Category Archives: Journalism

Scheduling your Instagram content

insthegram-logoThis is one of the chapters, taken from eBook InstHEgram, a ‘Uni’-versal guide to Instagram in Higher Education which is published on Thursday 2nd March (World Book Day) . This is a sneak peak to give you a flavour of the content, which includes free planning tools, hacks and exercises to try. The other chapters cover basics, toolkit, content and community, hashtags, Instagram Stories, testing and learning (conducting a pilot), measurement and a bonus chapter on extensive mobile phone use. The book was written following a three-month pilot on The Open University’s Instagram account.

Scheduling

In this chapter you’ll find out about scheduling content for Instagram, the pros, the cons, and how to keep on top of it so you’re not scrabbling around for compelling content at the weekend.*

For most of us in higher education organisations, scheduling and monitoring tools like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck are commonplace to schedule content for Facebook and Twitter and which also have their own native scheduling features. Let’s face it, while the world of social media never stops, it’s nice to be able to clock off at the weekend knowing you have your content all sewn up. At The Open University we use Social Sign In which is used by multiple departments and faculties under the guidance of the corporate social media team.

But Instagram is ‘special’ and it doesn’t allow third-parties to post content directly to Instagram. And this makes scheduling a tad tricky. It stays very true to its mobile app origins and while Facebook and Twitter allow you to do everything on desktop that you can on the app, Instagram is the other way around – app for everything, desktop for some of it. This means you’ll spend a lot of time on your mobile phone (and there’s some info at the end of this eBook to help combat the side effects of that).

The logistics of scheduling

What a lot of scheduling tools will allow you to do is draft and schedule something for Instagram but rather than posting it for you, it will push a reminder to your mobile phone telling you it’s time to post, and then you’ll have to manually copy the post over to Instagram. It’s clunky but, for the time being at least, the only way.

So, which tools? Halfway through the pilot I got really fed up of doing everything in real time in the mobile app, especially at weekends. It was getting a bit time consuming. Now, I use Buffer. For several reasons: it’s free (you can pay for more, as is the norm, but the free version is good), it syncs across all devices and there’s a desktop version so it does give you some time off the mobile phone. The Buffer team are great at responding to questions and queries via Twitter and they put out some great social media support content, for multiple channels. And they’re generally on top of latest changes to tools, tech and algorithms as well as forecasting the next big thing. Hootsuite seems to be a popular scheduling tool too – try some and see what works for you.

I won’t give you all the info on Buffer, you can hop over to their site and see it for yourself, but it basically allows me to create my post, add in my image, write a caption and hashtags and then set a time and date for posting. If you post at regular times, say 10am, 1pm and 6pm each day you can set these times and auto schedule to the next available slot. If you’re just posting daily you could choose the optimal time to post, most likely the evening, and post every day at this time. I don’t do this, I set specific times based around when the content is most relevant, the time of day that gets best engagement and, possibly most importantly, at a time I know I’ll have my phone on me in order to receive the notification and action it. It’s no good getting that notification for 10am on Saturday when you’re taking the kids to their swimming lesson or you’re flying on holiday to Portugal. You can pick up the notifications later, just as you do with any notification on your phone, and you can jump onto Buffer, find your drafts and publish from there at any time, even a day late, or you can go in and reset to a different time. I do this if something last minute pops up that’s topical and I shunt something that isn’t time-specific later into the week.

So, when you do get that notification, Buffer opens up Instagram for you and prompts you to check that you’re in the right account. You can turn this notification off, but it’s always handy. The app will default post to whichever account you’re logged into at the time and the pitfalls of having multiple accounts on your phone is that you will post to the wrong account at some stage or another. We are only human. You can still tinker with the post in the Instagram app, add in new hashtags, add filters to the image etc, and then post.

Should you schedule everything?

Well, the control freak in me says this is great in principle. The journalist in me says you can’t plan for everything and things change all the time. Allow for flexibility.

