When I was in the seventh grade, the school I attended began requiring that all students have a Facebook account if they wanted to participate in after-school activities or events. As you might imagine, this raised quite a few eyebrows — would Facebook be safe? Would it be culturally appropriate?
So when Facebook came onto our radar, my friends and I were wary at first, but eventually, we succumbed to the pressure of conforming. Before long, we had all created accounts and were using them regularly.
Today’s 13-year olds are facing their own social media dilemma: Instagram has taken over their world just as thoroughly as Facebook did mine! Social media is an important aspect of nearly every young person’s life these days; according to the Pew Research Center, 95% of teens use social media — almost two-thirds are on Instagram!
That means that you, as a professional trying to market yourself intelligently online, have got to keep up with the times if you want to reach today’s youth. That doesn’t mean checking out Facebook and Twitter (although I won’t discourage it either); it does mean putting in the time needed to master one of the most popular social networks among teenagers:
I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you; Instagram can be very confusing at first. Fortunately, it gets easier over time! This article covers six aspects of Instagram that might take some getting used to, but will eventually help you harness its power for your personal growth and development.
Let’s Begin With:
1) The Basics of Instagram!
The first thing you need to understand about Instagram is that it isn’t like other social networks; instead of allowing you to share multimedia content with your followers, it focuses on the photo and video sharing, much like the popular app Snapchat (which I got a lot of flak for recommending in my last article). Also, unlike many social networks like Twitter, people can only communicate one-on-one with mutual consent — the following someone doesn’t guarantee you their attention or vice versa.
I encourage you to download the app and familiarize yourself with how it operates (and if possible, create an account and post something). If you’re not sure where to start, you can post a picture of yourself or your workspace; keep it lighthearted and fun.
2) Understanding Hashtags
Hashtags are pretty simple once you understand them; they’re created by adding the pound sign (or hashtag symbol, as I like to call it) before any word in your description, comments, or caption of your photo/video. By doing this, you make that term searchable for anyone who follows the #hashtag; it will appear along with other posts tagged with the same phrase.
For instance, if I post a picture of my laptop screen showing an article about using Instagram for professional purposes (#Explain Social Media), anyone else who wants to find this content could simply search the #Explain Social Media hashtag and my post would pop up.
When using hashtags, I recommend using one or two in your caption, but no more than three; any more than that becomes too difficult to read. Also, try to use hashtags with a high amount of posts (100,000+ if possible) for better results — you can find these by entering the search term into Instagram’s Explore feature.
3) Follow the Right People!
Remember: following someone on social media doesn’t mean they’ll follow you back (unless you’re already friends). Because of this, I encourage you to take some time to explore people who might be applicable to your interests — whether it’s teenagers who are interested in the same thing as you or industry professionals you look up to.
You can find people who might interest you by using hashtags related to the topic of your content, or entering a word or phrase into Instagram’s search bar and seeing what results in pop up. Then, click on their profile page and carefully research the content they post. Before making a decision as to whether you’d like to follow them. If they have an account dedicated specifically to sharing their personal life. As opposed to just images/videos showcasing their professional career, take that into consideration as well. If it feels right, hit the “follow” button!
In addition to following people who are relevant, I also recommend following those. With whom you might be interested in communicating directly for whatever reason (whether it’s a professional matter or a personal one). This way, they’re guaranteed to receive your post and you might get a direct message, comment, or even response.
4) Be Consistent!
One of the most important aspects of using Instagram for professional purposes is being consistent. If you don’t post anything for a while. People will forget about you and won’t be interested in what you have to say when you finally do. I recommend posting once or twice per day at a minimum; not only does this make it easier for people looking through hashtags to find your posts. It also gives them more incentive to follow your content and thus encourages them to engage with it (see #7 below). Don’t worry too about filling up each post with hashtags — if you have something relevant to say. People will be willing to follow more than one of your hashtags to read it.
5) Don’t Get Disheartened!
While occasionally a post you create might get more likes or comments than another. That doesn’t mean the rest of them are failures. Remember that each and every post serves as a piece of content on your profile page. Additionally, keep in mind that Instagram is a very visually-driven platform; as long as your posts look good (see #8 below), even those with few likes/comments could still attract new followers. To make this point more clear: I’ve seen posts I didn’t particularly like generate dozens upon dozens of likes from other users without my input.
6) Use Instagram Stories!
Instagram stories are a great way to share more personal content with your followers. They only last 24 hours before disappearing forever, but that’s actually an advantage. Because it encourages people to watch them right away instead of waiting.
Use hashtags, post consistently, don’t get discouraged!