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How to find the best Instagram course for you

October 6, 2017

The best Instagram course

“Which social platform do you turn to first in the morning?”. I was asked this question on an interview for a podcast recently.

I didn’t pause for thought. “Instagram!”

It’s the very first thing I do as I open my eyes after punching the alarm button off. Do you relate to this?

This little app has gone from a cosy community for sharing images to a platform that has changed lives and shaped businesses such is its power. As the stakes have grown, so has advice proliferated, a lot of it confusing, contradictory or downright shady (to use my daughters’ vocabulary). Add to this the constantly changing nature of Instagram, from the algorithm (boo!) to direct messages, stories, filters, live, location-based tags and much more. Where do you turn for guidance?

My day job is content creation and social media strategy for a handful of fabulous (food-centric) clients so I need to ensure my advice is razor-sharp and accurate, plus I want to do the best for mycustardpie.  I also want to remain inspired by the platform, despite some of its challenging aspects with all these changes. As well as joining Facebook private groups, reading everything current from industry leaders, listening to a range of podcasts and testing my own assumptions and deductions, I’ve signed up for a few Instagram courses along the way. Many people said they’d like to know more about the ones I’ve taken, hence this post.

Here’s my honest opinion of three – with a caveat. When I mentioned I was writing about this among a group of Instagrammers I’m connected with, it sparked a debate. Some people who had done one or more of the same courses had different views of the strengths and weaknesses of each one. So I must stress that this is a very personal view based on my experience, starting points and ultimate goals. However, I have tried to put into context why each course struck a chord (or not) with me so you can make your own decisions whether it’s right for you:

The best Instagram course

Insta with Alex

Alex Tooby has a systematic and analytical brain and was determined to crack Instagram. She studied, and trialed and then came up with a winning concept @menandcoffee , combining two things that are guaranteed to attract an obsessional interest.

The idea was so magnetic, combined with sound implementation strategies, that it took off quickly and was picked up by a major newspaper in the UK which helped to rocket the follower numbers.  She set up ‘Insta with Alex’ to share the knowledge and learning with others so they could replicate her success. You can sign up for her introductory course, Instagram Authority, for free and access other  information from the site.

After the free introduction I subscribed to the Infamous to Influential and the Hashtag to Hero courses (then available as a bundle).

Course style: Alex presents the courses as a series of videos. She is a clear communicator and drills down into a lot of detail with on-screen examples if she’s telling you how to do something online. The action points are in a downloadable pdf plus the course as an mp3 audio. Personally I really like having a range of options. The ‘cheat sheets’ and work sheets guide you through the course and act as an easy to refer to checklist. It is prescriptive in style i.e. do these things exactly to achieve this. There are two Facebook groups you can join for support from other course members and Alex herself.

Course content: The course is very focussed on finding and connecting with your ideal audience to sell your product or service. It does give information about how to get your Instagram account looking right, and being visually strong and consistent,  but I would say the main strength is finding and building your audience. The end goal is not in doubt – it’s to make money and Alex has sections on monetising your account and influencer marketing from the perspective of both influencers and businesses.

She is candid as to how she runs her own businesses and her ongoing learning from this. When her own menandcoffee account was hacked and held to ransom, she shared the whole experience from her first horror at what had happened to the processes to get it back.  She gained support from the community and we learned valuable lessons along with her. When Instagram changes have an impact on the course content she updates it with a new strategy or alternative. There is a bit of strategic following and unfollowing within the instructions but it is not the follow/unfollow method. I did not implement this tactic.

My results: As this was the first course I took the results were the most dramatic and I saw a very steady follower growth after implementing some of Alex’s advice. It really made me think about hashtags in detail and helped me to work out who I was trying to connect with and why.

Best for: Businesses and business owners who want to use Instagram for profit and (online) sales.

