If you want to become an Instagram influencer, branding will become a big part of your daily routine. First, it’s important to understand what exactly branding is. Branding is the image and feelings associated with your brand. It’s your Instagram page’s personality. What do people feel when they visit your page? What assumptions or initial impressions can be made?
Your colors, language, filters, logo, and more are all components that make up your brand. Think about other brands that can have successfully pinned down their branding. When you think of RedBull, what images and feelings come to mind? Probably not office workers staying late at work. You think of extreme sports and athletes racing towards the finish line.
Similarly, when you think of a brand like Patagonia, you think of sustainable practices and nature. You think of reliable, simple, and high-quality products—even if you can’t think of what a single specific Patagonia product looks like. Just like RedBull’s trademark bull, you probably see the iconic Fitz Roy logo.
Throughout this post, we’ll use real brands (and other influencers) as an example. This is because even though you’re an influencer, you have to treat your Instagram page like a business, especially if you want to learn how to earn money from Instagram. Perhaps you’ll sell your own products one day or maybe you’ll focus exclusively on brand partnerships; whatever the case, you, as an influencer, are your own brand.
I encourage you to create a “Brand Notebook”—whether it’s a digital doc or a journal—and use it to jot down ideas and record your research. As we move along, I’ll also encourage you to answer questions that help you define and communicate your brand.
Define Your Goals
Before you create a branded Instagram page, you have to begin by defining the goals for your channel. Get out your Brand notebook and answer the question, “What do I want to achieve with this Instagram channel?”
Do you want to provide knowledgeable information about budget travel to make travel more accessible to people on a budget? Do you want to build a parenting community? Though it might fall more into the “mission statement” category (more on that later), these questions do help you outline broader goals. These broad goals might include:
- Monetize your Instagram channel
- Work with your favorite brands
- Create and sell products on your Instagram page
- Promote other channels, like a website or class
Based on your answers, you can come up with a mission statement that acts as your guiding principle (you can put it on your website, too).
As an influencer, what industry do you want to focus on? Is there a particular niche that you can focus on within that industry? While general themes like “food” or “lifestyle” have more broad appeal, these industries are also much more saturated.
But although it will be challenging, you shouldn’t be discouraged; there’s been a massive increase in companies’ desire to work with micro influencers across all types of industries.
If you happen to have a niche, you can connect with smaller, more engaged communities. For example, a food niche might be a particular type of cuisine (like Jaimaican) or a specific trait of food (like sustainably sourced). Don’t be afraid of choosing a niche because you don’t want to feel pinned down. As your brand grows, so will you. You can always expand to other areas and explore new, equally relevant niches.
Answer these questions in your Brand Notebook:
- What industry do I hope to grow in?
- What niche(s) do I want to focus on?
- What other influencers and brands that I admire are also in the same industry/niche?
- How can I stand out from other influencers in the same space?
Most importantly, choose an industry and niche that you’re passionate about, not one that you think will be profitable or attract more followers.
Plan Your Content
Many potential influencers fail to grow their brands because they run out of ideas. This leads them to posting misaligned, hurried, and irrelevant content. Planning your content in advance gives you a high-level overview of what your Instagram page will look like (which helps aid brand cohesiveness), prevents you from running out of ideas, and holds you accountable to a posting schedule.
Start by creating a moodboard that offers inspiration for your page and helps guide your aesthetic. There are three main ways to do this:
- Buy a corkboard and use printouts, magazine cutouts, stickers, patches, and other elements to decorate it. Then you can hang your corkboard and use it as a daily source of inspiration (and decoration).
- Create a digital moodboard. Canva, Adobe Spark, and Crello are a few platforms that allow you to make unique online moodboards that you can modify and reference over and over.
- Both! Sometimes having a physical moodboard and a digital version can give you just the push you need to always keep your brand in mind.
Once you’ve created a mood board and have a general idea of how you want your brand to be portrayed and how you want your Instagram page to look, it’s time to brainstorm and plan.
