Award-winning creative director and Instagram Reels Creator Karen X. Cheng recently hit 1 Million followers on Instagram.
The one-woman creative agency, known as Karen X., writes and directs videos that show the honest behind-the-scenes life as a creator as she walks her audience through video projects for her own feed and big name brands.
While having your content go viral sure isn’t easy, Karen reveals the most effective steps she took to organically grow her account by over 97% in the last three months – and it’s not just her mind-blowing special effects!
Award-winning creative director and Instagram Reels creator Karen X. Cheng recently hit 1 Million followers on Instagram
Adapt and stay current
According to the San Francisco-based creative, the first step to growing a following is to stop thinking of Instagram as a photo-sharing platform and rather a video app.
‘Videos have been outperforming photos on Instagram,’ said the star whose videos have over 500 million views.
‘Reels is a huge focus for Instagram – before Reels, there was no way for a creator to “go viral” inside the app, and therefore it was very hard to grow. But now with Reels, it’s a lot easier to get discovered by new people.’
But the million dollar question is — how do you go viral?
‘People scroll FAST these days, so you want to think about how you can capture the audience’s attention within the first second of your video,’ she shares.
The one-woman creative agency, known as Karen X., writes and directs honest behind-the-scenes viral videos for not only herself but big name brands like Beats by Dre, Apple, SoFi, Amazon, and Brawny
To do this, she suggests:
1) Build curiosity: Set up something that makes the viewer want to see what happens next.
2) Use movement or faces: Humans are evolutionarily wired to pay attention to other faces and movement. You can put one or both of those elements in the first second of your video to help give it a boost.
3) Add a text label to describe what your video is about in the first few seconds: This will immediately help viewers understand if the video is targeted for them, and it will help your video attract the right audience.
Create authentic content
While Instagram originated as a modest smartphone pastime in 2010, in the last decade it has evolved into a cultural phenomenon where people actively seek out things to do only to post heavily filtered snaps to their feeds.
The phrase “do it for the ‘gram” is defined in the Urban Dictionary as “you do things in your life so you can take pictures and show off on Instagram.”
But the pendulum was bound to swing back, and in 2021, people are fed up with picture perfect looking people and crave authenticity.
‘If you want to train your creative muscle, I recommend reading “The Innovator’s DNA” by Jeff Dyer. This book had a huge impact on me and how I approach my creative skills and habits’
Bring everyone behind the scenes
‘For me personally, there was one change I made to my content that made it start taking off: I started showing the behind-the-scenes, instead of just the polished final video,’ shared the social media maven.
‘When I didn’t show my process, I was essentially just showing off the cool shots I got. It was about me.
‘When I started showing my behind-the-scenes, it was no longer about me – it was about my audience – giving them a chance to be entertained or learn something.’
But showing what happens behind the camera isn’t the only way to make your content more interesting, according to Karen.
‘It’s simply about being useful in what you share.
‘The creators who are growing the fastest right now are those who know what’s useful to their audience.
‘Being useful can take many forms – from making people laugh to inspiring them, to teaching them something new.’
Cross promotion for the win
As the amount of Instagram users has largely increased, it’s a lot harder to get noticed.
Karen reveals that building out her following has been a 2-part strategy that includes creation and creativity.
‘First, I make Reels. But those don’t always go viral (usually they don’t), so to get more reach, I actually will message that Reel to other large Instagram accounts.
With her niche being filmmaking, she reaches out specifically to “meme” or “compilation” accounts, ‘ones that have a theme like filmmaking, travel, or comedy.’
When being reposted, Karen requests a tag within the first line of the caption.
‘It’s so important to get tagged in the first line because Reels captions are very short and only show the first line,’ she asserts.
Karen credits this technique for the boost of more than half of her million followers.
‘I’ve actually grown more than 100k followers in a single day with this strategy.’
‘For me personally, there was one change I made to my content that made it start taking off on Instagram: I started showing the behind-the-scenes, instead of just the polished final video,’ shared Karen
It all starts with a great idea and sometimes a good tune
It isn’t always easy to come up with a creative concept, and more often than not, you find yourself stuck with the same old idea.
‘If you want to train your creative muscle, I recommend reading “The Innovator’s DNA” by Jeff Dyer. This book had a huge impact on me and how I approach my creative skills and habits.’
A catchy song can spark those innovative juices and help your Reel be featured and do well.
‘It definitely increases your chance of making a viral Reel if you use trending music, and I know a lot of creators have found great success and grown a ton by using trending music as part of their strategy,’ she shared.
‘But the main disadvantage of using trending music is that it can make your content feel very dated only a few months later.
‘Personally, I usually avoid using trending music, even if that means my content doesn’t go viral as often.’
‘The main disadvantage of using trending music is that it can make your content feel very dated only a few months later. Personally, I usually avoid using trending music, even if that means my content doesn’t go viral as often’
While many grammers pride themselves on captions that are short and sweet (sometimes just an emoji!), this could work against them.
According to Karen, the benefit of a lengthy caption is the time it takes to read it.
‘Instagram is measuring how much time people spend on your video, and that’s one of the biggest factors they use to determine how “successful” your video is and how many people to push it out to.
‘If you write an interesting caption, that’s more time people will spend on your video.’
While hashtags are useful for smaller creators to get discovered, Karen reveals that as her account grew, they mattered less.
It’s not a numbers game
‘Lots of creators swear by posting every day, but I just don’t have the energy or ability or desire to do that.
Contrary to many theories, you don’t have to post every day in order to grow on Instagram, according to the creative. It’s consistency that is key.
‘I actually only post every 1-2 weeks, and that pace has worked really well for me. I really enjoy what I do and I don’t want to burn out – it’s a marathon, not a sprint.’
‘At some point you’re going to make something that flops, it doesn’t get as many views or likes as you think it should and that’s enough to send anyone into a spiral. In order to stay sane, you’ve got to find something besides the views and the followers to hold on to, ideally something you can control’
‘I’ve gotten to work with so many clients that I could only dream of working with before – Adobe, PUMA, LEGO, and even Instagram official
Instagram leads to opportunity
Becoming successful on the ‘gram has changed not only the trajectory of Karen’s professional life but her income.
‘I was struggling in my career two years ago – work was slowing down, I was settling for lower rates.
‘I was at about 3k followers at that point, so I decided to try growing on Instagram to see if I could land a few clients that way.
‘After I crossed 20k followers, brands started reaching out to me and haven’t stopped since.
‘I’ve gotten to work with so many clients that I could only dream of working with before – Adobe, PUMA, LEGO, and even Instagram official.
Karen made a charming holiday clip for the official @instagram account that went up on Christmas Day last year.
While having a strong social media presence can lead to landing a great job, Karen believes that everyone has to do what’s right for them.
‘Lots of people have amazing career opportunities without social media.’
She also advocates having balance.
‘I set up a lot of boundaries for myself. For example, I try to go on airplane mode two hours before bedtime, and I don’t share any of my personal life on social media.’