Yes, auto-pilot. You read that right. But before you get too excited about some “magic bullet” plan that will make your Instagram manage and grow itself, let’s take a step back. What I’m about to give you is a plan, a well thought-out plan that will require one thing from you: effort. Yes, in the beginning, it will be a healthy amount of effort on your part, but once you master this process I’m about to reveal, Instagram should no longer feel foreign to you. In fact, instead of it being a necessary evil, perhaps you might become quite fond of the platform. 

So now, allow me to explain myself...

Anything that is ever worth doing is worth doing right, wouldn’t you say? I should probably preface this topic with a little background on my experience. It’s taken me over a year to become acquainted with the patterns, trends and strategies that actually work on Instagram. The most notable pattern I discovered is when you’ve properly planned your content at least two weeks in advance, social media is a cinch. No, really, I was amazed. 

Managing your social media can make you feel like you’re always pushed back on your heels, fighting for every step, every follower. It’s as if someone handed you some digitally-charged sticks and said “Make a fire.” I felt that way when I built an Emoji Keyboard app a couple years back and created my social media channels to promote it. I was that guy who used hashtags on Facebook (Side note: Don’t do that. Hashtags won’t help you one lick on Facebook). I also thought it would be less work if I pushed out the exact same content each day to all of my social channels. Well, it definitely was less work, but did it get me anywhere by taking those types of shortcuts? Not so much. Ah, you live and learn.

Okay, I’m sure you get the point. Let’s cut to the chase and get you set up for success on Instagram: 

1. Understand Your Product or Service

First, you need a product or service to promote. Whether you’re selling Etsy goods or promoting your lifestyle blog, really try and understand the end customer or reader. Why should they go to you for these things over anybody else? Don’t be shy about it. Now’s the time to put your best foot forward, otherwise you may resent the tremendous efforts you’ll be putting into your business, including with Instagram and, honestly, it just won’t be worth it in the end.

2. Photos, Photos, Photos

You don’t have to be a professional photographer, just be consistent. What I mean is, when you put your photos side by side, do they adhere to a similar style or do they feel like they’re all over the place? What you’re going to need is roughly 100 photos with different product placement, locations, etc. These 100 shots will allow you to fill an editorial calendar for an entire month on Instagram. The truth is, you’ll only be using 30 of these, you’re best 30, so it’s okay if shots are nearly identical to one another. Just shoot away!

You’ll be posting once per day, including weekends. I recommend blocking out one Sunday per month to go out and shoot your content on your smart phone. These days, just about everyone has some basic knowledge of how to edit photos with apps on your phone, so schedule the second half of your shoot day to edit photos and make them look sharp. We recommend A Color Story as a choice, user-friendly photo-editing app on the App Store. Remember, it’s only one day a month you’ll be shooting, so think out what would be fun to shoot and make a “shot list.” That way, you won’t forget what you need to capture. Simple planning like this goes a long way, believe me.

3. Lay It All Out

Once you have your edited photos, make sure to back them up in two separate locations, for example, on your phone and computer. You’re going to want to see which photos look good next to one another when they’re posting in Instagram. I recommend a free platform like Planoly, which allows you to drag and drop your photos into a “practice feed” to see how they look side-by-side. Once you have your desired arrangement, take a screenshot of it and save your progress. The post at the very bottom will become your first post of the month.

Once you see which photos go out on which days, open a word processor of your choosing and write a list of numbers for each day of the month. Then, look at your photos and begin writing captions for them. Try not to think about this part of the process too much. If it’s not coming easy, grab some water and come back to it. The best advice I can give you here is think about what moved you to take the photo in the first place. Why did this photo make your Top 30 cut? How does it relate to your product or service? Give it one or two short sentences tops, no more than that. This gets much easier to do after one or two months of doing this, I promise.

4. Hashtags are an Instagram Account's Best Friend

Hashtags are a source of much confusion for a lot of people, and it’s understandable. For me, they were strange to look at when I first saw them. Is this some secret social media code I’m supposed to crack? In the end, I’ve learned to love hashtags and embrace them, because they can literally be the keys to your target audience kingdom...or put you so far back in the recesses of Instagram purgatory that no one will even know you exist. It sounds dramatic, but that’s because it the truth. Hashtags are a big deal. Might as well master them as best you can.

You’ll want to target about 5-10 hashtags to use to begin. Research hashtags that are relevant to your industry on Google. The idea is to find hashtags that have anywhere between 10k-100k posts. Search the hashtags on the Instagram app. You’ll see how many people have used those particular hashtags. This will help your post get in front of a fairly niche group of people you’d ideally like to target. An overused hashtag in the millions like #fashion will make it so your post will likely go unseen whereas one that has barely been used, like one with 100 posts will likely go unseen, as well. Get the idea? Use these 5-10 hashtags with all of your monthly posts. Make sure to put them in as a first “comment” to the post and not within your caption. You can add more hashtags later, but this is a good “rule of thumb,” especially for beginners. Another fantastic resource for researching hashtags and other related Instagram items is PeopleMap.co. It is 100% worth spending the $20/month to utilize this service and all that it offers, for reals.

5. Schedule Out Your Posts

Once you have your 30 edited photos and the corresponding captions and hashtags, you’re ready to schedule out your posts. There are programs that will literally post to your Instagram as far in advance as you like. With Instagram, there aren’t as many options as platforms like Facebook and Twitter, but there are some highly reliable ones. I recommend Schedugr.am. It’s about $20 per month, but absolutely worth the time and hassle this software will save you in getting your posts out to the world. It’s very user-friendly, just follow the instructions and then CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve made your way through the gauntlet of having a pre-planned Instagram account and are amongst members of a very exclusive club who want to receive the infinite gifts Instagram will bestow upon them. Kudos to you.

6. Wash, Rinse & Repeat

Simply use this process month-to-month for the best results and to receive maximum exposure to your Instagram account. As you can see it’s simple, but not necessarily easy. Sound like a little bit too much work for you? At Lunch Money, we’re always here to help! Just email me at ryan@lunchmoneycreative.com and inquire about our monthly Community Management service. It encapsulates everything I just went through above.

Thanks for reading!


Written by Ryan Carmody

RYAN CARMODY / GROWTH STRATEGY + CO-FOUNDER 
Ryan is a resourceful brand strategist that has advised hundreds of companies in a multitude of industries. He brings his vast array of skill sets and experience to Instagram, where he’s able to bridge his passion for storytelling and help businesses share their unique value propositions visually.