Monday 30 May 2016

Why Instagram?

by Andrea Grigg with Belinda Pollard.

I’ve enjoyed Instagram for a while now. I like looking at photos and quotes and videos and find it’s not as time-consuming as Facebook. As some of you know, I’m using Instagram as my platform of choice for my Year of Gratitude project. Every day this year I’ve put up a photo of something I’m grateful for, and then linked my posts to Facebook and Twitter. I decided to do it not only because the idea intrigued and challenged me, but also as an experiment. And because  I’m still bumbling along, I thought I’d interview someone else who’s further along the Instagram track than I am, a lovely lady by the name of Belinda Pollard.

Belinda welcome to ACW. Before we get onto the questions, please tell us a little about your background and what you do.

Hi Andrea – thanks for inviting me to the blog.

I began with a journalism degree way-back-when, and worked in radio and television news. Later, I did a second degree in theology, and veered into book editing. Nowadays, I’m a publishing consultant, book editor, speaker and blogger at I love books and book people.

Awesome! Could you please tell us about your writing journey so far?

It took me 20 years to complete my first novel, because I wouldn’t give myself permission to write it – too frivolous! I finally introduced deadlines into the equation by entering competitions, and the old journalist in me rose to the challenge. Poison Bay, Book 1 in the Wild Crimes series, was published in 2014. 

In 2015, I published a light memoir,  Dogged Optimism: Lessons in Joy from a Disaster-Prone Dog. That one started as a series of funny anecdotes about my daft dog, and became something much more personal along the way. Poison Bay won a Varuna fellowship and an IPPY silver medal, while Dogged Optimism is a finalist in both the Indiefab and Next Generation Indie Book Awards. I’m working on Wild Crimes Book 2, Venom Reef, which recently entailed an ARDUOUS research trip to the Great Barrier Reef (oh, the hardship). I’m also working on several books about writing.

 You are one busy person! Anything else you’d like us to know?

I’m that rare beastie: an extroverted writer; social media has helped keep me sane(ish). I am chief ball thrower for a beautiful, socially-awkward red and white dog named Rufus. My house never seems to be tidy, even though I clean it every six months.

Totally understand you J Perhaps we’d better get on with the questions.

1.    What do you think about Instagram as a promotional tool? How does it compare to Facebook and Twitter?

Everyone’s experience will be different. Personally, I see Facebook as a place to meet readers, Twitter as a place to meet other writers and editors, and Instagram as a place to meet people who think visually. The biggest benefit to my author platform from Instagram has been the ability to share original content direct to my Facebook page. Instagram and Facebook are BFFs – it’s simple to share to Instagram and Facebook simultaneously.

2.    Is it worthwhile for authors to use?

Yes and no. If you expect to follow a few people, share a few pics, and sell a thousand books, you’ll probably be disappointed! My suggestion would be that if you’re a visual person, it’s a nice place to hang out and meet people with similar interests. Be genuinely social. Comment on their images. Reply to their comments on your images. I wandered onto Instagram and experimented. (I’ve outlined some of my experiences in this post: ) I’ve met bookstore owners and journalists on Instagram, and those connections have turned out to be strategic, but to be honest, I’m there to look at pictures and connect with like-minded people. Any “career” benefits are almost just side effects. If you’re not a visual thinker, you will probably find Instagram hard work, or annoying, or both. But I have found it enjoyable and valuable.

3.    Should I use my real name or a nickname like I see so many people doing?

I use my real name, and in the same format as on Twitter… @Belinda_Pollard. Everyone must make their own decision of course, but I don’t see the point of using a nickname, since the goal of all author marketing is surely to get name recognition. As people scroll down their feed, quickly double-tapping photos to “like” them, I want it to be my author name that is being gently reinforced in their memory, rather than a cute nickname.

4.    What kinds of photos do you suggest I use?

Work out what is visual about whatever it is that you write. I share nature photos, which harmonise with the wilderness themes in my novels. I also share pics of my dogs, since I write about dogs. And I share the occasional writing workshop or author milestone, such as when my book arrived from the printers. I do take some trouble with my pics, trying to be creative or artistic in the way that I frame the shots. I’m no expert, though. I just enjoy nice photos!

5.    How do I get followers? Should I follow someone if they follow me?

As with Twitter, if you follow people they will often follow you back. And there are also a lot of spammers, as on Twitter. If your goal is to get followers, try following people who are interested in the same things as you, and who have smaller followings. People with large followings may not notice that you’ve followed them. Personally, I decided only to follow those whose photos I genuinely want to look at. So there are people I follow who will never follow me back. I just like to look at their pics! And I don’t follow-back spammers. I suspect that a small, engaged following can be more rewarding than a huge following of people who aren’t really paying much attention…

6.    What’s the story with hashtags? How do they work?

Hashtags seem to be the heart and soul of Instagram. People really do use them to find pictures they like, and many people use lots of hashtags on each pic. For example, my dog is a red heeler mix, so I’ll use hashtags such as #heeler #heelergram #heelersofinstagram on my pics of the pooch. That way, owners of similar dogs will see my pics and “like” them, and some will leave comments or follow me. And by tapping on those hashtags, I’ll see pics of other people’s dogs, and comment on them and follow them. When you start typing in a hashtag after your image description, Instagram will offer you a list of similar hashtags, and a number after each hashtag showing how much it gets used. I tend to choose ones with larger numbers (but not always).

7.    And a paragraph to sum up?

There’s a lot of buzz about Instagram being the fastest growing social platform, and a lot of pressure to join. The truth is, we can’t be on all the social platforms all the time. I suggest that people find two or three social networks that really work for them, and focus on those. And my motto for all social media applies just as well to Instagram: make friends, not sales. Experiment, and enjoy it! Form genuine connections with other human beings, and you’ll be surprised what might emerge.

