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Welcome to Season 2 of The Book Marketing Action Podcast with Becky Robinson, where we give you information that you can immediately implement to increase your influence and market your books more successfully. This month, we are focusing on the topic of social media. And I am happy today to be meeting a new friend, Liz Charlotte Grant.
About Liz Charlotte Grant
Becky: I’m so excited to dive into a conversation with you, Liz, about Instagram. But before we do that, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work? And I know you have a book that’s in the works, so I can’t wait to hear about it.
Liz: Absolutely. I’m a nonfiction writer, so I write essays and memoir, and I’m an editor for The Curator magazine. I have a memoir that’s in process, about losing vision and seeing God’s vision. I started losing vision in my right eye in 2017, and that led me on a journey of asking God for healing, and also seeking healing in my family relationships as well. So a lot of mental health work in there as well. One of my favorite tools for growing my platform is actually Instagram, which is why I wanted to talk with you today.
Becky: Well, I’m really looking forward to it. I have been using Instagram for a while, but I’m sure that I’m going to learn from you, because I noticed that your following is at least four times larger than mine, if not more. Hopefully, by the end of this podcast, we’ll all have some ideas about how to use Instagram more effectively, or about how to get started if we haven’t.
How does Instagram work?
Becky: So with that in mind, there may be some folks listening today, Liz, who are beginning beginners and have never used or even looked at Instagram. Could you give us just a quick description of what Instagram is and how it works?
Liz: There are kind of two ways to view Instagram. You can view Instagram on a profile like, kind of a Facebook page, where there’s a grid of photos. So somebody can come onto your profile, click one of those photos, and when they click in, it has a little caption, and they can write comments on the post as well. Then the other way is through a feed. The Instagram app is primarily a phone app that works best on your phone, it’s not really meant to work on your computer. So when you open it on your phone, you see a feed. Anybody that you are following, you will see their photo and their caption from that day. So anytime you open it, you’re going to see new content from creators or writers or friends or family that you follow. So that’s primarily how people experience Instagram, although sometimes they will also go on to your profile and look to see what things you’ve done in the past.
How can an author know if Instagram is a worthwhile platform for their book?
Becky: Thank you so much. That’s a really helpful basic intro. So if authors are listening today, how can they know if Instagram is a worthwhile platform for them for building a community for their book?
Liz: I’m someone who will tell you that Instagram is helpful for anyone. I would say in particular, for folks who are looking to engage some younger audiences. When you’re looking at the demographic for Instagram, about 37% of all internet users use Instagram. So that’s a huge portion of people who are using the internet, and it has especially high engagement rates. Most people who are using the app, visit the site daily or more than daily, so it’s just a lot of constant checking in that people do with this particular social media platform. It has especially high usage among younger adults, between the ages of 18 to 29 16% of online adults are going to use Instagram, and that actually peaks with 18 to 24-year-olds.
So obviously, for authors or medium grade authors, or even young adults, this is something to pay attention to. But really, you’re looking at about a third of adults in the US using Instagram. So it’s a huge number of people. I would say, for anybody who’s kind of writing toward that audience, Instagram is going to be a great tool. I would also say one of the things that are really important about Instagram to understand is that it is a really great way to learn about your audience. They have wonderful insight tools, and it’s a way to engage with readers in a very daily way. So if you know that your readers are active on social media, it’s a good way to pick up other readers who are interested in content like yours.
Do you have to be a great photographer to use Instagram?
Becky: That’s really helpful. So a couple of things, Liz, I’ve talked to authors before, and they get really overwhelmed, because they say, “Well, I’m not a photographer.” So can you talk to us about this perception that in order to have a successful Instagram profile, you have to be a great photographer, since it’s all photo-based?
Liz: I think one of the great things that I’ve been seeing in recent years is that actually, it’s a lot more important the kind of content you are bringing in writing. When I look at author profiles, there are often different things that they’re doing. So sometimes it’s almost like a sneak peek into your daily life, and you don’t need to be an amazing photographer to get people’s attention in that. I’m talking about pictures with your phone, I’m not talking about a professional camera, or set up, or anything like that. I mean, I’m talking about these kinds of devotional readings, it’s very much things that people are looking for on Instagram. So that’s one of the things for myself that I have really enjoyed.
