ep02 - How I Got My First 1000 Followers On Instagram with Joy Vetterlein

show Jan 13, 2021

I’m sitting down with a dear friend, Joy Vetterlein. Joy is a Christian Misfit, pastor, and writer. She is passionate about exploring unconventional spirituality for people who love Jesus but don’t fit in at church. She’s also a project manager for hope*writers, which is how we met. (I’m their social media manager.)

I’ve been following her Instagram account since she launched it, and when I noticed how quickly it was growing, I knew she would be perfect for one of the first episodes of this show.

We talk about how she grew her following from zero to 1,000+ followers on Instagram. She’s revealing what worked, what didn’t, and what she wouldn’t do again. 


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Megan: [00:00:00] Hello everyone. Today, I am having a conversation with one of my good work buddies, Joy Vetterlein.  I will let Joy introduce herself to all of you.

Joy, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do. 

Joy: [00:00:18] Hi, Megan, congrats on your podcast. This is very exciting. And I'm so excited to be here with you. Yeah. So you and I know each other through our work with hope writers, but I also am a writer That's one of my other many jobs as a writer.

And I write primarily for what I call Christian misfits. People who have some sort of faith affiliation, love Jesus, like have some background in church, but for whatever reason, are not connecting with the current expression of church in the world. 

I'm finding there's a lot of us and I like to gather us all together and help people who are feeling [00:01:00] lonely in their spirituality, feel less alone. 

Megan: [00:01:02] I love it. That's lovely. So what we're here to talk about today is how you Joy grew your Instagram following from zero to over a thousand followers. And I believe as of this recording, we're over 1300 followers, which is very exciting. 

Joy: [00:01:25] It is exciting and sort of unbelievable because I, yeah, I started my Instagram account like 18 months ago.

And when I started, I was none of those things, but I just introduced myself as I knew none of that about myself, but I discovered it in the process of building my Instagram. It feels so pretentious to say my Instagram following, but I really just think of it as like I found my people on the internet and I found my people on Instagram [00:02:00] in it.

It has been so fun and so great to find my people because they're like my friends now. Like I go online and I get to see my friends and it's really cool. 

Megan: [00:02:10] That is definitely the fun part of growing a following. They're not just numbers. They're real people that we come here. 

Joy: [00:02:18] Yeah. Yeah. For real, we like chat about what we had for dinner and stuff.

Megan: [00:02:26] So you say it takes, do you remember like how many months in you. Reached that thousand follower mark. 

Joy: [00:02:35] Yeah, I did. Cause it was just a couple of months ago. It was like two, about two and a half months ago. I hit 1000 and so that was a pretty big achievement for me to get there. And I have noticed that the further I get the easier it is to grow, I guess like the first.

A hundred was really hard. Her [00:03:00] 500 was probably the hardest. And then it kind of started like, I, by then I had figured stuff out and enough that people started kind of sharing some of what I was saying. And that seemed to be where things started picking up a little bit more. 

Megan: [00:03:17] So what would you say. I'll ask you a little later about your posting style and your schedule and what do you do with those things. But I want to know upfront, what are the things that you felt really pushed the needle forward and made a difference in the rate of your follower count, going up? 

Joy: [00:03:41] Yeah. I really started honing in on what was getting traction. So I started really looking at insight. I tried not always successfully, not to be super obsessive about how many likes each post got, but I definitely like look [00:04:00] back and see, okay, what sorts of things are getting the most likes among the people that follow me? And it became really clear what they were interested in hearing from me and what they were not interested in hearing from me.

They were definitely not interested in hearing cute stories about me as a mom or seeing pictures of my daily walk or whatever. But they were really interested in the things that I had to say about things that I realized now are things that really mattered to them and that they're having a hard time finding anybody else saying which in my niche of this Christian misfit is people willing to say kind of controversial things about Christianity or spirituality.

