New features of Instagram, and how to use them.

Nancy and I are both only moderate users of social media, enough to stay in touch with and ‘follow’ people in our lives, but the platforms we know keep changing.  Curious about the new choices and how to use them, we have enlisted millennial guest writer, Paige Host, to be our guide.  Here is the first of Paige’s two-part series full of advice on how to make the most of social media.  Nancy and I enjoy Instagram and Paige posts regularly, so she begins there.

Paige Host’s Guide to Instagram

Embarking on social media platforms is daunting, to say the least. At the ripe age of 29, I have been entrenched on social media for over 15 years and one would think I have mastered the craft, but that is simply not the case because the platforms keep changing – and  I don’t particularly enjoy the constant consumption. The only two platforms I partake in, if you count checking birthdays as ‘partaking’, are Instagram and Facebook. Just having those two can be a doozy.

Instagram is appealing to those of us who are visual, with shared images and short videos. It has worked and reworked its platform and displays a dozen times since I joined in 2014. This newest one is a bit of a maze, so I will try to explain the best route. There are some visual changes, but generally Instagram hasn’t shifted all that much.

The bottom panel now holds five icons that represent home, search, reels, shopping, and profile.

  • The home screen has not changed a great deal and it houses your feed of new posts and stories from people you follow, which I will get into a bit later.
  • The search function is the same as well, and allows you to look up accounts, tags, and places. Instagram has suggested search options underneath the search bar. In the top right corner of the search page, you can scan a QR code. A QR code, or “Quick Response” code, is a white and black square that smartphone cameras can scan and gather information.

They can be used when walking past a store, looking up a restaurant, or product in order to see the details, pricing, hours, basic information, etc. of the business or product. Many restaurants are using QR codes in lieu of menus during the pandemic, but I didn’t know QR codes could be used for so many other reasons; I see those funky black and white squares everywhere, so we’re all learning here!

  • Reels are a very new addition so brace yourself. I’m sure everyone has heard of the Chinese app TikTok and the commotion it is causing on the global stage. Reels are Instagram’s competitor to TikTok’s booming short video platform. TikTok has a one-minute time limit, whereas Reels have a 15 second limit. Beware of going down a rabbit hole, watching Reels of baby kangaroos in Australia trying to hop for the first time!
  • The shopping tab is dangerous. Like all social media platforms, Instagram in particular has an uncanny algorithm that uses your microphone, location, and keystrokes to determine items and topics that may be of interest to you. The Shopping tab embodies all of the algorithm’s findings and previous data gathered. Under the search bar in the Shopping tab, you will find easy searches: Browse Shops, Editors’ Picks: Gifts, Buy on Instagram, Shop Collections, and Explore Guides. My Shopping page includes ADAY (one of my favorite sustainable brands!), Kemi Designs (my old neighbor who is a wonderful jewelry designer), Keep Nature Wild (because I am an avid tree-hugger, nature enthusiast and green proponent, and a lot of wedding doings!
  • The profile tab, is pretty simple. This is where all of your posts, posts you are tagged in, and your saved stories are held. You can create your own byline, change profile picture, etc.

The top panel has the Instagram name to the left and to the right, it has three more familiar logos: the plus, heart, and arrow. The three logos in the top right used to live on the bottom panel, but have moved with the times and the update. The plus sign allows you to add a post, the heart is where you get notifications of likes, tags, and follow requests, and the messenger arrow is where people can send you direct messages or posts and vice versa.

Now onto something that is confusing for many: the difference between stories and posts. As mentioned earlier, your home page is where you can see posts from people you follow and stories. The posts, usually a single image, are where they have always been, showing up in your feed in an order that is determined by the algorithm. The little bubbles that are at the top of your home page are stories.

  • Posts are permanent and they were what initially made Instagram so successful. They consist of artsy images, nostalgic memories, calls for activism, or just a delightful photo you want to share with your followers.
  • Stories are temporary. They came out in 2016 and are a competitor with another app, Snapchat. Like Snapchat, they disappear, but unlike Snapchat, the disappearing happens after 24 hours. Another difference between Instagram Stories and Snapchat if that you can save a story you really like in your highlights for people to view permanently.

This is the account panel; it’s in the top right corner. If you press on the three lines, it will bring you to your settings, archive, QR code, saved posts, etc. The archive is where all of your stories, expired and current, live.

  • To do so, you can go to the story you want to save, before the 24-hour mark—or go hunting in your stories archive located in your account panel—you press the heart button in the bottom pane. This will save it to the highlight of your choice, either a new one or an old collection.
  • On my profile for example, I have highlights from Nature—as mentioned before I’m an avid tree-hugger living in the concrete jungle, so any and all time in nature is a highlight of life for me. I also have Wandering that started as one story two years ago of my fiancé and my wandering through Central Park and has evolved into some photos of our feet on various beaches, me holding 150+ voter registration postcards, my mama and me before a winter walk, etc. and then two days that were wonderful; the adventures of NYC vintage bookstores and a waterfall in New Zealand. The highlights can be whatever you want them to be, as elaborate or simple, or nonexistent!

  • One more piece on stories, when you are about to add a story, you can select if it goes to Instagram and Facebook. Once you decide, Instagram saves your preference for future stories. More on Facebook in my next post

There is an overwhelming amount of content on the web, but you can find some really fun things if you follow a few good accounts. This New Yorker article highlights the best of the New Yorker cartoons of 2020 – which you can follow with your newfound Instagram skills. New Yorker Article on Cartoons 2020

Instagram app from Google

Get the Instagram App for Windows from Google Play.

Instagram for Apple

Get the Instagram App for Apple devices.