On my Instagram, I tend to cover a couple of different things and categories. I tell people as well, this is a helpful way to think about Instagram in order to break it down, so it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. I split my content into different categories, I’m writing about family, I’m writing about my writing work, and then I’m taking photos of food. So literally, I’m just cooking a dish and taking a photo, it’s a point-and-click operation for me. I think when you’re thinking about taking better photos on Instagram, that helps, if your entire platform you’re hoping to build as an author is on Instagram, you might want to get a nice camera to take some photos. But if it’s part of your strategy of continuing to connect with your following that you already have, it can be one other way which you enter their life. I’ve had followers who, and this is the reason that I’ve stepped up my platform, really, because I’ve had followers who said, “your writing hit me right where I was today.” And so to be able to enter their lives in a moment they needed, right then, was very important. So I tend to kind of break it down into categories, which makes it less overwhelming.
So in particular, in the therapy and devotional space, a lot of folks will post quotations. So you don’t even have to be taking photos, you literally can create a quote, quotation, and one of these free design tools, like Canva, is a great source for that, like a colored background with script. And I think that is another way that writers are kind of incorporating their writing and making it visual. The other thing is, there are lots of poets on there who will just post their short poems in the same way. And so I think there are ways to be creative with the platform where you don’t have to be a visual artist, to make it interesting to people, or for them to want to follow you.
Becky: That’s so helpful, Liz, and I appreciate you drawing out some of those key ideas. For those who might want to get started with Instagram as a result of hearing what we’re talking about today. What’s the best way to start? You mentioned the idea of having categories in mind and authors might choose to incorporate some quotations that they can make easily in Canva. You also talked about how you post your family, your writing work, and food. For me, I post a lot on my Instagram about running, my company, and books that we’re promoting. I used to do a lot of coffee posts. To be honest, I feel like those get a lot of traction. Everybody loves coffee!
How can an author get started?
Becky: In terms of an author listening and wondering even where to begin, how do you come up with the idea for that first post, or what should you do first?
Liz: I mean, I would say, you know, first you need an Instagram account in the first place, right? And that should be your name. I mean, it should be across all your platforms. People should be able to find you easily, right? Mine is Liz Charlotte Grant, that’s it. So nothing too crazy. If you have a developed brand for yourself that’s kind of adjacent, it could be that as well.
I would say also, one of the ways to deal with that platform overwhelm is just to start. Just try it, it doesn’t have to be perfect, or exactly how it will be in a year, right? You can try an experiment, and just see what works. I think just getting on the platform is the main thing. I also encourage folks to get on the platform to just view what other people are doing. I think that’s a good starting place. If someone has never used Instagram before, just log on to the app, and just see what people are doing. I think sometimes, it just helps to sit and look and gather some inspiration that way.
Becky: So potentially, to think about other authors who are in your niche, competitors, or colleagues and see what they’re doing on Instagram?
Liz: Absolutely, absolutely. Then you can start to kind of study and see what is attractive to you. That’s usually a pretty good indicator of something that you could kind of pursue doing for yourself, because, listen, none of us are going to be doing the social media stuff, consistently, if we don’t like what we’re doing. So it really has to kind of come out of a natural outgrowth of interests you already have, otherwise you’re not going to spend any time doing it.
Recommendations to increase your Instagram following?
Becky: That’s a really helpful suggestion. So how about for those authors who might be listening who are already using Instagram? They’re nodding along as you talk about the types of posts to do. What about ideas for growth? You know, how does someone go from a few hundred followers to a few thousand followers?
- I think you really have to continue to build a consistent brand. I’m certain that this is something that you guys talk about a lot – your brand is about consistency of message tone. And it’s that look and feel that people can come to expect. I think as you kind of continue to develop your particular brand, you’re going to know, this is what my Instagram account is about, right? Your Instagram account is maybe about therapy, gardening, and running. Or maybe it’s about health and well being, including the spiritual life, right? So you’re going to, over time, continue to hone that message to make it consistent. And then once you’ve done that, your account will become more and more attractive over time to people.
- As far as increasing the number of followers, I would say the first thing I tell people is really to switch to a business account or a creator account. You can do that in your settings. What that does for you is it gives you insight into the type of people who are following you, the time of day that they’re engaging with your content, the demographics, where they’re located in the country or the world, whether they’re men or women, that kind of thing. That kind of information is very helpful to you to figure out, okay, who is engaging with this? When are they engaging with it? How many are engaging, that gives you really useful information to continue growing your platform, right? If you find, say you start posting pictures of food, and your dog, and your writing, right? Now, all of a sudden, you can look over time in your insights to see, okay, which of those categories are really resonating with your readers, all of a sudden, you have this really data driven insight into your audience. And you get to kind of go into that and say, okay, I see that this thing is really resonating, well I’m going to just post more of that, that’s going to be a tool to help you continue to grow your following.
