Tag Archives: The Open University

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

nancy

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)

gary

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

harrogate

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:

Pros

  • 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.

Cons

  • 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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Introducing #InstaMA

ig-grabSo, the final module of my MA in Online Journalism with BCU is called the MA by Practice and it’s worth a whopping 60 points so I need to do this justice. I’ll be working on it part-time over two semesters on top of my 31-hour work week, two small children, a husband, a dog, netball matches, some semblance of a social life and a partridge in a pear tree.

My motivation? Graduation is next summer, it’s so close I can almost feel it and I really, really want it. I don’t have a degree so didn’t get to experience graduation in my 20s; this will be a real prize for me, graduating at the grand old age of 37 and being a role model for my children who will get to see me cross the stage. I’d always told myself that scraping through this thing would be enough for me but, actually, after getting some decent marks I want to give this my best shot.

So, what am I working on now? Entitled #InstaMA I’m working on a pilot project on The Open University’s Instagram account (and if you don’t follow it, PLEASE do it in the name of education!)

I work in content and social media at the university and am using my study time to develop the OU’s Instagram channel. The project will be defined by these stages:

  • Research (initial and ongoing)
  • Pilot project: eight weeks of throwing up content to see what works and what doesn’t
  • Review (ongoing and post-pilot)
  • Reporting and analysis: once the pilot is over I’ll draw some conclusions, make some recommendations and draw up a 2017 strategy for the OU’s Instagram account going forwards
  • Write a book: I’ll then take all this knowledge, dice, it slice it and throw in some humour then wrap it all up in the form of a published eBook
  • Submission: I’ll then submit this along with a report and hope to God I pass with flying colours.

Sounds simple? Well, actually, that’s a lot of hard work. But I’m on it, and thoroughly enjoying it. With that said, I may need an Instagram sabbatical by the end of it, I’m starting to dream in square photos!

More academic/problem-solving coming soon…

PS If you have any info on Instagram – tips, tricks, hacks, research papers, experience, photo apps etc, I would LOVE to hear them. You can tweet me at @robynbateman or leave a comment. Thanks.

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Elevator pitch. Well, not really #MAEnt

Robyn Bateman waving shadowSo, the current module of my MA requires me to be the business. Literally. I’m full of creative ideas at home and at work (and with the kids… well, you have to get them to eat their greens somehow). But business? Well, that’s not my thing. Or maybe it is and I just haven’t tried it. We’ll soon find out.

The key part is coming up with an idea that is a) online, b) relates to the award for which I’m studying (damn, that food-related project I have burning a hole in my notepad will have to wait) and meet some political/social need. I.e I need to try and do some good in the world while trying to make money while trying to be a journalist.

My idea in its very barest form (the one I think I’ll stick with, at least) is linked with what I love and what I do. One of my work buddies describes me as abstractly creative and I’d never have put myself under that umbrella until he said it. It’s not that I come up with weird and wonderful ideas but I do try and challenge myself to think beyond what’s the easiest option. I don’t always succeed but I do enjoy a spot of creativity.

I also love content, as a creator, consumer and lurker. And I’m fussy, time-starved and suffer a short attention span so it needs to be good. I also love learning, both as a learner – in the direct sense, hence why I’m doing this MA; as a mentor, I love sharing my skills with others, it makes me feel good; and also indirectly too. I work for a university and know first-hand how education changes lives, develops careers, boosts self confidence, contributes to the economy and makes the world go round. And I know that being creative and learning new skills is beyond tricky when you’re spinning many plates: job or jobs, parenthood, carer, friend, sportsman, volunteers etc.

So, my idea is to offer a kind of mentoring service for small business who want to develop their brands without having to employ a large agency or cough up a small fortune to attend a workshop in London. I want to offer an online portal of bitesize content training in all things digital content, from creating videos, writing social media posts, re-sizing images, learning WordPress, web content, enewsletters etc. And that that ‘learning hub’ for want of a better phrase will allow people to put their learning into practice, try by failing in a comfortable, supportive space, and therefore contribute to other people’s learning. Or something like that.

My husband works with a lot of small businesses in his role as web designer/developer and knows first-hand how people struggle with the basics which, in this day and age are pretty essential if you want customers to engage in spaces they’re comfortable in. And they don’t have the time or budget to skill up in a more formal way, and neither do they have to. Although a traditionally qualified journalist, I was trained in print and much of my own digital skillset has come from being mentored by others, learning by doing and experimenting, and failing plenty times over. I’m still learning.

So, that’s the crux of it. It needs a lot of research, polishing and working up but I’m further on than I was last week: clueless.

Enterprise #MAEnt from Robyn Bateman on Vimeo.

All roads leads back to the workplace
It’s interesting to see how prominently my place of work features in my MA in Online Journalism. I’m not sure why, but I read a 2009  post from Paul Bradshaw last week when he was started to write the MA course. In it, he referenced Peter Horrocks, then of the BBC, who’d offered some though on the content of the course. Today, as I sit and type this, Peter is the Vice-Chancellor of The Open University (OU), where I work.

Then, while reading about social innovation, I stumbled on a paragraph that mentioned the OU and the Young Foundation, named after Michael Young, the man who helped to found the ‘university of the air’.

Now, I’m staying late after work to catch up on MA reading and access to the Taylor & Francis Online ‘portal’ has been granted because I’m logged on with the OU and the uni logo has popped onto the top of my screen. Being a distance learning student (live Milton Keynes, uni in Birmingham) can have disadvantages, but working for another university (particularly the ‘king’ of the distance learning tribe) seems to make up for the shortfall.

De Bono six thinking hats graphicHats off to de Bono
And already my work-life is benefitting from the MA. I’ve been reading up about Edward de Bono and his six thinking hats and would really like to try them out in a creative brainstorm session sometime soon. Brainstorms can often be messy, lots of people cramming in ideas, shouting them down and forgetting objectives for what seems like an age. The thinking hats sounds less messy but just as creative and I won’t know until I’ve tried it. I like the idea of sitting in a meeting wearing a hat too. Watch this space.

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