• Kara Swenson

Instagram Tips for Beginners

Updated: Feb 6

“Let’s create a platform where we can all come together and share photos and words and inspiration. Let’s make it easy, but also really confusing and sometimes complicated. Let’s consistently change the algorithm so secretly no one can keep up, because that keeps it fair. But also let’s introduce new features constantly, like videos and reels and stories… and see what happens. I think they’ll be able to figure it out… Maybe.” - what I imagine the creators of instagram were thinking 😉


Welcome to Instagram! The little squares that inspire, connect, and motivate...



And (warning) can also cause fomo, anxiety, and comparison if not properly managed and balanced.


Maybe you’re new to the instagram game. Or perhaps just made your account public. Either way you have something you want to learn, and I hope this little blog helps you get started.


I’ve been in the IG game for 5 years; the first 3 don’t count. Why? Well I had a private account with 35 of my favorite humans and didn’t know what a hashtag was.


But when I stumbled upon and started following NatGeo photographers, everything changed. I became inspired. Eventually I made my account public. I realized I had photos and thoughts worth sharing...


And the last two years have been a nonstop & fun social media ride.


Without spending a dime on advertising I’ve been able to create a little IG community I’m proud of, respect, and cherish. Including YOU! Thank you for being here.


There is tons to learn about this space. And it’s ever evolving. Don’t feel pressure to know it all. Even the biggest social media accounts are often just doing their best and figuring it out as they go, too.


But there are some tried and true, never-changing, tips to growing your Instagram account. *These tips only work if your account is public.*


Here are 8 of them:


1. Hashtags (#hashtags): Use them. You’re allowed 30 hashtags per post. I recommend using between 10-30 hashtags per post. It doesn’t matter if it’s 10 or 30, as long as you use some.


Make sure they’re related to your page and brand. It doesn’t matter if the hashtags are posted in the comments or on the post itself. Check what hashtags your friends are using and other accounts similar to yours to get ideas.


It’s important to change your hashtags often. I have 3-4 different sets of entirely different hashtags and use them accordingly. I have a set for 1) my dog and I 2) solo hikes 3) couples photos 4) landscape photos.


Save your hashtags in a note in your phone. It’s the easiest way to keep them organized.


2. Engage. Engage. Engage: The more you engage with others the more engagement you get! Take 5-10 minutes before you post to engage with friends. Comment, like and save their posts.


Let others know you care about them and that care will be returned. But! relationship building takes time. You have to genuinely care about the people you choose to engage with. Get to know them and their lives. You won’t be a match for everyone. Not everyone will want to be a part of your insta-circle. That’s okay!


How many times I’ve wanted to get to know someone who wanted nothing to do with me is quite a lot lol. No offense taken. We cannot connect with everyone, we simply don’t have the time. So choose your humans well.


Over time you’ll find a little insta family that works for you, and it’ll feel like a cozy & supportive home on the interwebs.


3. Epic Content: You need to have one of the following going for you.


Epic photos.

Epic captions.

Epically helpful/informative content.


Or preferably all 3 of those things. Below is an example of a past post of mine that includes all 3 things. Iconic Boulder mountains: check. Good caption: check. Informative content: check.


You don't have to include all 3 points in every post. They can be in revolving order. Not every post has to be epic. But something needs to be special about each one.


Did you make someone laugh or cry with your words? Is the photo a moment of real-time excitement? Is the photo self-explanatory and powerful enough to stand on its own? Are you advertising something? Or informing? Or telling a story? Sharing a quote?


Don’t post just to post. Post only when it feels genuine and when you have time to engage back.


I can say for certain I’ve regretted every time I’ve posted because of pressure. When the chaotic feelings start - “omg everyone is online right now and i should post too because they all are on even though i have nothing to say so im panicking and omg omg omg” ← don’t do that. Go your own pace.


4. Be Genuine: The best way to attract your insta-family is to be you. All of YOU. The crazy, good, bad & ugly.


I don’t recommend sharing everything about your life, but have the things you’re comfortable talking about. I’m comfortable talking about my ankle rehab journey. My wild emotions and anxiety struggles. My fur babies (they are the stars of my stories). Hiking, obviously…


However I rarely talk about my family or husband. Not because they’re not the most important part of my life, but because some things I keep private.


