DIY, FAQ, Misc

Do You + Be Kind: Growing Your Instagram – Part Three

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Hey friends!
Okay, if you missed PART ONE and PART TWO of the organic Instagram growth series, click to catch up!  I think it’s pretty important to peek at the first part, because it kind of shows you why this series might be a bit against the grain, and it gives you some background on my own IG journey, too!  Take a sec to catch up with us, and then let’s move on to the next in the series…outline below:

Part One: Behind the Scenes
Part Two: Who Are You? (style + boundaries)
Part Three: What Do You Post? (pics + stories)
Part Four: How Will You Grow? (growth tactics)
Part Five: Pro Tips! (advice from your fave IG-ers)

In this third installment, we’re going to chat about doing you + being kind on your Instagram feed, specifically photography and IG stories.  I can only speak from my own experiences with regards to these two topics, but hopefully you can take what seemed to work for me and make it work for you, too!  We’ll break both topics (photography + stories) into two sections each: DO YOU and then BE KIND….


Let’s pull back for a sec and think about what Instagram IS before we try and figure out how to make it work for us.  Instagram is driven by visuals: beautiful pictures on beautiful pictures on beautiful pictures.  Therefore, I think one of the very first basics we need to master before ever trying to really get growing is how to snap a great pic AND how to consistently edit to create a cohesive feed.  Now listen, I’m no photographer…heck, 90% of the photos you see on my feed are just taken with my iPhone!  #prostatus 😂  However, no matter the fanciness of your camera, there are a few basic photography principals that I think help me when I snap my own pics.  Good lighting and positioning are top on my priority list, so much so that I even wrote a series on photography tips and tricks that cover these in detail!  Click links below images:



Photography, like home decor or personal style, is so different from one person to the next depending on what they find beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, so it’s impossible to give a fool proof guide on taking photos that will cover everyone.  However, good lighting and interesting positioning can take your IG feed to a whole new level, I think.

Another tip I’d give that I think helped me along the way: don’t post it unless it is a GREAT image.  The subject matter will be different from person to person, but if you haven’t really worked on the image, considered the lighting and positioning and put some real thought into how it will appear on your overall feed, I say push the pause button.  You only have one or two chances to really make an impact per day on Instagram, and I think it’s better to wait and not post anything than quickly post something that doesn’t truly represent YOU!

Now let’s chat a bit about editing those images.  Oh boy, there are a billion presets, filters and such out there for you to play around with, so I won’t try and reinvent the wheel.  What I will say about editing is KEEP IT CONSISTENT.  One of my favorite things is to stumble onto a cohesively edited feed full of different images all edited similarly that then create an easy-on-the-eyes experience.  Are you drawn to punchy colors and bright images?  Stick with it!  Do you prefer moody hues with lots of contrast?  Great, stay true to you!  Doesn’t matter your style…but when you find it, stick with it to create a cohesive feed.  Now, it might take a bit to find what you love, and your mind might change after awhile….that’s okay I think as long as every other picture on your feed isn’t changing completely as far as editing goes.  Let me show you an example of how my own editing styles have changed over the past year and a half on IG and what tools I used to create the images themselves.

These were some of my very first photos I published onto my @cottonstem feed when I first got started, and you can see I was into light, bright and a little hazy.  This style wasn’t really me as I expressed in the previous post in this series [HERE], but I was still learning what I liked!  During this phase, I was using my Canon DSLR mostly to shoot the images, and for editing, I mainly used the Instagram app itself!  I would pull the exposure and brightness way up, add some haze and cool down the warmth level.  Nothing really wrong with this style of editing, but as I said, I was really only doing it because that’s what I saw going on around me.  It took a minute to get my footing…as you’ll see below….

After a season of highly edited photos, this next section on my feed went almost to the other end of the spectrum: hardly any editing at all!  I was snapping pics with my DSLR about half the time and using my iPhone the other half, and honestly I tried to do as little editing as possible during this time.  When I did edit the photos, I used the app Snapseed to brighten minimally and sharpen the images.  I was kinda over the overly blown out and desaturated pics I’d been posting, so I wanted to try doing something else for a bit!  Again, nothing wrong with light editing, however looking back, this section of my overall IG feed reads pretty dark and heavy in comparison.  And now…?

