Lifestyle blogger, photographer, mother to my son Boden and frenchie Smalls, wife to my hubs Trevor. I built this space in an attempt to inspire you to find your edit and empower you to create the life you desire. Through digital content and honest storytelling, I hope to guide you along the way. Because everyone has an edit, and I'm here to help you find yours.
Get To Know Me
I seriously cannot believe the day is here where I can hit publish on this post.
Over the weekend I hit a milestone that’s been a goal of mine all year — reaching 10,000 followers on Instagram!
As it’s been quite a journey full of trial and error, guessing and testing and an insane amount of learning — I thought I’d share with you my experience along the way and tips for building an authentic following. I can’t say my way is the right way, but I encourage you to take away from it what you will and make your journey the most fulfilling for you and your goals.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with my story, I started The Grey Edit over two years ago — 26 months ago for specifics — in an attempt to have a creative outlet on the web that would house my love for all things style.
I had started a few blogs before, but this one was going to be different. It would be my attempt at a digital stamp on the web – one that would be permanent, define who I was and would play along with the growing obsession around social media and personal branding.
Of course I had been a lover and user of Instagram for quite sometime — since March 2011 to be exact (will you look at this high quality image and over-filtered gem) and just social media in general. My friends knew me as the “over-poster” with hundreds of albums on Facebook and my previous company as “the social media expert” running the social show. But as I watched others use Instagram as a tool to gain exposure to their personal brand and grow an audience that would benefit from the content they created, I yearned to be a part of the movement.
So I did just that — I created social media channels for The Grey Edit that would act as extensions of my blog to build awareness, promote my content and reach my target audience of style-conscious women seeking inspiration on personal style.
The Grey Edit began in 2016 as a blog. My main goal from day one was to create my very own digital space on the internet that I would own entirely. I chose to use the social channels created under The Grey Edit name as tools to point back to my blog.
Some brands begin solely as an Instagram handle — which is a perfectly okay strategy too. They may see faster growth as they have their full time dedicated to growing their following vs building the backend and frontend of a digital property. Just something to keep in mind if you’re seeking advice on pure Instagram growth.
I remember the feeling of accomplishment I felt after the weekend passed where I stayed in my pajamas for 36 hours straight to launch my blog and promote on social media about my new creation. It was the best. I had built countless google docs over the last six months on strategy, content and branding — and finally all those words turned into a digital reality.
#ProTip: if you’re thinking about launching a blog, my best advice is to just do it. Stop thinking about it, stop planning and strategizing — just decide on a name, buy a domain, find a template you like and launch. Your blog will be a constant work in progress — one you’ll tweak and refine time and time again. Don’t delay the start. I could have reached 10k six months earlier — catch my drift?
So what was my strategy following launch?
The strategy I decided to implement to build my blog following involved a mix of the following —
// SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNEL AMPLIFICATION
I created social media channels under The Grey Edit that would act as amplifiers of my blog : The Grey Edit Facebook Page, The Grey Edit Instagram Account, The Grey Edit on Twitter and The Grey Edit on Pinterest. I chose these channels as they were the ones I used the most as a digital consumer and the ones I saw my target audience using the most as well.
When I started my blog I knew how important it was to make sure every aspect was set up for SEO success. Each page I’d build would need to have a sufficient meta description, every image I added would need the appropriate alt-text and every blog post I’d write would need to have the best title, keywords, outline, etc. to be found and indexed on the web. Now this is worthy of an entire post in itself, but for now, I’m sharing high level.
// MINIMAL PAID ADVERTISING
Having experience in social media management in my marketing career, I was pretty familiar with the concept of “pay to play”. Whenever our team would launch a new piece of content, we’d use Facebook Advertising to put a few bucks to make sure our content was seen to a pre-defined target audience. I used this strategy with posts that I wanted to reach the masses. This would get more eyes from style-conscious women who had a love for fashion and online shopping in the US on my content. In addition, I decided to leverage Google Adwords, bidding on select keywords at the minimum monthly cost to help surface thegreyedit.com for those who were searching for style blogs on Google.
Now let’s talk Instagram — the primary social media channel that I’ve leveraged for blog and brand exposure. Why did I decide to use Instagram more than every other social channel? I just like the platform. I love the fact that it’s image driven — being a lover of photography / a photographer myself. I love the community aspect — finding like minded users who spit out similar content and those who actually benefit from the content you create. I also love the evolution — new features, new ways to grow, new users every single day. And, most importantly — it’s the channel where my target audience mostly spends their time.