I mix scheduling up a bit. Sometimes I’m planned and organised and schedule content for the week ahead. I always do some scheduling on a Friday and plan and post ahead for the weekend so I’m not left scratching my head on a Saturday, and certainly over holidays and the Christmas period where I continued to post daily. Scheduling content for the entire Christmas period worked brilliantly and meant working over this time was minimal. Buffer lets you schedule a maximum of 10 posts at a time but this is probably enough to see you through any kind of sticky patch. If I was organised enough, scheduling everything for the week ahead would be my preference and you can squeeze topical stuff in as and when it happens. Regular content slots like Wednesday Wisdom and ThrowBack Thursday posts are usually scheduled in advance, and in blocks. If you’re supported by colleagues you can take a well-earned break when you take annual leave and hand Instagram over to them, including a copy of your content calendar to guide them.

How often should you post?

At least daily. The world won’t end if you don’t post one day, or if you post twice in a day. Although not in quick succession because the latter photo might knock the former off its spot a bit. I get less engagement if posting two images close together, usually the average engagement rate is split in half (so if one post usually gets 100 likes, two close together will get 50 likes each). If you’re not posting at weekends because you don’t work at weekends then you’re missing a trick. Get around this by creating a rota between your colleagues or getting an hour back in the week to make up for it. No one wants to work weekends but this is likely to be a time when your community will be active on Instagram and it would be a shame to miss it. And as long as you’ve scheduling ahead, it should only take five minutes.

Mobile phones and notifications

I use my own Buffer account, and just have the OU Instagram account loaded in rather than my own. I am nowhere near organised enough to schedule my personal Instagram content! The free version allows you to add one account per channel which means notifications get pushed to my mobile phone so I’m the only one who can physically post them. Thanks to my control freakish tendencies and, of course, my MA, this isn’t an issue for me. But it might be an issue if you want to spread the workload amongst a team. Possibly all accessing the same Buffer account and pushing notifications to a work smartphone (which staff use on a rota basis) would be the solution here. Test what works for you and your colleagues and try some scheduling apps and tools.

Scheduling in Instagram

There’s no formal way to schedule natively in Instagram but there is a workaround. Instagram now gives you the option to save drafts, so start off as if you’re scheduling the post – add in the image, tags, hashtags etc. Rather than posting it via the ‘share’ button, press the back arrow and keep going until it asks if you want to discard the post or save it as a draft. Save it as a draft.

When you decide you do want to post it, open up Instagram as normal and in your photo library there will be a section at the top called drafts, showing all your draft Instagram posts. Select the image you want and as you go through the various steps to get to the share button, it will have retained your caption and hashtags.

This is a very informal way of scheduling but it does allow you to add in multiple images and captions via the mobile app ahead of time and then post when you want to. The downside to this is that it means you’ll have to do it all in the mobile app, rather than on a desktop, and you’ll have to keep the schedule in your head, or possibly set yourself reminders when to post in case you forget. Maybe set yourself an Insta Alarm on your phone?

book-coverACTION

Pick three scheduling tools, research them, play with them, note the pros and cons. Go back to the team with your recommendations.

HACK

Can’t decide how to order your posts? Use Planoly, a mobile and desktop app which lets you load in your posts and reorder them before scheduling. And you might want to do something clever here like order them in a more aesthetically pleasing way, I.e white backgrounds in a row, campus based images in a row, darker images on the left, lighter on the right etc. Have a play with it.

GET THE FULL BOOK.

 

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Mobile phones aren’t bad for your health, you are

Concerned by the lack of health and safety information in place regarding the use of mobile devices for work (an essential part of a mobile journalist’s role) and the impact working in this way can have on our posture and nervous system, I caught up with physiotherapist Alastair Greetham. The good news is, mobile devices are not to blame for any so-called related health issues – we are.

Alastair sees a variety of people with postural issues, many exacerbated by the tools and technology the modern world makes it impossible for us to ignore. But he’s not seeing more people than he used to. Postural issues, he says, are not new. And it’s the impact our posture has on our nervous system that we need to worry about – and potentially addictive behaviours, like reaching for a smartphone to scroll through Facebook out of habit rather than interest or need.

Alastair frequently deals with office-based issues and encourages people to set up their desks in a way that’s going to work for their bodies, comfort and longer term health. He’s not saying anyone should give up work. And it’s the same for mobile phone users – we don’t need to give them up, just change the way we use them.

I’m looking at this from the perspective of mobile journalism but, of course, this applies to anyone using a smartphone regularly, particularly those using them for work.

What’s a mobile journalist again?