Nowadays, I feel like I’ve found a happy medium.  Light and bright images but not overly drained of all color that are crisp and clear and lean towards the pale blues and natural woods that I’m drawn to!  During this most recent phase of my Instagram photography, I’m pretty much only using my iPhone to snap pics honestly, and I use the Lightroom app on my phone to make photo edits.  Right now, I’m pulling out the blues and cognac/natural woods while brightening up darker images without blowing them completely out.

Again, this is my preference and I’m doing me….so you do you when it comes to photo editing!  Even if your feed is broken into editing style chunks like mine, as long as you keep the day to day editing styles the same for the most part, you’ll produce a cohesive feed.  Don’t be afraid to do you though!  If you get bored and want to play around, maybe edit some photos and put them next to each other in an album so you can see how they’ll turn out on your actual feed before making any big editing changes.  Don’t be afraid to do you and make changes, but I’d also recommend sticking with what you love once you find it…even if you start to see tons of new trends come and go.  Do you!


Once you start to really develop an editing skill set with regards to your IG pics, you’ll also start getting asked for your exact how-to’s.  It’s so hard to give people a one-size-fits-all approach to snapping and editing quality pics, but what we CAN do is be kind and be open with what has worked for us in general to help point people in the right direction.  So many of my awesome IG buddies have helped me learn about editing apps and photography tips, and I am ever grateful to them for helping me along the way!  Share your general knowledge, show people the apps you use and love and then spread the love on Instagram when you see beautiful work coming through!  Those little squares take a LOT of time and effort in the background, so, no matter the exact style of someone’s pic, when you see something beautiful, TELL THEM!  🙌🏻


If Instagram feeds are for curated, gorgeously styled images, Instagram stories are for the real life behind the squares.  😉  Your followers of course are on your feed for beautiful, inspirational images, but honestly….?  I bet they want to see some real life, no matter the mess.  Gosh, I know that I want to see it!  Instagram stories are such a great way to bridge the gap between the impossibly perfect squares on one’s feed AND the messy, laundry-piles-for-days reality that lies behind them.  Let them see the real you, warts and all.

Because my IG feed is used as a marketing tool for my design biz and because I partner with companies on my feed, it will never be a place to look at laundry piles or sinks full of dirty dishes.  It is a business and thus I keep it clean and tidy and full of (hopefully!) inspiring images.  However…Instagram stories?!  That’s where the cray can be found on a daily basis!  😂  The video aspect of IG stories helps truly connect you with your followers in a way that a static (albeit gorgeous!) image and written caption just can’t.

Here are a few IG stories tips and tricks that seem to have worked for me:

1 – Turn the camera on YOU!!  I get asked all the time how I come across so comfortable on stories when I’m in essence talking to thousands of people, and the answer?  I just pretend I’m talking to someone who knows me in real life.  Would I put on a fake persona for them?  Nope.  So I try to be as natural as I would be with my real-life friend while I’m filming IG stories, and it takes the pressure off!  Don’t be afraid to turn the camera around, even on days when you don’t look absolutely put together.  I’m on IG stories more often in my jammies and with no makeup than I am when I actually got ready, but honestly, I think people just want to see the REAL you, frizzy hair, under-eye bags, day old sweat pants and all.

2 – Keep it short, sweet and interesting!  I mean, say what you need to say, but try not to ramble on and on…because you’ll lose your viewers!  If the goal is to keep people active and engaged, try and think like them: would YOU want to watch 25 story segments about the same thing, or would you rather see smaller segments covering lots of fun topics throughout the day?  I mean, I get it.  Sometimes I ramble and those story segment dots start to get smaller and smaller 😂, but for the most part, I try to break it up into smaller segments of interest.  If you talked a lot to the camera in the morning, maybe show a mini house tour that afternoon or cook an easy recipe with the camera pointed away for a bit.  Think of stories like your own TV channel: give people variety while doing you, and they’ll keep tuning in!

3 – Add text captions and emojis/stickers for those who have the volume down!  Not everyone can watch stories at full blast, because perhaps they are at work (shhhh…I won’t tell! 😉) or they might be holding a sleeping baby.  Make your stories fully interactive by including short, succinct, funny captions that keep everyone interested and included, with or without the volume at full blast!