Based off research I had done from experts and articles available back at the time on how to grow your following, I decided to execute a mix of the following —
// USING HASHTAGS
I created a note on my phone that would host different groups of hashtags by category – fashion, life, travel, etc. I’d do research to find what the top hashtags were to use to get my posts seen by the right people and try to hit the max of 30 tags. For instance #ootd was a common hashtag being used by style-conscious women who were seeking daily outfit inspiration and would search Instagram for that hashtag to return posts. Peep my first Insta post on The Grey Edit to see which hashtags I started out with.
#ProTip: be sure to have a mix of broad hashtags like #fashion #style, localized like #seattleblogger #seattlestyle and specific hashtags depending on your post like #leatherjacket #stripedpants. This will guarantee those searching for both broad and specific content can find your posts.
// FOLLOWING SIMILAR ACCOUNTS
By exploring hashtags I was using like #styleblogger and #seattleblogger, I started following accounts that were similar to mine. My thought being here that I would support accounts doing the same thing I was doing and vice versa. Plus it would be a good way to build a feed that would inspire me to push the envelope with my content.
// ENGAGING WITH FOLLOWERS
As I started to get interactions on my posts, I’d be sure to interact back with those spending the time to engage. Liking posts of followers, commenting on posts my followers would publish, replying back on comments they’d leave for me… these are all the rules of engagement and this, my friends, is the main goal of Instagram.
// TAGGING ACCOUNTS
I noticed other style bloggers would tag accounts like @streetstyle_daily and @ootd_magazine in an effort to get the larger account to reshare a post and get further exposure. So I’d be sure I’d tag accordingly up to 20 accounts that I’d want to do the same for me.
// DEVELOPING AN AESTHETIC
This was the biggest challenge for me. Being somewhat Type A and very into aesthetics — I’d lie awake at night obsessing over how I’d want my photos to look and beat myself over not being able to get my feed vibing a certain way. I aspired to have an overall grey feel and had Mary of Happily Grey and Jacey of Damsel in Dior as my muses. The issue was I had three types of edits I was trying to mesh and it just wasn’t working. I was taking photos for my blog and editing in Lightroom, getting photographers to take my photos describing certain edits I’d want and then hand touching every Instagram photo — and the mix was all over the board. I couldn’t seem to get it right. I’d use the Instagram filters to try and emulate my Lightroom edits — I even played with Darkroom and Colorstory. But I couldn’t seem to get to the aesthetic I wanted. Finally I settled on a three-step process involving Instagram, Snapseed and VSCO — for every single post.
Using the above strategies, I was able to grow my Instagram following from 0 to 100, 100 to 500 and finally 500 to 1,000 within a few months. The motivating factor being that once I gained a bigger following, I’d see more likes on my posts, more comments, more DMs coming my way, and you guessed it — more followers. It became exponential and has continued to be ever since.
Remember when I mentioned I’d lie awake at night obsessing over my Insta feed aesthetic? Well I also kept myself awake obsessing over my follower count. Pathetic, I know, but if you’re in this game you likely can relate. I’d think to myself, “how long was this going to take to get up to the thousands like the other style bloggers I followed?”… “was there any other way to bypass the time it will take?”
When I worked as a social media manager for a tech company back in the day, my VP of Marketing held me accountable for growing our presence, specifically on Twitter. We were B2B and not-so-sexy which was going to take a little more effort to connect with an audience, if you know what I mean. Though I drastically increased our numbers, it wasn’t enough for her. She requested I buy followers. Having no idea how to go about this, she sent me a company and I proceeded to pay a couple hundred to gain a certain number I can’t even remember. The result? Shit followers. Followers from random areas of the world with nothing to do with our industry, punctuation in their handles, not-safe-for-Twitter images and very uncomfortable DMs. I reported back on the result and sad to say the VP didn’t care — because hey, we got our numbers up.
This experiment has always been in the back of my mind since starting The Grey Edit’s Insta account. What if the many marketing services that reached out to me via email claiming to build authentic audiences for a small amount of money really were the answer? What if this niche of style and fashion could be a bit different than tech?
Well, sure enough, at only a couple hundred followers in, I decided to see what kind of results I would get by spending $9.99 for an additional 100. After sending a PayPal, the service asked to take over my account and I saw my following increase while the followers I had worked to curate and follow, drastically change. The service unfollowed friends and relationships I had worked to build, all for the number. My heart sank. After exploring the 100 new followers I received, I realized little to none had anything to do with what I was trying to do. They weren’t conscious women seeking fashion advice, they were mostly mix of foreign men with low quality photos and barely any posts of their own.
I had learned the hard way yet again — but am so glad I did this early on. I cleaned up my following, cut ties with the service and vowed never to explore another similar concept again for growing my following.
I was going to do this the true, authentic way.