Westlund (2013) describes them as “journalists who use mobile devices extensively in their news reporting”. Blankenship (2015) in his research into mobile journalism in TV networks, says mobile journalism is “whereby a single reporter must write, shoot and edit their own news stories.” Christian Payne, in a chat with him last year, described it as the ability to report out in the field. And Richardson (2012), referenced by Wikipedia, describes it as “an emerging form of new media storytelling where reporters use portable electronic devices with network connectivity to gather, edit and distribute news from his or her community”.

Take all those definitions, the fact I work on a content and social media team with storytelling at its heart, and add in my latest MA module on Instagram – a mobile app which unlike its fellow social media platforms Twitter and Facebook remains true to its app origins and many features, including analytics, have to be accessed directly via the mobile app. Not accounting for the fact I obviously use my mobile phone for social purposes too, this adds up a lot of hours connected to a device which essentially fits in the palm of my hand.

Blurring the boundaries between home and work

Add on top of that how easy it is to blur the boundaries between work and home life (known as a digital brain switch thanks to Roby et al) when the mobile phone travels with you in both. How many of us quickly check our email on our phones or tablets from the sofa at home, just because we can, not because we need to even want to. While the French recently won the right not to check email out of hours, for many of us this adds to workplace efficiency – news doesn’t always break between 9am and 5pm and, as my Instagram project reminds me, evening is often the best time to post because it’s when most people are firing up their social media apps.

Health and safety info, in the main, relates to desktop working, PCs and laptops, with little consideration for portable devices like tablets and smartphones. In fact, most reference to mobile phone use at work is linked to distraction, i.e your workplace should have a mobile phone policy in order to keep your staff off them so they can do their work.

Mobile Office Ltd specialises in supporting people who are ‘mobile’ when they work, from using laptops on trains, agile work patterns and hot desking, to daily use of smartphones and tablets. Their report ‘Ergonomic Risks in Mobile Working‘ states:

Mobile devices give us huge benefits in terms of work flexibility, but they also present us with musculoskeletal risks that previous generations never experienced. We need to focus on managing and reducing the physical strain and discomfort which mobile devices can place on us, so that we can benefit from them without risking long-term pain and injury.

With the increase more generally in flexible working patterns due to the nature of modern workflow, the 24/7 news agenda and access to work email and tools from wherever you are, the report also stresses the importance of organisations training employees to take mobile working seriously, when research shows many ignore postural advice. And hands up, I confess, I am one of them.

Man hunched over looking at a mobile phone

Photo by Derick Anies via Unsplash

Training our body into discomfort

Much of the health and safety I can find ‘out there’ pertains to helping staff  not use their smartphones at work; to leave their mobile phones alone and help them avoid nomophobia (smartphone addiction and the need to constantly check for messages and notifications, or anxiety when without it).  Nomophobics beware, there are even mobile apps to stop you using mobile apps, like Forest, to stop you using your phone for periods of time.

But what about health and safety information for those who do use smartphones and all the productivity tools they offer, as part of their daily work? When I pick my phone up during working hours, for the majority of the time it’s to take a photo, shoot some video footage, edit a video, design graphics, create gifs or use filters, transfer images to Dropbox etc. My working ‘to do’ list is created on a mobile app (Wunderlist) synced to all devices so I can add actions to it whilst in meetings to avoid an endless stream of post-it notes littering my desk.

Mobile Office Ltd specialises in supporting people who are ‘mobile’ when they work, from using laptops on trains, agile work patterns and hot desking, to daily use of smartphones and tablets. Their report ‘Ergonomic Risks in Mobile Working‘ states:

Mobile devices give us huge benefits in terms of work flexibility, but they also present us with musculoskeletal risks that previous generations never experienced. We need to focus on managing and reducing the physical strain and discomfort which mobile devices can place on us, so that we can benefit from them without risking long-term pain and injury.

With the increase more generally in flexible working patterns due to the nature of modern workflow, the 24/7 news agenda and access to work email and tools from wherever you are, the report also stresses the importance of organisations training employees to take mobile working seriously, when research shows many ignore postural advice. And hands up, I confess, I am one of them. I’m also a flexible worker, placing ever more importance on using my iPhone for work. And my work phone does not have a SIM card, it’s not used for phone calls but for its array of apps, photography and videography functions.

