How to Use Instagram: A Beginner’s Guide [Expert Insights + New Data]

How to Use Instagram: A Beginner’s Guide [Expert Insights + New Data]

I fully admit I’m terminally uncool. But as a marketer, I can’t let my lack of swag (rizz? drip?) be an excuse for being behind the times.

Discover how to use Instagram. Image shows Instagram logo and a computer mouse clicking on it.

And with nearly 2 billion users, that means I’ve gotta get on Instagram.

Luckily, I’m surrounded by veteran marketers and social media experts who are teaching me how — and I’m going to pay it forward by sharing their insights with you.

Download Now: Free Instagram for Business Kit + Templates

Together, we’ll learn how to tell the Instagrammars from the Tikkity Toks. First, we’ll cover the basics: what Instagram is and what its purpose is. Then, we’ll dig into how to get started.

Along the way, I’ll share expert quotes and data-backed tips that’ll have you posting like a pro.

But I won’t be offended if you jump straight to the part you need:

Instagram — IG or Insta, for people cooler than me — was once a photo-sharing social platform.

Back then, “Do it for the ‘gram” was a common saying, which meant, essentially, “Do something fun/funny/risky so we can take a picture and post it to Instagram.”

Since then, Instagram has become a full-fledged visual platform, with a heavier emphasis on video. (And “Do it for the ‘gram” has apparently fallen out of style.)

If you’re not part of the one billion users on Instagram, you might want to reconsider. The app is a great chance to stay a part of friends’ lives. Plus, you can follow your favorite celebrities or political figures to see candid photos of their everyday lives.

For brands, it’s a phenomenal platform for connecting with your audience — for instance, Nike uses the Instagram Stories feature to promote inspirational athlete stories you won’t find anywhere else.

What is the purpose of Instagram?

“Personally, I use it to share select updates about my life with friends and family, share memes, and find inspiration for everything from recipes to fashion to travel,” says Emily Kearns, HubSpot’s Senior Manager of Brand Social.

Emily’s part of the team that blew up HubSpot’s LinkedIn presence by 84% in just six months, so I trust her word.

“It’s also increasingly used as a place to get news, learn about current events, and follow along in real-time for things like red carpets,” she adds.

For brands and marketers, the purpose is to get in front of millions of highly engaged viewers.

“Instagram presences are used to build and communicate a brand narrative and to connect with lovers of the brand,” Kearns says. “It can be used for a lot of things from driving awareness of a new product to driving conversions with specific targeted placements.”

But don’t think of it as simply blasting ads to passive viewers. Smart brands are creating legions of loyal fans who spread that love.

“There has been a huge shift recently where brands are focusing more on building a community through relatable and entertaining content,” says Reece Callaway, an Associate Manager on that same social dream team.

I was surprised and delighted by how easy it was to get started. Since I already had a Facebook account, signing up for IG only took a few clicks.

When you’re ready to sign up for Instagram, follow these steps below:

  1. Go to the Instagram site on your desktop, or download the Instagram app from the App Store (iPhone) or Google Play Store (Android).
  2. If you’re on desktop, click “Log in with Facebook”, or fill in the form with your mobile number or email, name, username, and password. Then click “Sign up”.
  3. On Android, click “Sign Up With Email or Phone Number”.
  4. On iPhone, select “Sign Up”.
  5. Enter your email address or phone number, then click “Next”. Alternatively, you can sign up with your Facebook account.
  6. Once you’ve filled out your username and password, you will be instructed to fill out your profile info. Then, tap “Done”.
  7. If you register with Facebook, you’ll need to log into your Facebook account if you’re currently logged out.

How to Use Instagram

As a user, you just start following accounts that post things that interest you. You can also post things you find interesting, and others will follow you. (I’ll show you how to do both in a minute.)

“I use it to show some of the cool trips and adventures I go on with my friends and family!” says Reece Callaway.

As a business, your job is to start consistently posting the type of engaging content that your ideal audience wants to see.

What is the purpose of Instagram?

What exactly does that mean? That depends on your marketing goals…. and your audience.

To get a taste of different strategies, Callaway recommends checking out the accounts for Pretty Little Marketer, McLaren Racing, and Aesop skincare.

