Building Your Brand on Instagram. By Nicole Riccardo

Describe Who You Are and What You Do.


I completed my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Flute Performance from Florida State University and currently live in Austin, Texas with my boyfriend, David, and our dog, Blitz. I currently maintain a private studio of around 25 students, I work as a Social Media and Branding consultant helping other musicians and music brands, and I also recently announced the introductory launch of my online course, Create Your Career! A Guide for 21st C. Entrepreneurial Musicians.


How has Instagram affected your flute life and personal brand?  How many years have you been active on it?

Instagram has had a HUGE impact for my career in general!

I have had Instagram since (…scrolls for five minutes through feed…) 2012, but I wouldn’t say I was really “active” on it until the beginning of this year, actually. Prior to that, I spent my time running accounts for businesses but never really tapped into my knowledge and utilized it for myself.

In case you are wondering, what I mean by “active” is I started doing more than just posting a picture, throwing up some hashtags, and sitting back and waiting for likes to roll in. Because my friends, I have news for you…..that is not how it works. If you want to do well, you have to engage with others and cultivate relationships. Which brings me to this:

Most importantly, Instagram has allowed me to build an incredible community of musicians and also other bloggers and entrepreneurs. Even though I have never met the vast majority of them in real life, no matter what is going on in my life or what I am posting about that day, I feel like I have this supportive community encouraging me through everything. It really is unlike anything else I have ever experienced, and I am so incredibly thankful for all of the relationships I have built.

The next impact has been financial.

A lot of people think that in order to make money from Instagram you have to have a massive following like big name bloggers or celebrities who have followings up into the millions (insane, right?!). These accounts make money from things like paid brand deals and collaborations, affiliate programs, and advertising due to their huge reach.

But! Even if you do NOT have a massive following (I only have about 2,500!) there are so many other avenues you can take. For instance, I utilize my knowledge of the platform to help other musicians and music brands build and grow. I also love the process of content creation, so I have done some brand partnerships where I do styled product shoots and/or write a guest blog post for them. I just recently did an Instagram feed takeover for a company, too, which was a lot of fun! Once you identify what avenues you enjoy and want to pursue, it is honestly pretty easy to create opportunities since Instagram marketing is so prevalent now.

What are 5 essential skills to building an active Instagram following?

Oh man, I could write an entire article on this alone! But if I had to narrow it down to only 5 things, the best advice I can offer would be this:

  1. Focus on your photography

Instagram is a visual platform and is also extremely over-saturated so if you want to have any hope of standing out, good photos are crucial. Even if you don’t have the money to invest in a nice camera, if you learn the basic principles of photography you can take great photos with your phone!

  1. Make sure your captions motivate, educate, inspire, or entertain

If you want to build a following, you need to provide value. Why should somebody follow your account? Give them a reason.

  1. Be yourself

On social media where everyone’s lives look so picture perfect, it is easy to get caught up in the comparison game. I see SO many accounts that post essentially the same content day after day. Here is a picture of me in a cute outfit! Buy this top because it is on sale here! Isn’t it so cute?! Ok great, but 500,000 other accounts just posted something almost identical. Infuse your true and authentic personality into everything you do and people will notice that. Talk like you would to your best friend!

  1. Timing is everything

Be mindful of the time of day that you are posting. If you want people to engage with your posts, they need to be active on the platform when it is posted. If you post a photo at 6 a.m. when you wake up, there probably won’t be a ton of people active at that time. But if you wait until maybe noon when everyone is going on lunch and scrolling through their phones, much higher likelihood you will receive engagements. Especially with the new Instagram algorithm, if you want your content to have any chance of showing up higher in your followers feeds or on the explore page, it is critical to receive engagement within a short period of time after posting.

Not sure what your peak times are to post? If you set your Instagram account to a business profile, it has it all the information there for you! Check in on it frequently though, it changes often.

  1. Spend the time to build your tribe

This is the big one, y’all.

Has anyone out there ever spent time taking the most Instagram-worthy photo, coming up with the perfect caption for it, throwing a few hashtags in there, posted it and sat back waiting for the likes to roll in? And let me guess….they probably didn’t (or at least not as many as you had hoped for). Just like basically everything else in life, in order to receive, you have to give first. Spending time everyday engaging and building real connections with others is the key to building an active following.


What changes have you seen from pre-Instagram days until today, marketing-wise?  What are the pros and cons of the app?

I think the biggest change I’ve noticed is that companies are becoming much smarter in what they are spending their advertising dollars on. The rise of the influencer has been a game-changer in the marketing world. Why would you spend tens of thousands of dollars producing a television commercial when you can pay an Instagram influencer half that and they will market your product to an extremely targeted and loyal audience? Especially any company that is trying to reach a younger demographic, it just makes sense.