And I found that the text for me. Is way, like, almost like twice as successful as photos. And like my like texts, like just super stripped down. I literally have one font that's black on a white background. That's all I do, and those are the ones that get [00:05:00] those will get shared more and, and those can get picked up and I can get quite a few likes and quite a few followers from, from those just quick statements that really like articulate something for people that they're having trouble articulating for themselves doing that picked up a lot more.

Megan: [00:05:19] So you're talking about quote graphics, like just words on a graphic like that is in place of a picture. You're putting up a graphic of a sentence or a quote or something that your audience really resonates with. Yeah. So if I could step back for just a moment, can you tell me a little more about looking into insights and what you were looking at, and when you said it was clear, how did you know that?

Joy: [00:05:48] It was clear just in terms of why, but also I would look at like in insights I would look and see what were my top posts over the year, top posts over the month, top posts over six months or whatever. And that's where I started noticing patterns like, Oh, these ones are consistently at the top of the list.

And these ones like these quote graphics are filling the top of my list and these photos from my daily ones are at the bottom of the list. Not that I don't still post those, but I've really upped the amount of quote graphics that I do. Photos for me are almost just kind of filler now, just cause I can't think of another quick graphics to post often enough and to have a little bit of a curated grid.

Megan: [00:06:38] So that is a good point, bringing up the curated grid that is really important to some people and not important at all to others. Do you feel like it makes a difference to your audience? 

Joy: [00:06:54] Hmm. No. And in fact, I sort of had to break out of a [00:07:00] fear of messing up a grid. I sort of had a vision for how it could look. And I only, like at the beginning, I was really wanting to post things that had a certain look. I was looking at other people and seeing like, wow, they have such beautiful photographs of nature and themselves. And like, that's what I want mine to look at. But that trying to be that way was keeping me from experimenting. And I like that probably experimentation is the most important thing I did. And actually, the person who told me to experiment was you.

Megan: [00:07:33] Me?

Joy: [00:07:35] Yes. You were saying like try a whole bunch of things and see what sticks, who cares about your grid. And I actually, I started experimenting with memes. I would make my own. Those went crazy.

I didn't get many followers, but I got a ton of likes, over a thousand likes in a weekend, on a meme. And that was really fun and it totally messed up my grid, but it was like, well, who cares if this is what my people want I'm so glad that I was willing to break out of that and find that. And that just sort of opened the path for me to experiment with others, let me try some different styles of graphics and let me try some different styles of photos and let me just try different things and see what lands.  

Megan: [00:08:20] Do you still post the memes? I remember you talking about that struggle. These do so well, but I'm not getting followers from them. 

Joy: [00:08:29] Yeah, I was. At the time of recording, we are still in the middle of the pandemic and I have found that that particular part of my brain that comes up with memes has not survived a pandemic. So for a while, I was trying really hard to come up with things that were funny and they weren't funny. So I stopped trying and just gave myself permission just to do what was coming easily, which were phrases,  quote graphics, and photos with thoughtful things to say. So right now, I do two different kinds of posts. I know you said we'd get to this later, but I do words and then do a photo, and sometimes the photo is of me and sometimes it's not, and sometimes the graphic is something I said, and sometimes it's not.

And that's working really well for me cause I can usually come up with one or the other within a couple of days and, and save it for later if I need it. 

Megan: [00:09:24] That's great. So is there anything else that you felt, where you saw a defining moment or something you did specifically, or a strategy that you saw that you tried that worked really well?

Joy: [00:09:40] Yeah. I mean, I used hashtags all along, and then I found a couple that I was like, Oh, this is really where my people are, honestly, it took me a long time to find those hashtags because my people by nature are not ones that I'm like misfits don't gather in groups sort of one-off. So for a while, I was having to sort of just take a shotgun approach and hope I was getting a few people here and there.

But then I did find a couple of hashtags that were true for me. And so I use those on almost every post, but switch it up a little bit. And then. It really was just taking the time to hone in on my reader. And I actually think one of the most important things I did was take a month off of social media because I, right when I had started doing those meetings and I was getting more likes than I had ever gotten, I was also seeing that bump up in engagement for my other posts too.

