Instagram is popular, and sharing photos with its community is—let’s face it—a lot of fun. But it can also be a little tricky, it turns out, at least if you want to avoid looking like a hipster wannabe who’s just applied your first filter.
So share away, but first make sure you’re not committing any of the following Insta-fractions. It’s not the end of the world if you find you’ve got some bad habits to correct. But don’t linger; some of these mistakes can cost you big on the follower front.
1. Blurry Photos And Videos
This is a no-brainer. Unless your Instagram trademark is some seriously skillful photo-impressionism, try to post shots that are in focus, not taken in a dark alley or filtered through the beer goggles you were wearing last night.
And while you’re at it, don’t overdo the selective focus option (the little droplet symbol). Considering that it’s a purely visual social network, we Instagrammers aren’t crazy about stuff we can’t see. If your photo or vid isn’t in focus, how are we supposed to appreciate that meticulously crafted, oh-so-clever caption?
2. Selfie Fever!
To clarify my stance officially: I am not anti-selfie. Selfies have a time and a place—and that time and place very rarely align. If you’re prone to autobiographical imagery, at least do us a favor and make an endearing self-deprecating caption. Posting pictures of yourself without a nod to the phenomenon known as the selfie is awkward for everyone. Pull off a tongue-in-cheek selfie with a playful hashtag that at least admits that yes, you just posted a photo of yourself and you’re going to own it.
For brands, keep photos of actual humans on your Instagram feed relevant and interesting. Tie them in closely to your brand’s mission and don’t overpost. We don’t want to meet your team just for the sake of meeting your team—tell us something cool while you’re at it.
3. Untimely Posting
Put the “insta” in Instagram. The social network is an amazing portal into real-time moments around the web, so track as close to real time with your posts as you can. If you’ve got something good to share, why wait?
Sure, sometimes you’ll be beyond the reaches of LTE or want to avoid a social interruption of unforgivable magnitude, but post as you go when you can. If your photo is good enough to share later, be sure to tag it as a #latergram. Avoid posting a slew of #latergrams all in a row, after an event, for example. We’ll all just feel like we missed out. And besides, Instagram is only fun so long as we play by its most basic rules.
4. All HDR, All The Time
Like the selfie, the HDR (high dynamic range) setting is tolerable in small doses. Instagram is about giving the world an in-the-moment glimpse into your world—and odds are your world isn’t as trippy as a Dr. Seuss book. Often, the amped-up contrast and crazy colors provided by HDR only obscure an otherwise compelling lens into your life.
If you’re going to use HDR (the little sun icon in the app) or the more vibrant, contrasty filters like Lo-Fi and X-Pro II, do so with a light touch. When used well, the technique can bring out missing detail in a shot with a dark foreground or background. With a heavy hand, it can blow your photos out into a non-consensual psychedelic experience for your followers.
5. Screencaps And Memes
Do everyone a favor and don’t stock your Instagram account with whatever’s just gone viral on Reddit. The social media universe offers plenty of repositories for viral flotsam and memes du jour. And get off my lawn, while you’re at it! No really—get off my lawn and go hang out on Tumblr.
Guilty of a few of the cardinal sins of Instagram cobbled together here? Don’t feel bad. We all commit a social media misstep here and there, present company included.
Think of it this way: A social network is only as strong as its content. Playing by the unspoken rules (with exceptions for experimentation, of course) keeps Instagram’s content fun—and it saves your finger from more time spent scrolling for what’s relevant.