Data tells us that colorful photos, particularly those predominantly washed in blue, get the most likes on Instagram. But it takes more than a saturation slider to attract, and engage, a dedicated following on one of the world's most popular photo-sharing platforms. So we turned to some of the people who do Instagram best — fashion editors like Harper's Bazaar's Laura Brown, Refinery29's Christene Barberich and InStyle's Danielle Prescod — as well as a handful of other industry adepts to learn their secrets for developing Instagram accounts worthy of a follow. Read on for their tips.
Laura Brown, executive editor, Harper's Bazaar
If you want to build a real presence on Instagram, you must first and foremost "be yourself," says Laura Brown, whose Instagram account is so amusing and self-deprecating you can't help but forgive her enviable life and career. "You can really tell when someone is forcing an identity." She also advises would-be Insta celebs to "post regularly, so you build a rhythm" and to "think like an editor" – i.e., avoid posting too many photos of the same things or all at once. "I am conscious of having a certain pacing and tone to my posts — if I post two pictures of myself in a day, I steer away from 'me' for the next couple days," she says. And take it easy on the hashtags. "To quote a joke I heard: the amount of hashtags in an Insta equals the amount of medication the poster should be on."
Christene Barberich, co-founder and global editor-in-chief, Refinery29
I'll admit, I scroll through Christene Barberich's Instagram a couple of times a week — it's a never-ending fount of styling inspiration and advice. Like Brown, Barberich emphasizes consistency: "From how you pace your posting to the general aesthetic 'theme' of your stream, showing consistency helps followers to get a sense of who you are and really get connected to your point of view. I will admit, it took about a year for me to find my groove on Instagram, but after paying close attention to what those very early followers were engaging with and responding to the most, I discovered some patterns that really spoke to my voice and what I love." Because most of her followers are on the East Coast, she tends to post right before or after typical work hours, and before they go to bed around 10 or 11 p.m.
Craig Arend, freelance fashion consultant and photographer
If you the follow the @nytimesfashion account, you're already familiar with Craig Arend's work — he's one of the Times's regular street style photographers, capturing the best of fashion week in both New York and Europe. Arend is cooly realistic about what it takes to build a following on Instagram: If you want it to grow, "get shout-outs from accounts with larger followings," he says. "Do real-life networking with people with larger accounts. People like to shout out friends, especially since fashion is so tribal." He also suggests signing up for Iconsquare.com's analytics service for $2.43/month, which identifies the best times to post on your particular account. And never buy followers, commenters or likes — it won't work out in the end, especially if you try to monetize your feed, he says.
Laurel Pantin, senior fashion editor, Sweet
The 20,000+ Instagram followers of Laurel Pantin, former style editor of Lucky magazine, were able to escape to South Africa, and then to London, via Pantin's feed over the past year. Now she's back in New York, treating them to photos of her outfits, Dolly Parton throwbacks and pizza-fueled work sessions in the Hearst Tower. Echoing suggestions made by Brown and Barberich, Pantin advises users to be consistent, both in the type of content they're posting and when. "It's good for your followers to know what they can expect from you, rather than being all over the place, and that they can expect regular updates," she explains. And don't be intimidated by all the flawlessly executed photos in your feed. "I think people respond well to photos and captions that don't feel too staged or forced," she says. "Be yourself and don't try too hard to have everything look perfect, or to be perfect. There are so many people out there who nail 'perfect'; it's best to just be your wonderful, weird self."
John Jannuzzi, freelance writer
If you want to know what a consistently solid Instagram feed looks like, study that of former GQ editor John Jannuzzi, whose artfully shot and cheekily captioned posts could surely be recognized by his 38,000 followers even without his name attached. His advice to would-be aficionados is simple: post good photos. "There's so much crap out there, and Instagram is pretty much the home of nice-looking social content," he says. "When somebody clicks to your profile because you got tagged somewhere, or somebody said to check it out, you just want to make the case that you're going to give them something nice in the feed." Don't be the person in the comments begging for a follow, he adds — "it's really weird" — and do link to your Instagram account from all your other social profiles (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Like several others, Jannuzzi has most success posting in the mornings; he's up earlier than most of America, and his followers see his posts when they check Instagram first thing.