Those were things I wanted to say. And after that, I just started panicking. Now there are actually people looking at this. What the heck am I talking about? I don't know. Like I, and I was so burned out. It was right after the holidays. So I took January. I just took it off and I just took the pressure of having to post and let myself just sort of like think and dream and figure out, okay, what have I seen so far?

And what do I want to talk about? Like, what is life-giving to me to talk about, and what of that matches what they're responding to? And one of the things that were really stressing me out was the need to design a quote graphic. And so that was an easy problem to solve and say, you know what?

I'm just like a black on white text kind of girl. Like that's going to be my brand all through that matches who I am. So I'm just giving myself permission to really, really simplify and say, okay, here are the kinds of things I do. And to give me time to like, read more. To, you know, go back to like learning and putting some more work into my brain and kind of honing,  what is it I'm trying to do here?

Who am I trying to serve? And what do we want to talk about? I had some time for that. When I came back, I felt like I had a renewed energy to serve them. And I had a clear sense of what they needed and I was able to articulate it and, and I saw them grasp hold of what I was saying, like, like what I was putting out with better quality.

And so they were more eager to receive it and share it, which had a snowball effect over the year. 

Megan: [00:12:17] Hmm. Oh, there's so much in there that I wanna talk about 

Joy: [00:12:23] What I do, I do want to rev as one that.

Megan: [00:12:27] Your business, is it okay if I call it a business? It's a business, right? Like you're doing this, your goal in getting on social media and building this Instagram account is not to be Insta-Famous. Your goal is to build a business or writing business. Is that fair to say? Or what, how would you classify?

Joy: [00:12:47] You know, it's tricky.  It's a little bit more about like a non-profit, but I definitely am. I do want to make income from this, but I think my primary goal is really because I really just care about this particular demographic of people that are neglected. So that's probably like I've been a pastor in my career, and so that's sort of translating here now.

So my goal really is to find this group of people and help them. And I need to get paid in order to keep doing that. So that's like, I know, I don't think it's wrong at all to build a business. I just, for me, that's not my driving force, but I do need to support this so that I'm able to keep spending the time to do it.

So yes, I want to grow my business so that I can keep serving people and, also honoring my family and the time I'm taking from them to do this. 

Megan: [00:13:42] Yeah. That's such a great point. Is that, you know, call it a business or a ministry or a nonprofit, what have you. But with any of those, you need to raise the funds to keep supporting it so that it can keep going on and helping the people that [00:14:00] you want to help. 

Joy: [00:14:01] The happy for me yeah. 

Megan: [00:14:03] Yeah. So it's being a thought leader type of business. 

Joy: [00:14:10] There we go. 

Megan: [00:14:10] A business that, yeah, there we go. A business that is growing because, or is building this audience because of how you can help them with your mindset, with not only the thoughts that you bring them, that's not the right thing, but not only the mental things that they can chew on, but tangible things that they can learn from and, and will change their lives.

Joy: [00:14:40] Resources.

Megan: [00:14:41] Resources, exactly. 

Yeah. So you have that. Maybe the built-in benefit of a content generation that maybe not every business does, but that was kind of your process. And, and what I'm hearing is that first, you had to find out what you had to say, what you have in yourself. Like you had this desire to help people.

And to further your ministry, but you didn't quite know who your people were and what that was going to look like at first. So you had to experiment, you had to figure it out along the way you had to talk to them, literally. 

Joy: [00:15:23] Yeah, yeah I really did. 

Megan: [00:15:26] Through your post have that conversation back and forth. And even though it feels all the, a lot of times, like a one-way conversation.

Really, they are telling you, they're literally voting with their likes and their comments and their shares and telling you what's working and what's not working. What's resonating with them and what's not. And I think that's one thing that's universal across all businesses is that people vote when they're doing it.

Joy: [00:15:55] Yeah. 

