Having reached one billion users in June this year, Instagram is proving to be quite the social media powerhouse.

Chances are, your news organisation is aiming to use the photo-sharing platform to engage with younger audiences, where 18-34 year olds dominate the space.

But are you really getting the most from the platform? If you are just using Instagram to share the odd photo with a lonely link to your website, you are missing out – big time.

News outlets are constantly experimenting in this space, using the platform to cover breaking news, draw wider audiences to their websites and give them a 'behind the scenes' view into their news organisations.

What could your news organisation be doing differently? Below we have covered all the basics and hidden features on the platform that you should be taking advantage of.

Posting on your profile

As a publisher, make sure you have an Instagram business profile. This will automatically make your account public, and will enable you to get access to analytics and other features unavailable to personal accounts.

  • Getting your content seen – by as many people as possible

Physically posting on your account cannot be easier – simply tap the plus icon at the bottom of your screen, find your image or video in your smartphone's camera roll, add a filter and comment, and tap 'share'.

But before you release your content to the world, it is vital to ensure you have done all you can to get as many people scrolling past your content as possible.

First of all, add a description that gives impact and creates an emotional response. What you write is up to you, but with 2,200 characters and a range of emojis to play with, get creative.

Adding a call-to-action in your Instagram caption is a sure-fire way to help drive engagement. Inviting your audience to comment, answer a question or tag their friends will ultimately get more eyeballs on your post, and will show that you care about engagement with your audience. You can also tell your followers to click the link in your bio, to learn, join, discover more information – driving traffic to your site or Facebook page.

BBC News encourage their Instagram followers to head over to their online story

Hashtags make your content discoverable and put you in front of a wider range of users. You can add up to 30 in the main body of your image's caption, or in the comments, which can look a bit neater. #Just #Remember #Not #To #Make #Your #Profile #Look #Spammy #With #Too #Many #Irrelevant #Hashtags.

Not sure of the right hashtags to draw attention to your post? Head to the app's search bar, where you be offered a range of searched-for hashtags related to your content. For example, if you are posting an image about the Refugee Crisis, you will see options like #refugeecrisisfund and #refugeecrisiseurope – add these to your post, if they are relevant.

As you can imagine, you're looking for hashtags that are popular, yet not too popular – you don't want your content to drown in the sea of posts tagged with the same thing.

NowThis put its hashtags in the first comment of its posts

Another way to improve visibility is to always add a location to your post. This does not have to be where you are when you are posting it – relate the location to the post. When users search at that location, they will see your post.

  • Post only visually engaging content

There are countless accounts out there with messy profiles, that do absolutely nothing for their brand.

Every image should be informative or eye-catching – or both, especially when viewed as a square thumbnail image.

This is most important to remember when uploading a video – make sure to choose a thumbnail that will look good as a square, as this is how it will be displayed in the grid, even if you are posting a 9x16 video.

  • Manage your filters

Speed up the photo-sharing process by taking more control of the filters that appear in your app. Some people like to use one particular filter to give their profiles a consistent look, whereas others pick-and-choose depending on the picture – it is whatever works for you.

When you have chosen your shot, to add a filter, scroll to the end of the list and tap 'manage'. Here you can add, remove and reorder your favourite looks.

You may choose to experiment with different filters with each post, but it is important to think beyond each individual photo and understand how your profile is forming as a grid of posts. The colour palette, tones, angles and composition of your account are key considerations when coming up with your Instagram aesthetic.

There are a range of apps, such as Preview, that can help you visualise your content as a whole before you post anything.

Manage your filters as you post an image
  • Schedule your posts

There is no need to post all your content on the fly – you can schedule them to go out at any upcoming time or day by using your desktop computer and tools such as Zoho Social, Hootsuite and Buffer.

  • Add special fonts to your bio

We already know you can add emojis to your Instagram bio, tag other Instagram accounts, and link to your website. 

But you can now change how the fonts look, by using a third-party website such as LingoJam, and copy-pasting the text into your profile bio – simple.

  • Hide photos you are tagged in

If you notice that you have been tagged in unrelated or inappropriate images, you can disassociate your profile with it by tapping the three dots at the top right-hard corner of the image.

Tap 'photo options' followed by 'hide from my profile' and the image will be hidden. 

If you want to hide multiple images, open your settings and head to 'photos of you'. Here, you can hide a group of photos in one go or set your account to require approval before they show up on your profile.

Creating Stories

Want a way to constantly engage with your audience, even when you are not posting on your main feed? A great way to do this is to use Stories. These short, vertical visuals last for up to 24 hours on your profile. This is a great platform to give your audience a behind-the-scenes look into the workings of your newsroom, or you may prefer to use this feature to report on a story as it happens. You can post to Stories from your camera roll or shoot within the app.

If you have synced your Instagram profile to your Facebook account, you can post your Instagram Stories to Facebook Stories at the same time, saving you time out in the field.

  • Make the most of filters, gifs and text

Once you have posted a photo or video into the Stories feature of your app, you can then layer it up with text or visual elements such as gifs and stickers to make it more entertaining and informative. Remember, you need to create eye-catching content to keep audiences following your brand, so make the most of these features available within the app.