Chriselle Lim, stylist and fashion blogger
Chriselle Lim, founder of the popular blog and YouTube series "The Chriselle Factor," has one of those utterly perfect-looking Instagram accounts. Not surprisingly, she's very strategic about it. For those who want to build their Instagram following, she suggests collaborating with others also looking to build their following and cross-promote each other; to use relevant hashtags and participate in trending topics; to learn to take good photos; and to edit those photos in a consistent manner. As for when to post, Lim says she's had particular success with Monday morning photos of herself in bed or with coffee. "Everyone has a love/hate relationship with Mondays, right?"
Kristie Dash, digital beauty editor, Allure
"Find your voice, stick to it and be patient — the followers will come." So says Kristie Dash, whose quirky photos and funny captions (and frequent snatches of her beautiful long hair) first caught our attention when she worked as Eva Chen's assistant at Lucky. "Think about it this way: if you go down the rabbit hole of Instagram stalking and discover a new person that seems worthy of your follow, what is it about that account that makes you say yes? For me, if the person or brand has a clear voice that seems relevant to my interests and the photos are interesting, I'll follow. There's no complex algorithm." Sound advice. Dash also recommends posting at least once a day, if not two or three times. "The more you post, the more chances you'll relate to a potential follower." Short, sweet and humorous captions work best — "likely because people are lazy and don’t want to read paragraphs"— but there are certainly exceptions to the rule.
Scott Lipps, founder and president, One Management
It's hard to decide what's best about Scott Lipps's Instagram feed: the shots of magical New York City streets (with plenty of street art in the mix) or the beautiful models signed to his agency, One Management, which together have attracted more than 95,000 followers to date. Lipps says he's found success posting "a mixture of different genres on my page," spanning travel to food to the aforementioned models, which have the potential to interest a wide range of followers. And, if you can get them, he suggests posting behind-the-scenes photos of people "the public doesn't always have access to." Interestingly, he says that images don't need to be original to get lots of likes; his followers often respond well to inspiring photos of people and places he re-posts from other feeds.
Bridget Malcolm, model
With looks like Bridget Malcolm's (pictured above left), it's little wonder the Australian model, who made headlines after walking the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show in November, has nearly 200,000 followers on Instagram. She advises users to "post regularly," to "make sure your photos appeal to your target demographic" and to "try to get in with people or brands who have large followings." Use hashtags, but not too many. Malcolm says she gets some of her best responses from photos that are a little more candid. "People like to get glimpses of your human side — even if they have filters! That's the heart of social media to me."
Danielle Prescod, accessories editor, InStyle
"I have actually never tried to grow my Instagram following," says Danielle Prescod — hard to believe, given her more than 18,000 followers, but which she swears is true. "I will say though, that I notice that every time I am hanging out with someone famous, I get a lot more followers. So I guess if you want to grow your following, you need some famous friends." One of Prescod's famous friends is the dancer Maddie Ziegler, who taught Prescod that shorter captions — even those with just two or three words — are best.
What gets the double taps?
Seven of our subjects describe the photos that get the most likes.
Laura Brown: Behind-the-scenes photos of Harper's Bazaar cover shoots, retro movie images and jokes.
Christene Barberich: Vintage finds, personal stories.
Craig Arend: Street style, especially detail shots.
Chriselle Lim: Glamour, personal life, her daughter.
John Jannuzzi: Dogs and cookies. Not runway photos.
Kristie Dash: Flowers, nail art and dogs.
Danielle Prescod: Outfit photos, famous people.
What about video?
Nearly everyone we surveyed for this story said they don't do much with Instagram video, generally citing a lack of personal skills as well as follower engagement with the format. Lim, who does have success with video, finds that hers receive fewer likes than her photos but more engagement. "For me, more authentic and 'real' types of content do better on video than highly stylized and produced ones." Pantin, meanwhile, will occasionally post what she describes as "little hyperlapse compilations of outfits, or from places I'm traveling that I edit together," noting that they've done well with followers. Dash and Malcolm recommend only posting videos if the subject wouldn't be as funny or visually appealing in photo form — Dash gives the example of a hairstylist creating a complex braid backstage at fashion week.
Have more Instagram tips? Please share them in the comments below.