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  • Jenny

How I started an Instagram featuring a city I didn’t live in and grew it to 20K followers

If you're reading this, that means I've hit 20K! Yay!


I started my Instagram page on a whim June 2021. I was about 2 months out from the big move and road-trip from Seattle to Columbus. I had lived in Seattle for over 6 years at that point and loved the adventure of it all – the food, the hiking, making new lifelong friends. Those same friends were the ones who couldn’t quite understand how I could go from Seattle to Columbus in terms of fun, eats, and lifestyle. Honestly I couldn’t either, and was mostly moving to save my sanity while I had an east coast based job, but really felt I had something to prove to myself and my friends. I was fueled to show the world that Columbus, the city I experienced in my four years of undergrad at OSU, and had only scratched a small surface of, was actually cool AND growing.


Since I was a serial photo taker of any and all food and drink experiences in my presence, I had plenty of photos on my phone of places visited. Some of those photos made their way to Yelp, others remained solely in the cloud. A fraction of my food photos were from trips back to Columbus, whether it was for a football game, to visit friends, or to go clean our rental property that we bought in 2020 and were Airbnb-ing at the time. Flights were not too expensive… sometimes $300 roundtrip (direct through Alaska!), which almost equaled the price to pay cleaners in between guests. Plus I could see Ohio friends while at it.


So on June 3rd 2021, I started a group chat with my husband and my childhood bestie who lived (and still lives) in Columbus at time to get some highly solicited feedback on my bio. @cbusbitesandbooze was officially born. 0 posts, 0 followers, 0 following. And a lot of anxiety about the bio.



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It’s been such a fun two years and this blog post is the by-product of my reflection. I feel very fortunate that the page has grown so much – but at the same time – it was not for a lack of effort. Many times it felt like a second job. I tried not to let posting and creating content take away from the fun of actually visiting the place, but quite honestly it would sometimes. It took a while but over time I learned that I needed to put guardrails in place to have full agency over what I was doing, where I was going, and how I was going to experience it. I needed to turn off push notifications and not let the app determine my time or mind share. After installing some discipline and rules for myself, I’ve been able to realize the full (or almost full) benefit of having a food blog, among other great things like: an awesome community, new friends and relationships, and fun perks that have come over time. Like… people really want me to try their food for an honest review? I’m here for it.


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We went to Long Beach two weeks ago (mid-May 2023) and I started reflecting on the growth of the page during a run along the beach. I was trying to voice text notes in my phone while running to capture all the thoughts, which I’m sure was a hilarious sight. I was at 17k followers at the time and was trying to manifest hitting 20k before my two year page-aversary. I knew that if I followed my own tips, I’d set myself up to get there. Now here we are!


I am by no means a social media marketing expert, but I’ve really learned from and with the platform over the last two years through daily engagement and posting, to both stories and the feed. These are just my reflections and learnings, and I’ll continue to put them into practice as long as I have my page and have the goal of continued growth.


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So here they are. The 5 things I did to grow my following Instagram, in order of most tactical to most complex. With that said, I’ve learned that all five need to work in synchrony to maximize the growth potential.


1. Quantity (ever so slightly) over quality

I’m typing this out on May 23 2023 and it has been 695 days since my first post on the feed, and 647 days since moving to Columbus. My number of posts on Instagram? 673. Some may say the amount of posts is absurd or psychotic… but I’ve truly found that quantity over quality, especially at first, is the way to drive your own relevance within the platform. @rachaelsgoodeats who is now a bestselling author of her own cookbook (I’m an avid follower) recently posted how she started 8 years ago posting 2-4x a day for more than a year straight. I’m telling you – consistency in posting is key. Maybe it’s not multiple times a day or even daily like me, but maybe it’s once or a few times a week, and make that a routine. Like I said… easiest and most tactical tip to start. You’ll see the “ever so slightly over quality” part comes into play next because tips 2-5 are how to achieve better quality.


2. Be yourself

Be you. This one is second-most “tactical” but can feel pretty hard when there are so many personalities out there that we seemingly have to compete with. I felt a lot of pressure to have a creative voice and that’s what would intimidate me to post. But when I treated the caption as me just talking to a friend, it not only made writing a lot easier, but it made my followers feel they could relate more and comment and engage with the content. They’re reading or responding to a friend’s review. Take the pressure off to be someone you’re not and just be yourself. (With that said - I do love creative writing and make sure I can scratch that itch every once in a while on the blog when I have the time.)


3. Engage with your community

Respond back to comments and DMs. I think people want nothing more than to be understood in life, or feel some sort of connection over a topic or mutual interest. I make an effort to respond to all comments and DMs and truly have made good friends in doing so (even if they’re virtual). Don’t underestimate the online homies! So at first, responding is not too difficult; you don’t get that many comments. But get in the practice of replying to everything (well everything that’s not creepy or rude or spam). Plus when it’s a public comment or dialogue, you’ll drive more engagement on your post and ultimately, your page.


4. Adapt with the app

This is the one I struggle with the most, yet know most strongly contributed to my quick growth. This one is complex and takes nuance. It was a bit less nuanced for me since I was posting daily so could test and learn what resonated and what didn’t with my followers. When reels were getting bigger about a year ago, I asked my followers if they wanted to see more static posts or reels. The response was overwhelming static posts. Knowing that my page’s success was founded on engaging with and responding with the community and the followers, I was hesitant to post more reels. I checked in every few months, and it felt like people still generally appreciated static posts but were more open to reels. At the same time, Instagram was hardcore pushing posts. In the last few months, they started differentiating whether someone followed you from one of your reels vs. not from reels - as a way to incent people to do more of what’s gaining you followers. I’ve recently upped my content to about 50/50 static and reel and have found that to be a good balance of staying true to my page which was at one point almost all static posts, to catering to the algorithm which is driving follower growth through reels. It sucks to feel like you have to cater to an algorithm, but ultimately it’s necessary to consider it if you’re trying to grow. By posting a higher mix of reels in the last couple weeks, I went from hitting 10k just last month on 4/13, to now 20k.



5. Relate your content back to your followers

So while this one is not necessarily always “complex”, it does take me the most thought and energy. I treat my page as a personal blog, so it does not always feature Columbus bars and restaurants. I try to capture all experiences I love, in and out of Columbus. I see posts that are not Columbus-specific as a personal challenge… how do I get these followers to like and engage with this post even though it is inherently NOT Columbus bites or booze? That’s where an aesthetic cover photo and a really thoughtful caption come into play. Of course, you can stick with just posting exactly the niche of your page - but I’ve found that expanding to other experiences makes my account more relatable. I do so many other things and am a person outside of Columbus food and drink. I travel for personal, for work, explore new cities, etc. And you know I’m not letting those pictures go to waste! Pictures in Long Beach? Probably not too likely to get a “like.” Pictures in Long Beach with the caption that says something like “Breeze just added a direct from CMH so basically you can experience this too”? Now that’s relevant for the audience.


I debated making a reel on this but know that this type of content is not going to resonate with a good portion of my followers who are out there looking for good eats and don’t care about follower growth - so here it is blog form. But I do think it would be a cool opportunity to try out vlogging style content… so I still might if I’m feeling inspired some day to take a risk and branch out.


THANK YOU for reading and thank you for following my page. I’ve truly had so much fun with it over the last couple years and I’m really happy with the community we’ve built together and the quick growth.


To learning more about this crazy world of digital together.


Peace, love, and good bites & booze,

Jenny



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