Why not also add a hashtag and location to your Stories? Like profile posts, these also show up when an Instagram user searches for it within their account.

You can also draw on your images if you like, or colour the whole screen with a block colour, ready for you to get creative with.

Be creative with Stories to engage younger viewers on-the-go
  • Go live

Simply open up your Stories as if you are going to shoot a video or take a photograph, and then swipe to the right.

The app will notify your followers that you are live, and they will be able to view and comment on your footage in real-time. This is a great way for reporters to connect with audiences, answer any questions they may have, and report live on breaking news.

Once you are ready to stop recording, you will have the option to save the live stream to your profile which will last for 24 hours, save it to your phone, or discard it.

  • Use the Boomerang, Superzoom, Rewind and Type options

Why keep all your story posts the same? Keep the audience guessing with a range of new and exciting snippets of content at your disposal.

The 'Boomerang' option helps you create action-packed video loops, 'Superzoom' adds effects to what you are filming as you zoom in, 'Rewind' plays videos in reverse and 'Type' will present you with a block-colour screen just for text.

Learn how to keep users on your Stories thread here, where Sumaiya Omar, co-founder of Hashtag Our Stories, gives us her tips for producing original journalism within the app's feature.

  • Put 'Highlights' on your timeline, to highlight your best Story posts

Stories Highlights allows you to group old Stories together in a new section that sits below your Instagram bio – these are your favourite, and most engaging Stories.

Stories expire after 24 hours so do not let a good one go to waste. The Highlights feature will give your best entries the shelf-life they deserve. Once a piece of content has appeared in your story, it can become a Highlight – no matter how long ago you posted it.

On your profile, tap the plus icon under your bio. You will get to select the posts you can add to your highlights here. Select them, name the highlight, and it will show at the top of your content.

Quartz adds its latest Stories to its Instagram Highlights

Use as an editing tool

Instagram has a range of editing functions, so why not use these for projects outside of the app, as well as within it?

There are a few things you can do within Instagram that you cannot do easily within other apps. Say for example, you are putting together a square video for Facebook within iOS app LumaFusion, but you want to add some moving gifs, stickers and emojis.

Export your video and load it into your Instagram Stories, as if you are looking to post it. Add the necessary elements to it, then save the video back into your camera roll. Add it into your LumaFusion project and voilà, you have got yourself an eye-catching piece of content within your wider video.

It is worth noting that Instagram Stories only enable you to upload videos of up to 15 seconds, so bear this in mind – you may have to crop your video before you upload it.

You can also save videos and images direct to your camera roll before you have posted them onto your profile – just turn on your phone's airplane mode, then hit share. Although the post will not have published, the edited version will be in your camera roll.

Searching for content

Instagram can be a fantastic content curation tool. Test it for yourself – head to the app's main search bar and type in a location or search term. You will find all the posts tagged with corresponding information – a fantastic way to source interviewees or information during a break news situation or event.

Search for a place, and see the top or most recent photos tagged there
  • See the posts that your friends have liked or commented on

This is a great way to discover new people to follow on Instagram, and the content that your audience is also interested in. 

You will be used to tapping the heart icon at the bottom of the screen to see your notifications - whose liked your posts. 

But follow this action by tapping onto the 'Following' tab, and you will see who has liked what.

  • Avoid missing a post

If you need to follow one user, maybe for your latest project, or to monitor what other news organisations are doing, you can set a notification for them, so you will know when they post.

Visit their profile, tap three dots in the top right-had corner and select 'Turn On Post Notifications'.

  • See what you have liked

It happens to all of us, you have liked a post but cannot remember where you saw it. Fear not, go into your account settings and you will find a list of all of your 'liked' Stories.

You can also bookmark posts into your own, secret folders by tapping the bookmark icon under a post – useful if you are working on more than one project at once.

Managing your account

We have covered the creative elements of the app, but managing your account is an important step to ensure you have a successful experience on it. Check out these nifty tips...

  • Secure your account

Reduce the risk of your account getting hacked by enabling two-factor authentication. 

Go to your profile settings, open Two-Factor Authentication and toggle it on. It will mean that when you log into Instagram, the app will require a security code also.

Hide, delete, or disable comments on your posts

Your Instagram account will play a big part in promoting your brand, so you may choose to delete certain post comments, especially if they are inappropriate.

Head to your settings and go to 'comment controls', where you will be able to toggle offensive comments off. You can also do this manually by adding in offensive words.

Choose who gets to comment on your posts

You are also able to choose to change who is allowed to comment on your posts, not user by user, but by the choice of either everyone, people you follow and your followers, people you follow or your followers.

Instagram also allows you to disable comments entirely for certain posts, which you manage when you are posting a photo – turn them off in the advanced settings before you share.

  • Use less data

Mobile journalists out in the field can find that their data is being bled dry out in the field. You can stem the flow in exchange for a slightly slower feed on the app – just go into your account settings, tap 'mobile data use' and tap the toggle to use less data.

How is your news organisation using Instagram to engage with audiences? If you are experimenting with a new and innovative project, let us know @journalismnews or contact Caroline Scott.

Head to our Instagram course on 10 December for a one-day intensive Instagram course, where you will learn how to improve your Instagram offering, generate more creative and engaging content and come away brimming with ideas and inspiration...

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