Tag Archives: Instagram

Instagram: Measuring for success isn’t just about numbers

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How do you measure success when you work in social media? There’s no one-size fits all answer here but it’s a question social media managers get asked all the time, under increasing pressure to prove the worth of their activity (Michaelidou et al, 2011).

When I started a pilot on The Open University’s Instagram account last October, I didn’t set any expectations down on paper in terms of numbers for followers, likes or comments. The success wasn’t about the account, so much as the pilot and what I learned from it – which turns out to be enough to write a 24,000 word eBook on it.

But in my head, I thought it would be easy to push up follower numbers from a tame 8,500 in comparison to the university’s 150,000 students and many more alumni. One of my managers jokingly (I think) suggested 100,000 followers by Christmas. The truth is the account has grown by 1,900 followers in six months. And you know what, that’s not bad. But what’s better is that likes per post has shot up from an average of 10 per post to around 100 per post – that’s an increase of 90%. We’re sustaining this level of engagement per post – and continuing to post daily – and have a genuine and engaged community that we know quite a lot about. Knowing our community, talking to them and sharing their photos holds more value than numbers because it allows us to post the right content, follow up on student stories and use Instagram content on other channels.

What I could have done differently is whip out some cash and pay to push those follower numbers up, but could I have claimed those numbers in the same way I know those 2,500 extra followers are entirely mine? Tools like Instagress, a paid-for bot which tracks chosen hashtags and likes, comments and follows relevant people and posts 24/7, can drive up engagement and artificially inflate follower count. The number of resulting followers might look great, but engagement compared to followers will be lower because your followers are not genuine. And what’s better, to have hundreds of thousands of followers or a high engagement rate on individual posts from real members of your community. For me, it’s the latter. Interestingly, at the time of writing this Instagress has been shut down “at the request of” Instagram, a brand which fosters the value of genuine community spirit.

What could success look like?

Increasing your professional profile could be a measure of success (although this anti-Instagramming academic disagrees) and I think there’s immeasureable value in putting your research ‘out there’ for others to engage with. And social media is a great way of doing that, Instagram in particular if you can show your research visually. Better still if your research is about Instagram and I’ve tried to breakdown the key elements of my eBook using Instagram to do it. I’ve had feedback on Twitter from people following my #InstaMA research saying it’s been useful to them and it’s certainly helped my own professional profile to be able to talk about this project, increasing my own social media following and helping me to get a speaker’s slot at the forthcoming ContentEd Conference in June.

Just as we (used to) measure traditional print media press coverage by column inches in PR campaigns, which is hard to put a value on, it’s equally hard to put a value on social media metrics – what these numbers mean is all relative to what you’re trying to achieve and raising brand awareness will always be tricky to pin down. For me, above and beyond numbers, the most valuable part of the pilot was the amount I learned about Instagram and our community.

Much of what I’ve learned about Instagram stats has been holistic because I entered this project alone and spent the best part of six months fully immersed in the channel. So I got a real sense of the amount of engagement and increase in likes per post, and the use of the hashtag #openuniversity just by being on the site every day. This knowledge will thin out once the work is divided by fellow members of the social media team post-pilot.

There’s a chapter in my eBook on measurement, including using Instagram Insights, but it also focusses on other kinds of measurement.

Measurement doesn’t need to be about numbers

Success criteria or targets don’t have to be numbers based. Pre-pilot we didn’t monitor comments, like anyone’s photos or comment on anything. We posted and then ran. Broadcast, broadcast, broadcast. For me, the fact that I’ve been able to monitor and actively engage with our Instagram community on a pretty much daily basis is a personal and professional success, and a highly beneficial one. The bank of knowledge I’ve built up just from immersing myself in Instagram is invaluable. So daily  posting, monitoring and responding to comments could be a success criteria.

