I’m all about personal branding, but I never thought I’d be all about personal branding on Instagram. Yet, here I am writing a blog post on this very topic.
When I first pitched this article idea, I envisioned myself teaching wannabe influencers and entrepreneurs how to become Instafamous in order to turn their side-hustles into bonafide, money-making machines.
But then I remembered a riveting statistic: [at least] 70 percent of employers use social media to screen candidates during the hiring process, and I couldn’t help but wonder, “Do employers check Instagram too?”
As soon as I asked myself the question, I knew the answer. After a quick Google search, I learned that 40 percent of recruiters look at candidates’ Instagram accounts.
Before you protest about how unfair this is, let me share one more fun fact…
Ninety-two percent of companies recruit through social media, and a quarter of recruiters are hiring on Instagram, especially millennial recruiters (35 percent) and those working at technology companies (63 percent).
This makes Instagram a prime place to promote yourself professionally and engage with prospective employers, especially because the overwhelming majority of job seekers don’t use Instagram for this purpose.
Maybe you’re not in the market for a job right now… but you probably will be in the future. In fact, I’m 100 percent certain you’ll be job hunting at some point, regardless of how much you love your current job.
Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as job security, so you must protect yourself by consistently engaging with key companies and professionals in your industry. Not only will this keep you top of mind, and make employers knock on your door, (which gives you leverage), but it also makes your name stand out in a stack of resumes, because it’s familiar to them.
With that in mind, I’ve decided it would benefit more readers to learn how to brand yourself on Instagram—with the goal of landing a job now or in the future—as opposed to becoming an Instagram influencer.
Step 1: Create a new Instagram account.
Scary fact: Your “private” Instagram profile isn’t actually private. Any recruiter with basic computer skills, (or who’s read an article like this) can easily peruse your private profile.
Pretty scary, considering the type of content most people post on their personal Instagram is anything but professional and could easily cost them a job.
According to Career Builder, 57 percent of employers refused to hire a candidate because of something they found on social media. The obvious things were provocative or inappropriate photos, videos, or information (40 percent); information about drinking or using drugs (36 percent); and discriminatory comments related to race, gender, or religion (31 percent).
I’m not suggesting you delete your personal Instagram account. What I am suggesting is that you create a public, professional Instagram account for employers to find when they search for you.
Lexi Merritt has three Instagram accounts: a private one to archive her life (aka a “finsta”), a personal one to connect with family and friends, and a public one for her digital magazine, Pretty Decent.
On the first, I’m under no obligation to perform for the world. On my personal, I’m under no obligation to try and boost engagement or build a ‘brand’ for myself. On Pretty Decent, I’m free to speak as an editor, in a tone that is both authoritative and approachable.
For creatives like Lexi, who works as a content strategist and course creator, knowing how to brand yourself on Instagram is a must. While Pretty Decent isn’t a traditional “personal brand” per se, it very much has “Lexi” written all over it, and it certainly adds to her professional portfolio.
When someone connects with me via Pretty Decent, I know that they really feel me—they like the same things I like, care about the same topics, probably followed the same realm of Tumblrs back in 2012. It matters more to me when someone cares about my work (as opposed to my face or my meticulously arranged nightstand).
How to setup your Instagram profile
You may want to consider signing up for a “business” Instagram account, so you can get access to analytics about your audience and add links to your stories. The flowchart below will help you decide if you’re unsure about which type of account is best for you.
To setup your Instagram profile, you’ll need:
- A username
- A profile photo
- A website link
- A short bio (~150 characters)
For SEO purposes, I always try to use the same username for all of my professional accounts, so when someone Googles “Lauren Holliday,” all my professional accounts appear on the first page.
I’d keep it simple, and see if your full name is available. So I would search for @laurenholliday. If that username wasn’t available, I’d try:
- @laurenaholliday (add middle initial)
- @hollidaylauren (last name, first name)
- @laurenholliday_ (add _)
Your profile pic should be your professional headshot, so employers will recognize you, since they probably checked your LinkedIn already.
Last but not least, write a short-and-sweet bio that makes a great first impression.
Instagram bio inspiration
What do you want to be known for? Include that front and center in your Instagram bio, and try to keep it consistent with the overall theme of your digital brand.
Alexa, in the bio featured above, puts her interest at the very top of her bio. It may or may not be related to the industry she works in, but it humanizes her, and shows she has interests and hobbies outside the office.
Add your day job
Tag your side-projects
Step 2: Create an Instagram strategy.
Before you start posting on Instagram, you’ll want to have a [loose] plan in place for what you’ll post and who you’ll engage with on the platform.
