Twitter is stupid, and Instagram is for people who can’t read.”–Max, 2 Broke Girls
I always think of that quote when I mention Instagram to others. Instagram is a social site for sharing snapshots. If you don’t like taking pictures, this post won’t be for you, but you should read to the end just to make sure.
As a writer, or any business owner, you need to find social media platforms that work for you and your desired end goals. The sites need to be ones that you will maintain and that are fun for you. I think Facebook is a big time-suck with algorithms that don’t let me see the feeds of everyone I want to in the order that I want to. Still, I have a Facebook Author Page that I modestly keep up with. I have discovered informative people through Twitter and it seems to be popular for writers. It’s hard to keep up with the news feed some days, but there’s some good interaction with my tweets.
What about Instagram? I’m a scrapbooker and, by default, take hundreds of photos every month. I’m surprised it took me so long to find the value in Instagram. My first two photos posted the week of June 10-16, 2012 (138 weeks ago) when I was just playing around with some filters on my first smartphone. They were pictures of teddy bears. I didn’t know what else to do with it, so I trailed off and lost interest. I picked it up again the week of February 2-7, 2014 (53 weeks ago, or just over a year) as an outlet to showcase my writing, initially my haiku poetry. Now I use Instagram for my writing and…well, stop on over and check out my photos at @dwhirsch.
I use Instagram as a marketing tool as much as a social experience. I don’t pretend to know everything about Instagram. I read information from bloggers who have done the research, such as @jenns_trends, who is a goddess on Insta-information. What I’m offering is my personal experiences and successes adapting those tools.
To use Instagram effectively, you have to decide what you plan to share. This can change over time, but start with some initial rules. My guidelines are the same ones I have for my personal blog. I never post pictures of friends or family without first getting their consent. I don’t post photos of my house because I have “location services” turned on my phone. I don’t want people to know where not to find me when I’m out of town. There’s nothing valuable, explicit, religious, political, controversial or anything my dad–were he still alive–would be disappointed to read about me.
Instagram is Insta-easy to use, and the site’s features are relatively uncomplicated and obsessively playful. It’s free to set up, and I recommend you snag your profile information now: create your Name (generally your real name or business) and Username (what you’ll be known @as). Photos are posted in a square, and most smartphones have a “square” option in the camera settings. If not, or if a square cuts off some important part of your photo, there are many free apps that will shrink your photo and place a border around it. To post, just upload a photo or 15-second video that you take live or have stored in your smartphone library. You can alter your media with black-and-white, sepia or color filters, with additional tools to adjust the image’s brightness, contrast or saturation level. Finish it off with a frame or vignette, add a caption and press Share.
Now that you’re live, how do people find you? Your 153-character bio, along with your photo’s caption, and hashtags need to be creative, potent and relevant. Going back to Max’s quote comparing Twitter and Instagram, the latter is not restricted to 140 characters. Your photo or video should tell a complete story, but you can use about 440 words to explain that image. This comment section is vital because you can tell your story and highlight your image using crucial hashtags.
Instagram is hashtag heaven. People with similar interests will find you based on how you tag your images. Common hashtags reflect those you find on Twitter, but you don’t have to be familiar with Twitter to use Instagram. Think about what your picture is about and tag your image with common terms. As a snapshot in the moment, you can showcase a twisted #tree branch, a royal #sunset, a #selfie in your awesome new #shirt, an art exhibit or the #bananabread you’re baking. You’ll get a feel for tags once you start using them. Tags have no spaces and use just alphabet characters with no suggestions, so type in exactly what you’re looking for. Much like Twitter lists, you can also create hashtags to group your own images in a somewhat folder design. Some of mine include #iamapoetess, #SnuffletFinse and #Champsp. Be sure to check out this group’s posts, which are under the same hashtag as on Twitter: #dwriters.
The Explore tab complements tags by suggesting people to follow based on tags you use, images you’ve ‘Liked’ and people or companies that your followers follow.
Oh, yes, companies use this. Instagram is a successful marketing tool, a highly-used space to display products from #clothing to #cosmetics. Check out companies like @Bathandbodyworks, @Ford and @Applebees.
I sometimes stage my work because I want my followers to see the best of me. I give my followers a peek into my writing, #Zentangle art and my overall creative process while infusing my quirky personality and personal interests. Think about it: if I follow a particular author, I feel more connected to the “person” rather than to the “celebrity.” Therefore, I’ve taken my book cover image and overlaid a part of a review on top of it. I type up actual text from my latest #shortstory or #poetry. Photo editing can be fun.
Given my goals, I show images of blue-inked-up work as I edit my current draft. I show the #coffee shops where I #amwriting. I show the stages of my Zentangle #wip so people can see my creation from start to finish. I have too much fun with it on the go not to let it be organic.
Remember, social media is social. I share my work and myself because like Max on #twobrokegirls, the experience on Instagram is more social. I comment more than I Like because the image doesn’t always grab me but the story in the caption section does.
When someone takes the time to comment on my work, I respond to every–and I mean every!–comment made to me even if that person replied with a smiley face emoji. I appreciate the time that person spent appreciating me, similarly the gratitude when I receive a #bookreview on #Amazon or #Goodreads. If nothing else, I reply “Thank you.” People like you when you like them.
What are the benefits? The most important is meeting people with similar interests. I’m reading a #memoir recommended by a follower who is #writing her own memoir. I’m inspired by new #art and #painting techniques. I’ve been challenged to take pictures in #blackandwhite. I could meet any number of them for #coffee if I was in their area. I have a connection to these people. You can do the same with your peers and have fun doing it.