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What I Learned from My First Instagram Challenge

While I’ve been an Instagram-addict for well over three years, I just began using it for business in August. As an Instagram-for-business-rookie, I’ve learned a lot in a short period of time.

Last week, I participated in my first “Instagram Challenge.” If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry. I felt the same way when I decided to participate in The Rising Tide Society’s challenge. But thanks to their helpful guide, I learned what to do and quickly started seeing traction.

I want to share a bit of my experience while it was fresh in my mind and encourage you to join in on the next Instagram challenge you come across! No matter how large or small your following is on Instagram, this is a great way to push yourself to be authentic, intentional, and value-focused!

How the Instagram challenge worked:

Okay, I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of how the challenge worked, but let’s go over the basics.

First of all, the lovely folks at RTS provided a very clear overview on their website: “This challenge will help you learn how to connect with other creatives on Instagram while building a genuine following of enthusiastic and like-minded individuals. We believe that the number of followers you have means nothing if they aren’t truly connected to you, your brand, and your vision for the future. The #InstaTideChallenge is also a great way for you to get connected to other people who understand the walk of life you’re in as you set aside one week to boost your platform. Being cheered on by your creative colleagues is a major confidence boost that we have seen make a tremendous impact.”

Every day of the challenge, RTS provided a specific prompt that included instructions like, “Share a photo that captures your morning routine” or “Share a favorite quote that inspires you.” They shared why it was valuable to create that particular kind of post and provided some tips on how to make your post the best it could be! They also had a few different things that you needed to do that day as well, like follow 10 new accounts or comment on 5 different posts from other businesses in the challenge.

I must say, for my first Instagram challenge, I was blown away by their organization, instructions, and guidance!

The top 7 things I learned from my first Instagram challenge!

1. Your photo matters, but your message is more important
As someone who adores beautifully curated Instagram feeds and unique photography, I am the first to admit my business feed isn’t as polished as I’d like it to be.

It takes me an embarrassingly long time to take a photo that I’m super pumped about. Most of the time, I take a picture, throw it into Pic Tap Go, and hope for the best.

Sure, someday I hope I can have a feed that is a beautiful buffet of creativity, but I’m not there yet. But you know what? I still get likes and comments!

My point is, there were times during the challenge that I felt bad about my feed and thought “No one is going to like that mediocre picture.” But then people did. And more importantly, people commented! You know why?

Because purposeful, honest, and quality content is where it’s at.

In every one of my posts, I took the prompt RTS provided seriously and tried to be vulnerable and open about my experience. Mad props to RTS for coming up with prompts that were thought provoking and interesting. And then to encourage a conversation, I would ask a question about my follower’s experience. My goal was to hear their stories, to learn from one another, and to provide some encouragement!

So, while I am still polishing my photography skills, I am going to continue to focus on the content I write and the questions I ask. That’s where I get the most out of Instagram and my hope is that it is where I provide the most value and encouragement.

2. Responding to comments is vital
The whole point of having an Instagram account for my business is to start conversations. I am not posting about my experiences and asking questions just to hear myself talk. I want to connect with my audience, hear about their challenges, and provide the insight they crave. My job is to share my expertise so other business owners can benefit and improve the experience their customers have.

You can’t expect people to stay engaged with your account long term if you never interact with them. Just think of your dating days. How long would you put up with reaching out to someone and never hearing back? Eventually, you’d lose interest and take the hint that they weren’t interested, right? I’m assuming that’s not how you want your potential customers and business buds to feel. You want them to feel valued, heard, and cared for.

No, I don’t think you need to respond to people who just post emoji’s or one-word comments, but do pay attention to those who are taking the time to provide a thoughtful or encouraging response! And please, please, please don’t just respond with “Thanks.” Put some thought into your responses! Keep the conversation going. Be your delightful self!

3. Be human, be honest, be vulnerable
During the challenge, the posts that got the most interaction were the ones in which I shared a bit of my personal life, my struggles as a business owner, and my expertise.