With regards to IG stories, I have two “Be Kind” tips for ya: be kind to yourself on stories and use stories to be kind to others.  When I say to be kind to yourself, I mean be thoughtful about just how much of YOU you want to give away to social media.  I’m all about sharing glimpses of real life behind the pretty squares on IG stories, and I love chatting with my buddies there.  However, it’s tempting to give away too much of our personal, just-for-us parts of our lives to where we can start to feel a bit overexposed.  Be kind to yourself and create boundaries [all about those boundaries HERE] that allow you to express yourself, show “real life” glimpses to your followers, but that keep some things just for you.  It can be easy to lose ourselves in social media, because its all just so dang fun (and sometimes addictive).  However, creating healthy online boundaries will keep things, well, healthy!

It’s also important to use Instagram stories as a way to show kindness to others.  This platform can be used for sharing other’s accounts, accomplishments and accolades so easily, because it isn’t a permanent commitment like a post on our feeds, you know?  It’s a 24 hour sweet shoutout to a buddy that sends a smile!  Share your friends, share new-to-you feeds, share baby feeds that are just getting their start.  Kindness comes back around, and Instagram stories are a low-commitment, interactive way to spread the love and share our spotlights with others!

That wraps up the third installment of the DO YOU + BE KIND Instagram growth series, and next time, we’ll be chatting about growth tactics and possibly earning income using IG as a marketing tool for your biz.  Check back here for part four soon, buddies o’ mine!  I sure hope this series is helpful in some way to ya!


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  1. Nina Carter says:

    This is SUPER helpful!!! I’m at a complete crossroads with where to take my feed & this helps me tremendously! Thank you so much, Erin. I’ve been thinking about this series so often & waiting “patiently” for this part! 😂😍

  2. Amanda says:

    I am really enjoying this series! Instagram with a purpose, that is most definitely my goal! My account is small and slow to grow, but I feel as though making a conscious effort to be true to myself and taking the time to show kindness to others has helped to form wonderful collaborative friendships and find a safe space for creative expression! Keep on keeping on Erin!

  3. Bonnie says:

    This is great, Erin! I’m not trying to grow my IG at all. In fact, most of my followers are my mom and siblings. 😂 But, I just love this series. You’re so genuine and it’s so great that you’re providing this info for others! I’ll keep following you forever because I love your “you do you” philosophy!

  4. Brandi says:

    Do you use a filter on IG Stories? You always look glowing!

    • Erin | Cotton Stem says:

      If it’s dark or weird lighting, I for SURE use a filter to sort of bring the lighting back to what it looks like in person/real life…does that make sense??

  5. Tina says:

    Erin I sure do appreciate your sharing your insight. In all honesty, I keep losing my way with my account. My hearts desire is to truly have an account with a purpose. A purpose to shine light on others, encouraging and uplifting. It’s hard to find a good balance when you also use your account for business purposes as well. So thank you friend!

    • Erin | Cotton Stem says:

      I love your stated purpose–it gives you a worthy “why” for spending time on the app! Go you!

  6. Erin,
    I love the series to do you🤓 helpful for sure👏

  7. Love this Erin!! Your always so real and relate able.

  8. Leandra says:

    Love this! Always so helpful 🙂

  9. Ahhh I’ve been waiting for this part. Thank you for sharing all the valuable info.

    Do you use a filter while video tapping or can you suggest an app/video tool to provide a filter please?

    Thank you!!

    • Erin | Cotton Stem says:

      I’m glad it’s been helpful! I use story filters to sort of adjust the lighting if it’s super dark or reading super yellow under florescent lights if that makes sense?

  10. Jenny says:

    Erin, thank you so much for this series!!! This is so so good!! I so appreciate you doing this!

  11. Renee says:

    Thanks so much for this series! I’m learning a ton! Question for you….do you record your stories right in Instagram, or do you use snapchat? If so, how does that work?