This may or may not be an issue for all mobile journalists (or, indeed, anyone who uses a smartphone regularly) because other factors influence health here – posture when using a mobile phone and habits we get into which ‘train’ our body into discomfort. For me, my terrible posture is exacerbated when I use a phone – I hunch over in a really ugly position – and I seem to tense up a little when I do this. Alastair says I’ve trained my nervous system to accept this as normal behaviour so it’s repeated, I now find it difficult to relax completely, even when watching the TV, my body’s in a state of permanent tension and I often wake up in the morning feeling like I’ve slept scrunched up in a ball. For me, repeated trips to the osteopath to stretch me out, clear the problem up. Until the next time.

The tall girl with terrible posture

I was the tallest girl in school for a long while, and being painfully shy in my younger years, my height only served to make me stand out more, and I was quite happy to go unnoticed so subconsciously resorted to slouching. And so began the first of many years of bad posture.

After suffering with numbness in my hand some six or seven years ago, caused by my terrible posture but exacerbated by mobile phone use, I went to see Alastair. He believes that exercises and treatment to ease symptoms can have the effect of allowing people to persist in the patterns that created the problem in the first place.

I could prescribe hundreds of different exercises but if you have to keep coming back to see me then I’m not doing my job. If I’m doing my job properly and you truly want to get better, you’ll come and see me for a series of sessions and not necessarily have to see me again.

The occupational health team at work told me I’d have to stop using my mobile phone or, at least, drastically reduce the amount of time I spent on it. They advised me to get one without access to email and apps so I could just use the phone function. I remember thinking to myself ‘that will never happen’, and more so now, because my iPhone is integral to my job and my passions – mobile journalism, visual storytelling and social media.

But Alastair reminds me that my iPhone is not to blame, I am. My phone isn’t causing me pain and discomfort, I am. And I don’t need to stop using it to get better, I need to change the way I use it. And only I can do that. In the meantime, Alastair can educate me on the how and why. (PS A video demonstrating smartphone-related postural issues and how to undo them, will follow soon). Ironically, I’m returning to this area of research because of my MA, not my postural issues, and clearly if I tackled them head-on I may not have been on what Alistair describes as a ‘downward spiral’ for so long. Note to self: I really need to listen to Alistair.

Training our bodies into a state of stress

Alastair explains that there’s a link between our vision and our nervous system and physiology. “When we take in our peripheral vision, we’re aware of our entire environment. When we put our head down to look in closer detail at something it activates our sympathetic nervous system which is our stress system, so one of the problems with phones is it puts us in a state of stress as we focus in on detail.

“When you ask someone to think about something, you’ll see them shift their balance onto one leg, push their shoulder forward, hand on the face, looking down. We’re in internal processing mode. Multitasking has been proven time and time again to be a complete illusion, we don’t multitask, we sequentially task, so when we have to think hard about something or focus on detail we shut down our physiology, we’re in a much less active posture.

“We’re in an age where people check social media constantly, checking new info, focusing in on the minutiae of what’s happening in people’s lives, losing the perspective of the bigger picture. If we have a more open perspective, lengthen our spine, open up the shoulders, your head comes up, the muscles relax and you’re now in a very different state of space. If we spend a lot of time on phones what happens is that our nervous system becomes predicated on that and it becomes our default system.

“What we need to do is remember to come out in and out of the closed posture to avoid training your body to function in a particular way. It’s actually  quick to train your body, it learns very quickly, but it’s an individual’s responsibility to do this.”

Alastair says the media would like to have us believe the all this technology will be the end of us all, but the devices aren’t the issue, it’s how we physically use them.

Salsa dancing could be the answer

So how do we strike up a healthy relationship with our mobile phones when we need them for work? Alastair said salsa – or social – dancing is a great activity. Dancing opens your posture completely, there’s music, people, a good atmosphere – it’s impossible to focus in on yourself and is an excellent physical distraction from the way you’d hold yourself when editing a video on a mobile phone, for example.