“They all understand their brand and what the users want from them,” he explains. “They nail it with every post in their own unique way.”

Instagram Navigation

Each time you open the app, you’ll be presented with a feed of content from the accounts you follow. On the bottom of your screen, you’ll find the main menu bar. Here’s what each of the icons mean and how to use them.

Instagram navigation buttons

Home: The home button takes you to your main feed. It’s located on the far left and you can click it no matter where you are in the app.

Search: Pressing this magnifying glass button takes you to Instagram’s explore page where you can search accounts and hashtags. You can also browse content from accounts you don’t follow, but have been suggested based on your current likes and similar content you’ve viewed.

Reels: This clapperboard symbol is the reels icon. When you click it, you’ll be taken to the reels page where you can watch short-form content.

Messenger: The word bubble with a lightning bolt takes you to the messenger app. Here you can send messages, pics, and videos directly to other users. (If you’ve heard the phrase “sliding into DMs,” this is where you do that.)

Profile: This icon on the far right should be a small circle with your profile photo. Hitting this button directs you to your main profile page where you can see all of your posts, follower information and reels.

At the top right corner, you’ll see two more icons:

New Post: Pressing the “ + “ symbol in the center of the menu you can create a new post, story, reel, or go live.

Heart: The heart brings you to your notifications. Here, you’ll get a heads up about who is interacting with your content or account. We’ll get deeper into that a little later.

Now that you have a better understanding of the app’s interface, let’s look at how to create an Instagram profile.

How to Create an Instagram Account

Once you’ve downloaded the app and completed the signup process, it’s time to create a profile.

As you can see, I’ve still got to set up my profile. Knowing what to say about yourself or your brand can be intimidating, so you might be tempted to skip this step.

DON’T. SKIP. THIS. STEP.

Instagram Profile

“An IG page is oftentimes one of the first touch points for a consumer,” says Kearns. “So it’s critical that what they’re seeing reflects how you want your brand to be perceived. First impressions matter!”

Your Instagram profile acts as the main hub for all posts, reels, stories, and videos. This is also the space where you can access your settings and account information as well as keep track of your followers and those you’re following.

Note: If you have an Android, these instructions may vary slightly.

Add or Edit Your Profile Picture

  1. Tap your profile picture on the top left to go to your profile.
  2. Tap “Edit Profile.”
  3. Tap “Change profile photo.”
  4. Click “Upload Photo,” then select your picture to import.

Add a Bio

  1. Click your profile picture on the left to go to your profile.
  2. Click “Edit Profile” at the top of the screen, then click the text box next to “Bio.”
  3. Write your bio.
  4. Click “Submit” to save your changes.

Add a Website

Adding your online presence to your Instagram page, like your website or blog, can significantly boost your brand’s visibility and engagement.

  1. Tap the profile symbol or your profile picture in the bottom right to go to your profile.
  2. Tap “Edit Profile” at the top of the screen.
  3. Tap “Links,” then tap “Add external link” to add the URL for your website.
  4. Tap “Done.” You can also remove a link by tapping on the link and then tapping “Remove Link.”
  5. Tap “Back” (<), then tap “Done” to save your changes.

If you plan on using Instagram for business, you’ll definitely want to make use of the bio and website sections to help potential customers learn more about your brand.

How do Instagram notifications work?

If you’re like me and get easily distracted (or overwhelmed) by social media, you’ll want to adjust your notifications so you only receive the info that you want.

For instance, you can choose to receive notifications when you get likes from anyone — or you might decide to only receive notifications when you get a like from someone you follow.

Or, like me, you might turn off notifications for likes altogether.

To give you a warning, there are a lot of categories of notifications.

Here’s an official list of what you might get pinged about:

  • Likes and Comments on Photos of You
  • Comments
  • Comment Likes and Pins
  • Comment Daily Digest
  • First Posts and Stories
  • Notes
  • Add to Post Submissions
  • Added to Post
  • Mention Requests
  • New Followers
  • Accepted Follow Requests
  • Account suggestions
  • Mentions in Bio
  • Message Requests
  • Messages from Individual and Group Chats
  • Message Reminders
  • Group Requests
  • Broadcast Channel Invites
  • Broadcast Channel Messages
  • Original Audio
  • Remixes
  • Live Videos
  • Recently Uploaded Reels
  • Most Watched Reels
  • Add Yours
  • Reels Made for You
  • Your Fundraisers
  • Fundraisers by Others
  • Reminders
  • Product Announcements & Feedback
  • Support Requests
  • Trending Places
  • Birthdays

If you got bored and scrolled past all that, I get it. Me, too.

