Creative Boss Interview: Engagement is key - how Natural Dyer Rebecca Desnos uses Instagram to share her work and stay inspired

Welcome to the fifth interview in my Creative Boss Instagram Interview series! Today I have a guest for you whose organic, plant-filled Instagram keeps me inspired to no end.

Rebecca Desnos is a natural dyer who produces the most gorgeous shades of fabric and yarn with plants that she collects. Her Instagram is one of the most imaginative and versatile I've come across in a while - and she still manages to make it look cohesive which is extremely impressive.

Rebecca self-published a book on how to dye your own fabric (including her self-developed method of mordanting fabric with soy milk) which you can get on Etsy and Amazon and is about to publish the first issue of her new magazine Plants Are Magic. Make sure to follow her two Instagram accounts - @rebeccadesnos for all her dyeing adventures, and @plants_are_magic for her magazine endeavours!

Hello dear! Tell us a little bit about yourself :)

My name is Rebecca Desnos and I am a natural dyer who works with plant dyes and plant fibres. I make dyes from local plants and also use food waste like avocado skins and pomegranate skins. I love to spend my time testing new plants and making colours. I wrote a book on botanical dyeing last year, which is an introductory guide to my simple dyeing methods and how I use soya milk as a mordant.

When and why did you start your Instagram feed?

I started my Instagram feed a few years ago, because I wanted to connect with other makers. After my son was born (just over 3 years ago), I felt like I wanted to get back into dyeing, but didn't have long stretches of time to work. So I simply started doing small projects during his naps and shared them on Instagram.

I liked chatting to others about what they were making and found a lovely community of like-minded people. Gradually, I started to receive more questions about my dyeing methods, which is what inspired me to write my book. I'm continually experimenting with new plants and Instagram is a great forum for sharing these adventures and stories.

I'm passionate about showing other people how they can dye with plants that are right on their doorstep. There is colour potential all around us just waiting to be unlocked. Traditionally this craft would have been passed on within families and in the local community, but like many other crafts, it has gradually died out. The Internet now plays a big part in reviving these crafts, so that's why I feel passionate about sharing all that I can.

Your feed has a beautiful feel to it - very organic, a lot of similar colors, and yet the photos never feel like they repeat themselves. What’s your approach to photography and posting to achieve this?

Thanks so much! My colours all come from nature so that determines the general feel of my photos. I also like to photograph my fabric alongside the plants I've dyed with, as that's an important part of the story. I'm continually taking photos, which in itself helps me develop ideas, so the photography has become an important part of my creative process. I see my Instagram feed as an online diary and mood board of ideas, and I like to be able to scroll through my past photos to see how ideas take shape and reflect over things.

My approach to photography is just to keep things simple and use the best natural light I can. This often means moving around my home to the brightest light near a window or waiting for a better time of day. Good light is essential to capture the colours. I like to play with textures and good natural lighting really helps to show off the texture of fabric.

In terms of coming up with compositions for photos, I just see this as part of the challenge and enjoy playing around with different options.

You have an incredibly 24k followers by now. Do you have a few tips you’d be willing to share that helped you grow your audience?

I do regular hashtag research to see which are the best ones to use at that time. I keep a list of hashtags in the notes on my phone and keep this up to date as best I can. In an ideal world, we would then go through all our hashtags on Instagram and interact with other feeds that use them, to draw more people to our profile. But time is limited and I do everything myself so I just don't have the time to do that much.

I also started my own hashtag #mylocaldyeplants so people can share their local plants with each other. This helps build a community around what we are doing, and connects people. I find it fascinating scrolling through the hashtag to see what other people are dyeing with all over the world. I guess if we are being 'business minded' we could say that starting your own hashtag is a great way to build your own community online, which will in turn generate more interest in what you do and lead to more connections, and ultimately a larger following.

However I believe the key is to build 'engagement' rather than a following, and I do this by trying to start interesting conversations on my posts. I just love writing about plants and natural dyeing and it's one of the reasons I started on Instagram. I love sharing knowledge with people and learning new things. Instagram is such a wonderful medium for that. Over time the 'following' will naturally grow, but I think engagement is the most important factor.

In fact since the new algorithm changes on Instagram came into play a few months ago, I've noticed a drop in likes and new follows, but I still have good levels of engagement on my posts. I believe you can have a successful business and Instagram account with a smaller following of highly engaged people.

I can imagine that interacting with such a huge audience takes a lot of time! Yet you always reply to comments and engage on other people’s feeds. How do you do that?

I'll be honest that I find it a struggle and don't have time to interact as much as I'd like. I try to always reply to comments left on my photos as I love the conversations that naturally evolve. I've made some lovely friends through Instagram and learnt so much from others. My time is limited, so I just do what I can. I don't do this full time (I'm a full time mum) so I just do what I can in short bursts of time.

And related to that - how much time do you spend per day on Instagram and how do you structure it so that you don’t go completely bonkers?

I plan my posts around what I'm working on - what plants I'm dyeing with or learning about, photos of fabric I've dyed or other things I'm making. I try to post every day (but sometimes miss a couple of days just because I don't have time), so at night I try to plan what I'm going to do the next morning. If I am doing some dyeing in the morning, I'll set that up after breakfast then take a photo and post it. Sometimes I 'cheat' slightly and may take two photos in one day so I have something for the next day. This is really helpful to me as there are days where I just don't have any making time.

I have my regular hashtags saved in the notes on my iPhone, so after editing the photo and writing the caption, I will select which hashtags best fit with the post and paste them in (I try to vary the hashtags slightly for each post).

I often write the captions of photos I know I'll take later on in the week and save them on my phone. In fact my phone is like a notebook of all the ideas in my head! I write things down right away so I don't forget. This saves me a lot of time later on when I go to post the photo.

I probably spend about 15 minutes taking a photo, writing a caption and choosing the hashtags. Then depending on what else I'm doing I might have time to reply to some comments right away. Or if I have other duties calling then I will come back to Instagram later.

I tend to do most of my Instagramming when my son is either asleep or immersed in play, and grab a chunk of time to engage and chat online. Everyday is so different. Some weeks I'm working on other things (doing lots of making or writing) so I spend minimal time on Instagram. I just go with the flow and let things happen as they do. It's probably not the best business strategy, but for me it's the only way when I'm trying to juggle family life and also working at home.

Are there any tools you’re using to manage your account?

No, just the Instagram app my iPhone.

And last, but not least - what are your top three tips when it comes to engaging with your Instagram tribe?

1. Answer questions on photos as fully as I can. I love receiving questions as other people naturally look at things from a different perspective which can help me develop new ideas. I try to be as helpful as possible when people ask questions or would like some tips to help them with something.

2. Leave interesting comments on people's photos, where you add some value. Sometimes we only have time for a heart emoji, and that's fine. But if you're commenting on a different account and want to be noticed then it helps to say something intriguing, then others might be interested enough to click through to your profile.

3. Be genuine. Show your true character so people can get to know you and relate to you.

Bonus question: What are your three favorite IG accounts?

I have so many favourite IG feeds, but at the moment I'm particularly enjoying @modernbotanics, @erinashleighh and @press_liz.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Rebecca! Make sure you go follow her on Instagram (@rebeccadesnos and @plants_are_magic) and consider signing up for her mailing list to receive all the updates around her botanical dyeing and new magazine adventure.