January 6, 2017

Instagram for Beginners: Everything You Wish You Would Have Known When You Started 

Instagram is one of the fastest growing channels for brands looking to market themselves, with 25% more engagement than other social media. It is a surprisingly simple concept is easy and fun to use and can give your brand a level of visibility that can launch serious success and revenue boosts. However, you may feel like you don’t know much about Instagram, maybe even despite the fact that you use it regularly! So, here is a beginner’s guide to Instagram for those of us who don’t know what it’s all about but wish we did and for those of us who use it but know less about it than we’d care to admit in public.

A brief history:

Founded in 2010 by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, Instagram is a free app for your phone that allows you to take, edit, and post pictures and short videos to an account that can be viewed by other Instagram users. Instagram self-describes as “a fun and quirky way to share your life with friends through a series of pictures.” Since its launch, it was acquired by Facebook in 2012 and can now, as of the writing of this blog post, boast 500 million users. Currently, in addition to posting to your Instagram page, you can also share your Instagram photos and videos (one at a time) to other social media accounts, like Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr.

And now, let’s begin:

Registration and Set-Up:

First things first you’ll set up an account. Instagram is primarily an app used on your iPhone or Android (although now accessible from the web), so you’ll need to download the app to your phone before doing anything else. Once you’ve got it, you’ll create a username and password. Your company name is probably the best option for your username since the goal of creating an Instagram account is to increase the visibility of your brand. Then you can choose a photo to add to your profile (likely your logo, for reasons just stated) and include a 150-character bio as well as a link to your website. Your bio should be a short and sweet description of what you’re all about and the link, ideally, is a site where people can shop your brand. You can change these profile features at any time and as much as you want by clicking on Edit Profile from your Profile page (more below).


By default, your Instagram will be public, meaning it is viewable by any and all Instagram users. If you prefer more privacy, you can set it to be viewable only by people whom you approve. To set your account to private, go the Private Account tab and turn it to ‘on’. You will then receive requests from users who want to follow you and you can approve or deny them. Protip: keep your brand’s profile public for maximum discoverability; your personal Instagram account can have a bit more security.

Basic Features:

There are five icons at the bottom of your home screen that you’ll use to navigate through the app. From left to right they are:

The House Icon: This is your home page and the Instagram feed that shows you all the posted photos of people you follow (more on that below). These photos appear in order of the most likes the post has received (they used to appear chronologically). Depending on the number of people you follow and how popular their posts are, your feed may update with new content quite frequently.

The Magnifying Glass: This is your search tab. Use the search bar at the top of this page to look for other users and trending hashtags. In this tab, you’ll also find that Instagram has curated a selection on posts it thinks you’ll like based on who you follow and what you’ve liked.

The Camera: This is your camera and the starting point for all your posts. You can opt to take photos using Instagram’s camera or use this page to load photos that are stored on your phone’s photos library already. Scroll through your photo library and select the photos you want to edit and post (more on that below).

The Heart: The heart lists all your photos recently liked by your followers with that follower’s username and icon. You can click on those followers and find out more about them. This is useful for connecting with your new fans.

The Head and Shoulders: This is your profile page. From this page, you can change aspects of your profile, by selecting the gear icon at the top right of this page. From your profile page, you can also see who’s following you, who you’re following, and how many posts you have as well as a few others things like messages, follower requests, and saved posts.


Instagram will send you push Notifications for a variety of reasons and you can opt to turn these on or off. It’s a good idea when you’re starting out to get as many alerts are you can to new people engaging with your page. As your brand becomes more popular, these can get a little out of control (you can imagine that someone like Kim Kardashian does not have her push notifications enabled!). From the gear setting in your profile, you can opt to turn on notifications when: someone likes a post, comments on a post, tags you in a post, or requests you. You can also turn on notifications to see when your friends on Facebook join Instagram. Tailor these notifications to suit you.

Adding photos:

Posting photos is what Instagram is all about. To add a photo, click the Camera icon at the center bottom of your screen. Instagram will then give you the options to choose from your Library, to take a Photo, or to take a video.

Editing photos:

If you choose to add a photo from your library you can edit your photo using Instagram’s in-app tools. Once you’ve selected your photo, you can enlarge, crop, or tilt your photo in the first editing screen. Once you’ve cropped it to your liking, choose Next. Here you’ll be taken to a screen that gives you the options of Filter and Edit.

The filter is, of course, a selection of Instagram’s famous filters. Scroll through them and try them out – they will intensify color and contrast, bring hues up or down, give your image a vintage look, or change your photo to black and white. These are extremely useful when trying to create a cohesive look to your page. Choose a few you like and use them consistently when editing your page.

Edit gives you options to alter things like Brightness, Color, and Saturation. This is where you can also play with Tilt-Shift, a feature that allows you to blur or bring into focus aspects of your photo. Play around with all these editing features to make your photo perfect and professional looking!

From here you’ll go to Next, which is your New Post page* where you can add a caption (see our guide to writing great captions); Tag People (find other users on Instagram and add them to your photo); add a location (great for creating local communities on Instagram); and Share the photo across other social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. When all these details are set, you’ll hit Share at the top right and post your photo to your page! If your page is set to public, everyone on Instagram will be able to see and search your photo (alternatively, if your page is set to Private, only your approved followers will see it).

*there is a drop down menu here that will also allow you to Direct Message (DM) someone – meaning you would share the photo directly with them rather than posting to your page.


Posting video to Instagram is very similar to posting photos. You can record a video live from the app (between 3 and 60 seconds long) or use one that already exists on your phone. You edit, filter, and share your video just as you would a photo. You can’t tag people in a video, but you can mention them in a comment connected to that video (see below).

Hashtags, Mentions, and Comments:

Adding these to your photos and videos is a great way to make your posts more interesting and to draw attention to other followers or brands.

Hashtagging is the # symbol followed by clever words that are relevant to your post, brand, and content. Users will search for these keywords when they’re on Instagram and if you’ve included them in a post, they’ll stumble across your page. #homemadeapplepie or #NYE2016 are examples of hashtags. Use these to make your content discoverable.

Mentions are shout outs to other Instagram users, created by adding the @ plus the person’s username on Instagram. They’re a great way to rope in a particular follower(s), especially those who can help you significantly increase your audience.

Comments is the section under each photo’s post where you can add hashtags and mentions, plus any other text that seems appropriate to your photo and brand. Tell a story here, announce a contest, quote someone famous, make people laugh – add whatever text you think will inspire your viewers to comment, like, or repost your photo.

Follow People:

A great way to increase your audience is to follow more people yourself! From your Profile page, you can click on the icon on the top left that looks like a Person with Plus sign to find your friends from other social media who are on IG or to search for new people to follow. Just click Follow when you find someone you like! Once you’re following them, their posts will appear in your home feed.

Keep in mind that everything you post is visible to your audience, and if your page is public (and it should be) to everyone else on Instagram. Posting interesting, beautiful, and authentic content is one of the surest ways to increase your reach and get your brand name out there. Now that you’ve got the basics you can get started editing your photos, searching for friends, commenting, hashtagging, and posting great content like a pro! Read our other blog posts for tips on the specifics of creating a successful marketing campaign using Instagram.