Remember, people don’t follow businesses. They follow people. They want to get to know you. They want to know how you tick. They want to know that they aren’t alone in the struggle.

Sure, opening up might make me a little nervous or cause me to worry that someone might not like what I say, but that’s the point. I don’t want to fall into the space of just sharing the “safe” parts of my life.

I am constantly motivated and encouraged by the business owners who share their struggles and their victories. I feel like jumping for joy when I realize there are other people who UNDERSTAND ME.

I get so excited when I see this wave of entrepreneurs succeeding and making a difference. Hearing other people’s stories reminds me why I started this journey and reassures me I am doing the right thing. Other people’s successes push me to do better.

When we are human, honest, and vulnerable, we all benefit.
In a world of perfectly curated highlight reels, take the risk and share what’s really in your heart.

4. Cultivate relationships by engaging on other people’s posts
As I mentioned before, relationships shouldn’t be one-sided. The InstaTideChallenge required me to like and comment on several people’s posts every day. It encouraged me to start following new people. This was good for me because it helped me realize I needed to interact with other people’s accounts just as much as I was hoping they would interact with mine!

Instagram is a wonderful place to connect with business owners who inspire you. Comment, reach out, or send a direct message. Do whatever feels right, and keep the golden rule in mind. Interact with other people’s accounts how you want them to interact with your page!

Engaging with other people is a great exercise because it really pushes you to put aside your thoughts of competition (don’t compare yourself to someone else’s feed!) and focus on collaboration and community.

Be generous. Be encouraging. Be consistent.

5. Hashtags really do work
This entire Instagram challenge was centered around the #InstaTideChallenge and #CommunityOverCompetition hashtags. These hashtags were a fantastic way to discover new accounts and to get to know the other business owners participating in the challenge. I found so many awesome new business owners to follow because of these hashtags!

Using hashtags in your daily posts will help people who are interested in those specific topics find your account! Do your research, test them out, and tweak on a regular basis.

Pro tip: Use your Notes app to keep track of all of your hashtags and just copy and paste them into the first comment of your post (not the actual post caption). Just be sure to switch up your hashtags regularly!

6. #CommunityOverCompetition wins every time
One of the major sentiments behind this Instagram challenge was #CommunityOverCompetition. The idea that instead of thinking of each other as competition, we need to think of each other as fellow members of the startup/entrepreneur/small business community.

The truth is, we are stronger together. Sure, it’s easy to get stuck in the comparison game, but we need to rise above that. Instead of beating each other down, we need to lift each other up. If we spend our time encouraging each other, focusing on our strengths, and sharing insight, we can all succeed. We can help each other offer our clients the best possible services.

None of us are exactly the same. We have all had different experiences. This challenge really highlighted that for me. Instead of being overwhelmed by how many people who offered similar services, I felt encouraged because it affirmed to me that content is important and that the business world is moving forward.

7. There’s a lot of talent out there, and that’s okay
There were literally more than 21,000 posts under the #InstaTideChallenge hashtag. That is a lot of content from a significant number of people.

The beautiful photos, the insightful comments, and the inspiring conversations reminded me how much talent there is out there. At moments, that could have been discouraging or overwhelming. Sure, there were times when I looked at my numbers and felt really small. But in the end, I realized it was a really, really good thing.

There may be a lot of people out there that offer similar services as you do. Instead of feeling discouraged about how much talent is out there, feel encouraged! Think of how amazing the world would be if we cultivate this sense of community. Can you imagine what we could accomplish if we all lifted each other up? If we all provide our clients with our best work and are genuinely interested in seeing each other succeed, I am confident good things will happen.

This challenge reminded me to embrace the immense talent that surrounds me and to be thankful that I get to know so many wonderful people.

After five days of participating in my first Instagram challenge, I am confident I will do another one! I learned a lot, but I know there is a lot of potential for growth.

So tell me, have you participated in an Instagram challenge? I’d love to hear about your experience! Comment below with your stories or questions about Instagram!


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