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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Your Ultimate Guide to Using Instagram for Personal Branding (Without Feeling Fake)

person on Instagram
Adam Kuylenstierna/EyeEm/Getty Images

You use social media, right? But how often do you think about how it can help your career?

Probably not often. Take Instagram—I certainly never considered using it for anything other than sharing my favorite vacation photos. And yet it can be an incredibly helpful resource for building my personal brand as a professional writer.

To learn more about how to actually brand myself on Instagram, I reached out to two Muse career coaches who also have stellar Instagram profiles (and know how to use them)—Jena Viviano and Emily Liou.

“If you’ve never used Instagram, I would highly recommend it, especially for those folks in the creative fields. In today’s day and age, Instagram is becoming a modern-day portfolio,” says Viviano.

It also builds credibility for those who are looking to pursue roles in marketing, social media, or even just the tech space: “Hiring managers are going to look for candidates that can ‘walk the talk.’ If they’re trusting you to grow their accounts and their engagement, they want to see you have a social media strategy of your own,” adds Liou.

So how do you build up a presence that shows you in the best possible light?

Step 1: Figure Out Your Goal

Like any other personal branding effort, you need to understand what your goals are. Is it a medium for sharing your work? Highlighting your expertise? Building a network? The clearer your message, the easier it’ll be to craft your profile accordingly.

Liou suggests looking to others for ideas—influencers, companies, executives you admire, even brands: “What accounts do you feel drawn in by? What do you enjoy about their posts or profile? Use this as inspiration to guide you in the way you want to look at your profile long-term and with big picture lenses on.” (Check out some of our favorite accounts here.)

Or, she advises, “explore what three adjectives you want your personal brand to be defined by, and use these as guidelines to determine if what you’re posting in images and words is aligned or not. For example, my three personal branding adjectives are fun, positive, and career expert. In every post I upload, I make sure that the image and caption can be described with one of these three adjectives, if not all three!”

How should you approach Instagram compared to other platforms? The first, more obvious advice is that it’s a visual platform. With this in mind, you’ll want to have a strategy in place for sharing your expertise via photos, video, and short text.

But this also allows you more creative freedom: “When people visit, they should be able to understand you on a more personal level compared to a LinkedIn profile. This is an opportunity to display your personality and share your passions, interests, opinions, and joys in life,” states Liou.

Related: The First Step to Building Your Personal Brand

Step 2: Refine Your Profile

Before you add any content, you’ll want to set up your profile for success.

And that means writing a clear bio that includes:

  • Your full name (if your handle isn’t clear)
  • Your job title and location
  • Your current and former companies (“Tag where you’ve worked in your bio! I have ‘Corporate alum’ with each of my employer alma mater’s tagged,” adds Viviano)
  • Links to your personal website or other social profiles
  • Any other important information or hashtags about your expertise or brand

This way, when an employer Googles your name, they can easily stumble upon your profile. Like so:

“While employers and recruiters still primarily search for talent using LinkedIn, there is a keyword search function on Instagram so if you want to be found, you can sprinkle in keywords that you want to be recognized for,” adds Liou. (To make yourself even easier to find? Make your profile public.)

Related: 4 Times You’ll Have to Write Your Own Professional Bio—and How to Do it Right

Step 3: Curate Your Content

“The number one rule I give to every single one of my clients is if you don’t want your future employer or boss to see it, don’t post it,” says Viviano.

This goes for any current content you have on your profile. If you’re worried about past photos either you’ve posted or others have tagged you in, you can always archive or hide them.

To keep your posts interesting, consider using a graphic design tool like Canva or one of these apps. And, don’t forget the power of a good filter.

Also, take advantage of the Stories feature—this can be a great way to share live events, quick snippets of your expertise, or yourself in action: “For example, as a career coach, anytime I speak at an event I might have someone record a 15 second clip of my speech and make sure to highlight the story so people can know I speak at events or provide workshops on career advice,” says Liou.

Finally, consider sharing other people’s posts that are aligned with your brand or might inspire your followers. Just make sure to give credit where it’s due (more on regramming here).

Related: 8 Easy Ways to Clean Up Your Social Media (Because Hiring Managers Really Do Look at It)

Step 4: Build Out Your Connections

Following others isn’t just an easy way to get your profile in front of the right people—it’s also a great way to keep in contact with and track the trajectory of those you admire.

“If there are companies you really admire, follow them. It’s a great way to engage and stay informed of the company’s updates and events. It’s also a great way to share in interviews that you have a genuine interest and have knowledge beyond just what you read on their homepage,” says Liou.

And, adds Viviano, don’t be afraid to make a personal connection: “A lot of them have corporate culture accounts so you can see what a day-in-the-life is actually like. If you have a solid profile that speaks to your profession, I would recommend reaching out to their handle (perhaps by DM or tagging them). It’s likely that the person managing that account is either an employer branding specialist or in recruiting, so it may be a path of least resistance to get noticed. Remember, the whole job search process is ‘How do you stand out from the competition’—reaching out via Instagram may be one way to do that.”

One final tip: Like archiving inappropriate photos, you may want to consider unfollowing those who may make you look bad: “If you’re following people who can be seen as controversial, you don’t want to be seen as guilty by association,” states Liou.

Related: How Instagram Can Get You Ahead of the Competition to Land the Job

Step 5: Monitor Your Account

Having a good personal brand requires a consistent effort, meaning more than just logging in and liking posts.

“If you want to be a pro, consider posting one post a day or once a week at the very minimum,” says Liou. “You can use free apps like Plann to help you automate your scheduling if you find yourself not having time to update often.”

It doesn’t have to be a science, but by keeping your profile updated and active you show you’re a savvy social media professional who doesn’t let their projects fall to the wayside.

Related: How to Create a Personal Branding Plan in 30 Minutes (Even if You Hate “Personal Branding”)

While you might think of Instagram as a place to show off your vacations, pets, and selfies, it offers plenty of opportunity for you to showcase your work and who you are. Graphic designers can show off their latest products in a visually-appealing way, content creators can share new posts by linking to their website, digital marketers can make it clear they know how to engage an audience, salespeople can make it obvious that they know how to make anything look appealing, and the average professional can use it to boost their likability and hireability.

So it may be worth logging on for more than just that latest dog meme.