Measurement doesn’t have to relate to channel stats either, like the number of posts on Instagram; it could be linked to work-based objectives. Measurement could relate to types of content, for example, you want to profile 12 academics in 12 months to help boost their public profiles and raise awareness of academic excellence and research. Or one post per week that relates to careers and employability, two shares per week and a campaign per quarter. Or it could be related to your own personal professional objectives like becoming a channel expert, developing professional photography skills or even educating the wider team: running workshops on mobile content, embedding best-practice and planning tools into the team’s daily way of working. Find a measurement that means something to you.

Based on my own experience of running a pilot, the successes for me run way beyond numbers and Instagram expertise. I’ve made new personal and professional contacts, I’m a step closer to completing my Masters degree, I have a more rounded view of creating compelling content for multiple channels and I have a clearer picture about what the future of social media looks like for the OU and how different channels appeal to difference audiences in different ways.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Recipes for success: Instagram and cross-posting

I do like a little bit of creative problem-solving. And here’s an example… (and it’s no coincidence that I’m posting this on a Wednesday!)

Instagram’s visual nature makes it different to fellow platforms like Facebook and Twitter. But this doesn’t mean cross-posting (posting the same content on more than one platform) won’t work. Personally, I’m not a fan of simply posting identical content on multiple platforms. It’s lazy, for starters,  and the same key messages can – and should – be optimised for different channels. But there is an overlap.

For example, at work (The Open University) we’d been posting regular #WednesdayWisdom posts (every Wednesday in fact, go figure) on both Instagram and Twitter, developing a very simple quote-on-a-block-colour-background-with-logo-in-the-corner style for both: square for Instagram, rectangular for Twitter. And we were getting good engagement on both platforms.

So how could we do this more efficiently – posting the same content in two different places but optimised for both? In comes IFTTT, a series of ‘recipes’ you can set so if you do something to A, something will also happen to B.

Rather than posting twice on two channels, I wanted to see if we could use an IFTTT recipe to auto-post an image from Instagram directly onto Twitter using a single hashtag, saving time and helping to drive traffic from Twitter to Instagram. You can do this via Instagram directly but it posts the image as a link, meaning you have to click the link to see it, rather than embedding the image for all to see.

In principle this was a simple idea. In reality, it caused three problems:

  • Firstly, finding a style that would complement both Instagram’s square layout and Twitter’s wide layout.
  • Secondly, finding a way to optimise that style to work for mobile Twitter (quotes on a regular 1024 x 512 pixel Twitter card will be chopped off when viewing on a mobile. 700 x 400 pixel works well on mobile if you want to avoid any chopping.
  • And thirdly, how to write a caption in our current Instagram style with up to 30 hashtags which would also fit Twitter’s 140 character limit.

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The first and second issues were tackled by creating multiple layouts and testing them on Instagram and Twitter mobile, over and over again, until we found one that worked for both.

The same post on Twitter showing the Instagram layout works for Twitter mobile.

The third issue was solved by posting a short caption with two hashtags: #WednesdayWisdom (the whole reason for doing these posts as it’s a popular hashtag) and #OU, the hashtag set up via IFTTT that enables the auto posting to Twitter. Any image we now post on Instagram with the hashtag #OU will automatically post to Twitter. I then posted the remaining hashtags, to aid search, in a comment below the original Instagram post. Job done.

These #WednesdayWisdom posts are now created in batches of 10 and loaded onto scheduling tool Buffer. The get good engagement on both Twitter and Instagram, and posting in this way helps us to promote our Instagram account – which we’re actively trying to grow – weekly on Twitter.

This method could also be used for other department’s social media too, posting an image of the OU in Scotland’s Edinburgh office, for example, but setting up an IFTTT recipe for it to autopost to the OU in Scotland’s Twitter account, helping to drive traffic to the corporate Instagram account from different Twitter accounts, and therefore different audiences.

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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?

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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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From maternity leave to professional Instagrammer

saraAs well as having a whopping 146,000 followers on Instagram (@me_and_orla), Sara Tasker is a blogger, photographer, iPhoneographer, writer and Instagram coach. So she’s pretty busy. Sara’s story has seen her go from maternity to leave to running a successful business helped, of course, by a generous dose of creativity and talent. And now she’s helping other Instagrammers to find success…

How did you first get into Instagram?

