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Instagram: a Beginner’s Walkthrough

Instagram Despite having been ‘on’ Instagram since who knows when, I haven’t ever really used it personally except to occasionally view the content shared by friends and colleagues. With so many social networks out there, I’ve never really felt the need, and as Flickr, Pinterest and even Tumblr are good for content ‘discovery’, I stick my hand up and say I’ve not really engaged with Instagram to the fullest. In fact, my first picture, posted in January 2012, was from a Maker Faire a year earlier. I hang my head in shame, especially for over 100 people who had followed me in the hope of better.

Two things have shaken me out of this complacency.

Firstly, it’s a while since Facebook bought the app, and in December new filters were added, meaning things are happening!

Secondly, the State of Digital editorial team asked for a blogger to write up an Instagram run through. So this article is shared discovery rather than coming from a standpoint of expertise.  (And on that basis, do feel free to add).

For reference, for the purposes of this article, I reviewed the functions using an iPhone 6 plus, and on the desktop (Wintel) so things may look a little different/work slightly differently for you, especially on Android.

So let’s take it from the top: with the ‘what is it?’ bit. Instagram is an app for free photo and video (Apple iOS, Android and Windows Phone) sharing – either with all followers or with selected friends.

Its special ‘magic’ is that pictures can be enhanced or adjusted with filters – or, of course, left in the raw, and it’s not just a ‘store’ function – it’s a genuine social network based around the sharing of images. For ‘visual’ thinkers, this is hugely appealing, especially as responses are slightly more ‘text message’ than ‘post’.I’ve repeatedly read, in the course of researching this article, that Instagram video attracts more engagement than Instagram competitor, Vine.

It’s easy enough to set up an Instagram account/profile. The network asks for/allows you to post the same profile information that any other network requests. You can set up using your Facebook account or just an email identity. And it’s relatively intuitive.

The network has three strengths: creativity, sharing and discovery.


Not only does the Instagram camera allow you to zoom in, scale and easily crop from a phone, but oh, those filters. Instagram allows even technical numpties like me to do amazing things to images using filters. They are hugely powerful, lots of fun, and frankly you could lose days getting things just right. Yet I’ve lost hours trying to achieve on Photoshop what the filters do at the touch of a button in Instagram. And, of course, it allows a similar treatment with video – although be warned that (as a beginner) I found it very easy to apply trims inadvertently, and harder to add the filters too.

My short investigation left me with one major piece of learning – Instagram doesn’t make instantly obvious what each filter does, and although it uses images to evoke a feeling, it doesn’t use the same picture to illustrate each filter, making it hard to immediately assess what the effect will be by comparison, so third party resources offering walk-throughs are brilliant timesavers.  (Feel free to recommend!)

There’s a great round up of which filter does what on The Huffington Post: Every Instagram Filter, Definitively Ranked.

Instagram Nashville filter

Since the HuffPo article, there are a further five new filters, which, somewhat ironically, CNET detailed far better than Instagram itself: Instagram adds Five New Filters for Subtle Photo Effects.


I find the sharing from Instagram to anywhere except Facebook somewhat clunky. You need to take the URL and share. The natural place for me to attempt to share great images is Pinterest, but this is a ‘pain in the privates’. Building a network and sharing within the network itself is important if you want your content to travel. If you’re just creating a visual diary for sharing with friends and family, apply Facebook like rules – do I want this person seeing and possibly sharing my images?

And if someone likes content, Instagram won’t automatically show their ‘likes’ to their network – seeing what other people like takes a deliberate swipe on the app to go and discover. So sharing and finding are very deliberate acts (and therefore meaningful, not spammy).

It’s easy enough to block and unfollow people within the network – people who follow you can find their images, you are served images from people you follow, with the opportunity to like (with a little love heart – cute!) or comment.

Images aren’t going to travel as far as on Pinterest, but is far more likely to engage the viewer and elicit a response/discussion – if I was forced to categorise, I’d describe Pinterest as a platform, and Instagram as a network, simply based on the way that content engages.

For regular Twitter users, seeing hundreds of hashtags on anything is somewhat off-putting. On Instagram, it’s the way people find relevant/related images as there are two ways to search the network for related content, people (to follow and see their images) or hashtags.

Amnesty UK on Instagram

If you want an image discovered and shared by people outside of your network, hashtags are definitely the way to go.


The Home tab is where you can see a feed of what the people you follow are sharing (rather like a Facebook stream). It only shows most recent images, so if you’re looking for an older one, you’ll need to go the sharer’s profile and scroll.

Instagram bar home tab

If you double tap the ‘heart’ icon you can get a ‘verbal rundown’ of activity, under (spookily enough, this is called the ‘Activity’ tab). You can see two tabs ‘Following’ – which shows the activity of people you follow, allowing you to discover interesting streams and content; and ‘You’, which shows events relating to ‘you’ – who’s following you, who’s liked your content.

Instagram activity anonymised

But the hashtags. Let’s get back to the hashtags. I ran a search on #JeSuisCharlie. And…

Je Suis Charlie 1 Je Suis Charlie 2
This is a far more powerful network than I ever gave it credit for. Thanks to Expanded Ramblings I can tell you that 75 million people use it daily (Worldwide).

This quiet, steady, unsung hero of the social networking World now has my attention, and I’d say take a look. It’s credible (even if – fun fact – some 11% of people claiming #NoFilter have used one!), fun, not hard work, and may be just what you’re looking for. And for the professional user, there are all kinds of metrics to be had via third party tools. If you’re looking for genuine engagement rather than just shares, Instagram seems to do the job.

Mistaking this network for just another photo app was holding me back from making the most of this network, personally and professionally. I won’t make that mistake in future. Not using Instagram yet? What’s stopping you?

With many thanks to Instagram fans Leila Gregory of Girls n Gadgets, Kate Drewett of Topspin and Anna Youngs of TheMediaFlow for their help and advice.

Want to know more about Instagram?



Claire Thompson has has 15 years PR experience and runs Waves PR, which she founded. She has great taste in wine and lousy taste in music. The two are not unconnected!