Your discretion is up to you. I have learned that opening up about your emotions and feelings is often the quickest way to attract your people. So don’t be afraid to share a bit!


5. Consistency: You’ve gotta show up if you want people to be interested in you and your story. For some that means posting twice a week and being really active on stories the rest of the time. For others it’s posting every day. Or every other day.


How often are you able to show up consistently? Find your happy medium. A balance that works for you. And do that.


Contrary to popular belief, you are NOT required to always be plugged in to have a thriving account. Read that again.


My natural happy place is to check IG for a bit in the morning, when all my favorite people are on and posting. Also when I post. Then I sign off for the day.



Sometimes I get back on again at night. Sometimes I don’t. Once in a while I’ll be plugged in all day because there are too many funny stories to share. Then I’ll log off for the entire next day.


My standard response time to a dm is 1-2 days. And for collaborations with brands I wait a 5-7 days to reply. It works in my favor because those are my boundaries. I make them, and others respect them.


I won’t be readily available on IG for anyone. Not even crazy cool collabs or business opportunities. They can wait, they’ll still be there in a week, I promise.


You do not owe anyone time in this space. So make sure you’re doing what works for your schedule.


But do your best to be consistent in some way, whatever that means for you.


6. Don’t Take it Too Seriously: I hate to break it to ya, but you’re not in control of the internet. Or social media. Or instagram. 😱


I like to occasionally remind myself that tomorrow the “great IG creator” could decide it’s bad and take it all away. Or your account could be banned or blocked for a plethora of reasons I don’t even know myself.


My point is, take it all with a grain of salt.



After two years of building my account consistently, I can truly say if it was gone tomorrow I’d be okay. I’d be absolutely bummed, but totally okay.


The one thing I’d miss most are the genuine friendships and connections I’ve made, and the photographers I’ve followed for years. I also know there are other ways to communicate, so it wouldn’t be the end of the world.


Never take this space too seriously. You can absolutely love it and value it. But know you’re not in control of it.


Sometimes your account will explode with engagement. Sometimes it will totally die. I go through both every year. I appreciate when my account is killin’ it, and take the time to slow down and write blogs (like this) when it’s a slower season.



7. Create your Brand/Aesthetic: Why are you in IG?


Is it for beautiful photos? To share stories? To watch others because you’re moving to the mountains someday and you need plans for when you get there? Is it to build your business? Or to make friends?


We all have a reason we started our account. Know what yours is. Then make your aesthetic (the look of your account) match that. Someone should know within 5 seconds of scanning your page what you’re about. My page exampled below:



For me, it’s clearly outdoors and hiking. I love food. But I don’t randomly throw in food posts with my mountain posts. It doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t. Your account is your own, so please do what brings you joy.


However, if you’re looking to work with a brand, it helps to have a definitive theme to your account. What do you love photographing and talking about most? Make that your theme.


8. Have fun! You better be on IG to have fun above all else!



I’ve met some of my best friends through this app. I’ve gotten to work with incredible brands. I’ve gotten paid for photography which is beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve gone on adventures inspired by incredible posts I see…


IG should be FUN above all else. Not anxiety inducing. Not a competition. But lighthearted fun!


If it stops being that, it’s called burnout… it’s time for a break. Never be scared to take a break. Your best IG account starts with a healthy and balanced relationship with the app.



Good luck out there! Remember, if you show up authentically on social media, you can’t go wrong. Worst case scenario you’ll meet some cool and like-minded humans. So ignore the negative. Scoop up all the positive things social media has to offer. And leave the rest...


I’ll see you on the IG-side! Find me @kara_wandering - I’d love to support you in your journey.


If you found these insta-tips helpful, please feel free to share.


For more social media tips: Check out my "The Art of Social Media" post here


Stay tuned for part II: IG Secrets to Growth, coming soon.


Be Bold. Be Inspired. Be you.


<3 Kara


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