One of the things I always hear from writers who want to dump Twitter when Instagram is suggested, “I’m a word person. I don’t do visual content.”
When really, that’s their first mistake, in thinking of it as “visual content.” When you say “visual content” you think you have to have a fancy DSLR, frame a shot with good composition and lighting, and engage in high-class production values. That sounds like a lot of work. When you’re tweeting, you’re also producing content, but you don’t think of it as marketing content because you’re tweeting about your day, chatting to your writer friends, or posting your word count.
Instagram is much the same. In fact, professional photographers struggle to use it because it wasn’t set up for professional photographers. You have to practically hack it to get it to work on your desktop. Slick, professional shots don’t do well in the algorithm. Instagram was originally envisioned as a place for friends to share pictures of their day. They didn’t need to be professional “visual content.” Think snaps of your garden, your food, books you’re reading; I use it to hold myself accountable with my new gym habit I’m hoping to form.
Most of all think of your audience. What does your audience consume? Is your audience even on Instagram? Maybe you don’t need it, if your audience isn’t there. Instagram is all about the aesthetics. Memes sometimes work. But snippets don’t play as well here. No one wants to go to your profile and scroll through a grid full of blocky word pictures. They want to see you, even if you’re not a model. I see a lot of nerdy types on Instagram, so don’t think you have to be skinny and hot for your selfies to get attention. If you’re a horror writer, take spooky, moody shots of your street at night, for example. It’s all about the vibes. And you don’t need a fancy camera. You just need your phone, and to hold your hand steady so you take a non-blurry shot.
But some of my grainiest, poorest lit photographs, too, will get more likes, because people respond to the heartfelt caption. Captions are huge too. Instagram is about words as well as visual content. And you can still post your word counts here; just go to Canva, pick a template, and make it pretty. Don’t forget alt text for the visually impaired. Just please make it pretty. Instagram is all about the pretty aesthetics. It’s where you go to relax from the politics, controversy and arguments on Facebook and Twitter, by scrolling through meditation prompts, pictures of the Northern Lights or even hot people.
Reels are also huge; they started as Instagram’s competition to Tiktok. If you’re stuck with reels, just repost your Tiktok videos. It’s part of the culture; lots of people do that and you won’t be looked down on for cross-posting, since Tiktok and Instagram users often are not the same. Posting reels and stories will help you get boosted in the algorithm because you’re using all of the service’s features.
Most of all it works like any other algorithm-based social network. The more you like and comment on other people’s posts and stories, the more visibility you will attain. It’s slower to build on Instagram because people aren’t as interactive as Twitter and its word-based alternatives. But there is an audience who uses Instagram and no other platform. They tend to be Millennial age, because we grew up using Instagram before Facebook bought it, after we got sick of Facebook when all our parents and grandparents joined up for baby pictures.
Just take a look at the #bookstagram tag and see what genres are popular. YA, fantasy, women’s fiction and romance do well on Instagram. Hashtags also help raise visibility but if you use too many you just double up on tags – and your caption will look ugly. Pick a few and make sure to share your latest posts to your stories so people know how to find it.
Thus wraps my top Instagram tips for writers; hope this helps make the platform seem less intimidating.