After about a year of using the above strategies and becoming a seasoned user of Instagram for my brand, I decided to kick it up a notch. I started exploring new ways that could further my growth — the real way. Here’s what I mostly accredit to my 10K success…
// DECIDING ON A ‘TOP 5’
This tip is one I learned it from one of my favorite marketing experts, Jenna Kutcher as is essential to building a brand. Decide on the top five things that make you and your brand stand out amongst the masses. These things should be the themes that drive your content on the regular. I’m not talking the obvious “fashion, life and travel” — I’m talking the specifics.
I chose the word “edit” to be a part of my brand name as I wanted this blog to be about my personal style journey and helping others with theirs, so I talk a lot about finding your own edit in style and throughout all areas of life. Elevated basics was a topic that I kept gravitating to given the fact that it aligned with my personal style and that buying essentials to build a wardrobe off of was something I was passionate about. This soon expanded into elevated products — items across beauty, home, travel, etc that were tested and approved. Monochromatic / neutral styling is another focus as my wardrobe is very much filled with neutrals consisting of primarily greys and blacks. Then of course the loved ones in my life that make me the person I am — my husband Trevor and our little furry guy Smalls.
Now, hopefully when people see my content or hear the name, The Grey Edit, they associate the brand with those five things, or at least one or two of them.
// WORKING WITH BRANDS
I actually received my first brand collaboration a few months into starting my blog, but it was one who reached out to me, not vice versa. I decided to make a list of brands I wanted to work with, related to style, across three tiers — immediate, wish list and dream brands. Under immediate I had brands that were local, smaller in scale, that I knew could benefit from social exposure as much as I could benefit from additional local exposure. Wish list included brands that were more well known — from emerging designer handbags I was into to clothing labels I’d buy online. And lastly under dream brands, I had my long-term goal brands — the big head honchos. From this list, I began pitching from low hanging fruit to high — sharing a proposal to each brand about how I could bring value through created content. As you can see from my collab list, it’s been an exciting journey thus far. In my eyes now, no brand is too big to pitch. Even though I’m a micro-influencer
under at 10K, I’ve shared my strengths about blog traffic, total reach, authentic following and engagement that have set me apart from the rest.These brands have helped further my following, through reposting and sharing content on their social channels. They’re definitely the ticket to both big-time exposure and big-time monetizing.
#ProTip: put down on paper (or a digital note) brands you want to work with. If you put it out there, it will be more likely to happen because they’re on your mind and you’ll put in the effort. Case in point a brand on my dream brands list accepted my proposal this fall! I died!
// INSTAGRAM STORY CREATION
When Instagram decided to stomp Snapchat with its stories feature, it changed the playing field for all. This was a way for bloggers to share their real self — the no fluff / no makeup face behind the blog. Luckily, I didn’t have much shame on Snapchat so I was able to trickle this into my Insta presence. It took me awhile to feel comfortable — because let’s be honest, my Snapchat stories before were mostly drunken back to back posts to my private friend audience. But I re-strategized and decided to leverage stories as a way to show my following behind the scenes: me at home with no makeup, in my sweatpants, hanging with Smalls on the floor. This boosted my engagement in direct messages and just enabled a closer relationship with a lot of my followers. Sometimes I get questions about where I got a piece I’m wearing and sometimes I get asked about my Bulletproof recipe or Peloton. I love sending and receiving messages via stories on the daily. It’s engagement at its finest.
// REGULAR POSTING
There are so many tools out there that can help provide you the insights on when the best time to post on Instagram is and let me tell you consistency in posting has done wonders for my following. Even though the current algorithm doesn’t put new posts on top of feeds anymore, you still want to stay relevant. I post twice a day between the hours of 6-8am, 10-12pm or 4-6pm. Sometimes if I have time sensitive content, I’ll up it to three but that’s very rare now.
// HIGHLIGHTING OTHER ACCOUNTS
In order to take the whole ‘follow similar accounts to show my support on the gram’ a step further, I started highlighting favorite bloggers I’ve followed from the beginning or feeds that are inspiring on the regular. I try to get creative by screenshotting their feeds and resharing in a creative way, highlighting what makes them stand out in my eyes. You may see bloggers share “women crush wednesdays” or “follow friday” suggestions. I like to keep my sporadic when I’ve really gathered a chunk of accounts that stand out.
// BUILDING A QUIZ
Another amazing tip I learned from Jenna Kutcher was around driving traffic to my blog and brand via creating a quiz. I had SO much fun with this. Since the whole focus of my blog was inspiring women to find their edit, I thought, why not create a style edit quiz?! The concept being you answer a series of questions that lead you to your leading style category — think girl next door or modern chic. Once I launched the quiz, I created advertisements targeting people who searched google for “style quizzes” and within months grew my email list from 100 to 700!