The best Instagram course

Instaretreat

Sara Tasker has an unusual combination of skills. She is creative but also analytical – she describes her approach as “‘annoyingly tenacious’ and ponders the reasons behind things until she has worked them out logically. She has a very definite aesthetic and grew her Instagram account me_and_orla to over 168k following with a dedicated ‘tribe’ of loyal and engaged followers.  Her blog of the same name offers Instagram advice among other topics, and her recent podcast series, Hashtag Authentic is already attracting acclaim and a loyal following.

Course style: The Instaretreat is as though someone jumped inside my head and confirmed everything I know or thought about Instagram but put it down in a structured and rational way combined with a huge wealth of practical advice. It’s in written form in chapters with lots of visual examples plus there’s an audio download of most sections plus worksheets and is constantly updated.

Course content: This is the course that I’d recommend above all others and it sells out in hours once released (sign up here to be notified when The Instaretreat is next released). There’s a private Facebook group where Sara shares regular updates, she used to comment frequently but her assistant in there more often nowadays). Like Makelight (see below) it leans towards makers, creatives and slow-living but Sara also uses examples of others who are making a success of Instagram with a completely different aesthetic and ethos.  The community of Sara’s followers is really nurturing and genuinely pushing the boat of creativity. I’m part of a comment pod through the group and while all the accounts are very different it’s a treat to see what everyone publishes and people are genuinely supportive.

I’ve been stretched creatively and signed up for Sara’s supplementary course Bloom and Grow which has an emphasis on using flowers (even though this is not something I usually focus on). The community spirit and creative inspiration after two weeks had my brain leaping into new territory. I’m stretched to look at things in a new light both in creative terms and with a clear, informed rationale.

Again with Sara you can get a taster of her advice through a free seven-day Instagram course when you sign up to her email list plus there’s a wealth of information on her blog. The Instaretreat is not cheap but there are details of everything that is covered in the course on her website so you can see exactly what you are signing up for.

My results: Some of my most popular Instagram posts have been created since taking this course and for a time I was seeing excellent growth and engagement. The recent algorithm changes have posed real challenges but Sarah’s advice and the close community around her help to stave off panic or succumbing to short-term measures.

Best for: Bloggers, makers and small businesses with a creative and open-minded attitude ‘who like to know why things work, and not just how’ (to quote Sara).

The best Instagram course

Makelight Beautify your Instagram

My first introduction to Emily Quinton was via a friend who recommended an excellent post called One hundred floral images which is about creating 100 images using just one bunch of flowers. Emily and her husband Stef are the team behind the blog and since I first read that post they’ve changed the portal dramatically and launched many different courses and content through their membership site Makelight.

The community around Makelight is very loyal and engaged and they have a lot of fans all around the world. Their subscription site is described as “The positive learning community for makers and entrepreneurs”.

I joined their online food photography course in the past (drop me a line if you want my review of this) and more recently Beautify your Instagram – sold as “Improve your visual storytelling and learn to use Instagram as a way to build an audience around what you do”.

Course style: Most of the lessons are taught via video, mainly with Emily talking to direct to camera, which isn’t my preferred learning style and I wish there was a transcript. It takes people by the hand and very slowly guides them through the basics of Instagram and Emily’s way of doing things. There is a closed Facebook group to share questions, progress and learning plus regular live question and answer sessions with Emily. I would recommend this course for absolute beginners to photography and Instagram, particularly people with accounts dedicated to floral arrangements, wedding photography craft and slow living.

Course Content: This was probably much too basic for me but I always keep and open mind and feel even a different point of view can be helpful. The course covers creativity, making your feed look consistent, using your smartphone to take photographs, explaining how to edit on your phone using PicTapGo, photographing in natural light, very basic composition, hashtags, and how to plan your story telling (using Instagram, Instagram stories, different apps and also touching very briefly on other platforms). When you sign up with Makelight you have access to a monthly report which analyses the colours, hashtags and subjects that you use in your feed. You can sign into the site with Instagram and receive a similar report about the themes and colours that are most popular with your followers.