  12. Beth Piper says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to do this blog series. As a small shop owner/photographer who is trying to find her way, this info is invaluable. Lately I find myself being so busy with my business, which is great, but at the same time, frustrating because I can’t do it all, and feel like I can’t get it right. I need to learn to be kinder to myself, and find the joy in all of it. I look forward to all of your posts and stories, as they inspire me to keep going and try and figure it out. Many thanks Erin!!!! Have a wonderful day!!

    • Erin | Cotton Stem says:

      If we lose the joy, then why are we doing it?! I ask myself this all the time when I get off track, so you aren’t alone!

  13. Angelina White says:

    Thanks a great read, I’m going to need to do some more thinking on keeping my photo editing style consistent because my account is a combination of many different genres…metal decor gig and homesteading which is a bunch of different things. I’m up for the challenge though, I love photography and want it to be consistent.
    On my stories I’m trying to turn the camera on myself and I’m still learning to be comfortable because I’m horrified of public speaking and I stumble on my words but I also figure that shows the real me. Our account is a work in progress and I thank you so much for sharing your experience.

    • Erin | Cotton Stem says:

      I know, it’s intimidating for me still at times, especially when mama be less than fresh that day, ha!! 😉

  14. Kristy says:

    Yassssss! I’ve been eagerly awaiting this Chapter!!! Thank You Sweet Erin!! ♥️ Very Helpful 🤗

  15. Crissy Cates says:

    Thanks for taking the time to get this info out to us. I look forward to each part of this series! This is all super valuable information from an IGer I totally respect! XOXO

  16. Kaitlyn says:

    Another great post full of inspiration! Thank you for your tips and reminders. You always stay true to your style and keep the real life up front, so refreshing!!

  17. Susan says:

    Erin; I have a quick question. I have an Instagram that I’ve been on now for a year or so. It’s mostly about family and maybe some about career/traveling. Should I start up a brand new Instagram name and feed for the ministry/Missions Instagram that I want to begin? Or should I just transition from what I have now into my new venture on Instagram and keep the same Instagram account and
    name, And start with a good number of followers already?

    • Erin | Cotton Stem says:

      If you are going to try for a cohesive feed and the current photos don’t work, then maybe think about adding a second account!

  18. Katelyn says:

    Thank you for you’re honesty! I’ve been discouraged but you have encouraged me to keep going 😊

  19. Catherine says:

    Wow! Just finished three parts and couldn’t read fast enough! I felt like you were addressing everything about IG that I love and don’t love ! Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful information with us! I love your honesty and authenticity.. your realness!!! I’m gonna work on your suggestions and hopefully I will be happier with my account, and my dilemma which is spending less time on IG but enjoying it more? I’m not about numbers but of course I’d be untruthful if I said they don’t matter! Thank you so much Erin! 💗

  20. Justine says:

    Hi There! When starting your blog how did you chose the right platform for you? I am having such trouble trying to research and figure out which one will be easiest for me to navigate. I am certainly not a coder so am looking for something user friendly. Do you have any suggestions or tips?

  21. Casey Walker says:

    I read all three parts this morning and I am just blown away. I am fairly new to the IG world and truly appreciated reading your thoughts. My initial idea was to create a place to share and inspire others just as you and so many other accounts have inspired me. You confirmed that I need to just be patient and continue to be me to allow for growth. Thank you, Erin for your kind words!

  22. Lindsey says:

    I messaged you not too long ago about the very content! I’m so happy I watched your story today. This is fantastic of you 🎉 thank you thank you thank you and can’t wait to use some of these pointers

  23. Great advice! Thank you! I need to be brave and turn that camera around on the myself… So scary!!! You really do make it look easy 😉 Thank you for sharing and inspiring 💕

    • Kristy says:

      I’m with Jacee! So scary! 🙈🙉🙊 I sound so weird I wouldn’t even listen to me! 🤣 Thanks for all the tips and fir you being so kind! 😘🤗

    • Kristy says:

      I’m with Jacee! So scary! 🙈🙉🙊 I sound so weird I wouldn’t even listen to me! 🤣 Thanks for all the tips and for you being so kind! 😘🤗

  24. Love this series, Erin! You are such a light of kindness and an inspiration at being authentically and weirdly YOU. I love watching your IG stories and I’m trying to gain more confidence being in FRONT of the camera. Thanks so much for the advice!

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