogger heading down that path will quickly be black marked by Insta-circles.
Everyone’s got some sort of follower tracking app installed, whether it’s Crowdfire or Insatrack, to keep track of recent followers and unfollowers. Which means that everyone knows when another travel blogger is trying their hand at the follow/unfollow trick.
Not only is it annoying; catching a fellow blogger out in the act really puts a blight on the way others see them.
Case in point: I was pretty chuffed to see a travel blogger who I both respected and admired follow me on Instagram. It was great while it lasted – the whole five minutes. Literally seconds after I followed back, this particular blogger (who will remain nameless) disappeared from my followers list – and Crowdfire confirmed it; they’d fished my follow, and chucked me back into the sea. Ouch!
But when is it ok to unfollow someone on Instagram?
Without being labelled a follow fisherman, there are plenty of times when it’s perfectly ok to unfollow, as well.
First thing’s first: see above. No one likes the sneaky follow/unfollow game, and if you suspect someone is playing it on you, then it’s completely fine to unfollow that time waster ASAP.
You can also give the flick to spammy posts and advertisements, constant posts clogging up your feed or irrelevant photos. If someone posts on Instagram more than five times in a row (especially if the photos are all different angles of the same street scape or stretch of beach), you can rest assured I’ll probably be clearing them off my feed.
There are also accounts that exist purely for the sake of existing: I’m referring to those vaguely named, hundreds-of-thousands-of-followers-plus accounts that promise a regram if you post with their hashtag.
I remember once falling into that sticky trap – I hashtagged a post created by such an account, only to receive a direct message promising me a regram the second I direct deposited €35 into their bank account. Unfollow!
How many times a day is it ok to post on Instagram?
It’s a well-known fact that one of the keys to Instagram success is only posting your best photos. With that in mind, there are only so many times are day you’re going to be able to put out your very best work. Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
While I like to spread out my photos and only post once a day, it’s totally acceptable to post anywhere up to five times – provided your updates are all well spaced by a few hours.
Photo series (such as a destination you’ve just visited, faces in a marketplace or morsels of food) are always brilliant and intriguing; just make sure that your photos are different enough as to not seem repetitive.
When should I follow someone back on Instagram?
While following back is one of the best ways to keep your Instagram numbers steady, you often end up with a lot of irrelevant or spammy posts clogging up your newsfeed. That’s why it’s totally fine to be selective about who you choose to follow back; it’s your feed, and your time – and it’s not there to be wasted!
If someone has taken the time to follow me, and maybe even clicked ‘like’ or commented on a few photos, I’ll head over, check out their profile, and usually return them the favour.
But, if their profile is on private; I don’t follow back. If it’s clearly a company page trying to sell me body building powder; I don’t follow back. If it’s a collection of selfies from a person I don’t know; you guessed it, I don’t follow back.
Whatever your style or taste, your Instagram feed should be a collection of photos that inspire, intrigue and, most of all, make you want to come back for more.
What’s the best way to use hashtags on Instagram?
Hashtags are great – not only do they make it easy for me to endlessly stalk every photo ever tagged with #travelblogger, they also make you more discoverable.
Most unofficial Instagram rulebooks dictate that 10 hashtags, give or take, are optimum for maximum post exposure. Too little; you go unseen, too many; you run the risk of looking spammy.
There’s nothing worse than scrolling down your Instagram feed to see a photo that’s tagged a billion times in the description and ten subsequent comments. No, it’s not necessary to hashtag every single colour in the photo, or every single ingredient in your plate of food.
And please, please – don’t launch straight into the hashtags: give your audience a little bit of content in the description first. What is the photo of? What’s a funny little anecdote about when you took it?
Remember, you’re travel blogger; you tell stories and give advice – you’re not a never-ending pit of hashtag vomit.
And on that note, it’s also really important to keep your hashtags relevant. I always do a quick search before posting new photos of that particular destination’s official tourism board, to find out their most common tags. Then, I’ll use my go-to tags: #travelblogger, #instatravel, #passionpassport (you know, all the clichés), and #cnntravel, #timeoutsociety and #bbctravel (with the faint hope of a legitimate regram!).
When should I leave or reply to a comment on Instagram?
If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to make you more followers on Instagram (and it’s not underhanded like the aforementioned follow/unfollow game), it’s taking the time to leave a thoughtful comment on someone’s post.
I’m not saying you should scroll all the way down your feed and comment on every single one – but occasionally, you’ll see a photo that’s obviously been well-thought out, an intriguing description or funny anecdote. Instead of just double tapping to leave a ‘like’ and scrolling on, I challenge you to write a few words: sometimes just a ‘wow, amazing photo!’ can go a long way.
And, likewise, if someone has taken the time to pay you a comment, it’ll only take a second to tag their name and thank them back. If it’s a particularly nice comment; why not head over to their feed and return the favour?
Come on, we’re all friends here people! Let’s bake a cake of Instagram smiles and rainbows.
What about sponsored posts on Instagram?
So we’re starting to get a little popular, are we? Most Instagrammers with follower numbers in the ten’s of thousands (or nowadays, even less), will have been approached by companies hoping to get a third-party plug on their feeds.
While that’s all well and good (a blogger’s gotta eat!), be mindful of how well these kinds of posts fit into your feed, and how your followers view them.
Rule one: full disclosure. Just as you would with a sponsored post on your blog, it’s important to let your audience know that the photo was, in fact, paid for. Instagrammers are getting more and more savvy, and they can usually tell when something is being sold to them. Don’t be sneaky: your followers won’t respect you for it.
Then, of course, there’s the issue of relevancy. I once saw a fellow travel blogger (whose feed was full of gorgeous landscapes and colour-dripping sunsets), suddenly post a photo of a pharmaceutical company’s app on their mobile phone. Talk about out of place.
If you’re a travel blogger focused on technology; agree to sponsored posts with pictures of your latest gadgets. If you’re into fashion; maybe your latest outfit. For a sponsored stay, shots of your hotel room view never go astray. Just don’t take it too far: your audience doesn’t need to see close ups of all the complementary toiletries in the bathroom.
And the golden rule: don’t complain about the ‘burden’ of having too many Instagram followers
Remember a while back when Essena O’Neill, a 19-year-old with 500,000 Instagram followers, made international news? She was quitting Instagram, she said, sick of all the ‘fakeness’: her biggest complaint was having to stand in the sun, sucking her tummy in for half an hour to land that ‘perfect’ shot (which would then land her a cool AU$2,000 from a bikini company).
If you suddenly find yourself in the position of having hundreds of thousands of followers, with companies lining up to pay you obscene amounts for just one photo: please, please don’t complain about it all being too much of a burden.
You’ve literally just landed one of the easiest jobs in the world: a few taps on your iPhone, a whimsical filter and voila! That’s a whole lot of money for very little work.