A Guide to Instagram for Academics

You can share your research on Instagram

Professors and scientists don’t always think about Instagram when considering social media networks. Instagram is a great place for academics to talk about their research.

This is my quick introduction to why you as graduate students, faculty, and scientists should consider joining Instagram. Instagram is a great place to share your work.

  • Why Instagram can be great for professors and graduate students
  • 5 more reasons you should consider Instagram
  • You don’t need to be a photographer, and other things that might be holding you back
  • 3 things to help you write better Instagram posts
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Instagram has been around since 2010. Since then, we’ve seen some major changes to the visual-based social media platform. Instagram is testing hiding the like count in an effort to make your experience more enjoyable. Maybe one day it will be permanent. Recently we’ve seen the introduction of stories, and now Instagram Reels.

Welcome to The Social Academic, my blog about your online presence in the HigherEd world. I’m Jennifer van Alstyne.

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Instagram is great for graduate students, professors, and scientists

A woman holds a phone while resting her arms on a desk with a keyboard and an open binder. On the phone screen is an Instagram post with Jennifer van Alstyne

Instagram is a great platform for academics. The main reason is that Instagram has higher engagement rates that the other main social media platforms (like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn).

What does a higher engagement rate mean? Well the way engagement is calculated is by the percentage of people who see your post who engage with it. Engagement is calculated differently on each platform. But for Instagram posts, it’s generally

  • likes
  • comments
  • shares
  • bookmarks
  • and direct messages.

On Instagram, when you share content, more of the people who view that post are likely to engage with it than they would be on other platforms.

5 more reasons you should consider Instagram

  • Instagram has more active users than Twitter.
  • This image centered platform captures the attention of experts and non-experts.
  • Hashtags are followable, which means it is easy to track and keep up with a particular group, interest, or type of person.
  • Instagram captions allow up to 2,200 characters and 30 hashtags.
  • You can now mute accounts you don’t want to see without unfollowing them.

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You don’t need to be a photographer to be on Instagram


Here’s the good news: you don’t have to be a great photographer to be on Instagram. Or even a good photographer. One of the most popular types of content right now is snapshots from your cell phone.

Here are 3 things that might have been holding you back from joining Instagram:

  • You don’t have time to spend on photos
  • You don’t need to learn how to edit photos
  • You don’t need pretty or uniform shots

You don’t have to spend a lot of time on photography for Instagram

For academics and researchers, here are the types of posts I see on Instagram. I chose these examples because they’re all easy things to take a quick snapshot of with your phone.

  • Work photos (desk, books, papers, fieldwork, in the lab, teaching in front of a classroom, photo of open laptop or computer, screenshot of phone or computer screen)
  • Celebration photos (graduation, holding an award, at a presentation)
  • Anxiety photos (i.e. studying for comprehensive exams: pile of books and papers)
  • Travel photos (photo of suitcase, conference badge, airplanes)

You don’t need to learn Photoshop, or even use filters

When people join Instagram, they sometimes feel they need to use

  • filters
  • photo editing apps
  • retouching

When you think of Instagram, these things may come to mind. But you should never feel like you should use them. You can! But you definitely don’t have to.

Instagram has built-in filters you can choose from. When I first started using Instagram, I enjoyed filters. Now, I rarely use them. It’s not that filters don’t look good, you may prefer the aesthetic.

For me, thinking about filters or photo editing is more work than I want to spend on my social media. I’m skilled at photography and photo editing, but do I want to think about that when writing a post? Most of the time, no.

My guess is you don’t have time to worry about that either. When in doubt, go #NoFilter.

Your shots do not need to be pretty or uniform

Preferred aesthetic on Instagram is moving away from the cookie-cutter branded profile, to ones that are more authentic.

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What makes a good Instagram post?

Researchers and scholars are turning to Instagram to share their work

What does a good post on Instagram look like? Here are 3 things to consider:

  • Who are you writing to?
  • Tell a story in the post caption
  • Use hashtags to reach more people

Crafting a good Instagram post, does have a few components. To do it right takes a bit more time than perhaps the other platforms.