You can set any of those to “Off”, “From People I Follow”, or “From Everyone.”

Pro Tip for Users: A good idea is to start with “From Everyone” and then turn off the notifications that annoy you.

Pro Tip for Marketers: If you don’t want to sift through a jillion notifications a day, a social media management tool (like the one in Marketing Hub) will stop you from wanting to pull your hair out.

And, as an added bonus, the keyword monitoring feature means you’ll never miss a mention— even if it doesn’t hit your notifications.

To customize which notifications you receive, follow these steps:

1. Open up the Instagram app on your phone.

First up, open up the Instagram app on your mobile device. (You can also access Instagram on desktop if you prefer.)

Then, head to your profile by clicking the image of your profile picture on the bottom right.

instagram profile button

2. Access “Settings.”

After you arrive at your profile, click on the gear icon in the top left corner.

instagram gear icon

3. Tap “Notifications.”

On the next screen, click “Notifications.”

instagram notifications

From here, you can choose between your “Push notifications” and “Email notifications.”

instagram push notifications

Pro Tip: A “push notification” is a message that pops up in the app or on your phone.

4. Check off the notifications you want to receive.

Here, you’ll be able to change the notification settings for every category in that huge laundry list from above.

You also have the ability to pause all notifications by toggling the Pause All option up top.

The options will vary depending on category.

How to Upload, Edit, and Post an Image

Now, for the most important part of Instagram — how to upload and post an image.

Before you jump in: If you’re already familiar with Facebook or Twitter, you need to know that Instagram has a very different type of behavior and etiquette.

On Facebook, you might choose to post 100 photos on an album. On Instagram, you need to be choosier about which photos you post.

There are a few reasons for this — first, you don’t want to post more than once a day (typically). And second, you don’t want to post too many similar photos.

For instance, it would be odd for you to post fifty photos from the same beach vacation on IG. Instead, you might choose the best five or six, and place them all within the same post.

(These are called carousel posts, and they allow you to share multiple photos in one post only. Carousel posts are awesome for posting similar pictures in one package while keeping your overall profile aesthetic diverse.)

Curious about creating an aesthetic? To learn more about Instagram account themes and get inspiration, take a look at these Instagram themes. Additionally, if you want to embark on a deep-dive, you can take HubSpot’s Instagram Marketing Course.

Now that we’ve covered that, let’s explore how to upload, edit, and post an image.

1. Click the “+” icon at the top-right hand corner.

When you tap the “+” icon, you’ll be prompted to choose the type of post you want to share. Since we want to publish a post directly on our profile feed, tap “Post.”

instagram plus icon

2. Choose your media file.

Here, you have three options. You can look through your Photos library on your phone, you can take a new picture from right within Instagram, or you can take a new video. For our purposes, I looked through my Photos library and found a picture of Boston I wanted to use. Then, I clicked “Next” in the top right.

how to upload an image to instagram: choose media

3. Add filters if desired.

There are two categories you can use to edit your image — “Filter” and “Edit”. Instagram automatically shows you filters first. You can scroll through the carousel and click any of the filters to apply it to your image.

Additionally, if you want to use a filter but you want to tone it down, double tap the filter and move the cursor to the left to lessen the intensity of the filter.

how to upload an image to instagram: add filters

4. Edit your image if desired.

Next, click “Edit”. Here, you can adjust contrast, brightness, structure, warmth, and more. When you’re happy with your edited image, or if you don’t want to edit it at all, click “Next” in the top right.

how to upload an image to instagram: edit image

5. Write a caption and toggle sharing settings.

Now, you can add a caption, tag people (you can only tag someone if they also have an Instagram account), and add a location. Additionally, click the button beside Facebook or another linked social media account to share your image on that platform, as well. When you’re ready to publish, click “Share” in the top right.

how to upload an image to instagram: add caption

If you don’t want to use your app to post on Instagram, you can also do so from your computer. Learn how to post to Instagram from a Mac or PC here.