If salsa dancing’s not for you, there are other ways to strike a balance. Alastair says we don’t have to hunch over and look at our phones for hours, we can open up our posture and hold our phones up and position ourselves in a more relaxed and open way. And we can alternate activities so as not to train our bodies into bad habits. For me, for example, I can spend time editing a video on my iPhone, then walk across campus to interview an academic, then spend some time monitoring and posting content on Instagram, then sit in on a meeting. Just as I organise my diary so I don’t have back-to-back meetings at opposite ends of campus, I can also organise my workflow so I’m not spending too much time on closed-posture activities. And being aware of how I use mobile devices – thinking about open posture, trying not to tense up, I can train my body to retain these good habits and reduce the amount of stress I put it under.

Take a break, boost productivity

Alistair says taking breaks have been proven time and again – across a variety of professions – to enhance productivity. Going for a walk at lunch time, he says, will increase your output during the afternoon, compared to working through your lunch break.

In fact, taking breaks boosts productivity, no matter what your profession. This 2015 article for The Telegraph states:

Recent data from productivity app DeskTime, which tracked people’s office habits, found that the employees with the highest productivity took 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work – and they did not spend that break time checking social media or replying to emails.

And Florida State University Professor K. Anders Ericsson, in his research into elite performers across a variety of disciplines from musicians to athletes says breaks every 90 minutes made a positive impact on performance.

My smartphone is here to stay

I’m not sure salsa dancing in the office will catch on, and as much as I like a ‘cracking’ good session with the osteopath it’s reassuring to know that making positive, permanent changes, means I can enjoy a happy, healthy and long relationship with my mobile phone. The advice I received seven or so years ago – to ditch the mobile phone – was neither practical nor necessary. But I do need to listen to Alistair, take his advice seriously and attempt to ditch my mobile-induced health symptoms (diagnosed as work-related upper limb disorder).

My conversation with Alastair, unfortunately, failed to record (see, smartphones aren’t always awesome!) so I did a quick audio round up in the car on the way home to remind myself of his key points. You can listen to it (unpolished, warts and all) here or directly on Soundcloud.

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Using voice memo to rescue an interview

Between Christmas and New Year I had the pleasure of chatting with physiotherapist Alastair Greetham about the potential impact of mobile phone use on our health, particularly in relation to my own personal case as a mobile journalist, someone with terrible posture and a recurring need to see an osteopath to offset my symptoms.

I chatted for over an hour with Alastair but only managed to record the first five minutes (damn you, mobile phone and lapel mic) and in an attempt to remember as much as possible about what he said, I recorded this voice memo during the drive home.

So this is a warts and all recording, attempting to recall the interview while driving and trying to remember the way home. No editing has been done – this is 100% authentic panic interview recall. This research forms part of my MA in Online Journalism and focus on mobile journalism, in particular.

You can read the full interview – undertaken as research as part of my MA in Online Journalism – soon, and I’ll also be recording a video session with Alistair to physically show some of the open/closed postural movements I talk about in this audio recording.

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Unexpected: MK is a photographic celebration of Milton Keynes at 50

Unexpected: MK bookNext year Milton Keynes turns 50. Local photographer (amongst other things), Gill Prince, is the woman behind the lens that captured… yes, you guessed it… 50 images of Milton Keynes, immortalised in a book to celebrate its half century. Keen to illustrate it’s more than roundabouts and concrete cows, Gill’s book is entitled Unexpected: MKa photographic celebration of Milton Keynes at 50.

I caught up with Gill over coffee to talk photography, social media and top tips…

Photography and social media – help or hindrance?

Gill’s a modern photographer: she embraces the benefits social media brings to her line of work but is mindful of the pitfalls too; it’s hard(er) to make money from photography in the social media age.

“Before I was on Twitter, there was a fire on my estate and I managed to find a back way in and get some shots that no one else had, and I emailed them to the editor of the local paper. But now, of course, the best way to get your photos seen is to post them up on social media. It has definitely ripped a hole in the news media market because it’s all done on social media now and no one expects to pay for it.

“Years ago you could sell high resolution pictures for hundreds of pounds; now there’s social media everyone can take a photo using their smartphone, there’s a lot out there.

“But there are up sides,” she said. While admitting that Twitter, at first, terrified her, she recognises the power it has to tap into harder-to-reach audiences and has proved a vital tool in raising the sponsorship and support needed to get Unexpected: MK into print. Crowdsourcing funds, raising awareness and making useful contacts are just some of the benefits Gill is enjoying courtesy of social media.

