Wednesday, May 8, 2019

A Quick Instagram Primer

By Leslie Colin Tribble

Have you wanted to jump on the Instagram bandwagon, but didn't know where to start? Keep reading for a quick guide on how to use this social media platform for personal and professional use.

First off, a disclaimer. I've been on IG for nearly six years and I still don't really know much about it. I just post my little photos and enjoy seeing other people's pictures. That being said, I do think it's a fun platform and I think kidlit writers should be branching out to embrace the Gram. The name Instagram is a combination of Instant Camera (mobile phone camera) and Telegram - sort of an instant postcard.

Why You Should Have a Presence on IG
Insta has been around for about nine years. It appears to be growing in popularity, especially with a younger demographic. I'm a Baby Boomer and all my friends use Facebook. Some of them are on Twitter but very few are on IG. As of 2017, there were 800 million Instagram users, with a vast number of those folks being under the age of 35. Facebook is a great platform, but picture book authors need to go where adults with young children are, and right now, that happens to be Instagram.

Getting Started
The first thing you need to know is that Instagram is designed to work only on your cell phone. You can't access it with your laptop without a lot of effort. But creating an account is painless and the IG app for iPhone and Android is easy to use.

You need to decide on a user name - if you're an author and you want to use IG primarily for promoting your work then you can use just your name. If you chose a different name, you can link your personal name to that so followers can still find you by searching your name.

You have the option of making your account Public or Private. If it's public, anyone in the world can find you. People don't have to request to follow you so you'll definitely get some odd balls. You can block followers, though, if necessary.

You want to see and be seen on IG, just like any social media. Tell all your FB followers that you're now on IG and ask them to follow you there as well. You also need to follow others on the platform - oftentimes you'll get a return follow.

The best way to get followers is to use and follow hashtags. If you're on Twitter you know this already, but for anyone not on Twitter, hashtags are nothing more than key words (remember learning how to write essays and choosing your key words?). For instance, I post mostly landscape photos of Wyoming so I use these hashtags - #nature, #explore, #hiking, #getoutside, #wanderlust, #simplebeauty, #greateryellowstoneecosystem. IG helpfully provides a list of hashtags to choose from as you begin to type. When I first started, I wrote down other people's hashtags and used those.

This is my homepage, where you can see my massive 563 followers, which today was down to 553.

Because IG is primarily a visual platform, try to post decent photographs. Don't use out of focus or poorly planned shots. Even cell phones that are a few years old take great quality photos, so make the effort to post something nice. The built in photo editor is wonderful and easy to use. To post a photo click on the + button at the bottom of the screen and chose a photo. Click NEXT and then you can edit your photo by using a filter or the editing tools. At the very least you can add a filter to enhance your photos, but try using the editing tools. I primarily brighten up my picture, bring up the contrast, bump up the warmth, and deepen the saturation of the colors. Then I use the Structure tool to sharpen the focus and give the photo depth. A good photo will get you followers, but bad photos will get you unfollowed.

The "unwritten" social norm is no more than one post per day. You can get started by simply posting a photo of a book, or a pretty landscape and let folks know you're ready for engagement.

Not my photo, but I wish it was. @ChristinaAdelephoto takes wonderful photos of Glacier National Park.

IG Stories
At the top of your feed, you'll see people you follow with circles around their user photos. These are IG Stories - little vignettes of life that are visible for only 24 hours. To make a story, swipe right and a camera will appear. You can take video or still shots, add text and stickers and have fun. If you're having a book signing, or other event, Stories is a great way to highlight it.

The Negative
Unless you're a self-made model or you have a really cute dog, it is hard to get a lot of followers these days on IG. Even Stephen King only has 1.1 million followers while Jiffpom, the Pomeranian, has 7 million and Doug the Pug has 3 million. But even without a lot of followers you can still get likes and engagement by people who follow some of the hashtags you use.

Spam comment on the bottom. 

There's also a lot of spam on IG - a lot of people are simply out to build their numbers so they comment something like 'Nice feed. Follow me.' And you can purchase followers if you're willing to pay the money and play the game. But as a kidlit writer, if you just be yourself you'll eventually garner a decent following. You want real people to follow you, not necessarily a brand or product.

Are you on IG? Tell me your username and I'll give you a follow. If you want to see photos of Wyoming, you can find me at sagebrush_lessons. Enjoy!


  1. Thank you, Leslie, for the excellent primer on Instagram! I am a newbie (eileenmeyerbooks on IG) so your "how to" article was really helpful. Just followed you. :)

  2. Thanks Eileen, I'm glad it was helpful!

  3. I've hesitated to make the jump. But one photo a day doesn't sound like a huge time suck. You've convinced me to give it a try!

    1. You can do it, Wendy! I think more and more people will be jettisoning Facebook in the next couple of years, so it would be nice to be positioned to take advantage of a following you've already built.

  4. I'm a fan of Instagram! But you know this Leslie! I tend to *hang out* on Instagram more so.

    I always enjoy seeing your gorgeous photos as you #getoutside and #explore. And I always appreciate your likes and comment on my #outontheprairie, #read, #write, and #create IGs.

    Thank you for an excellent GROG blog post, Leslie.

    Sharing another tip: Instagram can be automatically posted to other social media platforms. It's easy to link to Facebook and Twitter.

    IG name: The Prairie Garden Gate
    username: suzyleopold

    1. Oh goodness, Suzy, thanks so much for mentioning that little bit about sharing to other platforms. I totally forgot to address that. I love seeing all your wonderful creativity!

  5. Thank you for the pointers, Leslie. I follow you already. I'm still getting the hang of it. Lol
    On IG:

  6. Janie, I'm sure once we all get IG figured out the latest, greatest social media will come along. But it's fun and doesn't seem to take as much time to scroll through as other platforms. Enjoy!

  7. This was an interesting and useful post, Leslie. I've been thinking about getting on IG, and you've given me insight and helpful tips! I'll let you know how it goes.

  8. Thanks, Leslie. Take-away for me: wait till I get a smart phone...