“The algorithm changed. The platform grew. What used to work, no longer does. And as an author looking to connect with readers, bookstagrammers, and other writers, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the trends.”
I’m not an expert. And let’s be real, the Instagram platform changes so frequently that anyone claiming to hold the “expert” title is likely full of bologna. That said though, I am an active daily user of Instagram and have been for about three years. I started my author journey writing in contemporary romance back in 2020 (but my day job literally pays me to post on Instagram for a state university).
When I first started using the platform for author marketing and networking, a single pretty image and a well written caption did the trick. Then Instagram changed and we all needed a hashtag strategy, multiple staged photos for a carousel, endless videos for reels, and Canva to make everything appear professional and polished.
The algorithm changed. The platform grew. What used to work, no longer does. And as an author looking to connect with readers, bookstagrammers, and other writers, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the trends (let alone… still continue to write books!)
As I write this in June 2023, these are my “current” top ten tips to level up your author presence on Instagram:
Develop a hashtag strategy. Instagram allows you to include up to 30 hashtags in a single post—but you don’t want to do that. Using endless hashtags will not get you more views. In fact, it’ll achieve the opposite effect and make your posts appear as spam. I stick with about 9 hashtags per post and follow this formula: 3 hashtags that are consistent staples for all content (i.e. #julienavickas #inkspellpublishing #tradingheartbeatstrilogy); 3 hashtags that will help me attract the right viewer for my books (#romancenovels #ireadromance #readersofinstagram); and 3 hashtags that can sometimes be a shot in the dark, but apply to the specific post’s content (#emotionaljourney #shamelessplug #lovestory)
Post at 3pm CST. I got this tip from social media sensation, Jason Gryniewicz, professionally known as Daily Dose of Internet. He spoke at a social media conference I attended and pointed out that 3pm CST allows for the most amount of global social media users to be awake and active in their time zone. He has over 15 million subscribers on YouTube, so I trust his advice!
Get Canva Pro (if you’re targeting Millennials). It’s all over TikTok and there are countless articles like this one pointing out the differences between Millennials and Gen Z on social media. Millennials (arguably anyone born between 1981-1996) grew up posing in staged group photos and propping a signature hand on the hip. We (and I include myself in this with a birth year of 1986) look for staged images on social media feeds because it’s what we grew up with. Enter Canva Pro, a design tool that brings every image to the next level and will cater to any Millennial eye. If your target market is Gen Z though (born between 1997 and 2012), lean into the candid photos and ditch the templates.
Prioritize reels over images. This one is definitely not a secret. Instagram rewards users for posting reels. When reels were first introduced on the platform, Instagram was working to directly compete with YouTube. But now, even years after reels have been introduced, the trend remains. Videos just perform better. I recommend posting three reels for every one still image.
Do not repurpose TikToks as reels. There’s a strong chance that if you’re an Instagram user, you’re also a TikTok user. And TikTok has made it super easy to cross post videos with the Instagram platform. But don’t be fooled. While it will save you time, you will not be rewarded for reposting a TikTok on the Instagram platform. Speaking from personal experimentation, use each platform individually to create and post video content. It will take you more time, but you will get more views and engagement.
Share three types of consistent content. Branding matters. Your Instagram grid matters. From a marketing perspective, viewers want to know exactly what they’ll get when visiting a profile. And that’s why I always recommend that authors focus each post on consistent content. For example, you’ll find that all of my posts fall into three general categories: book promotion, author life, and writing education/advice. I rotate, but always keep the branding and messaging consistent.
Maximize branding. As I alluded to above, your content matters, but so does the branding. Consistency is key. Invest in your online platform and have professional images taken. Then, identify colors, themes, and consistent fonts. Every post should build off the last.
Use stories. Stories are a fantastic way to interact with others. I heard this advice several years ago from another author and I initially blew it off thinking, “Stories are only temporary. Why invest my time in something that will disappear?” Let me tell you, I was so wrong. Stories are a great way to poll readers, share live links, ask questions, etc. You can’t get that by simply posting.
Get a Linktree. Instagram only allows for one link in a bio, which isn’t fabulous. However, Linktree is a great tool to work around this platform’s shortcomings. Linktree allows you to customize a list of clickable links in a single place. For my author needs, this tool makes it easy for viewers to buy my books with a single tap of the finger… or visit my website, or blog, etc.
Get the most out of your bio. If you have a personal account on Instagram, swap it over to a business or creator account. This quick shift will allow you to identify yourself as an author right in your bio. Make it easy for viewers to know exactly who you are and what you’re about. Additionally, include relevant hashtags in your bio. All hashtags are searchable, so take advantage!
Instagram is a great place for author promotion and networking, but it takes time to learn the platform. To all my author friends using Instagram as a promotional tool, good luck—and leave a comment if you have more to add to this list of top tips!