Megan: [00:15:56] So many people I'm so glad to hear you say that you dig into the insights because I feel like that's one thing that people don't do. That's so easy and it's right there, all the data right there when they're like, I don't know what to do. I don't know. What's working. Nothing seems to be good. I'm like, well, what is working?

Like what are you doing that people are resonating with? And what we tend to do is just remember how it did like an hour after you posted or maybe the next day you remember, but you really have no objective perspective of how it's doing in the overall scheme of things. So I know with each of my clients, I literally have, and not everybody needs to do this, but I literally have a spreadsheet that I fill in the data for each of the platforms that we're on and how it's growing and which, which of the posts did well. 

And why I think that might've been, and that all things which you did in your, in like simplest form looking at the data, you wouldn't have the insights you'd figured out what was working well [00:17:00] and repeated it. Like it's not rocket science. 

Joy: [00:17:04] So even something as simple as like, noticing that there was a certain, like bump it, like time of day, that person looks at my posts and saying like, Oh, how about I post then? And it's true. Like my, for me, like 12 new, well, during a pandemic, it's different.

It used to be like 6:00 PM was my sweet spot. And now it's like 12:00 PM. But yeah, things I post early in the morning don't do as well as things I posted the times that. You know, it tells me so you're right. It's just, it's pretty easy. It's right there. It's fun to click around. And if you're willing to like swallow the bad along with the good and see it all as, and you say this it's just data, it's data. It's not saying anything about me as a person. It's just data that I can do something with, so 

Megan: [00:17:48] Exactly,  and the farther away we can get our ego from the performance of the actual post that has the better that we are like the more [00:18:00] objectively we can look at that. And hey, maybe even have somebody else look at it, but bothers you enough and just have them tell you, like, do more of this. 

Joy: [00:18:10] Your mental and emotional health get wrapped up in your social media. Like Draxxin and statistics and it's yeah, I have to definitely put some boundaries around it and like, Sundays, I don't look at my phone all day because I need a break and you know, there are other times where I'm like, okay, no, I, I don't have anything to say.

Don't just don't force the post. It's going to be fine so,

Megan: [00:18:37] Yeah. So when you can I ask about the hashtags? You mentioned that quickly, what was, what were you looking for? What did you do when you found those hashtags where you felt like, Oh, these are my people and where I need to be interacting.

Joy: [00:18:55] I feel like hashtags are a little bit of the bane of my [00:19:00] existence on Instagram, to be honest, I don't enjoy them. I feel like I'm at my other job. I'm like a project manager, so I'm very much like there has to be a system in a way to do this. And I know there are, I still haven't found that way. That consistently works for me.

I would, I would find one hashtag that was kind of familiar. And I would look at that hashtag and then I would see all the posts on that and then see if there were any other hashtags that those people use, people that were already using one that I thought might work for me, and I would see what hashtags they were using.

And I would kind of keep a list. And I, I did that a couple of times. And then as I got more invested in trying to actually, no, it really was just as I honed in on what I was interested in and started following those authors, authors of books that were really in line with what I was saying, I would see them use hashtags, or I would see people who commented on their posts.

[00:20:00] I would follow them back and see what hashtags they use. And like, just, I don't know, just sort of like. Insert myself into the network of people, kind of talking about similar things, and see if there were hashtags that worked for me. And then I kind of have probably about seven or eight that I use almost every post.

And then I have a couple of others that I'll rotate in and out, depending on what I'm talking about. But yeah, I don't mean I don't do like 30. I don't think it does as well when I do. Like all 30, but I'll try to have like 10 to 15. That seemed to be right in my area. And yeah, they have worked a little bit.

I have had some people find me and follow me through that. And then those people will share my words and then their friends follow. That's been probably how most of my growth has happened. 

Megan: [00:20:50] Yeah, I think hashtags, again are another thing that is really overlooked that people can, it's so easy to do an ad to a [00:21:00] post.

I get anywhere from 10 to 40% of my interactions are from people finding them from hashtags. And you can tell that in the insights, as you were saying, you can see that. So you can't, unfortunately, see exactly which hashtags are bringing you those, which is a little frustrating, but if you, it doesn't hurt.

