I Posted a Photo Every Day for One Month on Instagram and This Is What Happened

I Posted a Photo Every Day for One Month on Instagram and This Is What Happened

Gaining followers on social media can be an entire business in itself with numerous guidelines to optimize your chances of being noticed. One of those rules is to post steadily with constant content. So what happens when you post consistently for a month? I tried it and here are the results. 

After posting the results I got from spending $50 on Instagram, I decided my next test would be to post far more consistently than I ever had in the past. My article last week touched on how curating your profile is one of the more important rules to follow in the world of social media. If you read that article then you would know that I dislike conforming to just one style. With that said I am even worse at following the rule to post often, sometimes going months without posting. I could likely write an entire thesis on personally struggling with social media but for the past month, I pushed myself to follow many of the guidelines set out to gain followers. Here’s what I tried to follow and I’ll go into more detail for each of these throughout the article:

  1. Curate Posts - Edit every photo to follow a certain look and theme.
  2. Post Often - Post at 2:00 PM EST every day.
  3. Engaging Captions - I didn’t write long winded inspirational quotes for every photo, but I did try to write engaging captions.
  4. Portrait Orientation - More than 75% of the photos were designed to take up the maximum amount of screen real estate.
  5. Hashtags - The first 14 days I used less than six tags per post, with the latter half using close to the max amount, 27+; more on this below.
  6. Stories - I only posted seven stories, mostly during the first 15 days.
  7. Instagram Daily - Used and interacted on Instagram at least three times a day but nothing excessive. 

Something to keep in mind is that these “rules” I keep mentioning are all basically guesswork on maximizing your social media footprint. You’ll find out in this post that some advice could even be wrong, but I did try my best to follow the rules that made sense to me.

Curate

For this experiment I wanted all 30 photos to follow the same style but I wanted to try to find something unique. Looking through my catalog I stumbled upon a photo I took in Arches National Park earlier this year and started to experiment with different tones eventually resulting in this:

first edit that inspired the editing style in this experiement

I secretly love this photo. Don't tell anyone!

I realize that this style isn’t for everyone and I can admit it might not be a photo you’d find in my landscape portfolio. A lesson I’ve learned is to remember that the content I’m posting to social media doesn’t have to be strictly portfolio quality. Not only does this enable me to branch out into other aesthetics like the above photo, it also gives me more content to work with. Instead of only posting the absolute best shot that I spent hours in photoshop perfecting, I can post several shots that I captured during that day regardless of conditions. 

Once I had the editing style locked in, I made a preset in Lightroom based on my original photo and started applying it to photos from my recent trips. Iceland certainly had the best results because this stylization really stands out during overcast/rainy conditions which are basically the definitions of their weather. I also prioritized photos that were already portrait oriented or could be cropped for portrait. As much as I hate this rule being a landscape photographer, it really does matter for Instagram. I sized all portrait photos to a 4:5 ratio to take up the maximum amount of screen space on someone’s feed.

cropping photo for Instagram visibility

Sometimes it hurts to crop our photos into something we typically wouldn't

After several days of culling and editing, I had narrowed down my selections to roughly 50 photos. I exported all of the photos into a folder and started moving them around to create a mock-up of what my feed would appear like. You’ll notice some photos are very similar but as long as I posted them at least a week apart it created enough variation to go unnoticed. 

windows folder organizing photos for Instagram

Another thing to notice is that I organized the photos based on the amount of color in each image. Creating an end result that has the images with the most amount of color on the right side of my feed and the least amount of color on the left side of my feed. Something to think about when planning out how you want your profile to look. 

There are apps out there to help you organize your Instagram feed and test what it will look like with certain images. Considering I was doing most of the work from a computer instead of a phone, I manually organized the photos by moving them around and numbering them when I was finished arranging the photos. 

Posting Daily

Now that we have our style and curation done, it’s time to schedule the posts. Up until this point my method for doing this was like many others; send the photo to my phone and create a post through the Instagram app. I wanted to try and streamline the process for this experiment considering I didn’t want to miss a single day and try to post at 2:00 PM EST every day. To do this I started using Iconosquare:

Iconosquare Scheduler for Instagram

Iconosquare Scheduler

Recently Instagram changed the API to allow apps to publish automatically which was an absolute dream for this project. The previous method was to schedule posts using the exact same interface except when it came time to post your photo, it was just a reminder. You still had to publish the image to Instagram yourself and copy the caption manually. This would have conflicted with my goal to post at 2:00 PM sharp every day considering some days I was simply too busy to do it myself. 

Iconosquare Preview for Instagram

Another big plus to using a scheduler is that you can see a preview of what your feed will look like based on your scheduled content. I didn’t utilize this much because I had already organized the photos before scheduling them, but I could easily see this saving a lot of time in the future. I can confidently say that I posted every single day for 30 days straight without any interruption. There was one day that my photo got posted an hour late because of some permission issue update through Instagram, but that shouldn't matter for our data.