What to post on Instagram to grow your personal brand
First, consider your target audience. Why are they checking out your Instagram in the first place?
In the case of employers, they want to see:
- Your personality. Are you a culture fit?
- Your network. Who do you associate with online?
- Your passion(s). What do you care about outside of work?
- Your interests. What do you do for fun?
- Your skills. What are you an expert in? What can you talk about in an authoritative voice?
The key is to combine leisurely photos, which make you approachable and relatable, with images that demonstrate industry knowledge.
What to post to showcase your personality
Quotes say a lot about who you are and what you believe. Post positive quotes by your favorite people to show off your personality.
While you don’t need to create these quotes yourself, it’s super easy to do with free tools like Canva.
Make sure to include a meaningful caption, like in the example above. Her caption makes her more human by sharing her struggle with impostor syndrome—something MANY professionals struggle with everyday, making her more relatable and therefore likeable.
Share your workspace, as another way to show off your personality. The above post kills two birds with one stone thanks to a caption that explains what the poster is working on—learning Canva—which shows she’s motivated to up her skills, even on a Sunday.
Your sense of humor
Again, the above post is funny because it’s true. All knowledge workers can relate to this for sure. Just make sure your humor is office appropriate!
What to post to showcase your network
Industry events or conferences you attend
Post about the industry events you attend. For me, that’s been HubSpot’s INBOUND conference for the past few years.
You may not be the founder of Reddit, but some of you might be doing public speaking gigs. Make sure someone gets a good pic of you speaking!
At many industry events, you get the opportunity to meet REALLY cool people. Ask for a pic!
Another way to show you’re someone to be reckoned with is to interview industry influencers, and feature it on your Instagram. In the caption, you can brag about them, like the above post does.
Has a client or mentee said something sweet about you?! Share it with the world! You could even screenshot text messages or emails you receive.
What to post to showcase your passion(s)
Causes you support
Do you volunteer? What non-profits do you support, and what causes do you care about? Why? Melinda Gates’ Instagram has a wealth of phenomenal examples for this type of post.
Places you’ve traveled
Lost weight? Ran a 10k? Won a pie-eating contest? Whatever it is, share it!
What to post to showcase your interests
Books you’re reading
Take lifestyle-like shots of any good books you’re reading or have read that you’d recommend to your followers.
What activities—clubs, sports, hobbies, travels, etc.—do you engage in outside of work?
What to post to showcase your skills
Use the carousel post type to condense how-to articles into short-and-sweet how-to posts on Instagram. HBR is known for these type of posts.
HBR also posts a lot of “tip” posts, like the one above.
Industry news or stats
Have you ever been an employee of the month or received some other award or recognition at work? Maybe you were interviewed for the company blog or wrote a guest post on a reputable site. Whatever you do that deserves recognition, share it on your Instagram!
What to do on Instagram to grow your personal brand
There’s more to Instagram than just posting. You’ll also need to engage with your audience on the platform in order to grow your account with your target audience.
Think of this section as your “networking” strategy.
On Instagram, you can:
- Follow accounts and hashtags
- Like/Heart content
- Comment on content
- Direct message (DM) accounts
Before I dive into each of the above bullet points, it’s important to note that you should be more concerned about developing genuine connections with people and less concerned about growing a massive following and/or getting 10,000+ likes on each post.
Follow relevant Instagram accounts and hashtags.
Follow your favorite companies.
More and more companies are expanding their digital presence to Instagram, and some are even making separate accounts to recruit future employees.
You want to be following these accounts, even if you don’t need a job at the moment.
Make a list of companies you admire and/or could see yourself working for in the future. Then, search for their Instagram account either on Instagram or Google.
Follow employees at your favorite companies.
Some companies may not have an Instagram account. Don’t fret. You can circumvent this issue by finding relevant employees on LinkedIn, and then searching for them on Instagram or Google.
You can find even more employees from said company by looking for workplace photos on the first few employees’ Instagram feeds. Did they tag their co-workers? If so, follow the public accounts.
Or you can search for “geotags” on Instagram. For example, I searched for, “HubSpot,” and clicked on the search result with the address of HubSpot’s Cambridge office (see screenshot below).
Now, not only did I find more employees to follow, but I also get an inside look into what the culture is like at HubSpot.
Follow relevant hashtags.
Pay attention to the hashtags of companies you’re following. In fact, make a list of them, and use them, as they relate, on your posts. This will help industry professionals, possibly the employees of said company, find and notice you as an expert in the space.