Great advice, Belinda, and thank you so much for sharing your insights concerning the wonderful world of Instagram.

 Belinda Pollard is an award-winning Australian mystery author and former journalist. A specialist book editor since 1995, she has steered more than 60 books to publication for both traditional and independent publishers. Despite bad knees and a fear of heights, she trekked New Zealand’s Milford Track as research for her debut novel, Poison Bay. Her light memoir, Dogged Optimism: Lessons in Joy from a Disaster-Prone Dog, has been an Australian Amazon bestseller since its release in December 2015. She hates housework, but loves trees, dogs and chips.

She blogs writing and publishing topics at and Real Life on a Beautiful Planet at Connect with her on FacebookTwitterInstagramLinkedIn and Google+

Andrea Grigg is the author of two contemporary Christian romances, A Simple Mistake and Too Pretty. She loves hearing from readers and writers alike, and can be contacted via Twitter, FacebookInstagram and via email: andreagrigg(at)live(dot)com


  1. Great article! I've experimented with using the hashtags, and have gotten new followers. I do tend to unfollow users who post a ton of pics. I think once or twice a day is plenty on this platform. What do you think?

    1. I'm the same Janet. I now try to post once a day, or sometimes twice if there's a really good reason -- and that's because I noticed that I didn't like it when one person posted 6 pics in quick succession. Do unto others! :-)

    2. Hi Janet - I'm with you and Belinda. I get annoyed by serial pics too :)

  2. Thanks Andrea and Belinda - some great tips. I'm a visual person but my Instagram account is a bit neglected. I'd like to give it more love and attention but it's a matter of how many hours there are in the day. I think for me - Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest relies on more curated content (ie sharing other people's content as well as your own) whereas Instagram relies more on original content. And also = my photos are on my phone but I find Instagram easier to use on the IPad (which I don't use very often as I'm usually on my PC). If I could create and share content from my PC, I think I'd be using it a lot more. It's a lovely medium though.

    1. I found the inability to post from a computer hard too at first, Jeanette. Fortunately I have an iPhone, which makes it easy for me to post pics, and I've got into the mindset of it now. I look for possible photos when I go on my daily walks with my dog, and I make sure I have my phone with me. And I totally agree that we need to make our own choices regarding what we'll use our limited time for!!

    2. I love the ease of which I can use my iPhone for Instagram too. I also like the fact I can post to Twitter and Facebook at the same time. I agree with you Jeanette - it's definitely a matter of choosing which mediums you're most comfortable with.

  3. How wonderful. Thanks Andrea for introducing us to Belinda. Lots of good handy tips included here.

    Andrea, I continue to enjoy your gratitude photo journal on Insta. Good on you for being persistent with it as I expect there are some days where the struggle to find a good visual is pretty high.

    1. Hi Ian, it's nice to meet the crew here. :-)

    2. Hi Ina - I'm sure this won't be the last time we hear something from Belinda. She has a lot of experience in our world of writing.

      Glad you're still on the Gratitude Journey with me! Thanks for your suppport. And yes, some days are definitely harder than others. Today is soup day (!) but an easy choice. As for tomorrow ... well, we'll see :)

  4. Hi, Belinda - lovely to have you join us! I loved Poison Bay, and Venom Reef sounds great as well.

    I'm an Instagram newbie - I like Twitter and Facebook better, for exactly the reasons you've stated. Pinterest has never especially interested me although I've had an account for years, but it seems be full of aspirational "one day" food and craft ideas). Instagram feels more real - perhaps because the images are from phones and cameras!

    Anyway, thanks for visiting and thanks for the tips.

    1. Hi Iola - Pinterest might depend on who you follow re content. I have 39 boards - only one of them is food (GF recipes) and none craft. Lots of writing quotes, tips, grammar, even things on font - as well as books or cities, countries, places, clothing, history, art - the cosmos.

    2. Thanks Iola, lovely to be here. :-)

      I'm glad you've found Pinterest handy, Jeanette. I've heard of people having great results there.

      But I also understand your feelings about it, Iola. Mind you, I think there's quite a lot of people sharing "manufactured" stuff on Instagram as well. ;-) But I tend to follow the more spontaneous accounts.

      One of my reasons for going for Instagram was that it is original content and therefore sidesteps a lot of the copyright issues that lurk beneath the image sharing that goes on around the web today. The editor in me is wary of that! It's hard to know where people got that image from in the first place, and whether they have the right to use it...

  5. The problem with Instagram for me is that you have to use a tablet or mobile phone you can't use a laptop. my mobile I hardly use it.(yes I am one of the few who doesn't carry it everywhere.) Mine isn't even connected to the internet and the small tablet I bought is for when I go away so has limited data on it and is to big to take on walks etc. A small camera or even my mobile are easier to take photos on but they have to be loaded to my laptop so I may have an account but don't look much.
    I do see posts on fb.

    1. Instagram isn't for everyone, Jenny, is it? I enjoy it, but Facebook is still my favourite connector :)

    2. I agree, I'm not sure I'd be bothered with Instagram if I didn't have a smartphone, Jenny. It's too hard to do it other ways, and we're all so busy, aren't we?? :-)

  6. Andrea and Belinda, excellent post! It's interesting how you mention Instagram will really appeal to people who are visual. I'm more auditory, which may be why I'm less likely to naturally engage with sites like Instagram and Pinterest. That said, when I'm travelling I take a lot of photos, and I love using the different filters on Instagram and playing with the images. Thanks for your insightful interview :)

    1. Glad it's useful, Narelle. I always say that with social media, we should play to our natural strengths, rather than forcing ourselves onto a social network that just doesn't gel! And those filters are fun. :-)


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