How to Upload an Image or Video to Your Stories

Instagram Stories is a feature that allows you to post videos or images that disappear after 24-hours.

Why would you want that? It can encourage highly engaged fans to keep returning to your IG page.

Its very similar to Snapchat in terms of content — users often post more casual and candid videos and images, offering glimpses into their every day lives.

For instance, on your normal feed, you might post a heavily-edited picture of yourself and friends at a baseball game. But you might post a more candid video to your Story of the stadium singing “Sweet Caroline”.

To learn how to upload an image or video to your Stories, follow these steps:

1. Tap your profile picture in the upper left-hand corner.

Alternatively, swipe right on your feed or tap the “+” button in the top navigation bar.

instagram stories

2. Capture or add your media.

Once you’re within the Stories feature, you can take a picture or video right from within the app. Alternatively, if you have an image saved to your phone that you’d like to use, you can choose it from your media library.

how to upload a story to instagram: capture media

3. Add stickers or filters.

On the left-hand side, you have a few different editing features.

The “Create” button lets you add a location, hashtag, time, date, and other fun images or emojis to your picture.

how to upload a story to instagram: add stickers and filters

The “Boomerang” option allows you to create a looping video. And the “Aa” icon is your text button. Once you click “Aa”, you have the option to change your font.

If you click the smiley face icon, you’ll see the following screen. Simply click on one of the icons to add them to your image. If you don’t like it, drag it to the bottom, and a trash can will appear so you can delete it.

how to upload a story to instagram: add poll

For instance, I clicked the smiley face icon to add a poll to my image. You can also swipe to the left or right to add filters to your photo or video.

4. Publish your Story.

Once you’re happy with your content, you can either click the white arrow icon in the bottom right, which allows you to share your Story with everyone who follows you, or select “Close Friends” first, so that only your close friends see it.

Then you’re done! Your Story is immediately live.

How to Follow on Instagram

It’s incredibly easy to find and follow users. If you know who you want to follow, just use the search feature to look for celebrities, brands, or friends.

Or if you know what type of content you want to find, but aren’t sure who posts it, you can search for “tags.”

For instance, if you search “#familyrecipes” under tags, your results will include any images with that hashtag.

As you scroll, you might find someone who posts content you really like, and you can choose to follow them so their content appears on your feed.

I instantly fell in love with Dog.Derp.of.the.Day, so that was my second follow (after my wife.)

To follow someone, follow these three easy steps.

1. Click on the search icon at the bottom of your screen.

It looks like a magnifying glass and will be right next to the “Home” button.

instagram search icon

2. Next, type in a person, brand, or topic.

For this example, because I love derpy dogs, I searched the topic “dog derps.”

instagram search

Instagram allows you to either search all posts that contain combinations of those words, or “See all results” and see tags and places.

3. Tap the account you’re interested in following.

Once you’re on someone else’s account, you’ll see a blue “Follow” button at the top.

For public profiles, you can click and immediately begin following that account. However, if the profile is private, you may need to wait for them to accept you first.

instagram follow button

Can you connect to Instagram to other social accounts?

Yes, you can connect Instagram to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Does that mean you can save time by pumping out the same content on every platform?

Uh… not so fast.

“In an ideal world, content across all of your brand’s individual social platforms are bespoke for different platforms to align with platform user behavior,” says Emily Kearns.

In other words, what works on Instagram might not land with a Threads audience. So what’s the point of connecting accounts?

“Connecting IG to other accounts allows for cross-promotion so a user can get a holistic view of how you’re presenting your brand differently across different channels,” Kearns explains.

“This helps users be able to follow your content wherever they go,” adds Callaway. “I constantly find myself switching between social apps throughout the day. Linking your other accounts to your IG can be a great way for users to find your brand on the other platforms they enjoy.”

How to Connect Instagram to Other Social Accounts

Since IG and Facebook are both Meta products, you can choose to automatically share your posts to both platforms at the same time. (I’ll show you how in just a moment.)

Otherwise, you’ll need to cross-post on a per-post basis.