Hashtags

The first half of this experiment, 14 days to be exact, I followed a rule to only use ~5 hashtags per post so that your photo doesn’t get “shadow banned.” Midway through this experiment, Instagram announced that shadowbanning is a myth and that it doesn’t hide content for posting too many hashtags. Thus for the latter half of the experiment, I started using the same 27 hashtags for each post with the addition of one or two location tags based on the photo. You’ll find in the results that it didn’t really matter how many I used. 

Iconosquare hashtags for Instagram

Save your favorite hashtag lists

Another benefit of using a service to schedule and organize your post is their built-in hashtags manager. Previously I had hashtags saved in my notes app on my phone, but using this made it much easier when scheduling a post. 

Engaging Posts & Being Active

I didn’t go overboard by writing life inspiring captions like many large Instagrammers do. I did try to write somewhat engaging captions in most posts. I also included short (less than three words) titles to each photo. Along with that, I did post a few stories of some of the photos but honestly, I’ll admit I didn’t put too much effort into my stories. I also don’t recommend only posting stories that say “New post!” I did this and don’t think it had any results. My personal opinion is that you can publish stories to let your readers know you made a new post as long as you are surrounding those stories with other content. The truth is I’m bad when it comes to stories. My daily life is currently sweating in Florida heat and working in an office editing video - not a lot of excitement. That said, I want to start getting more creative with stories in the future, maybe that’ll be the next long experiment?

Another thing I tried to do was be active on Instagram a few times a day. I tend to notice my posts get seen more when I actively use instagram, even if it’s simply scrolling and liking a few photos throughout the day. I also tried to reply to any comment on a photo and engage whenever possible.

Final Results

Now that I have explained all the guidelines I followed it’s time for what you are likely reading this article for, the results. Here are the important numbers I had before starting this adventure:

  • 5,871 Followers
  • 17 Posts in 2018
  • 5,307 Likes in 2018

Like I said in the beginning, I haven’t posted much at all this year. My follower count continually drops when not posting, which is expected. There was a slight bump in follower count earlier this year when I had a photo get shared by REI, something I’ll touch on another time. Here are the results:

the finals results after posting for 30 days straight

The Finals Results!

As of writing this post I have gained 107 followers. You’ll notice a 275% increase is media posted, that’s how little I had been posting prior to running this test. Also be aware that the “likes received” -31.2% isn’t accurate because the comparison data from last month is skewed from when I sponsored two posts on Instagram

Follower Growth Breakdown

Follower Growth Breakdown

The blue squares highlight exact dates that Fstoppers' Instagram shared photos of mine. This obviously impacted my follower growth for that day and should be clearly known that those spikes are likely caused by that. I marked one other section in green to indicate when this article went live on Fstoppers, it caused a slight increase in follower growth which is a little curious because I don’t tend to gain many followers from article post but I did with that one. I felt it was important to include that information for transparency sake and possible explanation for those small increases.

Likes Engagement Breakdown

Likes/Engagement Breakdown

There is a lot to interpret from these results. Clearly, it looks like the engagement rate was higher in the beginning of the 30 day period than at the end, but the question is why? It could be because of how often I was posting. I noticed my engagement on posts previous starting this experiment was typically higher per post, however, I believe that was simply due to Instagram’s algorithm prioritizing my content because I hadn’t posted in awhile. Let’s compare stats from a photo I posted earlier this year with a photo in this experiment to find out:

comparison for insights on Instagram

Comparing Posts (left is from April, right is during this test)

I tried selecting two average photos to compare. Almost every photo posted from earlier this year has higher engagement than the photos from the last 30 days. It’s very likely it could be that the photos just are not as engaging or styled to please my followers. There was also a large change in Instagram’s algorithm before starting this endeavor. I personally suspect it has more to do with posting every single day resulting in overloading my followers. I think posting every two to three days might be ideal for my content and current following.

Engagement Breakdown With Hashtag Data

Engagement Breakdown With Hashtag Data

One other thing to consider is the point where I started using more hashtags per post. It’s possible that using more hashtags was negatively affecting the reach of my posts but I can’t conclude that from this minimal amount of data. I will admit that adding more hashtags got more “fake” followers circulating on my account. I purposely tried to look at every single follower I gained throughout this period to see if they were real or just someone trying to follow/unfollow. I noticed after going from five to 25+ hashtags that I got an increase in these type of followers. Most importantly it felt like hashtags really weren't doing much for my photos at all. The impression numbers were extremely low. If you look at the photo in the comparison above it shows just 15 people saw the post via hashtags. It's not even that much higher for the older photo in that comparison. On top of that, it generally feels like the only people that find my profile via hashtags are ones looking to try and follow/unfollow people which is useless.

Good vs Bad?

This is a comparison of the most engaged and least engaged media I posted, these were also the most and least liked photos throughout the period. Clearly, people seem to like roads and flowing water rather than flat subtle images. I thought I’d share this because it does show that interesting content does matter. When I was editing pictures for this project I purposely picked a variety of images to get a sense of what people liked and didn't like from these results.

