Social Media Roundup #2: Instagram 101:  More Than Just a Pretty Picture

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series on social media for writers. A bookworthy peg in a blog hole, the series aims to point writers in the direction of finding more information and help them make informed decisions. Have a story to tell or experiences to share on LinkedIn, Twitter or the “others” (Snapchat, Tumblr, Pinterest)? Please email me or Thanks!

A few weeks ago I was invited to a “Facebook Community Boost” held in Columbus. This three-day event focused on how small and medium-sized businesses could best use social media, specifically Facebook and Instagram, which Facebook purchased in 2012. While the event was free and actually included validated parking, snacks and boxed lunches (they didn’t tell us about the latter two, possibly fearing a stampede), it was also a thinly disguised infomercial for these social media outlets, particularly Instagram, to which Facebook has added bells and whistles; including Instagram for Business in 2016. This was not necessarily a bad thing, because good-natured Instagram offers the kind of vitality and experimentation found on the Facebook of several years ago, only with pictures and limited captions. And without the contentiousness and “defriending” of FB’s current iteration or the Roman circus atmosphere of Twitter.

While Facebook claims that nearly 1 billion people access their Instagram accounts on a monthly basis and 80 percent of accounts follow businesses on Instagram, the number of enterprises who are on the photo-sharing service is relatively smaller: A mere 25+ million business profiles, with only 2 million who actually use it. Still that’s a lot of potential exposure, which is why I eagerly tucked into the sessions titled “Instagram 101: A Beginner’s Guide for Business” and “Getting Creative With Your Mobile Phone.” 

The 101 course was taught by a 12-year-old girl in jeans and a T-shirt. OK, maybe I’m underestimating her age — but not her attire. Nevertheless she adeptly guided us through the mechanics of establishing a business Instagram account. As with Google AdWords and Facebook, there’s a learning curve in understanding metrics, engagement activity and so forth. But with Instagram, because it’s so visual, what seems to be more important is posting compelling images — or better yet, a 15- to 20-second video to which you can add different filters and accents to make it “pop.” On Instagram, “people spend five times longer watching videos,” our lecturer pointed out. “And 75 percent of millennials do their shopping on platforms inspired by the post.” According to AdWeek, users under 25 spend more than 32 minutes per day on Instagram, while those in the older age groups spend 24 minutes. Videos can also be migrated to Facebook to reach that particular demographic/audience.

You can post on the main feed, which is permanent, or in Instagram Stories, a Snapchat-like feature that disappears 24 hours it’s posted. For writers who want their work to live forever, Stories seems counterintuitive, but can actually be a smart marketing strategy:

  1. Stories offers interactive polls to help engage the audience. It’s a fun way to, for example, have readers weigh in on which cover might be best for your upcoming title. This provides invaluable feedback and helps them “buy into” your book or blog on a personal level. Instagram Insights also provides information on total activity on the feed as well as engagement per post.
  2. Use your storytelling skills, only digitally. While restaurants can illustrate how they prepare dishes and football teams can show clips of scrimmages, a travel writer can, for instance, provide short clips about various places she’ll be writing about on her blog. If there’s a book involved, all the better, because the audience will want more of the same quality material.
  3. Take advantage of Instagram’s “Call to Action” (CTA) button, which offers the option of clicking through to purchase a product or signing up for a service, such as a newsletter. Again, with visual Instagram, the font, size and color of the CTA button must be visually appropriate and appealing.

“Be responsive and be yourself,” counseled our youthful sage lecturer. Instagram apps such as Boomerang, Hyperlapse and Layout allow you to experiment with different colors and visuals, creating a unique video or array of photos to capture your audience’s imagination. Once again, there’s a learning curve, but if you hold off on that Netflix or Hulu binge-fest, you can come up with something that’s cool and fun — and promote your pet project at the same time.

And videos are the wave of the future, she continued: “By 2021, some 75 percent of all mobile data will be video.”  Uh, oh, that’s only three years away. And it’s already begun: Just last week the New York Public Library launched “Insta Novels” in its Instagram Stories function, where readers click through animated visuals to read the novels, such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

The handwriting — or at least the moving picture — is on the wall.

Next up in two weeks: Getting creative with your mobile phone. Please share your social media story or experiences with ASJA Confidential! Email me or Thanks!