Like you were saying it's easy as making a list and every once in a while look relooking at them or seeing if you need to freshen them up or adding one or two, that kind of thing. And I dug into the research. There have only been a couple of studies that have been done exhaustively about hashtags and on Instagram specifically. And really it's like use them period - is pretty much what I took away from them. Like there were very subtle differences in the number and where you put them, do you put them at the bottom of the post? Do you put them in a comment? And all of that, I came away, there was maybe a one to 5% difference in the amount of engagement you got with where all of it was.

So I came away from that going, just use them and it'll help you. Like, don't worry too much about yeah. Where they are and how the, you know, all, all of the details that we can get ourselves lost in and prevents us, gets that mental block from us, just posting. Posting is better than not, it's always been my mom tried it.

Joy: [00:22:42] I heard, I heard you say that. And I've been thinking that to myself. All months, I'm like, it's okay. Posting is better than not. You'll get there.  It's Christmas. It's the pandemic, the postings. 

Megan: [00:22:55] Right? Right. So yes, I, and I, the other thing I heard you say was that you inserted yourself into the community, that it was already there.

Other people have taught, are talking about, have talked about your, maybe not your specific flavor, but are in your niche are in the genre of things that you're writing about that you're talking about and you can go find them and you can insert yourself into that community. And people will come to you because they're there as well. 

And they're interacting and it's, it seems counterintuitive to look for other people who are beyond where you are. I think we mentally think, Oh, we've got to find all the people underneath, you know, to bring them here, but really interacting with people who are all the people in your space, following all of them, seeing what they do, it helps you to not only like we were talking about people to come to you because they see you interacting and talking with them, but you're also get great ideas.

You see what's going on. You, you feel you are more relevant because you are already in the conversations that are happening. So it is very much worth, I feel, the time, effort, and energy to search that out. You know, it's just like being at a party. If you're in the corner with your drink, not talking to anybody. Who's to blame for you not meeting someone that night, you know, you have to go to them. 

Joy: [00:24:40] That is always me at any party and I've managed to do okay. But you're right. It's about finding the right people. And I will say that that has been the difference too, but just as a mindset shift from me. You know, having all these dreams and goals and starting my Instagram, literally from [00:25:00] zero, because I didn't want to just switch my personal account over.

And you know, I invited friends and family to come, and that was like the first 57 followers. Like not everybody in my life was terribly interested in what I was saying. But too, for it to change from being this sort of like, okay, I got to grow, I got to grow. I got to grow and seeing followers as numbers.

And then as I engaged in the community more that's when it switched to them being people. And what also happened then was that I felt that's when the switch happened from me being like, Oh, I want to grow because I want to grow to like, Oh, I like these people I want to serve them well, and I'm also finding it rewarding.

Like I am also personally getting something out of this because now I'm in this community of people that actually has the same sort of way of seeing the world that I do. And that's like, like I said, like now I go on and I like people are encouraging me as well as me [00:26:00] encouraging them. And so it feels like this delightful thing I get to be a part of.

And I really love it more now. And I think I have a healthier approach to it now. And, and I know that's different from a solopreneur writer like me where it's everything I have to offer is literally my heart on a plate. Okay. Not literally. Metaphorically my heart on a plate. 

But, and that's different than a business with a product to sell, but for people who are sort of sharing the part, I think finding your people so that you can encourage each other and share each other's work the same way you wish they would share yours is like also really that's something I'm learning.

A lot just how powerful it is to be a fan and share other people's stuff the way you wish people would do for you. 

Megan: [00:26:51] Oh, yes, that is so true. I'm always surprised. Just even in the last couple of weeks, I did a little experiment on my own for myself and I love a lot of content that people are putting out, but they're just big.

They have their big names or they have millions of followers. And so I like it mentally, but I don't physically tap the button or comment and I just keep going. And so I made it a practice to myself. I sat every single thing that I viewed that I liked. I would like it and comment, and I was shocked.