You can access Makelight as a free trial member if you sign in with Facebook or Instagram but I’m not sure what you are offered once there as most of the courses are paid for. There’s a free five-day Instagram taster course and a hashtag library.

My results: I’ve had some insights from the colour tool which is quite useful and have tested hashtags highlighted in the new tool with inconclusive results.

Best for: Beginners on Instagram with basic photography skills who want a friend to slowly guide them through prescribed steps. Makers and very small business owners who want to connect with other like-minded creatives and crafters. People who wanted to replicate a very specific aesthetic. The drawback with this course is that you cannot refer back to it if you’ve ceased your Makelight membership (unlike the other two).

The best Instagram course

Which was the best course for me?

With Alex, because it was the first course I took, I had the most ‘aha’ moments – and I would recommend it for clear, concise and data driven information. However it’s Sara’s content I refer to most often for inspiration and a level-headed, reasoned view on Instagram changes and challenges. The people I’ve met within her Instaretreat Facebook group, and more recently through Bloom and Grow, are united by creativity but not pigeon-holed. They feel like my tribe. I might have fallen completely out of love with the platform without the artistic exchange. The sound, practical, updated information contributes to the advice I give my clients too.

I’m too impatient for Makelight and feel like a bit of an outsider in their groups, I’ve taken a few ideas away but the Instagram course has been the least useful for me personally (signing up gave me access to six month’s of Makelight membership so I’ve done some of their other courses too). Their approach  clearly resonates with many but didn’t with me.

The combination of the Instaretreat and Bloom and Grow has helped me fight back against the drop in engagement and visibility caused by the algorithm by really drilling down into what my audience relates to and why, what works best and raising the bar on my content. It’s also helps me to focus on the enjoyment of creating and connecting with like-minded people rather than getting too caught up in the numbers.

Finding the right course for you

My recommendation is to have a clear idea of what you ideally want to improve by taking a course, your objectives with Instagram and how much time, energy and funds you are willing to dedicate to achieve them. Write down where you are now and where you’d like to be. Look carefully at the course outlines and see if the things that are important to you are covered.  Sign up for several of the free  taster courses to see if you like the style and approach. Do not get caught up in pure numbers, especially for the courses that claim to grow your following overnight.

Courses I’ve avoided

There are other approaches to gaining a following but they usually involve cheap gimmicks and schemes which aim to ‘trick’ Instagram. While courses that sell these methods sound seductive they are not good for genuine engagement and sustainable results.  Accounts that use them can be vulnerable too.

Links to the courses:

Alex Tooby: Infamous to Influential and the Hashtag to Hero

Sara Tasker on Me and Orla: Instaretreat, Bloom and Grow plus more

Makelight: Honey (current Instagram course offered in Makelight)

Affiliate disclosure: If you sign up to Alex’s courses through the links above I will earn a small fee at no expense to you. 

Finding the best Instagram course for you

Additional resources

I would classify the three courses I’ve taken as business-led (Alex), business with creative (Sara) and creative-led (Makelight). Of course, Instagram doesn’t exist in isolation and is part of a whole mix in the online world. Here are just three additional sources of information you might find useful.

What next?

This is off topic of my usual food and travel posts – I decided to publish my experiences as many people asked me. Let me know if you found this useful and whether you’d be interested in other views or round ups about online topics. If you enjoyed this post please share it (helpful buttons below). Where have you found the best instruction or inspiration?

2 Comments
  1. October 6, 2017 5:24 pm

    Alex’s course looks very interesting! I need to study the details a bit before I get the lessons, but I think I need to find the right audience and that seems like a good place to start.

  2. glamorous glutton permalink
    October 8, 2017 9:17 pm

    Thanks for this Sally. I tried the Makelight course too and found it much as you described. It’s obvious a lot of people love it. I not patient enough for it. I’m going to check out a couple of the others though. Great advice. GG

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