Since then I’ve been able to reference in highlight the quiz in unique ways. A few months back I recruited 40 Seattle bloggers to take the quiz and share the results, highlighting the bloggers to follow by style edit in this post. It was so much fun getting to know and work with all my favorite local bloggers and the article was even was picked up by Seattle Refined publication!
// LEVERAGING BLOGGERS FOR PHOTOS
In order to keep the new relationships blooming and to really connect and collab with the local blogging community, I began to find myself setting up and getting asked to coffee dates. These would turn into “let’s shoot an outfit too” and bam — I now connect with a handful of bloggers on the regular to do a little ‘sip and shoot’. Even though I love working with photographers, leveraging bloggers who also own a camera and know how to shoot has been hugely rewarding on both ends. We know what the other person wants and we’re efficient :).
// COLLABORATING ON CAMPAIGNS WITH BLOGGERS
During these meetups with bloggers, I’ve been able to brainstorm and collaborate on many fun ideas! The latest being a new monthly series you may have seen — Stylelogue. The three of us conceptualize, create content and share on our channels making sure we highlight each other which has been so well received among our communities! I’ve definitely seen a spike in engagement and following since this launch.
// DEVELOPING PRESETS
As you can imagine the three step process of editing photos on my phone for Instagram I mentioned became a nuisance and was entirely not scalable. So, I decided to lock down some presets in Lightroom and call them my own. It took months to create and decide on a group I liked, but I finally did it (and even launched a store that sells them!). Now, every photo on my blog and Instagram has one of my Lightroom Presets applied to it via Lightroom desktop or mobile.
// SETTING ASIDE TIME TO ENGAGE
I’ll be honest, growing a following can become obsessive — and also entirely draining at the same time. I had days and weeks where I’d spend hours on Instagram a day — which would lead to spikes in engagement and follower growth. But then, I’d find weeks and weekends where I’d just want to hide — and truly take a break from it all.
I’ve learned what I want to share on Instagram throughout my weeks — and my threshold. Sometimes I pop off on stories, and am really feeling it, but sometimes I hide. Instead of beating myself up, I now tell myself it’s okay. You have a life. We all do.
So now, I have reminders that go off twice a day that remind me to post, and to engage for at least 20-30 minutes. Do I stick to this engagement piece always? No. It’s hard. My husband and my dog don’t always appreciate it. Could I have gotten to 10K sooner if I did stick to it? Most definitely. But I’m happy with what I’ve achieved over this amount of time, because I got to go at my own pace and keep the activity enjoyable vs a chore.
#ProTip: don’t give up but don’t kill yourself. If you need a break from engaging on Instagram, take a break. Don’t let is consume your life. Set reminders, set aside time, but don’t throw in the towel. The juice is worth the squeeze if you keep with it at a pace that works for you.
Wow guys, I realize this is a long post, so I appreciate you hanging in there.
Before I wrap up and give you the cliff notes version (much deserved for your attention), I just wanted to let you in on how good this feeling is — of getting here, on my own, staying true to what I believe in.
It’s been a mental challenge to be honest — to keep true. I’ve seen many other bloggers that started around the same time, or even far after me, that have sky-rocketed out of nowhere and have misconstrued ratios of following to engagement or a list of followers who don’t seem very related to style at all (fake followers are easy to spot these days).
Maybe they participate in loop giveaways for the Louis Vuitton Neverfull bag month over month with a handful of 20 others, or maybe they work with larger bloggers that are willing to promote their following. It’s all a hustle none the less.
BUT if I can give one piece of advice before I list my learnings of 20 tips — it’s to just stay true to you.
I like my feed full of moody greys and pops of subdued edge and color vs peaches and pinks. I like Danse Lente and OAD over LV. I like my presets instead of Tezza’s. I’m into curating a high low mix of brands I adore vs mass promoting Shein and Vici Dolls. I like photos on my own instead of mass liking using a bot. I put growing my blog first vs growing my Instagram following because I own thegreyedit.com and don’t have to worry about any algorithm changes.
I just encourage you to lean into what’s important to you — and no matter what everyone else is doing, make sure you stay true to those things.
I hope this post was informative and helpful to you no matter what stage or industry you’re in — here’s to 10K more!
Stay true —
// cb ✌????
Lifestyle blogger, photographer, mother to my son Boden and frenchie Smalls, wife to my hubs Trevor.
I built this space in an attempt to inspire you to find your edit and empower you to create the life you desire. Through digital content and honest storytelling, I hope to guide you along the way. Because everyone has an edit, and I'm here to help you find yours.
Get To Know Me
Mother. Wife. Blogger. Photographer. I built this space in an attempt to inspire you to find your edit and empower you to create the life you desire. Through digital content and honest storytelling, I hope to guide you along the way. Because everyone has an edit, and I'm here to help you find yours.
Hi, I'm Cortney
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