“I have an audience of people who are interested in what I’m doing and I don’t think I could have achieved that without social media. I think the positives outweigh the negatives, you just have to think carefully about how you can generate an income from it.”

‘The best camera is the one you have with you’

I asked this question of Giulio Saggin in my previous blog post, and I put it to Gill too: What’s the difference, these days, between ‘proper’ photographic kit and cameras, versus the smartphones we all carry around in our pockets?

“The best camera is the one you have with you!” she says. “It’s a brilliant phrase and absolutely true, if all you have with you is a smartphone then it’s absolutely the best thing to take a picture with because it’s that or nothing.

“Smartphones are brilliant as a photography tool, people have them with them all the time. One of the reasons photography has exploded is because we all have them in our pockets wherever we go. Generally, these days, whatever you’re doing, you have a phone on you, and there’s no conscious decision made to take it with you to capture photos.

“They’re a great tool and perfect for social media – most of the basics settings you get on a phone will take a great image. Where proper kit takes over if when you are trying to take pictures that an iPhone won’t be able to, perhaps where you need a tripod for long exposure, or special filters. For 80 per cent of what’s beneficial on social media you can do it with 20 per cent of the kit, and that 20 per cent is a smartphone.”

And Gill uses both her professional camera and her iPhone to capture beautiful scenes, but confesses to tagging images with #iPhoneography to distinguish between the two.

“The difference between a good phone shot and proper camera shot is becoming smaller – so that bit that takes you into the professional bracket is being constantly squeezed. You also have to lug larger kit around with you so I totally get why people choose phones.”

Hopping over to a new platform: meet Insta Bunny

instabunny

Gill confessed to being intimidated when first discovering Twitter but soon grew to enjoy it’s conversation and networking capabilities which have been instrumental in turning the concept of Unexpected: MK into a reality.

But what about Instagram? That’s supposed to be great for photographers, right?

“I wanted to investigate Instagram earlier in the year but didn’t want to stick my head above the parapet with my own business, because the unknown is scary. But I found it to be less scary than Twitter because it’s less interactive.”

Gill set up the InstaBunnyDiaries account on Instagram and tested the platform with the benefit of anonymity, using all the principles of photography she applies in her professional work, but with a stuffed bunny rabbit taking centre stage, quite often travelling or drinking prosecco.

Gill gained followers with little effort and it gave her the confidence to finally put her professional name to an Instagram account and post photos to help promote her book, and Milton Keynes as a place of interest – not just roundabouts, concrete cows and a large shopping centre.

But the jury’s still out for Gill. “I get about 20 likes for every one follower. I find it fascinating and a little odd and I’m not sure I get it or that it adds value to my business in the same way Twitter is. I’m selective with what I post on there and I also forget it’s there as I’m much more active on Twitter.”

Gill watermarks her photographs – for branding as much as security – and says Instagram’s option to post more than simply square photos has made life easier for her – the square setting meant cropping photos differently, potentially losing the watermark and having to re-add one: “If I have to crop something specifically for another channel I might not do it… it might crop the watermark out, for example, and it all becomes too much like hard work.”

‘You can become better known in your world if you make your world smaller’

Gill also teaches photography through one-to-one tuition and offers these as her top tips for anyone thinking of dipping their toe – or rather their lens – into the world of ‘serious’ photography:

“Think carefully, define your audience, and know how to target those people. You can then be a bigger fish in a small pond. There’s an American phrase, ‘you can’t boil the ocean’ – you can’t do everything all at once, so segment and go for a bigger impact. You can become better known in your world if you make your world smaller. And know your end game – do I want to make money or be known as a good local photographer? – the decisions you make along the way will be different depending on whether you want reputation versus profit.

“Make a plan to get you from A to B and use social media. Get a good website. Don’t mix personal and professional content, or be wary of doing that. And tracking links are great – to really know how many people are actually looking at your stuff is helpful.”

Unexpected: MK – go and buy a copy

I’m not a native but moved to Milton Keynes around a decade ago and love it. ‘Unexpected’ hits the nail on the head, there’s far more here than you’d ever realise and if you follow #LoveMK you’ll see I’m not alone. Gill and I are in good company and her photographic celebration of Milton Keynes is really lovely. So go and buy a copy. Now!

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