Conclusion

Was it worth it? Posting every day was a lot of work if I’m being honest. That said, I think if I posted three to four times per week it wouldn’t be nearly as much work and slightly less stressful. I can say that simply posting content consistently will net you a few followers here and there. It certainly isn’t going to make you Instagram famous overnight but it does increase your exposure.

So what does this all mean? At the end of the day, content is king. Ultimately I think the absolute best thing you can do is make sure your content is decent and you post consistently. Your photos don’t need to be world class, look at the majority of Instagrammers with over 100k followers for proof of that. You just need to post on a consistent basis and have decent content. It won’t happen overnight or even within a few months. It takes a lot of work and dedication to do which is something I failed to realize in the beginning and still struggle with to this very day. 

What do you think? Did I gain more or less followers than you expected? Do you care at all about followers in the first place? Would love to hear any opinions in the comments. I spent quite a lot of time putting this together and feel like I learned a great deal. I hope you did as well.


 

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68 Comments

Previous comments

I'm pretty certain that lot of "follower" counts on Instagram are fake: the results of hijacked accounts made to "follow" people in which they have absolutely no interest. I've had several Instagram accounts and each was somehow hacked to make them follow thousands upon thousands of accounts that I would never actually have followed. Typically those accounts had many thousands of followers, sometimes 50K, 100K or more. So if my own accounts were (all) hacked to follow them, now many other accounts were hacked to follow them too? My guess is quite a lot. Especially because the accounts that I was fake-following were often not that interesting and not of high quality. Some where just repulsive. Very likely they were paying someone to get them more "followers" — and the hacking of accounts is how that is accomplished. it's a shame.

Maximilian Sulzer's picture

Hi Alex, very interesting experiment.
That software you used for posting, is it free? I couldn't really get that from the website.

Regarding hashtags: How else would you reach and gain new followers?

Alex Armitage's picture

Max,

They have a free trial, I'm not quite sure if they just have a free account. Just google Instagram scheduler and see if you can find one you like. As for hashtags, that's a whole other ballgame I have to tackle. I want to try and find better tags for my work instead of using generic ones. Certainly something I need to sit down and research more.

John Dawson's picture

I appreciate the time and effort that went into the experiment and in posting the results in such a comprehensive way. However, I have to ask, why do we photographers care about amassing IG followers? Why would we spend that much time and effort on something that has really no measurable impact on revenue? I get that it's exposure, but the customer acquisition cost would very likely be horrendous.

Just my $0.02,
John

Alex Armitage's picture

John, for me personally it results in possible contacts, jobs, and opportunities. Making money shooting landscapes is difficult and there are only a small amount of avenues to take to getting to that point. One certainly could involve Instagram. I'm trying to work in other communities and see if that does anything but for now Instagram just has so many active users that it's hard to compete.

John Dawson's picture

Understood, thanks for the thoughtful reply.

Jordan McChesney's picture

Very interesting experiment. There are so many horrible YouTube videos out there talking about how to get followers and their advice is just like "get noticed, that will help you grow!". I've only been on IG for just over a year, and I've already learned that follower counts don't accurately reflect the quality of the work. I've been stuck at around 450 followers since May. (that's right, only 450 followers in a year and a half), and yet I see other people taking iPhone pictures of blurry flowers who have over 5k. Furthermore, of my 450 followers, only one of them comments on my photos and interacts with me, so the whole "building connections" thing isn't going well.

IG followers are nice, but it's not a great way to measure one's skill. 450 followers doesn't make you a bad photographer, 450,000 doesn't make you a good one.

I really to appreciate the effort put into your research, it was probably the best real world example I've seen.

Romain Curutchet's picture

Here's my own experience with Instagram since starting my account (broography@) a year ago:
- Initial engagement (up until about 7000 followers) was excellent. Then after that it started dropping. We're now at 11k followers and engagement is hard.
- Using hashtags with over 500k posts is useless. You get drowned out after one minute.
- For the last 2 posts I posted, I intentionally went on most of the smaller (<500k posts) hashtags I used and liked / commented on a lot of the posts on there. My photos trended in the Top posts for a few hours, then just went down the grid.
- When I got to 10k followers, I switched to a business profile so I could see the analytics. Again, the quality of the photo or hashtags seem to have little effect: most of my photo got less than 4% reach from Hashtags, with one getting 35% (miraculously!). More IMPORTANTLY, Instagram started shadow banning my account after a week of switching to a Business profile. A year ago, I had read a lot of people advising against setting up a business account, as Instagram would shadowban the account to entice the owners to pay for ads... And it turned out to be true! My posts weren't visible on any hashtags I was using (even tiny ones). AS SOON AS I switched back to a Personal profile, my photos re-appeared.

So I would concur with the conclusion that Instagram is skewing visibility towards big brands and paying customers.