Hootsuite interviewed Laura Izumikawa, a lifestyle photographer and mommy blogger, who grew her Instagram audience from 0 to 600,000 followers with no special equipment or black hat tricks—just family-of-four realness and dress-up fun.

Below, she answers questions about finding success on Instagram, being vulnerable online, and how she decides what parts of her personal life to share with followers. We’ve also broken down her answers into actionable tips and takeaways so that you can apply them to your own Instagram strategy right away.

Follow Laura’s Instagram adventures here and visit her website here.

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How to grow from 0 to 600,000 Instagram followers in four steps

1. Cultivate a personal brand

Where did the idea for your Naptime with Joey photo series come from?

I first used Instagram as a means to connect with clients and potential clients when I had my wedding and lifestyle photography career in full swing. When my daughter was born, I was always home with her. Instead of taking the same photo of her napping (she slept all the time!), I decided to have fun and dress her up in various costumes.

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Happy Valentine’s Day from this little stinker! ???? #happyvalentinesday #NaptimeWithJoey #pepelepew

A post shared by Laura Izumikawa (@lauraiz) on Feb 14, 2019 at 8:46am PST

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The original #asmr artist. ???? #BobRoss #NaptimeWithJoey

A post shared by Laura Izumikawa (@lauraiz) on Oct 30, 2018 at 3:08pm PDT

What’s your number one tip to aspiring Instagram influencers and marketers?

Find what you’re most passionate about sharing. Use your passion or what you’re gifted in and document it with photos and videos.

Your Action

Don’t limit yourself or try to imitate the success of others. You can’t take the same steps as everyone else and expect original work to emerge. If you find yourself stuck in a routine, brainstorm unique approaches to the content you already like posting.

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How to Establish Your ‘Brand’ Voice on Social Media

2. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes

Your Instagram feed offers an intimate window into your personal life and family adventures. How do you decide what to post and what not to post?

Yes, my family life is private to me and I do limit what I share. I like to share what I believe could really make someone’s day or make someone smile.

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My 2019 goals are going great so far. #joeyizameme

A post shared by Laura Izumikawa (@lauraiz) on Jan 18, 2019 at 3:24pm PST

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The @unitednations declared today as #InternationalDayoftheGirl to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and teach their full potential. What’s one of the many ways you can be part of this movement today? Practice mentorship! There were mentors (women AND men) throughout my life who challenged and inspired me to live without limits based on my gender. I will never forget the impact they had in my life and will forever be grateful for their example. I am hopeful for the future for Joey and Casey. ???????? #GirlsBelongHere #DayOfTheGirl

A post shared by Laura Izumikawa (@lauraiz) on Oct 11, 2018 at 4:01pm PDT

Your Action

Aim to spark joy. Test posting different types of content to determine what your audience appreciates the most. If you receive a lot of positive engagement on a post or a Story, attempt to replicate that success in the future. Eventually a content strategy will emerge.

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3. Be vulnerable

Your Instagram posts get upwards of 40,000 likes. In your opinion, what key elements should every successful Instagram post have?

The most important thing is vulnerability and honesty. People are on social media to connect—or at the very least—relate to others. Being open and transparent will go a long way to help you connect with your audience.

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Allen takes the most flattering photos of me. ???? #38weeks #allenizphotography

A post shared by Laura Izumikawa (@lauraiz) on Nov 8, 2018 at 9:34am PST

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Tried to get a normal photo of us but this is probably a more accurate portrayal of our recent days. ???? Thank you so much for the sweet words you’ve been sending our way all week! We’re over the moon with Casey and Joey couldn’t be a more sweeter older sister to her. ???? Planning on writing a blog post about this week. What would you like to read the most about? Birth story? Breastfeeding? How Joey’s doing? #newbornlife #day5

A post shared by Laura Izumikawa (@lauraiz) on Nov 27, 2018 at 4:43pm PST

Your Action

Don’t be afraid to show behind-the-scenes content or a less polished side of your life every so often. Remind your followers that you’re a real person. It will be easier for them to relate and connect with your content.

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How to be More Authentic on Social Media

4. Build natural partnerships

You’re often hired by brands to run Instagram Influencer campaigns. What makes a good piece of branded content on Instagram?

I believe if you are a fan of the brand and their work, and your audience can see a natural relationship, that is what makes good branded content. I often see influencers grabbing any and all partnerships, and it doesn’t always seem natural to who they are.

When considering brand partnerships, you must consider your audience and how the partnership will add or take away from your brand. I often turn down brand partnerships because I do not like the product, or it doesn’t fit with my brand.

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Are you guys like me? I have a box full of unwritten @hallmark cards for almost every occasion that I like to collect and use them when I think of friends and family to send them to. I love love writing cards and will spend way too much time picking out the best one for someone. These days I’ve been feeling extra sentimental (more than usual which is saying a lot!), crying over commercials, baby shoes and old photos that Facebook is alerting me to see…so I’m trying to channel all of that loving feeing into writing cards to those I love dearly and thanking them for being a huge part of my life…a part of Joey’s life. Leslie (“Anty Lessy” as Joey lovingly calls her) was someone I sent a card to recently. I’ve known her since before I even met Allen and she’s been not only a true friend and sister to me but have done so much in helping me and Allen raise Joey and also being there for me like a sister. Some of you might have met her on one of our book signings together. I’ll never forget one of the cards she wrote me this past year that’s still hanging on my refrigerator. I like to read it from time to time when I’m feeling weak and stressed. It’s amazing how much encouragement written words can bring. Hope this posts encourages you that there’s never a bad time to Put It Into Words by writing someone a card. Doesn’t have to be a birthday or a holiday…it could be NOW. If you don’t mind sharing, who would you write a card to and why? Would love to hear stories about your loved ones. @hallmark #careenough #putitintowords #ad

A post shared by Laura Izumikawa (@lauraiz) on Sep 24, 2018 at 10:16am PDT

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So excited to announce our collaboration with @earlyriser_ for three Mama+Me tees that I designed. These tees are so soft and I love that they’re from Australia! Right now you can use my discount code JOEY for 20% off your entire purchase. They’re perfect for gifts as well. Hope you can grab a pair before they sell out! [Link is in my bio] #mommyandme

A post shared by Laura Izumikawa (@lauraiz) on Jun 12, 2018 at 11:23am PDT

Your Action

Followers can tell when content is forced. When considering a partnership with another brand, make sure your mutual goals align. Aim to create content with a look and feel that fits naturally with the content you already post.

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Toolbox: Filters and Gear

What do you currently use to take your Instagram photos?

I primarily use my iPhone, but also various dSLRs cameras.

Filters? Yes, no?

I do love filters because it gives my photos and video more of a cinematic feel or an editorial look.

Do you use any other apps or editing tools?

I like to use VSCO Cam for most of my photo and video filters. I like to use Filter A4. I also enjoy using Unfold for stories on Instagram. I edit my YouTube videos through Final Cut Pro X.

What tips do you have for phone photography?

Find the light and see how it can enhance a mood or look before taking the photo. Ask yourself if the subject of your photography needs anything added or taken away to tell a story and make the entire image stand out.

Your Action

The tools you use to enhance your content don’t have to be expensive. Take photos on an iPhone and edit them using VSCOcam. Look for natural light and take multiple photos with different props to see what tells the best story.

Read More:

How to Take Good Instagram Photos
How to Edit Instagram Photos

See more from Laura
Laura’s viral Naptime with Joey dress-up series was turned into a book. You can grab a copy here.

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The post This Mom Has 600,000 Followers on Instagram Because of Nap Time appeared first on Hootsuite Social Media Management.