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Before you post, think about who you’re writing to

Remember that you’re not sending this out into a void, you’re sharing this post with real people who want to engage with you.

That’s why they have taken time to check out your profile, and decided to give you a follow.

It’s a good idea to consider your audience before you post on Instagram.

Tell a story in the post caption

While there are some photographers who can share an image without a caption (their photo speaks for itself), the same cannot be said for most Instagram posters.

Short and long captions alike should relate to the photo you post. And, those captions should be easy to read.

I most recommend using the caption area to tell a story.

A picture does not speak a thousand words. Especially if you’re using it to explain a component of your work, research, or teaching.

Telling a story about your work helps bring people in. It encourages community. It invites questions.

A good Insta post uses hashtags to reach more people

You can use up to 30 hashtags in an Instagram post. And up to 10 hashtags in Instagram stories.

I talk more about hashtags here, as well as some great ways you can engage your audience and build your community.

But as a general rule, keep all your hashtags at the bottom of your post. Or, you can place them in the 1st comment. This is to make it easy to read. And, this helps make your Instagram post accessible for screen readers.

Hashtags will help people interested in specific topics connect with your work. And, it helps share your post beyond your current audience.

You don’t need hashtags on every post, but if you’re looking to reach new people this is the way to go.

3 tips to communicate who you are with your Instagram profile

Text: This is who I am

Posts are great. You should post on Instagram if you join. But first, let’s talk about your Instagram profile.

For most people, deciding whether to engage with someone depends on who they are. Sometimes we meet people in person we connect with on social media. That’s an easier decision: we’ve met them in real life.

But what about people who come across your profile on Instagram. Say, you used the hashtag #ScientistsWhoSelfie or #ProfessorSelfie, and someone in your field at another institution checks out your profile.

Well, having a clear profile that shares who you are, and what someone can expect from the content you share is the best way to grow an engaged community.

Here are my getting started tips for an awesome Instagram profile as an academic or researcher.

  • handle
  • bio
  • profile photo

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Your Instagram handle

Your Instagram @handle or username is important because it’s what most people see when you interact with them. Here are a few examples of types of engagement you can have on Instagram:

  • comment
  • like
  • post
  • direct message
  • stories interactions (i.e. answer a poll, ask a Question)
  • 2022 update: you can now like/heart stories on Instagram!

So for your handle, you should use something recognizable. Like a shortened version of your name. For instance, my personal account is Jennifer van Alstyne, @JenVanAlstyne.

If you have other social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), I highly suggest you use the same handle on all platforms.

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A bio that communicates what you’re all about

Tell people who you are, not just what you like.

Sometimes I see profiles with a list of likes in their profile, like: “Loves books, cats, and travel.” While it’s nice that you like those things, it doesn’t help me necessarily with my decision to follow or not follow you.

Remember, people follow other people. Social media is about actually engaging with other people and the content they share.

My top tip for your Instagram profile is to really share who you are.

Tell people what you’re all about and what they can expect from following you.

A personable photo for your profile

Your photo should be something personable, or approachable.

And, a selfie is 100% okay.

What works best is a photo of your smiling face.

If you have other social media profiles, use the same profile image across all accounts. And, that’s the image you want to use for your website, if you have a publicity request, any of that. Use the same photo.

Get help with social media

Social media is an effective way to manage your online presence. Want to learn how to use social media for academics? Join my online course.

Or, work with Jennifer on your social media through 1:1 services.

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Jennifer van Alstyne View All →

Jennifer van Alstyne is a Peruvian-American poet and communications consultant. She founded The Academic Designer, LLC to help professors, researchers, and graduate students manage their online presence. Jennifer’s goal is to help people share their work with the world.

Check out her personal site at https://jennifervanalstyne
or learn more about the services she offers at https://theacademicdesigner.com