An Appetite for Instagram
I’ve been searching for the words and sentiments to convey my passion for Instagram over say… Facebook. I thought it was just a personal preference until I started voicing what I enjoy and value about Instagram to clients and friends. I intentionally booked my reservation to Social Media Breakfast MSP 93 (#SMBMSP93) to learn and merge my ideas about it with the professional panelists’ insights. This post is one in a series on Instagram: Insta Exploration, and months in the making.
Facebook, now owner of Instagram, does deserve some credit. It’s where I began to first take notice of an early Instagram adopter, Judy Carter. Judy is a highly creative type. Her early photos show love of the vintage filter on Instagram. I remember wondering if I could create great photos like hers – could I be that creative? I continued to observe Insta photos on my Facebook feed from afar until one day in November of 2012, a fall scene I’d snapped along the river from downtown Minneapolis begged for color enhancement to bring out the vivid fall colors I was experiencing real time. I downloaded the Instagram app and have never looked back.
I share my initial observations of Instagram because there may be others who fall outside of the platform’s 500M monthly active users and suffer from that same hesitation. To them I offer these thoughts for starters:
1. Everyone is creative and;
2. Don’t fear the hashtag.
Tech for Tapping into Your Creativity
Coming off of #TCSW16 (Twin Cities Startup Week 2016), I was encouraged and reminded that technology is here to enhance our lives. Through tools like Instagram and MNCup’s 2015 Grand Prize Winner, AstroPad (design software on your iPad that’s affordable and best in class for audiences from a high school student interested in art to the creators at Disney), it’s never been easier to bring out your inner artist.
Like most people, when originally joining Instagram I went crazy for the filters. Sepia tone and other color-enhancing filters spread vintage all around. SMBMSP93 panelist Caitlin Rick (@CaitlinRick), curator of the @ExploreMinnesota Instagram account, attested to this as well, noting that we've happily evolved since those early days. In December 2014, avid users of the platform were overjoyed when Instagram updated their filters with an expanded palette for artist expression: Meet Slumber, Crema, Ludwig, Aden and Perpetua. They sound like characters from "The Hunger Games," but are actually the names of Instagram's new filters and the most recent update since 2012 (source ABCNews).
Basic Considerations for Instagram
Now that you're feeling empowered to be creative, here are some basic considerations for getting started or enhancing your Instagram account. Ideas are courtesy of the four SMBMSP panelists Teresa, Morgan, Julio and Caitlin and include some of my insights as well. Think: curated content.
Brand and Style
As a four-year Instagrammer with 2565 posts on my main account (I am logged into five accounts at any given time, which is the max one can be logged into simultaneously; and manage several more). I’m quite adept with the filters and use many of the tools to enhance photos or create new layouts like collages (i.e. Instant Picframes). Recently a friend asked what process and tools I used to create my photos for posts. Her inquiry gave me that pause to reflect and put it into something tangible. Thank you, Christie : ) On my iphone, I start with the Chrome filter and tweak to 80-85% lighter for about 90% of my photos before I even look at them in the Instagram platform. Without even consciously thinking about it, I created and used a brand and style that I've been following almost since day one.
SMBMSP93 panelist Morgan (@Morganrhc) touched on filter use as well. While it’s fun to use varying filters, consistency is so important in branding. Use a consistent filter to define your style. Think about photo composition, content themes and alignment and how your entire account feed looks at-a-glance. Is your story clear? She was mainly talking about Instagram accounts for businesses, but the learning can also be applied to an individual’s own personal brand.
Yay for portrait and landscape options! Panelist Julio Ojeda-Zapata, tech writer for the Pioneer Press and curator for the @PiPress Instagram account, called out Insta praise for the platform’s allowance of this, first introduced in August of 2015. I echo this sentiment fully and the beautiful thing is that your collection feed still looks consistently square, it’s only when you tap on an individual photo that you see the portrait or landscape version if the Instagrammer chose to apply those options.
Other compositions currently trending are the over-the-top shot and human scale for landscape or nature photography, both noted by Caitlin. As I reflected on composition trends by scrolling through my account, I noted the over-the-top shot as a defining approach in my feed. I mostly developed this as a clever way to capture my kids in action while being discreet about their identity. This style translates nicely to foodie shots. You’ll see me use it a lot.
Other notes on composition included those from panelist Teresa Boardman, a St. Paul native and real estate agent. Teresa combines her passion for real estate and photography on her Instagram account @TBoard. Teresa noted that sunrises and puppies trump just about all for popularity on the platform, so if you’re going for likes, incorporate one of those! (shown here, my goldendoodle's account @Copperdoodleroo)
It’s so tempting to post everything you come across and photograph. Morgan cautions against this, especially for brands. She says that out of 8-10 photos you take in a similar setting, choose the best and post that one. A refined feed is a joy to discover and follow. For businesses, I encourage a 2-3 theme focus and relying on your other social channels to cover the rest of your bases. My wellness Instagram account @Empowering_All is focused on inspirational quotes and the community we’re creating. On my own personal account @JenGilhoi, it's definitely more varied and life-encompassing. When attending events, I break what some say is a rule about selectively posting one gram a day. I might post 5-6 with the shared experience in mind, much like you'd live Tweet while listening to an engaging speaker.
Julio touched on the idea of aligning your content with your brand. For example, the Pioneer Press as a media outlet, has a feed that covers where news is happening. Teresa as a real estate agent in St. Paul captures great shots of neighborhoods in St. Paul. Caitlin and Morgan shared stories about the popularity of user-generated content for brands citing its engagement as three times greater than that of their own content including highly stylized photo shoots. This indicates that people love to see others like themselves play out in the brand story – it feels authentic and real to them.
Whether we realize it or not, we’re creating our life story (or brand story if we’re talking business) on Instagram. Snapchat, however, deserves the street cred for noticing this trend among younger users and responding with their 24-hour story feature. My 13-year-old, who mysteriously disappeared from Instagram about a year ago is living it up in the Snapchat platform. I am an observer. Admittedly, I am too selective about photo perfection to let that go and let my quick and imperfect photo experience go live on Snapchat Stories. Instagram Stories was released in August of 2016, so it’s quite new. I am intrigued and on the heels of this panel discussion and my Insta Exploration series, I’ll be checking this out for sure.
Embracing the Hashtag
See the Wiki def of the hashtag here. Do not fear it. I’ll cite my mother’s reaction when she first saw my Instagram posted being pushed to my Facebook account – she thought I was using expletives and was a bit offended by it. Hashtags are not a foreign language. I like to say the make the shared experience possible.
Embrace them and know that you can create your own hashtag around a theme you feel passionately about (no one’s going to call you out on it) or you can use others’ hashtags to share in a conversation. Over use of hashtags are rampant on Instagram. The panel’s general consensus: stick to 3-5 per post max and for businesses, be sure at least one of them is your own branded hashtag. EXPLORE!
Now that you know a bit of the magic (content) and mystery (hashtags) behind Instagram, you can apply the guidelines for style and consistency, appropriately hashtag and get started on your own creative path. Advice if you’re creating a personal account: be forgiving at your onset. Explore, observe other accounts and reflect on a month of your own posts to see what’s emerging as your personal brand (note: for business accounts, you should have this figured out before you go to post). Ask other trusted friends for insight.
This is one in a series of Insta Exploration including branding and creativity, the value as a social media platform, and deeper dives into that value and attributes like empathy and shared experiences.