Running a food Instagram is not as easy as every influencer makes it look. So much time, effort and energy goes into gathering and creating content, making connections, and establishing what makes you different from a sea of other foodies. It’s even tougher when you are a college student on a limited budget and don’t have the same professional equipment or resources that many others do. But, if you are passionate enough about food and are willing to work hard/do a bit of research, anything is possible.

I created @maurainthecity when I was in high school, and the page was initially just a spot for me to photo-dump all of the pictures I was taking on my trips to New York City. I guess at some point I realized I was capturing more photos of food than anything else, and became interested in turning my love for cooking and eating into something bigger. The account was inactive for some time during my last year or two of high school, but I decided to revive it when I moved to NYC for college since I knew I would be eating tons of great food. Since then, I have featured dishes of my own creation as well as meals from various places around the country.

For me, having a food Instagram often feels like a part-time job. What started as something casual that I dedicated a very small amount of my life to has now become a significant commitment. I had no idea what I was getting myself into five years ago because I did no research, so here are some pretty basic things that I have found helpful or wish I had known in 2016. (I am fully aware that everyone’s experience is incredibly unique, especially depending on where you live, and I am in no way telling anyone how to start or operate their own food page.)

Be consistent! 

While some people prefer to post randomly right after they have made a meal or gone to a restaurant, I try to stick to a schedule. This is useful for me as a college student because my eating habits are kind of all over the place, so it ensures that I have content lined up even if I am not able to photograph something new that week, and your followers know when to expect material from you. My current schedule is Wednesday/Saturday/Sunday and I check my food Instagram insights weekly to see what the best time to post is. It can also help to schedule posts ahead of time using a platform like OnlyPult, Later or Planoly, but many cost $$.

Find a filter that gives your feed the cohesive vibe/look you are going for.

I love having a very bright and colorful feed because I feel like that best represents me as a person, but maybe you prefer to photograph all of your food items in front of a crisp white backdrop, or like a darker/moodier color scheme. Whatever you choose, make sure your photos are clear and not over-edited. Some of my favorite apps for this are Foodie and Lightroom

Make friends with other foodies and support each other!

I did not realize how important this one was until about a year ago. I felt like my page wasn’t really growing and that I was having trouble getting my current followers to interact with my content, and was doing a ton of research on how to organically increase my following. Someone happened to reach out to me about joining an engagement group, which is a fairly simple way to help boost your post visibility and overall following. I dedicate a chunk of time each night to interacting with posts that my group members have made, and they do the same for me. It is such a great way to meet foodies from other cities and learn from each other. It is also super important to support food Instagram accounts outside of your engagement groups to widen your circle and help others achieve their goals.

Establish a solid set of hashtags that you can reuse and build upon depending on the focus of your post

I try to have 4 categories of hashtags as my first comment under every post: The restaurant name (#levainbakery #denverbiscuitco), specifics about the food (#vanillamilkshake, #freshpizza), location-based tags (#denverfoodscene, #nyceats) and some random ones (#collegefoodie, #outdoordining). There are some generic tags that I use on every post, and I add to that list based on what I’m posting about. It is also fun to find new accounts to follow by searching through the hashtags that interest you, especially the location-based ones.

Be personable in your captions!

So many people make their captions kind of bland and robotic when they simply recite what they ate and where. Allow your content to showcase your personality and give people a reason to want to connect with you! Maybe talk about your experience at the restaurant, tell a relevant story, or ask your followers an engaging question in addition to saying what food is pictured. 

Make a name for yourself outside of Instagram.

Creating an additional profile on food-focused apps like Yelp, Pepper, Cravve, Atmosfy, City Garçon or even TikTok can help your account reach a larger audience of people, connect you with brand opportunities, and expose you to new restaurants or cuisines

Keep track of any features.

If your favorite restaurant shares one of your photos on their story, or a big NYC food Instagram account reposts some of your content in their feed, keep track of it! I have a highlight on my page for story features, an Instagram folder of in-feed posts, and screenshots of both in my camera roll. This is helpful if you are pitching your services to a brand and want to show off some of your best photos, or just want to have a better concept of your account's reach.

Be accessible!

Try and respond to comments on your posts, or at least like them, to show your followers that you see them. It is also so important to frequently check your DM’s, especially because of Instagram’s message filter, to see if there are any brands trying to reach you. Maybe consider putting your email in your bio as well so people have multiple options if they want to contact you. And if someone does reach out about an opportunity, be polite and send them a response even if you are not interested.

Don’t be afraid to make the first move when it comes to collaborations.

I cannot stress this one enough. I am so grateful to be at a point where occasionally people reach out to me and ask me to visit their restaurant or post about their products, but that really never happened until I hit 1k+ followers. You cannot feel awkward to initiate a conversation and put yourself out there, and should always be confident in the fact that you have something unique to offer at every stage. Rejection is inevitable, but a true passion for food and a respectful first message will go a long way, even if it just results in a conversation or a new connection. Most importantly, your goal should be to support and uplift businesses, rather than get something out of it for yourself. Always make an effort to seek out local restaurants and small shops that maybe do not have a huge following.

Most importantly, don’t allow yourself to become easily discouraged.

Everyone’s path is different, so just because you aren't gaining 100 followers a day or going viral on food Instagram doesn't mean you aren’t succeeding. Focus on your own journey instead of comparing yourself to others, and remind yourself that you’re doing this because you love food, not because you’re craving social media fame. Everyone starts somewhere! 

Running a food Instagram has been such a rewarding experience. I’ve always been an incredibly picky eater, but having my platform has challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. Additionally, I have made so many amazing friends and connections, and love being able to showcase my passion for food in such a unique way. Having a food page in college is also a great conversation starter and resume builder, no matter what kind of career you are interested in. It shows that you have experience with time management, networking, writing and creating content for social media, and being an advocate for yourself, which are all important life skills. You can also act as the go-to for all things food with your friends and family, which is my favorite part!