Tag Archives: experiment

Covering an event via Instagram Stories: lessons learned, pros and cons


The lovely Nancy graduating with Ted Puff, her 40-year-old bear and study companion.

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)


Quick video with Sir Gary Verity of Welcome to Yorkshire. Despite the bad lighting and gloomy backdrop, he gave some uplifting advice: never give up

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


Stunning Harrogate skyline taken from my hotel window. I’d like to thank the filters on the Camera+ app for helping me hide the reflection off the glass.

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:


  • shoes

    Sparkly shoe awesomeness. Layout courtesy of the InstaFrame+ app

    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…

What do you make of Instagram Stories and do you have any tips?

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The ‘talking head’

“We need more dynamic content” someone shouts across the office. Okay, there’s no shouting, but content that speaks – literally – is increasingly being used to engage audiences. But why choose video, or even audio, over an online article, for example?

What’s to be got from sticking a camera in someone’s face and asking them questions? Is the visual of a talking head so much more inspiring than their words on a website or in a newspaper?

Well, actually, yes. It does indeed depend on what the person you’re interviewing/talking to has to say. If they’re telling you about an update to the local bus timetable, a two-par filler will do. If an academic expert on conspiracy theories is explaining the different between a conspiracy theory and an actual conspiracy, it’s undoubtedly more engaging to listen/watch the explanation than to read it.

Here’s a couple of examples, all with minimal or no production…

Lisa Mclean on the breast cancer patient she thinks about every day

Jill Reynolds’ interview with her 82-year-old self – a simple but effective idea!

Darren Rose, of Problogger, says the benefits of a talking head video on a blog is four-fold – it creates a personal connection with your readers and a good first impression; it engages with a different kind of person over a written post (brings out the lurkers!); lends itself very well to teaching and learning to allow people to visualise what you’re talking about/explaining. Video and text is an effective combination, he says, and can lead to higher conversions.

But if you have two people talking, two talking heads, flitting between those heads might not work so well and you don’t want to lose your audience to sea sickness. So maybe a podcast? This example is two people, who’ve produced a report on bisexuality, talking about it. There’s no visual element and two taling heads wouldn’t work so well but there’s chemistry between these two, they bounce of each other with no prompting and it makes for an engaging podcats, again with minimal editing.

What do you make of the ‘talking head’?

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Experimenting with audio slideshows (and a tribute to my dog)

My first attempt at an audio slideshow saw me accidentally creating my dog’s epitaph, probably because I used track seven off this album as it shares the same name as my nearly two-year-old cocker spaniel. So, thankful that my furry friend is very much alive, I changed the music to something more jolly and came up with this:

Okay, so it’s rushed and rough around the edges but for the purposes of experimentation, successful. I used iMovie on the Mac which I found to be an intuitive tool. I found my way around the functionality with ease and it allowed me to do all the things I wanted, including easy cropping and positioning of images, the length of time images appeared and it was simple to add titles, rolling credits and music.

What I learned:

  • iMove is great for beginners, intuitive and the more you experiment the more you’ll discover you can do
  • Low quality images won’t go unnoticed. I used a few here and it’s really obvious so stick to good quality and your slideshow will look much sharper
  • You can time your images to the beats of the music, which works well and creates more impact but takes some time to master
  • It’s dead easy to export your finished file which I then chose to upload to YouTube and embed on this blog
  • A sequence of images to music (or an interview or one-person narrative) can be a powerful combination. My initial attempt with the track, Ralphie, bought tears to my eyes (yes, quite possibly, I need to get a grip)

I’d definitely be keen to try audio slideshows in the future; on a personal level I prefer watching a slideshow over a video but I can’t quite put my finger on why.

The Guardian has a great collection of audio slideshows and here’s one on a dog theme, to compare to mine.

For other great examples of audio slideshows check out these by MA Online journalism students: Hedy Korbee’s about the history of a school (I love the creaking door at the start) and this one by Sihlangu Tshuma about a man who makes his home on an allotment in a suburb of Birmingham.

The Garden of Eden from sihlangu on Vimeo.



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When to choose video over audio? Or vice-versa

There’s an obvious difference between audio and video – the visual. And the silent film The Artist is a prime example of the power of a strong story and visual where no audio is needed, although it’s unusual to find online video without some kind of audio to support it.

But it it as simple as asking yourself ‘does this story have a visual element?’ and if the answer is yes, choosing video, and if the answer is no, choosing audio? There’s probably a bit more to it than that.

The Bisexuality ReportEarlier this month The Bisexuality Report was launched to improve UK policy and practice for bisexual people as part of the equalities agenda and highlights trends such as bisexual people are more likely to suffer mental health problems than other sexual groups, and are often the subject of negative stereotypes.

I spoke to the authors of the report and wanted to capture something more dynamic than the written word to encapsulate what the report’s about. I tried two things… firstly, a short video with the lead author of the report, Meg Barker, a psychology lecturer. It’s a really short video featuring Meg in her office, no bells and whistles but it does the job. We had two goes at recording but Meg was fluent, did it in a single take and only the start and end of the video needed trimming.

I then recorded a podcast with Meg Barker and her colleague Rebecca Jones in which the two of them discuss the report’s findings in a more conversational way. For me, this works much better, not only because there’s no visual element to distract from the narrative, which is the most important part, but because it involves two people, it’s a conversation, has more pace and the change in voice gives the listener a bit of variety. It’s also been picked up by other organisations, such as BiMedia.org.

This did need some more editing, one section of the report edited out and a new section put in it’s place and I did have to play around with the sound levels a bit to make it clearer. When recording the second section I must have sat closer to Meg and Rebecca than when I recorded the first section and so it was considerably louder. I tweaked the audio levels using Final Cut Express, trimmed the start and finish of the podcast and added a new section in the middle.

Both the video and the audio were recorded on a Kodak Zi8 without an additional microphone. I have a small tripod for this camera but didn’t use it – this would have improved the ‘shaky hand syndrome’ I get in the video (it’s harder than you think to hold a small camera steady for a couple of minutes) and placing the camera on the desk instead of holding would have created more consistent sound in the podcast.

What do you think?

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My Pancake Day podcast…

What does it say about someone when they have to shut the dog out of the room to record this, because they’re embarrassed? Yes, I am utterly rubbish and not keen on the sound of my own voice. But it’s done now. It may be useful to note that this was my first and only attempt and I put that solely down to the fact I wrote very rough notes on what I wanted to cover, which kept me on track. Kind of. Four minutes goes very fast!

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