Creating a Personal and Authentic Brand on Instagram: The 5 Step Guide That Doesn't Suck | Mermaid Waves | Chicago Fashion Destination

April 2, 2017

Creating a Personal and Authentic Brand on Instagram: The 5 Step Guide That Doesn't Suck

Hey Merbabes! Today I am talking Instagram.  Instagram is honestly my favorite thing to talk about, so lets jump right in.  I have long struggled with Instagram simply because I feel like I know too much.  I get Instagram, I understand how to grow numbers, authentically engage with followers, all while getting hundred "likes" in minutes.   I am not telling you this to say "I am smart, listen to me", but because I have done tons of research on Instagram and honestly I am not impressed.

As a young Generation Z chick I truly believe I rule the world of social media, and know more than anyone older than me.  What 19 year old doesn't?  Instagram is ingrained in my genetic makeup, I was snapping photos for Instagram and writing witty captions while my brain was still in its crucial stages of development.  So yes, I believe I have a better knowledge of Instagram than literally any 30 year old, or even a 23 year old.

Another reason that leads me to believe I know what the heck I am talking about it the fact that when I finally let go of other people's "strategies" I began to grow faster than ever and I have created amazing relationships with my Merbabes.  I literally get DMs all day long asking for outfit help and restaurant recommendations, hashtag blessed.  Besides growing Mermaid Waves into an up and coming empire (just wait babes), I have also helped other brands and small businesses grow their social media!  AKA hit me up to chat about your social media troubles.

Running an Instagram for a person and running an Instagram for a business are very different things.  I manage my @mermaidwaves account totally differently than the business accounts I manage.  Today we are talking about balancing that fine line of business and personal.  I have come to see that my @mermaidwaves Instagram account and Mermaid Waves the blog (where you are RN) have been growing apart.  I think of them like twin sisters going off to college and being separated for the first time,  essentially they both have the same genetic makeup but they will experience different things.  I have chosen my Instagram to be a more personal account of my life, sharing daily moments and musings.  Whereas on Mermaid Waves the blog I am aiming to inform, test, review, or make you laugh.  See the difference, Instagram is all about me (my favorite) and the blog is about you (of course with a little of me sprinkled in).  This balance creates a well rounded and authentic Dani-brand.  I'm Dani, in case you forgot my name isn't Mermaid Waves.

There are so many people that I follow on Instagram that I don't think of as real people.  If I saw them in real life I wouldn't know how to react, I see them as "the chick who poses in front of that wall", that's all.  Which is totally fine because that is part of their brand, personally I am way too into myself to not share my personality and life experiences.  OK BACK TO THE POINT, this post is all about creating that personal Instagram brand while still maintaining creative and interesting content that people want to follow.  Lets begin.

1. Know Your Look

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This is v important not only because Instagram aesthetic blah blah but because it will save you a lot of time and effort.  I have tried out various Instagram themes and my current look is definitely the one for me.  My Instagram Thesis Statement is "Moody and Icy. Crisp colors, bright whites, and overall cool tone with an emphasis on fashion".  You are probably like what the heck does that even mean,  I'll explain in like three seconds.  Having a set "Instagram Thesis Statement" can help you keep yourself on track.  Before every photo I post,  I ask myself if it is "moody and icy, with an emphasis on fashion", if yes, it can be posted, if not it doesn't get posted.  That is why I said this will save you a lot of time, once you know your theme you will know whether the photos will work before you take them.  For example don't spend 20 minutes trying to get a picture in front of dark alley if your "Instagram Thesis Statement" is "feminine, farm-girl", ya feel?

My thesis statement is pretty specific yet broad enough for me to have fun with my posts.  My photos all are edited in the same matter which allows photos to look cohesive wherever and whenever they were taken.  The way I edit my photos is described by moody and icy,  I like my dark colors to be dark and my whites to be bright, this contrast creates a moody look, I always turn the the temperature ditching any warm tones.  My thesis matches my personality and the photos I post.  In high school literature class we always talked about how authors use the form of their writing to expose or match their content, that should go for your Instagram as well.  The way you portray/edit your photos should match what you are trying to say.  Form to Content.

Although my photos often include food, I like to keep to keep my posts fashion based.  Often I make sure my outfit looks popping while I am eating a slice of pizza, ya feel?  Fashion doesn't necessarily mean a flatlay of my outfit, but more that I would never post a photo where my look wasn't on point.  In reality I would never go out if my look wasn't on point but if I did, I wouldn't post it on Instagram.

