Adam Senatori is not your typical Instagram user. Soaring high overhead in a rented Cessna 172, he uses his iPhone to capture amazing pictures of everything from Wisconsin farmland to the towering high rises of Dubai and shares them with the world. His iPhone? Yes, that’s Adam’s niche – iPhone-generated aerial photographs shared on Instagram.
As Adam tells it, it must be a sight to behold. Many of his photos were taken while he was flying the plane and holding his iPhone out the window.
“It’s easy to take pictures out the window,” he says while holding his iPhone out in front of him at December’s Social Media Breakfast Madison at the Madison Public Library. “You would never do that with a car but it is easy (in a Cessna 172),” he says with a sly smile. “Flying a 172 with my knees is not that difficult, really.”
The result has worked out pretty well for Senatori. He has become an Instagram sensation with more than 630,000 followers who are hooked on his amazing shots.
Senatori was an early adopter of Instagram soon after it launched in 2010, starting slowly. At first he was shooting “random stuff” like paint cans, but once Instagram’s popularity grew and after it dawned on him that he should simply combine his love of flying with his love of photography, his notoriety started to “take off.” Soon an acquaintance in San Francisco (@colerise) who already had a large Instagram following gave Adam an online “shout out” that drew the attention of thousands of Instagram users. Then, Instagram wrote about Adam in one of its first blog posts, and he won a GE photo contest that opened more doors. Suddenly, he was soaring.
Senatori calls Instagram the “King of the Mountain” for online photo sharing with 150 million users monthly and 55 million images posted daily. Flickr, by contrast, has 87 million monthly users and 3.5 million photos posted daily. It is the fastest growing app of the year.
The big difference between the two: Flickr is mainly desktop. “Instagram jumped in with a mobile app only and it won,” he says.
Adam has found a formula for making a living as a flight instructor and a photographer. He says he spends 20% of the year focused on photography, accounting for 80% of his income, and he spends 80% of the year teaching future pilots, accounting for 20% of his income. He said all his branding, which includes his Instagram activity, generates about a half dozen big photography jobs a year.
“Images are my currency,” he says. “The more they circulate, the more they are worth.”
Senatori says Instagram is just one component of his brand, what he calls a “brand extender.” He uses Instagram, Tumblr and Behance, an online portfolio site, to drive traffic to his website, which serves as the hub for his brand.
“My goal is to have these things reverberate around the world, using these platforms, of which Instagram is one,” he says.
Senatori says he is not a model Instagrammer because he is “super deliberate” in his photography and posts a few select photos.
“I work slowly,” he says. “Everything is planned. I often storyboard shots.”
Adam offered the audience these tips for success with Instagram:
- Have a concise bio.
- Maintain a tight edit of your photos. In two years, he has only 247 posts. “99% of what I shoot gets deleted,” he says. “Like currency, if it’s in demand and hard to get, the value goes up.”
- Provide value to people who follow you. Ask yourself, “What would a follower pay to see this post?” … “My goal is to stop people, slow them down.”
- Draw an audience in. Give them pause.
- Avoid inconsistent posting schedules, a rule that Adam says he violates and pays for. “I go on Instagram binges, and then I disappear. I lose followers when I go a couple weeks without posting.”
- It is very difficult but try to balance quantity versus quality.
- Keep track of the engagement your content is getting. ” He says his goal is “engagement amplification,” meaning his content gets extended engagement that can get it featured on Instagram’s “Popular Page.”
- If your posts are not getting feedback, do something different.
- Keep Instagram photos where they do best, on Instagram. “I don’t Tweet my Instagram posts.”
- Timing of posts is important. He finds that Saturday and Sunday morning and Thursday evening and Friday mid-day work best for him. “Avoid TV prime time. Breaking Bad is a killer. Or Mad Men.”
- Interact with followers: Reply to relevant comments, Engage with posts from others, Follow those that inspire you.
- Use hashtags. “The only way to drive brand development on Instagram is to use hashtags.”
- “If you build it they will come. Work on your craft.”
Video (Courtesy of Jeffrey Powers at Geekazine.com)
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(thanks to photographer John Mason and our Facebook editor Mike Walsh):