Social Media

Three Aussie Instagram entrepreneurs on how to turn a simple idea into thousands of followers

Emma Koehn /

Business Chicks Instagram panel

Source: Business Chicks

When asked how she amassed a 2.3 million-strong Instagram following, comedian Celeste Barber says “people seemed to like seeing me making a dickhead of myself”.

Brands might spend years trying to crack the code of social media fame, but for Barber and many of the nation’s other most closely followed Instagram entrepreneurs, fame didn’t necessarily factor into the motivation for starting their now-popular accounts.

At a panel event at Business Chicks’ 9 to Thrive event in Melbourne last week, some of Australia’s most widely-viewed content makers explained how they built their brands and businesses using solid Instagram skills.

Here are their top tips.

Make it personal

Sophie Cachia has an audience of more than 200,000 through the Instagram account for her parenting and lifestyle blog The Young Mummy.

She says the motivation to start posting online came from wanting to offer something different, after she fell pregnant and found “the bullshit” on offer from mainstream parenting publications. 

“It was all, ‘you get pregnant and your skin’s going to go so nice … and your hair is going to do this’… and the only hair that I was knowing was coming out my fucking chin,” Cachia said at 9 to Thrive event last week.

She says the steady growth of her audience was driven not through calculated metrics initially, but by using the same tone she normally used with her inner circles.

“I created this space where I chatted to people online like I chatted to my girlfriends and my family,” she said.

Founder of health and lifestyle businessHippie Lane, Taline Gabriel, has 500,000 Instagram followers.

She says her social strategy also evolved naturally. Her brand was launched thorough wanting to connect with people who had food intolerances and wanted to move towards healthier living.

After the birth of her first child she discovered she had intolerances “to pretty much everything”, so Gabriel started a health food business because she “wanted to share, and I knew other people were going through what I was”.

It was Instagram that launched the business into its next stage, after Gabriel heard about a social platform that put design front-and-centre. 

“It was very visual, not so much about people but more about what you were interested in. Within a year, I had developed my app, which was received beautifully,” Gabriel said on the Business Chicks stage last week.

Connect with people’s everyday lives

Celeste Barber’s Instagram account, which is followed by 2.3 million people across the globe, was also launched with the conversational tone she’d use with family. 

“You know how we see a lot of people on social media going, ‘this is just how I get out of the pool!’ and I’m like, ‘That’s not how you get out of a pool, mate. This is how you get out of a pool,’” she explained on the 9 to Thrive panel.

Barber says she and her sister used to send each other social media posts of glamourous people doing everyday activities. It wasn’t long before she started posting imitations of these very shots.

“My sister and I used to send pictures to each other, like that, going ‘This woman’s dropping her kids off at school,’and I was like ‘Alright, I’ll do that [as a photo]’ and then it just kind of went from there. It just resonated with people … People seem to like seeing me make a dickhead of myself.”

Think hard about your influencer status

The more social media followers you have, the more offers you get from third parties — and dealing with offers from outsiders in an effective way is incredibly important for your brand, says Gabriel.

“Everything I do is inspiring people … for me to be an influencer and participate in that process is my goal, and I take it really seriously,” she said.

“There’s so much out there [in terms of brands] and there’s a lot of outer beauty focus. [But] for me, everything I put out there is about adding value and to feel happy.”

However, Barber stresses that followers do not necessarily mean instant wealth. Of more than 800 posts she has made on Instagram, she says about four have been paid opportunities.

“My husband is currently up a tree, because he’s an arborist, making money,” she said, explaining there’s no automatic connection between reach and revenue.

But Barber also has a clear sense of what she will and will not align her brand with.

“We always send back the [message to brands] that says ‘I don’t support any product makes women think they need to look a certain way to feel a certain way’,” she said.

For Cachia, thinking about social media as a conversation is a key way to negotiate the attention while also maintaining an engaged following.

“I will never use the word famous, I lol at myself if anyone does,” she explained in Friday’s session.

“I built this huge online family … I don’t see it as one way; I love interacting just as much in return.”

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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