Is Instagram a useful tool for authors?
It does have its advantages but it also has limitations and drawbacks.
Authors, especially independent (indie) ones, consistently look for ways to get news of their books out to readers. The usual route, beside large paid for publicity campaigns that most indie author cannot afford and author websites and blogs, is social media: Facebook; Twitter; Goodreads; Google Plus; etc. which most will be readily aware of. However, there are others that may be worth considering, Instagram just being one.
Society is now acknowledged to be far more image oriented than previously consequently, it makes sense for authors to consider adding photograph/image orientated sites to their arsenal of publicity and marketing resources. No doubt, as one of the most well known, Pinterest will immediately come to reader’s minds. The topic of Pinterest for Authors has been previously considered.
Though other photograph/image social media sites are available e.g. Snapchat, this discussion is about Instagram. The recommendation to utilise more images for most social media posts is also not under discussion here.
Instagram is a photograph and short video sharing site that is owned by Facebook. It was first established in October 2010 for iOS (Apple) devises. In April 2012 a version for Android devices was developed and released.
The facility is for use with mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.), not computers, though accounts may be managed from a computer. This can have a limiting effect but due to the intended immediacy ethos for the site makes sense.
Caveat: There are a variety of statistical reports available meaning it is not easy to ensure the following figures are entirely accurate. Nevertheless, they do provide a general guide.
Devices: Apparently an even split; 50% iPhone users – 50% Android users.
Gender: 68% Female – 32% Male.
Population: 32% of United States of America (USA) Internet users (equivalent to 28% of USA adults).
Age: (From different sources.) 90% under 35; or 59% 18-29; 33% 30-49.
Education: 23% have college education.
As already stated these figures have been obtained from a variety of sources but, despite the slight differences in numerics, they do provide a good overview. Authors are advised to take these statistics into account when deciding whether to utilise the site and if they do, to use them to understand the type of reader/follower they are likely to encounter.
In September 2017 there were an estimated eight-hundred-million (800,000,000) Instagram users with six-hundred-million (600,000,000) being outside the USA. Authors may therefore see how the site provides a very broad reach.
Four-hundred-million (400,000,000) post images to Instagram.
Three-hundred-and- sixteen-million (316,000,000) post images to Twitter.
One-hundred-million (100,000,000) post images to Pinterest.
What to share
Naturally, as with any social media site, users have varied aims and purposes. However, this discussion is limited to suggestions for authors.
Some consider the site is most suitable for Young Adult; Teen; Young Adult Romance; etc. books. Authors should also bare in mind the general younger age of users.
In addition, there is the fact many readers; author followers; etc. are interested in the author as an individual as well as, hopefully, in their books. The following suggestions, for the types of photograph/image to share, are therefore broken down into three categories: Author Events; Personal Life; Book Information.
- Book signings: Author with pile of books waiting to be signed; Someone requesting their copy of the book be signed, if they agree (IMPORTANT!: Photographs of people must NEVER be shared without their permission).
- Writer conferences: Author at conference centre; Author together with other authors, editors, agents, etc. ensuring permission to publish has been obtained from them.
- Book displays: At book signing; At conference; At book fair; or; On shop shelves.
- Scenery: Places travelled through to get to book signing/conference.
- Route: Map, image or photograph of route taken.
- Reading: Author with a book they are currently reading.
- Inspiration: Things that inspire the author in their life or writing.
- Hobbies: Assuming the author has other interests beside writing.
- Relaxation: Enjoying a cup of tea or coffee; Looking out over a scenic view; etc.
- Quotes: Favourite quotes in image format.
- Home: Family home; Gardens; Territory; etc. (Authors should bare in mind the security issues surrounding the publication of such photographs.)
- Work: Work space; Desk; Writing equipment (computer/pen and pad/notebooks/etc.)
- Cover: An obvious choice. Naturally, front cover but may also consider back cover of paperback edition showing synopsis etc. (May also be utilised for cover reveals of forthcoming book(s).)
- Content: Photographs/images contained within the book, if any.
- Research: Research articles; Resources related to the the book’s content; etc.
- Related: Images, from whatever source, depicting a book’s story/content.
- Pages: Close up of a page or two (e.g. an opening page with first lines to catch attention).
- Quotes: From the book, in image format upon an interesting background.
Note: As with any suggestion lists there is no doubt reader’s will think of other possibilities. The above are simply designed to provide authors with somewhere to start.
Though an image may be interesting and engaging in itself, simply posting it in isolation will rarely be sufficient. The majority of posts will benefit from some sort of enhancement. These need not, nor should they be, excessive or complicated. Some options:
Hashtags (#): Like some other sites e.g. Twitter, Instagram will utilise hashtags to combine related posts and information. These help users find others with similar interests and tastes as well as other comparable posts.
Captions: A simple quirky explanation of the image. Of course, it need not be quirky but authors should aim for something catchy. After all, part of the aim is to attract readers.
Links (URLs): When sharing book related material or something related to a website or blog the author should help the user find the source.
Note: At present, unlike other social media sites, links (urls) placed with an Instagram post are not active (not clickable). Nevertheless, it is still worth including them because, if interested, users may copy and past them into search bars to access the material. Hopefully, Instagram will eventually enhance the feature to enable clickable links.
Trends: As with any other social media site, popular trends often occur. These are normally identified and highlighted by means of hashtags. Provided they can find relevance, authors should consider adding the popular trend hashtag to their post. HOWEVER, relevance is important. Trying to utilise a trend that has no relevance to the post, topic or discussion, simply to gain attention, will quickly get the author identified as a spammer and probably result in them being ostracised.
As with all social media, or any meaningful communication, interaction is paramount. And, as always, that takes time. Authors, well most people these days, are busy people with multiple tasks demanding attention and time. As a consequence, authors really do need to determine whether a site is suitable and worth their time.
Authors should not be mislead by the fact posting to Instagram is easy and quick:
- they see something they like while out and about;
- take a quick snap with their smartphone;
- add a quick caption;
- add a hashtag or two;
- post to instagram through the app on their phone.
It may be immediate but if the post is going to be effective, authors must take the time to respond to comments; engage with followers; view and read other’s posts; share other’s posts; comment on other’s posts; etc.
Instagram, primarily due to its immediacy and ease of use, is attractive though there are some implied limitations authors should take into account.
- The generally younger age of users should always be born in mind, especially by those who purplish in genre not related to young adults or romance.
- Time must be a serious consideration. Recommendations are for authors to find, usually by trial and error, which social media sites work best for them and their purposes. Once discovered, the recommendation is they spend the major part of their online time in them, though they may maintain a a partial presence in other sites. However, Instagram is one where regular, frequent, engagement (at minimum every other day) is considered a necessity.
- It has to be acknowledged, for many authors Instagram is not very viable. However, there are always the exceptions.
Comments and observations regarding authors experiences with Instagram would be welcome and appreciated.