In terms of the pros and cons of the app, I think we have all experienced the big cons: comparison and critics.

On Instagram people go to great lengths to curate beautiful feeds full of photos that convey a “perfect” life. We are only human, so of course it’s easy to get caught up in that and start thinking things like, “Wow I wish I could afford to go travel around Europe for a month…must be nice” or, “Why is she getting that opportunity and not me? Am I not good enough?” The flip side of this is we all need to remember that no matter how perfect someone’s feed may seem, everyone is fighting his or her own battles. Nobody is perfect. Everybody has struggles. Some people just aren’t as open about these things publicly as others.

Andddd the critics. The people who make passive aggressive comments or straight up rude or bullying comments or are constantly throwing shade. The people who have a superiority complex and feel like everyone else needs to bow down to them. The sad part is that sometimes the people who are the worst are people who have some of the biggest followings, which of course is incredibly frustrating to those of us who are really making it a mission to help and support and build real relationships with others. But my view on this is what goes around comes around, my friend. You better believe that the stories of their words or actions will get around, and eventually it will come back to bite them. In the meantime, I recommend choosing not to follow, support, or engage with those people. Good vibes only, y’all.

Now onto a better note, the pros!

As I mentioned earlier, the huge benefit is that you can build actual meaningful connections with others. I have honestly never experienced such a supportive community as the one that I have found through Instagram. For all the crap people give social media, it is a space where ultimately it is what you make it.  

And, of course, the fact that it is wildly profitable if it is used correctly.

Describe the role of "influencers" and how they can help expand reach.

An influencer is someone who has put the time and effort into cultivating their tribe and they are characterized by having an engaged and loyal community in their specific niche. This is clearly very beneficial to brands and companies because the influencer has done all the work for them in finding their target audience. But even better than that, they have built a relationship and formed that bond of trust with their audience. Aka the ROI (return on investment) tends to be very significant, which is why influencers can make BIG bucks. A great example is the beauty community, where influencers with massive followings will get upwards of $60k sometimes for brand deals! So, in that sense, influencer has also evolved into a job title.

It is also worth mentioning that you do NOT have to have a massive following to become an influencer. Brands are increasingly looking for micro-influencers to work with because they are characterized by having 100k followers or less with insanely high engagement levels (like 5-10% or higher). Previously brands selected influencers based on follower count, but as we all know now, followers can be bought. You know those accounts that have 500k followers but their latest post only has 500 likes? Yeah, fake followers my friend. And brands have become savvy to that when they realized they were dishing out thousands of dollars and their ROI was negligible.

List your top 5 people you're following and why.  What makes them stand out to you?

Out of my top five, only one is a musician! Of course I’m biased because she is one of my good friends, but I absolutely love what @joleneflute is doing. She is such a great example of finding your specific niche as she has done through her blog Practice Room Revelations. She is real and relatable and takes beautiful photos. What more could you ask for?!

My other current favorites would be:

@atasteofkoko : She is an Austin blogger who focuses on food and travel. I love her photography style and she really inspires me with the opportunities and the career that she has created for herself.

@theskinnyconfidential :  Y’all. If you don’t follow her, you NEED to. She is the epitome of being authentic, and really puts it all out there for her followers. She is relatable and even though she has a huge following (728k), she will still reply to messages and comments from her followers. I think it’s impossible to go to her page and not think “I want to be friends with her!”

@daniaustin : She is primarily a fashion blogger based in Dallas. Personality is definitely a theme here…she let’s her true personality shine through everything she does and is not afraid to show the struggles. It makes her super relatable and real.

@aww.sam : Ok this one is primarily aesthetic. Her feed is fun, colorful, and creative. Her content creation is seriously goals and I am always inspired when I see one of her posts!

Is Instagram just a milllenial thing?  Do you think there is a steeper learning curve for the older generation, and how to overcome it?

I mean, purely based on when Instagram was created to when it really became a thing, Millennials are definitely more proficient with it. However, it has become so ubiquitous at this point that anyone who is smart is utilizing it.

There is definitely a steeper learning curve for the older generation because they did not grow up with this amount and level of technology. In order to overcome it, first, there needs to be a willingness to learn. As basic as that seems, I have found that with most of the older generation being so far removed from having to learn something from the ground up, they tend to approach it with negativity and/or unwillingness to learn. After hopping on board and getting excited for all the possibilities Instagram can present, invest in your education. There are books, online courses, blogs, podcasts, and consultants that can provide all of the information you need! And finally, be willing to accept that the learning process will be continuous. Technology changes so rapidly that what works today could be obsolete next week.

What branding strategies tend to work better than others?  How important is knowing the algorithms and metrics of the app?

