Since Instagram Stories was announced in August this year, I’ve seen lots of people and brands using it in different ways. For individuals – and apologies if this offends – it’s mostly poor content nicely hidden away from their main profile so you can dip out as quickly as you dipped in. For brands, however, some are using it well – like National Geographic, for example – and I can see some value. If in doubt, test it out…
On Friday 18th November I headed north to Harrogate International Centre to cover The Open University’s degree ceremony (one of many ceremonies in many locations across the calendar year) to test Instagram Stories out. This is what I learned:
Plan ahead (and even if you do, you won’t account for everything)
The last (and first) time we used Instagram Stories on the university’s corporate account was a takeover by one of our academics waiting for news of the ExoMars landing at the European Space Operations Centre in Germany: all very exciting. As a non-Instagrammer I’d given Dr Manish Patel a brief tutorial beforehand, having experimented with Instagram Stories on my personal account that week. But I missed stuff. It wasn’t until after the ExoMars landing that a Google search uncovered features that I’d missed – the ability to load any photo or video taken within 24 hours from your phone; the ability to apply a limited range of filters; the ability to use the Boomerang and Hyperlapse apps, the ability to colour block the screen, create speech bubbles or utilise the whole colour wheel. So before you go to an event, do your research and test the features out (I also have a test account where no one, especially me, minds if I post rubbish). With that said, I still missed stuff: the 15 second cap on video clips which I needed to find workarounds for (see below).
I’d also planned time in to capture specific content: two short video interviews with our newest honorary graduates, Mike Tomlinson and Sir Gary Verity. With just five minutes allocated to speak to both of them, (2.5 minutes each. Yes, I can do the maths) this left little time to think about composition and lighting. The room we were in had terrible lighting which turned my interviewee’s faces red and was a pretty uninspiring backdrop, so we worked with what we’d got. I say we, and that takes me onto my next point…
Safety in numbers
I attended this event with a colleague who was a great help. For some of the video interviews, we teamed up – one of us focusing on sound and composition, the other on asking the questions. She also captured extra content for me, like student’s top tips (note: pulling in ‘community content’ goes down a treat), while I was busy composing social media posts and publishing them. She was able to do this on her phone, airdrop the content to me and I added to Instagram Stories. She was also able to quickly note down (she’d sensibly bought a clipboard and pen with her) names, qualifications and relevant social media handles while I was chatting to people, which made the whole thing more efficient. It also allowed us to capture content from multiple locations at the same time – either splitting up to do an interview each or both capturing hyperlapse videos from different areas/angles of the venue to see which worked best, i.e while the graduates were queuing to get into the auditorium.
Take the right kit
In theory, all you need is a smartphone and the Instagram app but covering events via social media sucks the life out of your battery and mine was very close to dead before the event had ended. If possible, take a spare phone or load up with battery packs. And if you think a spare phone sounds excessive, it’s not. Towards the end of the event my iPhone developed a kind of tartan cross-cross of white lines across the screen and, while operable, made posting very tricky. I did have a spare phone on me but hadn’t loaded the social media profiles I needed onto it and didn’t have the right passwords. Doh. So always have a plan B!
I also took a Rode lapel mic with me for the video interviews, not wanting to compromise on sound in a busy venue. And check for wifi – my work phone doesn’t have a SIM so without wifi there’s no content. A tripod might come in handy and so would a selfie light (I had one on me and was kicking myself that I forgot to use it in the dimly lit interview room).
Don’t capture content live in Instagram Stories
I didn’t do anything live on IS (i.e capture photos in the app) because, for some parts of the day, I had one opportunity to capture content and wanted the chance to tweak it using other photographic filters or editing tools before publishing. For example, the honorary graduates spoke for longer than 15 seconds (and I hadn’t realised video clips are capped at 15 seconds and just cut off anything after that) so I edited the clips down before posting. I was able to trim from either end of the clip but not from the middle as the editing tools I have on my phone do not cater for vertical video – this was definitely an issue but with the 15 second limit now known, this is something I can manage next time. There are only around five filters on IS too, and they’re a bit weak, so if you want to tinker further, it’s easier to do this outside of the app.
