Should Authors Use Instagram?

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Social media is a useful and free way to connect to the wider reading world. Thanks to the democratization of publishing though self-publishing and other platforms, there are many great new books out there. However, the abundance also means it’s hard to be found. Without a marketing department to back you up, how do you connect to readers?

The answer is through social media. The advice I always read is to find a platform you like and understand and work to grow that one. The platform you enjoy is the one you will tend. Most adults are on Facebook, but lots of authors like Twitter. Both are good places to connect with other writers and (hopefully) your audience. But, don’t overlook Instagram.

I’ll be honest, I’ve overlooked Instagram, and probably for the same reason you might have: it’s a visual medium and we writers are verbal. While that’s true, Instagram has a few assets. Chief among them is that it’s still growing and that it’s used more by young people (18-24) than other platforms. If you’re writing young adult fiction or other genres geared toward younger people, you might want to give Instagram another look.

One Post and Done—Across Platforms

One advantage of Instagram is that after you make a post, you have the option of copying the post to Twitter and Facebook. You will automatically be given this option, which makes it so easy to cross-post. Many people are present on multiple platforms, but as you likely already know: it’s a huge pain to remember to post to each of them. Instagram allows you to do it seamlessly.

There is a caveat to this, however. The photo and associated comments you post to Instagram show up exactly as you posted them in Facebook. In Twitter, it shows up as a link back to Instagram. The chances of someone actually clicking on this link are small. But if you don’t care that much about Twitter and just want to stay relevant, it’s fine.

How is Instagram Different from Twitter or Facebook?

Instagram is quite different from Twitter and Facebook. To me, Twitter is about timely news and witty repartee. Facebook is mostly vacation and kid pictures and unfortunately, links to crazy news stories. Instagram is pictures and videos—it’s totally a visual platform. It also doesn’t allow you to share links. You can type out a website in your caption to a picture, but Instagram will not link to that webpage. Someone would have to cut and paste to go to it.

The other big difference is that Twitter and Facebook store your posts sequentially. When someone clicks on your page, they have to scroll back through to see what you posted over time. If you posted something a year ago, they could find it, but it would take forever to get to it.

Not so with Instagram. Instagram curates all of your photos in one place, which is basically your home page. It’s like a gallery. When someone clicks on your Instagram, they’ll see all of your pictures together at once. Even on the relatively small screen of a smart phone, your last 20 or so posts are visible. In one glance they will get an idea of who you are and what is important to you. This means you need to put thought and effort into styling the images you use.

I just looked at an author’s Instagram, and I saw about five pictures of food, a few of a dog, and a couple of nature. In about two seconds I got an idea of what that person’s about. I recommend browsing Instagram to get a sense of how quickly you’ll make a snap judgment, and then apply the lessons you learn to your own account. Bottom line: plan those images carefully!

What is an Instagram Story?

Our 20-year-old babysitter loves Snapchat because that platform has an option to post things that then disappear in 24 hours. As she puts it, she feels like she can be her most authentic self (even when that self is sarcastic or snarky) because it’s not “forever.” Since Snapchat is most popular with the youngest users and Instagram appeals to a similar demographic, they included a feature like that. That feature is called an Instagram Story.

The difference between an Instagram Story and “regular” Instagram is that your regular pictures are curated in the gallery I already described. Anything posted to your “story” will not go to that gallery and will instead expire and disappear after 24 hours.

You’d choose to use a story if you wanted to post a less-than-beautiful picture or wanted to get a message out there that you didn’t necessarily want to last forever. Frankly it’s a great way to keep up those “touches” with your followers without cropping, filtering, and beautifying your snapshots.

Get with #Hashtags

Instagram has started allowing people to search for their favorite hashtags. Hashtags are basically search terms, so if you write mystery books, make sure you include #mystery or #mysterywriter or #mysterybook or whatever other term people might use to find such a thing. A good way to identify useful hashtags is to experiment with them. When you find your people or audience, use those.

What Do I Post?

Post images that reflect your work, yourself, and your values. If you love cats, post about your cat. Hashtag it with #cuddlykitty or #angrycat or whatever describes it best. If you write mystery, you can’t just keep reposting images of your book cover, so get creative. Post creepy pictures from around your town. Post spooky quotes. As with any platform, stay on brand.

Brand is the topic of the post but also how it appears. Experiment with various filters and consider getting a photo editing app to make your pictures look cool. It’s all about the look, so spend a few minutes on it. Look at other people’s posts and see what you like. All photo need to be a 1:1 ratio, and an app will help you resize too.

Learning a new platform is always hard work, but it’s an important and cost-effective way to find your audience.

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About Author

Mary is a young adult writer and archaeologist. By day she teaches at a local college, and by night she writes about the adventures of adolescence.

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