If you are a business or trying to grow a brand or influence, the biggest branding strategy takeaway is consistency. You have to have consistency across all of your online platforms and all of your print materials. You have to have consistency in photography. You have to have consistency in brand voice. You have to have consistency in frequency of posting and engaging. If you want to know what works, look at what the big companies are doing like Target, Airbnb, or Amazon. These are companies that are incredibly successful and that have the dollars to devote to teams of people that research and test everything from what time of day and day of the week is the best to post to how exactly to word an email subject line to get someone to open it. Pay attention to these accounts and learn from them.

In regards to the algorithms and metrics:

If you want to grow an account, having a solid understanding of both of these is imperative.

The metrics provide invaluable information not only on your follower demographics (which tells you more about who your audience is and allows you to implement strategies more effectively), it allows you to monitor what works and what doesn’t. You want every single approach to be tailored to your audience, so if you notice that your food photos get the most likes or that your captions about yoga poses for musicians receive the most engagement, take note of that. This information can help you hone your content further and be even more effective.

The algorithm is a beast in and of itself. Instagram has never come forward and directly stated what factors contribute, so everything “known” about it is basically just educated guesses based on experience. The main takeaways to be mindful of is that if you want your content to have any chance of appearing in your follower’s feed, make sure you post at a peak time and engage within thirty minutes after posting. If you receive good engagement levels within a short time of posting, Instagram will deem your content more desirable, and therefore allow it to show up higher in your follower’s feed.

Sometimes posting and engaging with followers everyday can be exhausting/overwhelming.  How do you find a balance between online and offline?

Oh do I know this struggle! This is exactly why I wasn’t really “active” on my own account until this year, because all of my time was being invested building accounts for others. It took me quite a while to find a good balance for myself because it is SO easy to get sucked into scrolling mindlessly through the feed.

My biggest piece of advice is to use the pomodoro technique. Set aside a specific amount of time per day that you will spend on social media and stick to it. This really helps to focus in on the goal and be more efficient. Ideally I would try to set aside about thirty minutes to engage after posting, and then an additional chunk of time at some point during the day to engage and reply to comments and messages.

In the past 10 years or so, marketing oneself and one's brand has rapidly changed due to social media. Where do you see it in the next 10 years?

I don’t think I could even dream up what technologies or new platforms will be available 10 years from now, but I will say that I think marketing through social media avenues is going to continue to increase and become more of the norm. I think it will also become commonplace for brands to use influencers as the face of their products or company, just like they currently use celebrities.

What can flute brands and musical instrument brands be doing better on Instagram, in your opinion?

This is SUCH a great question and I could honestly talk about my ideas on this for hours, but I will keep it to a few main points.

First, there is a very big lack of modernized and well thought out branding. The Classical music world overall tends to be behind the times when it comes to marketing and staying on top of trends. Brands need to keep in mind that the marketing game has become increasingly driven by visuals. On Instagram specifically, if your branding, photography, and feed curation isn’t visually stunning, you probably aren’t going to perform as well as you’d like and you are absolutely going to limit growth and ROI from the platform.

One branding standout I would like to note is Flutistry Boston. Their branding is incredibly well thought out and executed, and I think they have truly been a game changer for the flute industry.

Second, find a way to stand out authentically. This goes back to the branding. You have to clearly define what it is that makes you unique. What value are you providing? What makes you different? Every single photo and every single word you post should be in line with your core mission and values.

Third, yes there are brands that have done influencer collabs or partnerships, but overall the community of influencers is still a very untapped market. If you are a brand and want to partner with an influencer, make sure you are very selective and only choose someone who is in line with your brand. I’m talking photography style to their personality. Do your research. Read the comments they make and how they engage with their audience (see question 4). Whoever you select ultimately is a direct reflection of your brand. Also be mindful of quantity. If something is rare, it is much more meaningful and holds more weight. And one final thought on this (without giving away all my million dollar ideas) is to look to the communities that ARE successfully utilizing influencers: beauty, fashion, lifestyle, and travel. These companies and brands have turned partnerships into multi-million dollar profits, so they are clearly doing something right, yes? Take inspiration from how they leverage these partnerships.

If there are any flute brands out there reading this, if I could give you one piece of advice it would be this: Hire a social media expert. Knowing how to operate Instagram and knowing how to leverage Instagram as a marketing tool are two very different things. Yes, it is a requirement to have beautiful photography and well-crafted captions, but there is significantly more that goes in to running a successful Instagram account as a business. That is why every major company now employs dedicated social media specialists.

Any advice to give to flutists who are new to Instagram?

Going back to something I said earlier, Instagram is what you make of it. Just stay true to who you are, don’t get caught up in the comparison game, and be a kind and supportive human.

Get in touch with Nicole: and on Instagram: @nicolericcardo

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