Meta seems to change the process almost monthly, but here’s how you currently accomplish that:

1. Tap on your profile picture in the bottom right.

2. Tap the gear icon in the top left.

3. Tap “See more in Accounts Center”

instagram account center

4. Tap “Connected experiences”

instagram connected experiences

5. Tap “Sharing across profiles”

instagram sharing across profiles

6. Select the account you want to connect.

7. Select the account to “Share from” and then the account to “Share To”

8. Select the type of posts to automatically share.

Once you’ve connected your accounts for one post, you can then toggle the sharing options for any new posts without needing to sign in again.

If you connect Instagram to Facebook, you can share your Stories across both accounts. We talk more about how to do that below.

How to Connect Instagram to Facebook

Since Instagram and Facebook are owned by the same company (Meta) you can connect the two accounts for a more seamless experience.

Connecting your Instagram and Facebook accounts allows you to:

  • Share Stories across both Instagram and Facebook
  • Login with Facebook into Instagram
  • Sync your profile name and picture across both profiles
  • Use Facebook Pay on both platforms
  • Access your shopping activity on both accounts

If you’re a frequent Facebook user, then connecting your account to your new Instagram profile is highly recommended.

Here’s how:

1. Open up your Instagram app.

2. Click on your profile picture on the bottom right-hand corner.

3. Click the hamburger menu on the top right-hand corner.

4. Tap “Settings.”

5. Under the Meta logo, tap “Accounts Center.”

how to connect facebook to instagram: tap account center in settings

6. Tap “Set up Accounts Center.”

how to connect facebook to instagram: click set up accounts center

7. Follow the prompts to log in into Facebook.

Done! Your two accounts are now connected. Here’s how it’ll look like once you’re finished:

how to connect facebook to instagram: final result

Pro Tip: Some users report that automatically sharing IG content to FB can be buggy. For example, the background music might not transfer across both platforms.

You can get around this by sharing posts individually, instead of automatically.

And that’s it! You’re on your way to becoming a pro.

To take your account to the next level, here are some tips we’ve learned from our suvey of nearly 700 IG pros.

Data-Backed Instagram Tips

Here are four tips from a Q1 HubSpot Blog survey of nearly 700 global Instagram marketers:

  • Timing is everything. Over 50% of marketers say that Friday is the best day for engagement. While you can post every day, save your best content for Friday.
  • Pop those Tags. The majority of marketers used 10-15 hashtags on a given post. Be sure to choose tags that are relevant to your product, but also likely to be searched.
  • Flaunt it if you got it. 36.9% of marketers report that showcasing products and services gets the most engagement out of their posts.Don’t be afraid to promote your products!
  • Consider bang for your buck. While marketers overwhelmingly chose videos as the format that gets the most views and likes, it was standard image posts that got the most shares and comments. And given the high effort of making high-quality videos, 26% of marketers pointed to images as having the highest ROI.

Instagram FAQs

Can I get on Instagram without creating an account?

You can browse Instagram with limited functionality for a short time without an account.

After a while, you’ll be prompted to log in before you can continue.

What devices work with Instagram?

The Instagram app will work on any device with iOS, Android, or Windows 10. The Instagram website can be used from any device that can access the web.

What’s an Instagram handle?

An Instagram handle is your username. For businesses, this should be directly related to your brand name so that your customers can find you.

For example, HubSpot’s handle is simply @hubspot.

What’s an Influencer?

An influencer is anyone with an audience. Just like you would trust a friend’s recommendations, influencers can impact others’ opinions through their established relationship.

The larger their audience, the more valuable an influencer can be to a marketing campaign.

What’s an Instagram Reel?

A Reel is a short video shared on Instagram, typically between 15-90 seconds.

What’s an Instagram Story?

An Instagram Story is a photo or short video that disappears after 24 hours.

Using Instagram is Key for Growing Your Personal Brand

If you want to grow both professionally and personally, then using Instagram is more important than ever. You can start by observing first and learning about Instagram’s algorithm, then begin posting as you learn your way around the user interface. With over one billion users, Instagram is an extremely worthwhile social media platform to join — and it’s only set to keep growing as time goes on.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in November 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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