Here's the link to my Instagram channel, @thefinelychopped Please join with a follow if you have not already.
I first opened an Instagram account years back when the platform was still new. I couldn't make much sense of it. I used it as a photo editing tool with restricted access.
Then I decided to open another account for my blog and abandoned the older one and that is how @thefinelychopped replaced the original @finelychopped account.
The growth of the channel was slow at the start especially compared to Twitter where my follower count was growing quite a bit back then.
I didn't take the medium of Instagram too seriously for long to be honest. I sniggered as old time bloggers tend to do when I came across a young man describing himself as an 'Instagram blogger' at a hotel event. 'That's not real blogging,' I told some of my fellow blogger friends and we laughed.
The best response to my derisiveness lay in the following line from Ray Bradbury's excellent book Fahrenheit 451:
"Montag, old men who stay at home, afraid, tending to their brittle bones, have no right to criticise'
I realised that it was time I did something about it rather than sitting on my high horse of ignorance.
A leopard changes its spots
I came across posts by blogger friends who used Instagram and did it well. They wrote posts on what worked for them. Using their tips, I started using hashtags though I hadn't done so earlier on Twitter where hash tags had originated. This helped grow numbers a bit.
Then I thought of doing a breakfast series on Instagram. The idea was to share pictures that I took for writing an article on Maharashtrian breakfasts for Jet Airways and that was the birth of #FinelyChoppedBreakfasts on Instagram. Those posts led to some engagement and interesting discussions.
I put some of these posts on the blog and am anonymous commenter snidely protested about my doing so. I ignored the tone but decided to keep the two separate.
Seeking one's space
I began to write more such mini- stories on Instagram. I spent more time on writing these than on taking the photos I would upload, though this is a photo sharing platform. I began to create my own space here. More unique hashtags were born, #FinelyChoppedTravels and #MumbaiFinelyChopped for example which I used along with more generic ones suggested to me such as #foodie #foodblogger and #instafood
I became consistent with my presence on Instagram and tried to upload at least one post a day. Physically I found typing Instagram updates on my phone easier than writing blog posts on the laptop with multiple photo uploads.
Looking for the bigger picture
I noticed that food pictures and thali pictures in particular got more likes on my page. I began to upload more of those than people pictures. I rarely uploaded my own pictures as followers didn't seem to be that interested in those!
I looked at successful food Instagrammers (Dave Hagerman, Nandita Iyer, Amrita Kaur, Divesh, Zenia Irani, Vernika Awal, Sangeeta Khanna, Chandrima Sarkar, Masterchef Mom and others ) and tried to incorporate learnings from them in the pictures I would take. That's how I began to take top angle shots with my iPhone. I didn't use filters though, as the missus said that food photos look more real without filters. She is an advertising professional and it made sense to learn from her expertise. I have recently begun to experiment with cropping pictures too. I try to use natural light as much as possible. I rarely use a camera to take pictures to upload on Instagram. Writing the story with it excites me more than the picture I put up to be honest.
I looked into the cupboard and took out the pretty plates that we had bought for parties at home. I used them to showcase the simple lunches I had at home while I wrote a couple of paragraphs around them. The plates became a hit and thus was born #PlatesOfFinelyChopped
Instagram reminded me of the early days of the early days of food blogging
With time, I began to enjoy Instagram more and more and it reminded me of the early days of my food blogging. Let me tell you why:
1. The focused posts here helped me used as Instagram as my 'food world' dairy, just as my blog once was.
2. Readers would leave comments here and we would then interact, just like we once did on blogs.
3. I made new friends from across the world here, just as I once did through my blog.
4. Recently I didn't post on Instagram for two days because of software issues and people wrote to me asking me if all was fine, like they once would when I wouldn't update the blog for a while. I felt connected once again with my readers and that felt great.
I noticed that while my follower count had shot up inexplicably on Twitter, the conversations that I once had here and the new connections that I made here seemed to have stagnated.
It all boils down to focus and consistency
I began to focus more on Instagram than I did on Twitter. Nor did I chase Pinterest or Snapchat much.
What the experience has taught me is that the social media channels evolve over time and you can't bank on any one channel. You need to be clear in your head about what you want to do, what's the purpose behind your work. The rest will then fall into place.
One thing I did was keep my brand consistent. I've stuck to Finely Chopped, following my blog, whether on Instagram, Twitter or on Facebook.
Then from being nowhere till recently, I realised that I had reached 20,000 followers a couple of days back on Instagram.
It's not an astronomical number I know, but it sure does feel nice and round and cuddly.
The growth has been entirely organic. I have not invested in Instagram ads or sponsored posts. I am not saying that you shouldn't. I didn't. Having an existing equity through my blog helped in my case though I realised that a lot of people who followed me on Instagram didn't know of me from before.
And that's my Instagram story. Might not, and need, not be yours but I thought I will share it in case it gives you some ideas. Do keep in my mind a few things before you decided to pick anything from what I did. Firstly, this process took time and requires patience. Secondly, there are food bloggers in India with much higher following than mine and I rarely make it to 'top 17 Food Instagram accounts you should follow to stay hungry' type of lists. Also I am in my early 40s and they say that the core Instagram audience is younger.
Challenging oneself, seeking knowledge and having dialogue is the key to remaining youthful as they say and that's what Instagram taught me
Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. As long as he is willing to learn.
Yes, I would be happy to call myself an Instagram Blogger now in addition to being a food blogger.