I was on maternity leave and feeling pretty bored and uncreative. I read about people doing 365 projects using their iPhones and it appealed as a record of my daughter’s first year, so I reactivated my dormant account and started sharing daily.

Did you ever imagine, when you started, that being a successful Instagrammer would create so many opportunities?

I had no idea! Back then there were only a handful of people making a living from Instagram, and they were all in the US with millions of followers.
My intention was only ever to share and be creative – and, to some extent, to find an audience to help me do that. Everything else came as a big surprise.

You’re now an Instagram coach and channel expert. What do you love about working with Instagram and what types of people/organisations do you help?

My favourite thing is how it represents creativity in everyday life. Sometimes we can be afraid to give ourselves or anything we do the label of ‘creating’, because it feels pretentious, or like it belongs to other people. Instagram is a way around that, and it means you have this really diverse group of people sharing their take on the world.
I love getting to help people find their visual voice, and connect with their audience through that. I tend to work mostly with small business owners and creatives. That’s never really been by design, but probably represents the audience that most feel they can relate to me and how I work. I’ve mentored actors, coaches, singers, illustrators, authors, photographers, bloggers, makers – and people who just want to develop their Instagram as a tool to express themselves for no specific purpose.

What benefits do you think Instagram has over other social media channels? Are there any downsides, or features you’d like to see added?

It’s a visual medium, which is great as that’s how your brain works. If you’re wordy and have no eye for a photo, it’s not going to be the place for you. Compared to the early days, it’s a highly saturated market now, and it can be difficult to stand out – but if you’re doing something original that resonates, there’s still plenty of potential to make a splash. There are plenty of limitations within the app – they don’t like you to share links, for example, and are notoriously incompatible with Twitter – but it’s a free service, so I’m reluctant to complain too much.

What can people expect to learn on one of your courses, who are they aimed at and why will they find it beneficial?

My courses are for the people who I’ve been mentoring – or the people who I would mentor if I had the time! I found myself going over the same key principles again and again with my clients, and my time was becoming increasingly scarce, so a course seemed the logical step to share the knowledge further. I’ve tried to make it pretty exhaustive, so it covers everything from choosing the best username all the way to playing the algorithm and maximising your exposure opportunities. The focus is on creating great, genuine, meaningful content all the way through – I’m really opposed to the ‘get rich quick’ schemes that chase huge followings without the quality of the posts improving. It only works if you put the effort in.

What are your top 3 tips for Instagram users, whether it’s for business or pleasure?

  1. Take better pictures! I start there with everyone – including myself, every day. It’s a visual platform, so you need to be always striving to take and share your best work.
  2. Be intentional about your message. If you know what you’re trying to say, and who you want to say it to, it’s much easier to connect with the right audience and find which hashtags to use, etc.
  3. Engage more! The biggest reason that people’s accounts lie dormant or flounder is because they sit back and wait for their audience to come to them. Instagram is hardwired to reward engagement, so you really get what you put in.

 

You have  very specific look and feel on your account – is that something you’d recommend? Do you think ‘branded’ accounts get a better response from their audiences?

It’s something that develops organically if you work at it long enough – you refine and improve your style and taste so precisely that things tend to start to flow by themselves. That said, the more you consider the overall look of your gallery, the more coherent and deliberate your message to potential audience will be.
There are a ton of benefits to having a really solid visual identity – it’s a bit like having a recognisable writing style or singing voice.
It’s not just about the individual pictures/books/songs that you create, but the talent and vision you have behind them. That’s what people are signing up for when they hit follow – your voice, not the pictures that have gone before.

You inspire a lot of people on Instagram – who is your Instagram inspiration?

I soak up inspiration from all over the place – from music and photography and nature and life. I love browsing new hashtags and getting a sense of what’s up and coming and fresh.
It’s impossible to name one person or account that inspires me, because it’s such a creative soup.
My ideal catch up on Instagram would have some film photography, some female self portrait work, an amazing styled food shoot, and a quick snap of someone’s kids. I love the diversity and the scope of it, and that keeps me creating and thinking in pictures.

Find out more

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