There is always more you can do
I could have captured so much more. I had a seat in the auditorium for the actual degree ceremony but was too far back to capture anything meaningful. Mike Tomlinson’s speech was emotional and I was just too far away to capture it in anything other than the written word (for Twitter, not for IS) and an image would have added so much more. I’m a great believer in the more you do stuff, the better you get, so if there’s a next time I will be more prepared and experienced.
Here are some pros and cons of using Instagram Stories to capture an event:
It was pretty easy to load content and, at times, it was fun to use portrait shots when I’m so used to landscape. This worked well for profile shots, particularly those where I wanted to feature shoes (I’m a sucker for a graduate in sparkly heels) and meant I kept a fairly reasonable style throughout.
- I was easily able to use Hyperlapse and Boomerang features and incorporate them into my story, as well as text overlay and filters (although the choice of filters is tiny and barely noticeable) and I kept the style very simple, using hand-drawn symbols on the lighter content (i.e shoe shots!)
- The ability to swipe down and load in photos that are already on my phone (taken within the last 24 hours) proved incredibly handy and means you can pre-prepare some photos and videos that you can drop in throughout the day. With much more time than I had, you could actually create some nice visuals to drop in and gain the benefit of other apps before pulling them into Instagram Stories. It also gives you the opportunity to clean up duff photos. For example, my first shot of the day was a scenic one of the Harrogate skyline that morning, taken from the window of my hotel room. Pulling the picture into the Camera+ app allowed me to tinker with filters and effects to remove (or at least make less obvious) the unavoidable glare from the glass of the window pane.
- Not that I’m a huge believer in cross-posting but capturing content for Instagram Stories makes it difficult to utilise it on other channels because of its vertical nature. I can easily share the vertical stuff on the main Instagram page, and the square crop gives me a chance to tidy it up a bit, but I can’t post the vertical stuff on Twitter or Facebook because it would look terrible, especially if viewed on a mobile. I purposely captured video clips in vertical for IS which meant a) not using them on other channels or b) shooting identical footage again but with the phone turned to landscape. Neither is ideal but I hadn’t pre-empted this so by default chose option a).
- It’s sometimes hard to give full context on IS. There’s little room for text and if you put too much text the viewer wouldn’t be able to read it before it flashed onto the next image. So while our new honorary graduates both have impressive backgrounds and public reputations, they’re not household names or faces and I didn’t have the space available to include a brief bio. Yes, I can do this via a regular Instagram posts and refer to my Instagram Story but will the viewer necessarily connect with both and join the dots?
- It takes time. The content I posted wasn’t as slick as I’d have liked and the time went quickly. With tiny slots for interviews and a lot going on on the day, there wasn’t a massive amount of time to polish content before posting; the whole process while not super difficult, did take time, particularly when trying to monitor a hashtag on Twitter and create a few posts for Facebook at the same time. Concentrating on three channels was do-able but tricky and I’m not sure Instagram would be the main focus ordinarily, most likely to come in third against the other two channels just mentioned. Because this was an IS test, I put it first but content for the other two channels definitely suffered. With that said, I was able to tell a story across a whole day without cluttering up a feed.
- I can’t find anything that says I’m wrong but you can’t view stats for your stories once they’re no longer live, so that’s a 24-hour window. I have no idea how my IS performed because I had a long journey home, collapsed into bed and my stats were gone in the morning. Grrr.
Notes for next time
I failed (meaning forgot) to post on Facebook and Twitter to say ‘hey, head over to Instagram to follow our degree ceremony story’. I don’t know if people jump channels just like that (I know I don’t) but I should have posted something to test it out. One for next time.
I need to experiment with vertical layouts – sometimes it would have been nice to pull in a couple of shots edited together in a collage but I wasn’t sure how to do this using Layouts to display properly on Instagram Stories. One for my test page…
Check the stats BEFORE the 24 hours are up. I’m still hoping I might be wrong on this one…