- I would also say, making a plan to post consistently is probably the best thing you can do. To continue to get your work seen by people so that they become loyal followers. Once you have those loyal followers, they’re going to share your account organically. You’re not going to have to do anything special to attract more people because they’re going to be saying, “Hey, did you see this I just love this post from this author I follow.” And if you are commenting back to your followers, that’s gonna feel really great to them. They’re gonna feel like this author is accessible to me, they care about me. Hopefully you do care about them, so that’s a genuine message you’re sending and that’s something people love. There’s a lot of other ways, but I would say those are kind of the keys.
- One other thing that was helpful for me and growing my platform was to use hashtags. Which is sort of like slapping a genre label on your book at the bookstore, right? Like, which shelf does this post belong in? And that’s how I tend to think of it. One of the tools that Instagram has given for growth is once, if you have active engagement, you can actually get into the top posts category in a particular hashtag. When you type in a hashtag, it actually pops up on Instagram to tell you how popular that one is, it has “this many posts.” I’m going to bet for some of us, if a particular hashtag has, say 5000 posts, you’re gonna get some more traction there, and maybe get into that top post spot where more people can see you if they click on that hashtag. Whereas if you picked a hashtag that has a million posts, it’s unlikely that you will get into that top post spot, right? So that’s another method I use.
- Lastly, I will occasionally promote my posts. You’re gonna pay money to do some marketing at some point, right? So for myself, I have a really small budget, I don’t spend over 20 bucks monthly promoting posts on Instagram, but every so often, if one seems to be getting traction, I will promote that post and just see what kind of insights that gives me, and usually I can reach new followers that way as well.
Is the follower to following ratio important?
Becky: That’s really helpful. So I have kind of a strange question. One of the things I noticed when I looked at your profile is that you are following fewer people than are following you. You have about 4,100 followers and you’re following a little over 1000, if I recall. I know back in the early days, when I was growing my Twitter account, the wisdom at the time was always make sure you are following fewer people than are following you. Because if you follow a whole lot of people, it’s gonna look like you’re just trying to game the system or gain followers, do you think that translates in Instagram? I’m following more people than are following me because I love following people. I see a post that’s interesting, and I don’t pay any attention at all, I just follow whomever I want to follow without watching that ratio. So talk to us a little bit about the ratio on Instagram and how to manage that.
Liz: I think the ratio thing is something to keep in mind. But if you’re posting real stuff, that’s interesting, I don’t think people are going to care. I follow and unfollow people frequently, all the time and the reason is, because I’m interested in their content. I will also follow someone to kind of give them a personal invitation to view my profile in the case that they would like it. I don’t think it’s a strange thing but some people might see that as weird, the ratio that you’re following and unfollowing. If you see the following number creeping up, maybe it’s time to kind of go through and trim a bit. But I don’t think that’s something people are thinking about. That’s just my opinion, though. I think that’s one of those things people have different feelings about it. But I’m kind of like, you know what, it’s for fun. You don’t lose anything by having a high follower count, or high following count. In fact, you get to gain a lot from seeing a lot of different people and understanding people kind of in your sphere. So I think it’s fun.
Becky: Thank you so much. Well, I know that I have already taken away a few action items from today’s conversation. But what we always do at this point in the podcast is we give people some action steps that they can implement today. Liz, could you recommend one or two action steps that people can take as a result of listening to today’s podcast?
- I would say first, create an account. For those who have an account, I would shift your account right now from personal to either business or creator, there’s not a huge difference between the two. But that will open up all of those insights about your audience for you and it will give you the ability to promote posts, like we talked about. It will give you so much more information about your audience, which I think will be helpful moving forward.
- Then the other thing would be to just look at your account, try to look at it from an outsider’s perspective, how does your profile photo look? Do you look inviting in that photo? Is your general profile attractive when someone initially looks? What kind of content are you drawn to creating? What have you written about? And that will give you a lot of insight into what you as a creator would like to do in the future on Instagram as well to make a good plan to keep growing.
- Sign up for Liz’s Email Newsletter.
- Learn more about Liz’s Instagram 101 course here.
- Follow Liz on Instagram and Facebook.
If you found value in today’s episode, we hope you’ll take a moment to share it with someone else who might benefit from it. If you have any questions or topics you’d like us to cover, please email Becky Robinson here.
I am the founder/CEO of the Weaving Influence team, the author of Reach: Creating the Biggest Possible Audience for Your Message, Book, or Cause, and the host of the Book Marketing Action Podcast. I’m a wife and mom of three kids, and I enjoy running, reading, writing, coffee, and dark chocolate.