Later and Planoly are the primary leaders in Instagram content planning. Both platforms allow you to see how content will look on your Instagram page before it’s published, schedule posts in advance, and analyze your results.
Share Your Personality & Story
As previously mentioned, your brand is your personality. And it’s important for you to share that personality and the story behind it. Today’s consumers want to know more about the people behind the images. They want to know who influencers really are—beyond their partnerships, affiliate links, and products.
Ultimately, this allows you to build a stronger connection and bond with your followers. In your Brand Notebook, ask yourself the following questions:
- How do you want yourself to be portrayed? Are you funny? Serious? Philosophical? Inquisitive? Use real personality traits to answer this question.
- How can you use content to show those aspects of your personality?
- Who are other influencers or brands that share similar personalities?
- What is the story behind your Instagram page and what makes you passionate about your industry or niche?
The Wing, a co-working space dedicated exclusively to women, is a company with strong brand values that resonate throughout their page. With nearly half a million followers, The Wing shares content that isn’t just about promoting their co-working space and attracting members. Their messaging also consists of spreading women empowerment and creating safe, culture-minded work spaces. Despite the fact that these are serious topics, the Wing approaches it with a mix of assertiveness and lightheartedness. Notice how they inject humor into their content:
Now let’s think about your story. What’s your background and what inspires you to create content? Some influencers and brands choose to tell their full story/bio on their website, sprinkling details of that narrative throughout pieces of their Instagram content. Even if you don’t have a website, write your story as if you do. From time to time, share something about your story in a photo description and in your stories.
Notice how AllCall, a travel planning agency, injects humor and candidness into their story. They use the same personality throughout their Instagram posts, too.
Settle on Core Presets
Design is a major component of achieving brand consistency across your entire Instagram profile. Notice that many of your favorite influencers—particularly lifestyle influencers—have similar filters throughout their photos. This creates consistency, branding, and adds aesthetic value.
Instagram presets are filters that you’ll use consistently. Each preset consists of a combination of settings that give your photo a specific appearance. While Instagram has its own set of filters, these might be a little too heavy for your liking, creating an over-filtered look. They’re also overused by the general Instagram population, so it’s hard to differentiate your own image. Pre-sets allow you to stay consistent while staying true to your brand.
Adobe Lightroom is the most popular platform for storing pre-set filters. This is where you’ll edit your photos before you post them to your Instagram account. Adobe Lightroom is free for mobile devices (though you’ll have the option to pay a small monthly fee for premium features, like cross-device syncing).
Keep in mind that you don’t need to use the same filters every time; you can edit your presets as you see fit, or use a different present to fit an occasion or image tone. But remember, the goal is to create high-quality consistency, and presets make this a much more attainable goal.
The best part is, you don’t need to be a wizard or photo scientist to create and use amazing presets. There are hundreds of presets available online for free or for a small fee. Etsy is a great place to start. You can find plenty of options and support local creators in the process. Simply search for an image ambience that you’re looking for and go from there. Here’s what a search for “Fall” presets looks like on Etsy:
Having a visual theme helps you achieve aesthetic consistency, which is paramount for creating a page that appears well-coordinated, igniting a pattern in your content, and appearing professional.
Build Your Hashtag List
You know what a hashtag is, but do you know what it can do for you and how you can leverage it to build your brand? Many Instagrammers don’t use hashtags to their fullest potential or don’t use them correctly at all. Simply put, hashtags are designed to help Instagram understand the relevance of your images, help you get discovered, and categorize your content. Hashtags help you build brand awareness, broaden your reach, and increase engagement.
- Build brand awareness = make it easier for more people to discover your brand
- Broaden your reach = reach more people quicker
- Increase engagement = get more comments, shares, likes, and follows
A study from Agorapulse found that Instagram posts with at least one hashtag received 392% more comments and 70% more likes than those that didn’t have any. Hashtags are one of the best ways to get organic traffic to your page, which is increasingly important as the number of paid impressions and sponsored posts rise.
