Are you on Instagram?
I love Instagram for academics. Instagram has been around since 2010 now. And during that time, we’ve seen some major changes to the visual-based social media platform.
Right now, 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, and my life is all about how a strong digital identity can support and empower faculty and researchers like you. I share articles and interviews here each month.
This is my quick introduction to why you as graduate students, faculty, and researchers should consider joining Instagram. And, why Instagram is a great place to share your work.
Updated October 2020.
Instagram is a great social media platform for academics and researchers
And there are more than a few reasons for it. The most important is that Instagram has higher engagement rates that the other main social media platforms (like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn). I mention this in my free course on managing your online presence.
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
- and direct messages.
So 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.
You don’t need to be a photographer to be on Instagram
Here’s the good news: you don’t have to be an expert photographer to be on Instagram. Or even a great photographer.
One of the most popular types of content right now is snapshots from your cell phone.
For academics and researchers, here are some of the things I see most:
- 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)
I chose these examples because they’re all easy things to take a quick snapshot of with your phone.
You don’t need to learn Photoshop, or even use filters.
Your shots do not need to be pretty or uniform. In fact, 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?
Crafting a good Instagram post, does have a few components. To do it right takes a bit more time than perhaps the other platforms.
Here are a few things to get started.
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
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.
Communicate who you are with your Instagram profile
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.
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:
- direct message
- stories interactions (i.e. answer a poll, ask a Question)
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.
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.
Which social media platforms are you on? Here’s my breakdown of social networks to consider.
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Jennifer van Alstyne is a Peruvian-American poet and public relations consultant. She founded The Academic Designer, LLC to help academics, researchers, and writers control their online presence and share their work with the world.
She holds a B.A. from Monmouth University in English, and an M.F.A. from Naropa University in Writing & Poetics where she was the Jack Kerouac Fellow. Jennifer also holds an M.A. from University of Louisiana at Lafayette in Literature and Cultural Studies where she was one of four master’s fellows and a finalist for the Outstanding Master’s Graduate Award.