In some industries, employers aren’t just turning to LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to vet job candidates. They’re also checking out Instagram in order to try and understand potential hires beyond the scope of their resumes. And while Instagram may not be as universal a job tool as LinkedIn, it’s becoming increasingly useful for savvy professionals.
Our digital lives–and the way we work–are arguably more visually driven than ever before, and you can turn that to your advantage professionally. But using images as a way to sharpen your personal brand is only part of it. Like any other social network, Instagram is a powerful way to connect with like-minded people in your field over things you’re both passionate about (and no, you don’t necessarily need to become a brand influencer in the process).
With this in mind, here are the five steps you can take to use Instagram to advance your career.
First, you need to decide whether Instagram is a right fit for your career path, and what role it can play. There are obviously certain roles and industries that benefit from Instagram more than others, but the list is expanding in ways you might not expect. If your career focuses on aesthetics, of course–graphic design, architecture, interior designer, marketing, and real estate are the obvious ones–then Instagram holds big potential for you.
Other fields you might not think of also have a heavy presence on Instagram, though–from IT and legal professions to consultants, engineers, and even bankers. The simple reason is that, like just about everybody else, they’re using the platform to share photos with their networks and to keep up with industry leaders, media outlets, sports figures, and companies they care about. Just because you don’t post gorgeous photos–and maybe don’t want to–doesn’t mean you can’t use Instagram to your benefit.
Next, figure out what you want your feed to say about you–not just on a personality basis but specifically when a manager, recruiter, or employer lands on your profile. Think about what percentage of your photos you want to showcase your career–your ideas, your influence, the projects you’re working on–and your life and likability. Remember, too, that people form an opinion almost instantaneously about you after landing on your profile.
The key, no matter who you are or what role you work in, is to mix and match between leisurely photos, which make you approachable and relatable, with images whose captions demonstrate knowledge of your industry.
Say you’re in finance. You might post images featuring quotes from industry leaders, repost pictures by innovative brands you like, or just share news images on your own feed from media outlets where you can write your own thoughts about what’s going on in the caption section. The point is that not every image needs to be a photo you took yourself. Just like Facebook and Twitter, you can share others’ content and mention those sources’ handles as a way of tapping into a conversation. Plus, using the caption space to write a little about your own field as well as current events shows you’re interested in what’s going beyond the finance world, too.
At the same time, you should probably hold off on posting too many pictures from your own outings and parties–like any other platform, you should be careful to show a degree of professionalism in the content you put out there. Then again, sports like golfing might be a good fit for people who work in finance since deals can often be closed on the golf course. Especially in long-term engagements, people want to know that they’ll have a good relationship with business partners over the long run.
Engage with your target market. By following people at all levels of your industry who interest you, you’ll get a feel for the types of accounts that most share your interests. For instance, if you work in tech, go to Google’s, WeWork’s, or Samsung’s Instagram accounts and engage with the other users who are commenting and liking photos there. Pay someone a compliment on their thoughtful input on a photo, like their personal photo, or even follow their account if you like what you see.
Since hashtags are all searchable, you can also use those to build your professional network based on common interests. Sift through photos with similar hashtags, and start engaging with the individuals who use and congregate around them.
Here’s the part where the more “Instagrammy” stuff matters–the part of the personal branding formula that some people are resistant to and that many professionals don’t think applies to them.
As you think about showing a slice of your lifestyle, think about which activities and places you’re displaying around which there’s a substantial community–people who share similar interests (from baking pies to snowboarding) you can start a conversation with around that photo. Just discovered a new wine bar in your neighborhood that you’ve been hitting up on weekends? Share a photo from there, tag it by location, and then see who’s done the same.
This applies even if lifestyle isn’t all that important to your industry–since chances are more than just the people in your field enjoy a great conversation over a glass of wine and light eats. And that, in turn, can help expand your access to people and opportunities you may not even have known about.
Keep in mind, Instagram can serve as your “interests” brought to life, curated in a way that lets you highlight the ones that you think will most resonate with your target audience–whether that’s recruiters, managers, colleagues, or just other professionals who do what you do.
Another great way to build your professional network on Instagram is through “shout-outs.” That’s when one profile tags you and praises your account, typically in exchange for doing the same for them. This is something Instagram influencers tend to do more often than everyday users, but it’s a strategy anybody can tap into. Find accounts of comparable sizes in followers and who have similar backgrounds and interests, then send them a direct message asking them to do a shout-out.
You’ll be surprised how quickly you can build a network of followers using by asking other users for shout-outs. Some will even do it because they share the same beliefs and respect your professional expertise or the content and messages you share on your profile.
Like all forms of social networking, it’s possible to overdo it and wind up seeing diminishing returns. It will become evident that you’re wasting your time when your efforts to connect with your target market keep falling flat. Some of this is intuitive. For instance, if fashion isn’t your cup of tea, don’t spend too much time engaging with followers on Vogue‘s account or users using the #fashionista hashtag. Otherwise, just experiment a little and do more of what works. What is great about social media is that the reaction is immediate; you see the results instantly as others begin to engage with you–or don’t.
More and more, having a meaningful social following is just another form of networking–it’s a way to demonstrate the power of your ideas and influence in a certain industry, and it gives you a base of likeminded professionals to tap into for advice and opportunities. Still, the old adage to “know thyself” applies just as well to modern technology as it always has to life itself. Do a little brainstorming beforehand about how you want to position yourself and whom you most want to connect with. Then get to it!