Chances are you already have a few obvious hashtags in mind. But it’s important to conduct hashtag research and create a running list of hashtags that you can reference again and again, pulling from your list consistently. Create an Excel spreadsheet that lists your hashtags, the reach for those hashtags, and the date of the most recent time you checked the stats on that particular hashtag.
For example, let’s say you’re a travel influencer. Head over to Instagram and search for potential hashtags in the search bar and then select “Tags.” Notice that several related tags come up, along with the amount of posts that use those particular hash tags. This gives you an idea of how popular they are.
You can also use third-party tools to help you find the best hashtags for particular posts. Later’s Hashtag Suggestion feature automatically finds relevant hashtags for your images based on other hashtags you’ve used.
Here are some hashtag best practices to keep in mind:
- Use a mixture of broad, niche, and branded hashtags in your strategy.
- Research common hashtags in your niche
- Use location tags when they add value to your posts
- Don-t be spammy—avoid using over 10 hashtags in a post
- Keep up with trending hashtags to include them in your strategy in on an as-needed basis
- Look at your competitors and see what hashtags they’re using
Showcase Your Brand Values
Your brand values are the guiding principles that you stand for. They’re the core of your brand and dictate your messaging, personality, and identity. Your brand values are what you care about the most and what you hope to convey to the world. For this section of your notebook, answer the question, “What does my brand care about the most?”
For example, plus-size model and influencer Leah V has over 60,000 followers and those followers are loyal because they connect with and respect her values. As a plus-sized woman, Leah consistently emphasizes the importance of body appreciation, feminism, and racial equality and justice. Throughout her page—whether she’s showcasing the latest fashions or traveling—these brand values resonate through her images.
Another great example is the brand “We’re Not Really Strangers,” a brand that’s built a community around helping individuals take care of their mental health. Their product, a box-set card game, encourages players to answer tough questions that help them sort through their thoughts and feelings and better understand the humans they’re playing with. “We’re Not Really Strangers” shares both card-game content and imagery that accentuates their values:
Even if your followers aren’t paying for your products, services, or purchasing products and services you recommend, they are more likely to engage with your page and share it if they have similar values and sentiments.
Sharing brand values is a part of lead nurturing.
I followed “We’re Not Really Strangers” for just over a year before I purchased their card game. Constant promotions and product announcements aren’t what encouraged my purchase; consistent messaging that resonated with me did. In short: show your passion through your brand values and you can nurture and build an audience far quicker than you can by being a salesman.
Work With Brands That Align With Yours
If you want to gain more followers on Instagram and make money with Instagram, it’s imperative that you build trust with your audience. Now that you’ve worked hard towards cultivating a cohesive brand of your own, you can start attracting brands and getting paid for your influence.
Getting started with an influencer marketing program like Scalefluence is the easy part. As with most influencer marketing platforms, simply create a profile, link your Instagram account, and set your price per post. Brands interested in working with you will reach out when they have a project or campaign that you’re an ideal match for.
But not all brands are great matches for your brand. Part of being a responsible influencer means working with brands whose values, mission, and products and services align with your own brand image. In other words, don’t agree to a partnership simply because you’re getting paid to post on Instagram.
The best influencers turn down more offers than they take on, and there’s a reason for this. If you start promoting products and services that you wouldn’t use yourself, you run the risk of losing credibility in your space. Sometimes, saying no is more important than saying yes. It shows that you have morals and truly care about creating a space for your followers built upon trust.
At the beginning of this post, we asked you to consider two universal brands: Patagonia and RedBull. Now, think of the other well-known brands that come to mind. Wal-Mart, Apple, Nike, Airbnb, Amazon. Now if you think of these adjectives: cheap, belong, quick, minimalist, and energy.
Which words describe which company? If you can easily ascribe traits to these companies, that’s because they’ve succeeded in their branding efforts.
You don’t need to want to be Apple or Airbnb. But it always helps to take a look at the greats to understand how to cultivate a brand of your own.
How you present yourself is what helps followers connect with, trust, listen, and buy from you. It’s how other brands feel comfortable partnering with you and paying you. Treat your Instagram page like a business and you’ll be one step closer to achieving all your goals.