Instagram and social media make up a big part of modern life, so it's critical to know what you're doing. (Illustration by Jaila Desper, University of Maryland, College Park)

Instagram allows everyone to become visual content creators, and the popular social media site can elevate everyday people to online superstardom.

Some users, the Instagram famous, even manage to build businesses and social platforms with their personal accounts, and, unlikely as it might seem, you can do it too. Here are six steps to help catapult yourself to the rank of social media influencer.

1. Find Your Niche

“Finding a niche” is a phrase you hear almost every time someone talks about content creation, because branding yourself is an essential step in the journey to Instagram success. Remember: the range of niches is nearly infinite, so make sure yours is unique and that you’re passionate about it. There are literally millions of Instagram users; what is going to make you stick out from the crowd?

Once you discover a niche, stick to it, as your followers engage with posts because of that branding. They are now your target audience, so make sure your content will continue to interest them. For instance, one of my niches is travel, so my followers expect posts about my travels. If I suddenly post a picture of my two best friends at home, my followers won’t engage with the post as much as usual.

You want to treat your Instagram profile like a business: If the owner of a large retail store posted a personal photo on the store’s profile, you would be a little confused, right? Well, remember the feeling when you’re tempted to stray away from your niche.

2. Plan Every Post

Ever wonder how Instagrammers get each and every one of their photos to coherently mesh? Well, it’s because they plan out every single post: photographing, editing and rearranging photos in separate apps to see which they should post and in which order. Apps like Plann allow Instagrammers to preview their profile before actually posting.

On top of photo-arrangement strategies, Instagrammers write and edit every single caption before uploading. It is suggested to implement a variety of caption types and lengths. For example, one post might have a short, witty caption, and the next may have a longer, sentimental and reflective caption. Try to maintain a good balance between the two so that you don’t bore your audience.

Also, always make sure that your captions match the tone of your niche: If you were a politician trying to gain supporters, you probably wouldn’t want many humorous captions. Instead, the majority of your captions would have a serious tone and promote your political beliefs.

3. Post High-Quality Content

The only way to attract new and active followers is demonstrate that you take your profile seriously. To do this, it is imperative to only post high-quality pictures!

Luckily, many cell phones today take high-resolution photos; however, if you really want to impress your followers, invest in a DSLR camera. Most famous Instagrammers use Canons or Nikons, but there are plenty of other quality brands to choose from.

Once you get your DSLR, take the time to learn how to manually use it, and don’t settle for the automatic setting. There are plenty of free resources where you can learn digital photography basics, so use them.

4. Perfect Your Editing Skills

In addition to your camera, your image editing should also be high-quality. Editing can either enhance the quality of the photo or destroy it, so make sure you know how and where to edit.

Avoid using heavy filters; instead, use editing apps such as VSCO or other software. I personally suggest using Adobe Lightroom, which has a professional range of editing capabilities. The majority of famous Instagrammers use the application to maintain a consistent Instagram aesthetic. Some of them even sell their Lightroom presets, or editing settings that can be applied to any photo.

If you don’t want to create your Instagram aesthetic theme right away, then consider purchasing presets because they will make your posts look unified to the public eye. Just make sure that the presets you choose fit the tone of your niche!

5. Use Usernames, Bios and Hashtags

Ideally, you want your username to be unique and easy to discover. Short, one-word usernames are perfect, but they are extremely hard to come by. Odds are that every desirable, one-word username is already in use, but if you get lucky and find one that matches your niche, use it.

Otherwise, if you’re like the rest of us, just remember these two principals: first, avoid periods and underscores and, second, the shorter the username the better. Periods and underscores show that your username was already taken, and you do not want other Instagrammers to think that you’re not original enough to come up with a unique username.

Similarly, use the bio feature to your advantage: Tell the public who you are, what you do and what your niche is. If people stumble upon your account, the description will encourage them to follow you.

On that note, remember to grammar and spell check. Nothing turns followers away like when someone spells a word wrong in their bio. If you decide to purposefully spell something wrong (maybe in a pun or witty username) or use only lowercase letters for the aesthetic (a current trend), do it consistently. Consistent content will lead to consistent engagement from your followers.

Lastly, hashtags are an incredible way to reach a larger audience — if you use them right. First, only use hashtags that are relevant to your niche and will attract the target audience, the one actually interested in your content.

Second, use the correct number of hashtags. If you use 30 hashtags at the beginning of your caption, no one will take the time to actually read what you have to say. If you decide to use a larger number of hashtags, consider putting them in a different comment than your caption.

6. Engage with the Audience You Have Grown

Finally, once you begin to increase your follower count, it is crucial that you continue to build relationships with your followers: follow them back if they have similar niches, reply to their comments on your posts, like their posts and respond to their direct messages.

You will notice that it becomes harder to engage with others as your audience grows, so use the business profile feature to help yourself. Anyone can use the business profile feature as long as a Facebook page can link to your Instagram account.

A business profile gives you free access to all of your Instagram analytics, which tell you how many accounts have seen your content (your reach), how many times your content has been viewed (your impressions), when your audience is most active and your audience demographics (age, gender, location, etc.). Assessing these statistics will show when and how you should post your content and therefore curate a more personalized interaction between you and your followers.

Aside from all of these tips, remember to have fun with your Instagram. Don’t limit your posts merely because you want more followers. Be transparent, be kind and be yourself — that’s ultimately what your audience wants to see.

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