This is the third in a six-part series on social media best practices for libraries in 2021. Learn about Facebook here and get the guide for Twitter here.  See the step-by-step guide to YouTube success here. I’m researching the most up-to-date tips for posting on LinkedIn and Pinterest. I’ll share my findings every Monday.

The many faces of Instagram

There are four separate ways you can post content on Instagram. There is the Instagram Feed, Instagram Stories, IGTV, and Instagram Reels.  

The Instagram Feed is the actual feed that you scroll through. It’s the original feature of the platform.

Instagram Stories are the little circle icons at the top when you open the app. This is the feature they copied from Snapchat. Stories consist of slides that users can tap through. Slides disappear from your library’s Story after 24 hours.

I-G-T-V is Instagram’s long-form video platform.  

Instagram Reels launched in August. This is Instagram’s version of TikTok. Users can edit fun clips together within the app, complete with effects and music.

For the purposes of this guide, we’re going to mainly focus on the feed and Stories. However, I will touch on IGTV and Reels.

The Instagram algorithm for 2021

The Instagram feed uses three main ranking signals to decide which posts are shown to which user.

Relationship: Priority is given to followers’ friends and family. Users are also shown business accounts they interact with frequently.

Timing: Priority is given to new posts, maybe more so than any other social media platform.

Engagement: Priority is given to posts that get a lot of comments, like, shares, and video views, especially if those posts attract those engagements in a short period of time.

Here are three ways to put the algorithm to use to boost the reach of your Instagram account in 2021.

Think of your library’s Instagram feed as your account’s main showcase.

Your feed is like your library’s website homepage. It’s a chance to show what your library values and represents using images. Potential new followers will check out your feed to get a sense of your overall library services, your values, and your commitment to the community.

In a sense, the feed is a way for people to take a virtual tour of your library. Most followers will check out the feed before deciding whether to follow your account. This means you’ll need to be strategic about what you post on the feed.   

Skokie Library's Instagram feed features reading prompts.

Decide what impression you want people to get from checking out your feed. Then, when you’re considering a post, ask yourself if your potential post fits into that aesthetic, or if you’re promoting something for promotion’s sake. If it’s the later, consider moving the promotion to your Stories.

Use Instagram Stories to experiment.  

Stories are a great place to try new promotional ideas and give your creative side a chance to play.

Story posts don’t need to be as polished as feed posts. In fact, followers enjoy Stories that are spontaneous, whimsical, and show a side of your library that regular community members haven’t seen.

Keep your Stories short. Data shows that people drop off when a Story is longer than five to seven slides.

You can also use short videos to capture attention. Add short captions, stickers, and hashtags to increase engagement on your Story slides.

Stories are also a great place to re-use old content. If you have a day where you just can’t think of anything to post, take a quick look back through your library’s regular Instagram feed. You can turn old posts into Stories by clicking on the paper airplane underneath any feed post.  

Photo showing where the paper airplane icon is located to transfer a feed post to Stories.

You can also re-purpose other content created by your library in Stories. For example, if your library has a blog, post a couple of slides with key points or sentences from your blog with some stickers and hashtags. Add your blog URL to the last slide and ask followers to go there to read more.

You can also share Stories from the accounts of partner organizations, publishers, authors, and followers! Doing this will show off your generous side.  

The sad part of Stories is that they disappear after 24 hours… unless you create highlights. This is a feature that will let you save your best content and extend reach.

Highlights are saved to custom categories on your Instagram profile, and they live there until you delete them. Think of highlights like containers for themed Instagram Stories. After you add content to your Story, you can choose to highlight that content by saving it to one of these containers.

Post beautiful images without text overlay.

Libraries have limited resources, and that means they might post the same image on all the channels. They may decide to post graphics like posters, fliers, or text-heavy square graphics as their Instagram feed image. But this should be avoided.

You’ve probably heard people talk about how much time the big Instagram “influencers” spend setting up the perfect photo for their feeds. It seems vain, but the reason they do that is because a great image is everything when it comes to the Instagram feed.

Agorapulse did a fascinating study comparing Instagram posts containing images with and without text overlay. They found images that contain no text overlay get 14 percent more reach and 39.5 percent more likes.

If you have text, put it into the caption instead of adding it to your photo or graphic.

Should you post to IGTV?

Instagram’s long-form video section launched in 2018. You can add videos that are between 15 seconds and 10 minutes long. Accounts with 10,000 followers or verified Instagram accounts can add videos up to an hour long to their IGTV section. I can’t imagine there are any library accounts that large, so most of us are restricted to 10 minute videos.

If your library is already creating long-form videos for YouTube, you can experiment by posting some of them to IGTV to see if your followers respond.

Skokie Library's IGTV feed

Should you create Instagram Reels?

As we mentioned at the beginning of the post, the Reels feature is like TikTok. It is fun. And if your library has the time and resources to do so, you can play with Reels to see if your followers respond.

How often and when to post on the Instagram feed and in Instagram Stories

As mentioned at the beginning of the post, the Instagram algorithm favors new content. That means every time you publish a new feed post, your old feed post is considered irrelevant by Instagram.

Post on the Instagram feed no more than two to three times a week. That will ensure each feed post has time to get the maximum reach.

You should post on Instagram Stories every day or as often as possible given your library resources.

How much text should be in an Instagram feed and Stories post?

Like Facebook posts, the Instagram feed offers a larger character limit (2,200), but your feed will perform best if you limit yourself to 140-240 characters

Don’t forget to add hashtags to your caption. Most of the big accounts use between one and three hashtags, but there are some successful Instagram accounts that use as many as ten hashtags.

Experiment to see how many hashtags work best for your audience. Try to add a mix of hashtags, including some that are specific to your library or to your promotional campaign. Then add some more popular captions to expand the reach of your post.

There is no recommended amount of text for Stories. The more text you type, the smaller it will get. So try to keep your text short and easy to read.

Instagram feed and Stories image best practices

The perfect image size for the Instagram feed is 1080 x 1350 pixels or 4:5 aspect ratio.

The perfect image for Instagram Stories is 1080 x 1920 pixels or a 9:16 aspect ratio.

Measuring success on Instagram

If your library’s Instagram is listed as a personal Instagram profile, you’ll need to convert into a Business Profile.

Once your library is listed as an Instagram Business Profile, you will have access to Instagram Insights — Instagram’s native in-app analytics. Go to your profile page in the mobile app, tap the menu icon in the upper-right corner, and tap Insights. It offers a comprehensive range of data about your profile, posts, stories, and ads.  It also has detailed information about your followers such as their most active times and days. 

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