And how many of the million-plus follower people, or even 10, 50, whatever responded. They, they either, like my comment back said, thank you all of that. And I was like, it just dawned on me. I can really, I can contribute to this conversation. I'm just thinking like, it's a big thing, you know, but like, Oh no, they read my comment and actually responded.

Like they actually care for some reason, there's [00:28:00] like this, at least in my brain, there was this disconnect thinking like, but no, that's probably how they got to where they are. Right. 

Joy: [00:28:09] That's what they use that many likes. It could be an assistant liking that it feels like.

Yeah. Yeah. I feel like that is something that I've also learned from you. And I don't do that perfectly, you know, the whole the $1.80 method. Well, Gary V, your 2 cents on the top nine posts and your top 10 hashtags or whatever. I haven't done that perfectly, but always in the back of my mind, it's like, okay, when I can get the test, I'm going to batch at it.

All of my Instagram posts like Megan says, and then I'll spend 15 minutes a day just going through and commenting on everything and leaving my 2 cents. That's sort of like my, my aspirational goals. I'm not there yet, but yeah, you're so good at that's. One thing I just appreciated about you so much is that you find a way to make social media feel like normal people can do it and still be people at the same time with the social media comm.

Like it, it really is a rat race out there in this little tiny square that we spend so much time in. And yeah, I've really appreciated your insights as to how to keep it. I can do this and then I can be dead. 

Megan: [00:29:28] Thank you so much. I'm glad I can be that for you. Two last questions, number one, what would you say to the person who is just opening their account today?

Who is like at zero followers? What encouragement would you give them? 

Joy: [00:29:46] I would say. Congratulations. Is it scary to open the account and see zero staring at you and not know what to do about it, but that's a huge first step. [00:30:00] And the sooner you do it, the sooner you'll grow. I think that I felt so late starting, and here I am a year and a half later.

And look at that the time passed and I put the work in and now I have over a thousand followers is not going to get me any kind of anything. No, but it's progress and I'm really proud of it. So. I would say, yes, don't give up because it's super vulnerable to start something from scratch and to figure out what you want to say.

But don't be afraid to experiment. Just get, you know, invite, invite people. That know you to join you, but don't push them because you don't want people there that don't actually care about what you're saying and, you know, phrase it in such a way that if you're interested in this, come follow me over here, because that's going to tell you more than that.

People who like you are just trying to be supportive and then just start experimenting. And if you're not getting like somethings, you know, after a couple of times, maybe don't do that as much. If you get a few more likes on something, Try that and lean into your insights. Even if you have like 13 followers, they're still insights and you can just sort of play with those and see if that does something for you.

And then yeah, just keep honing who your audience is and what they want. I think people, I would also say one thing, I see a lot of new people newcomers to Instagram too, is they err on the side of saying too much. And I would err, on the side of keeping it short, people are not looking to read novels when they are on Instagram.

They're looking for a quick snack. But they are looking for yeah. Just something that they can read quickly and think, huh. And then keep going. And if they go, huh, they'll probably like it. But yeah, that's. That's probably what I would say, but well done.

You knew Mr. Grammar. You're doing great.   

Megan: [00:31:55] Well, thank you so much joy. Yeah, for doing this for sharing your thoughts and, and how, how you grew, which I would say was quick. And you found your people, which is hard to do a lot of people spend years trying to figure that out.

So I am always there in your corner, cheering you on being your cheerleader for those. Watching and listening, who do not know you, where can they find you?  

Joy: [00:32:29] Yeah. So Joy Vetterlein is a pretty neat name. So it's able to snag it everywhere. So you can find me on Instagram at Joy Vetterlein.

L E I N at the end there. And then same with my website, JoyVetterlein.com and on, on Facebook and Twitter technically, but not quite as much as Instagram. 

Megan: [00:32:53] Okay, thanks so much Joy. Really.

Joy: [00:32:55] Yeah. Thanks for doing this for all of us trying to grow.