Great articles on hashtags:
- How to Use Instagram Hashtags for Business: A Strategy for Visibility
- Instagram Hashtags: 8 Best Practices You Need to Know
Follow industry professionals and peers.
Hashtags are the perfect segway to this section, because it’s one of the ways to find people to potentially make friends with in your industry.
After your research, click on the top posts for the hashtags you listed. Follow the accounts who posted, and engage with their posts as well.
Engage on Instagram.
As I’ve been saying throughout this post, you won’t be successful if you have a “set it, and forget it” mindset. YOU—not some automated bot—must engage on the platform consistently if you want to a) grow your following and b) make a name for yourself (aka a personal brand).
And by consistently, I’m mean daily—since you’re likely wasting up to an hour on Instagram each day anyway (never mind all the other social media networks), according to research.
So I suggest reallocating a chunk of your unproductive social media time to engage on your professional Instagram account.
Set a daily engagement plan. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It could be as simple as:
Each week day, I will commit one hour, during lunch, to engage on Instagram. I will heart at least five posts, comment on two or three posts, reply to at least one story and send at least one DM.
Increase your goal overtime—or when you can—but always do the minimum you commit to each week.
Pay attention to the accounts you’re interacting with, to make sure you’re engaging with people and/or companies you truly like and would want to work or connect with IRL.
Instagram Comment Tips and Tricks
- Comment on photos that have fewer comments to stand out.
- Try to be one of the first people to comment on posts by “VIPs”(dream companies, people with your dream job, industry media outlets) so your comment is featured at the top, and more people will see it. You can do this by setting up alerts on your phone when certain accounts post.*
- Write meaningful comments that prove you actually care about it enough to comment.
- Mix in emojis for more laidback posts that make your personality shine through.
- Ask good questions that others may want to know too.
- Mention others in comments if they could relate, which makes you look good for spreading the word about the account.
- Reply to other popular comments.
- Do not promote yourself on someone else’s post. It’s rude, and people don’t like it.
- Leave a sincere compliment.
- Be positive.
- Add to the post, to make it even more beneficial. Maybe you know an additional related fun fact or something that would add value to followers and account.
- Most of all, just be human. This will make you more likeable.
Instagram Story Replies
The next step in our engagement strategy revolves around replying to Instagram stories, which 500 million people use every day on Instagram.
Most Instagram accounts allow anyone to reply to their stories, and that’s a phenomenal way to kick things up a notch, and really get your name out to the right people.
Don’t blow up people’s messages every time they share a story, but consistently (over time) reply to ones that stick out, just as you would to an old friend. Don’t write long-winded replies, and don’t make asks. Just respond to the story itself.
Viewing your name/profile picture again, which they’ve already seen in their comments before, is enough at this stage in the game.
Instagram Direct Messages (DMs)
Last and most exciting is sliding into VIPs’ DMs. 😉
I won’t dive into how to work the DMs in this post, because Gary Vaynerchuk did a phenomenal job already with his post “How to Network on Instagram Direct Message,” which I highly recommend bookmarking for later.
Use Instagram to your advantage.
Most people let Instagram (and social media in general) use them, but it’s not the platform’s fault really.
These networks can be your best friend, or they can be your worst nightmare. Whether you allow them to waste your time and make you unproductive, lonely, or depressed is up to you.
The thing is quitting cold turkey is hard, and then what else are you going to do when you have extra time for mindless activities anyway?
Well, now, I hope you have an answer—a professional Instagram account that connects you with like-minded professionals and companies that will help you grow personally and professionally simply by interacting with them on a daily basis.
So don’t forget to use your Instagram presence to your advantage.
If/when you walk into an interview, make comments that show you know the company culture because you’re a friend, fan, or follower on Instagram. Include that tidbit in your email, and make a comment about a recent post or a pattern you noticed. It will stand out.
Lastly, I wanted to share a few invaluable Instagram tools and posts that I’ve found helpful, on specific topics I didn’t dive deeper into in this guide.
- Later blog (Also, check out the guides/class in its website footer)
- Preview blog
- Make line breaks for Instagram captions (Tool)
- Shakr (Video creation tool)
- Canva (Post creation tool)
- The Ultimate Guide to Good Instagram Captions
- A Social Copywriting Playbook: How to Write Instagram Captions that Drive Engagement and Sales
- We Analyzed 15,000 Instagram Stories from 200 of the World’s Top Brands (New Stories Research)
- How to Create an Instagram Stories Content Plan: A Guide for Marketers
- The Secret to High Retention (Plus More Instagram Stories Intel from @Vice)