To be honest, I had not heard of Sawyer Hartman before this video came across my Facebook feed today, as suggested by my friend Casey MacCallister. But, as a travel photographer who feels my Instagram profile has some halfway interesting photos from over 30 countries, I am often baffled at how my growth is as slow as Ja Rule putting together a music festival. I only gain a couple followers a day, and my like totals usually fall between 250 and 400 per photo. Now, I am not someone who bases their whole life off of how many likes my photos get, but travel photography is my job so obviously being seen by as many eyes as possible is beneficial for my business. So I was intrigued to see what Hartman says can be changed to help ramp up some engagement on both my Instagram, as well as the Resource Travel account.
Sawyer uses his impressive follower count of 756k followers as his claim that he knows a thing or two about growing an account. He is the first to admit that he has been playing the IG game for a long time though, and it was much easier to be found before Instagram got rid of the “Explore” page, which he often landed on in those early days. So with Instagram’s ever changing algorithm, Hartman suggests following five guidelines to grow your audience.
Step one, which Hartman calls “Finding your Flow”, is broken down into three sections. Feed consistency, feed style, and color theme.
He brings up a great point here, which is people aren’t following you based off of one photo. But rather, they click onto your profile to follow you, but if what they see isn’t a nice “flow”, they may leave your profile without clicking that coveted “follow” button. I will let Hartman’s video describe in detail how to implement these three sections, but for the most part, he is spot on. Although, with Style, I do feel like his feed overall does jump around alot, from aerial to epic adventure photos to kissing on the beach. Now, they are all beautiful photos, and I only bring this up because Casey McCallister says this is one of the problems with my feed, but I really don’t know how to get around it, since I, like Hartman, just photographs ‘everything that is happening around me.’ So I am left still not knowing whether my feed style of photography is consistent enough.
Lastly, in this section, Hartman discusses the color theme, which, makes more sense the more I think about it. The more consistent your colors, the more eye-catching and appealing your feed is, which may cause some people to click that follow button right away. He suggests having a couple of Lightroom presets that you can use over and over again to achieve this style, and of course, he just happens to have some for sale! But hey, so do we!
Now, step two is huge, according to Hartman, and we agree. Join the community! And do it without bots. He says to engage more, first and foremost with smart comments. And I couldn’t agree more. No more emoji-only comments. Say something ABOUT THE PHOTO ITSELF so people know you aren’t a bot, and show them that you genuinely have an interest in your photos. Case in point, someone commented on one of my recent photos saying “Check out my stuff.” He didn’t even give me a generic compliment on the photo, just went straight into the begging for attention. That is a surefire way to get someone to NOT look at your profile. So Hartman is dead on with this. The other two points of step two fall in line with the first. Start a dialog and interact and inspire.
Now, step three, ‘Find your voice’ is tricky. Hartman talks about crafting a killer caption, and not flooding your caption with hashtags. While I wholeheartedly agree with telling a story with my captions, I have also been forced to include my hashtags in my caption, as I am being shadowbanned if I include them in my first comment, as I discovered on the shadow ban test. I have experimented with not including hashtags at all, and my engagement dropped even further. So, at this stage, I am kind of at a loss for what to do, but I do think telling longer, more inspiring stories is a good start.
Step four, “Aspire to Inspire” also has a couple of bullet points. Hartman suggests looking at things differently (taking a different composition on the same old locations). He also suggests challenging yourself by putting on a prime lens all day and sticking with it. I have been teaching this to my workshop teams with The Giving Lens for years. I fully agree that limiting your gear can force you to think differently and be more creative. Hartman also mentions how not being able to travel every week shouldn’t hold you back, and you need to learn how to shoot what’s around you. And lastly, it’s ok to fail, as long as you are trying.
The final step is probably the most important. “Don’t Get Distracted” He poses an important question. “Are you going to be the once a week, yet its an epic photo type poster, or make sure to post everyday, at the highest quality possible” He has followed the path of the latter, but he says you can’t flip flop between the two, which is something I am guilty of.
He also implores you to not get down by having ‘viewer envy.’ As someone with major FOMO complex, I can relate to this. Thinking about what you are missing out on causes you to the beauty and creativity that is right in front of you. Hartman wraps up with two very powerful tips that speak for themselves. “Take Risks” and “Adapt or Die”
So, all in all, I did learn something from Hartman’s video. I already knew some of it…in the back of my mind at least. But this is an important reminder that if you want to use Instagram as a marketing vessel, you do have to think and calculate your moves.