2. Plan-ish

One of the biggest things I read when I began digging deep into my Instagram research was to schedule your posts and don't stray from the plan.  For the social media accounts I manage I totally agree with this, for business you should have a strong content calendar.  As a human person who's life is a real timeline of events I had a really hard time with this.  I read an article that one blogger has a plan for her feed that went a little something like this; Monday morning: face photo, Monday evening: detail of handbag, Tuesday afternoon: scenery photo...and so on.  I am not being shady because that takes extreme skill and self control to post like that, but at the same time when do your followers start to expect the Monday morning face photo.  That has to get boring for everyone.  I tried to create a calendar for my posts like the above and I couldn't even make it through the week.  I ended up eating a cute meal and I wanted to post it, that wasn't on the schedule for the day so I just ditched the whole plan.

Instead I pop my photos into the app UNUM before posting,  I love this app because you can see what your feed will look like before you make the commitment to posting your latest photo, also its free.  You can see how your feed would look if you delete a photo as well, which is a tool I use often.  Sometimes I post a photo then a day or two later I don't love how it feels on my feed, I can use UNUM to see how my feed will look without the photo before I delete it for good.  Another reason I use it, is to make sure photos that look too similar don't line up,  I don't love when I have a photo of me looking to the left is directly above another photo of me looking to the left, this app helps me maintain the variety that people have come to expect of my feed.

If I really have my life together or I am working on promoting a new blog post I usually pop my next two or three photos in the app so I can have a bit of a plan for the next day or so.  Most of the time I take it day by day.

3. Switch It Up

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How many times can a fashion blogger post the same flatlay, apparently a lot because they still seem the dominate my feed.  Switching up how you post is essential for creating an interesting and evolving Instagram brand.  This can be as simple as taking a product shot from a different angle, or switching up your pose.

I take most of my product shots on my white comforter, this has become a recognizable shot to my audience.  When they see the comforter they know its me, that familiarity is essential to building a strong presence but at the same time, if I only posted photos on a white comforter I would have no followers, because that is not artistic or interesting in any way.  Besides product shots you can switch up your photos by having fun with your poses.  I love sitting and/or interacting with my surroundings.    Some of my most popular photos are the ones where I am truly having fun.

Photos with movement and energy always come off better than an awkward stiff pose, if you hate taking photos start with these fool-proof shots.  The "Pedestrian", actually walk across the street or down the sidewalk, whenever I can't get a good shot, I turn to this method.  The "Cute Boy in the Distance", turn you head, slightly part your lips, and pretend you are checking out a cutie in the distance.  Last but not least, the "Man Spread", I love sitting super relaxed with one leg up or my legs kicked out in front of me, it lets people know you are like totally chill.

A post shared by Dani McGowan (@mermaidwaves) on

A post shared by Dani McGowan (@mermaidwaves) on

A post shared by Dani McGowan (@mermaidwaves) on

4. The Imperfect-Perfect Shot

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This is where all the money is.  That photo that looks like the paparazzi caught you at the perfect, adorable moment, when in reality you forced your mom to snap photos of you for twenty minutes until you liked a single one.  That is actually the title of my first memoir.  Filling your feed with shots like these keeps you real.  Perfect detail shot after perfect detail shot makes you literally no different than a mannequin.  I love when my hand is a little blurry or I am mid laugh, it gives your followers something to look at.  You shouldn't go posting "bad" or low quality photos because people will just unfollow you, but there is that perfect sweet spot that gives you a little humanity.

To be honest most of the photos that I feel "weird" or "not my prettiest" are the photos that people react to.  When I post a photo that I feel "perfect" in, I don't get the same reaction from my babes.  My merbabes know me as funny and a little bit off so when that mannequin shot shows up on their feed they scroll right by.

5. The You-Factor

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Ok so this sounds cheesy to the cheese, but defining what sets you apart on Instagram is a major key.  For me personally, I use my dance background and my sarcasm.  My captions are essential to my photos, that is part of my brand.  I usually try to keep them witty and sarcastic especially when paired with a more "serious" fashion shot.  I used to worry that writing a long caption would deter people because no one has the time to stop and read them but I find that isn't the case.  Some people will scroll by and that is totally fine, but the people who stop and read your captions are the people who actually care about you and those are the people who need to be reaching.  My brand is about being real and authentic, so I choose to give substance for people to connect with.

The other tool I use to help define myself is the fact that I spend everyday of my childhood in a dance studio.  Dance is literally the most aesthetically pleasing thing ever, in my opinion, so I love adding a sprinkle of my favorite moves into my feed.  It also gives people another dimension to my life besides pizza and clothes.  This is obviously totally different for everyone but bringing in an outside aspect of your life can really shape you into a real life person for your followers.

That was definitely the longest post I have ever written, I don't even think I wrote an essay this long all through high school.  Take in it, soak it up and let me know if you have any questions! 




  1. Cool looks :)
    Maria V.

  2. Thanks You sharing Informative blog, your combination of information is good. New trends in fashion jewelry Check with Vogue Crafts and Designs

  3. Thanks for sharing these helpful tips! Great outfits


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