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