How to Use Instagram: A Beginner's Guide

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Over the past few years, Instagram has seen exponential growth — from one million users at its inception to over one billion in 2022.

If you’re interested in getting an Instagram account, or just created one but aren’t sure how to use it, you’re in luck. Here, we’re going to cover all the basics, so you can learn why Instagram is the top social media platform for engagement today.

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It’s hard to remember a time before Instagram. At one time, “Do it for the ‘gram” was a common saying, which meant, essentially, “Do something so we can take a picture and post it to Instagram.”

Since then, Instagram has placed a larger and heavier emphasis on video. So you no longer hear the phrase “Do it for the ‘gram.” I bet, though, that a second version of the phrase will soon follow. (Maybe “Do it for reel?”)

If you’re not part of the one billion users on Instagram, you might want to reconsider. The app is a great chance to engage with top brands and stay a part of friends’ lives. When I want to see how my college friends are doing, I don’t check Facebook, I check Instagram. Plus, you can follow your favorite celebrities or political figures to see candid photos of their everyday lives.

Additionally, it’s a phenomenal platform for investigating what other brands are doing — for instance, Nike uses the Instagram Stories’ feature to promote inspirational athlete stories you won’t find anywhere else.

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

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

How Do Instagram Notifications Work?

When your account is created, you’ll want to adjust your notifications so you only receive the information you want. For instance, you can choose to receive notifications when you get likes from everyone — but, alternatively, you might decide to only receive notifications when you get a like from someone you follow. Or, you might turn off notifications for likes altogether.

You can adjust notifications to “Off”, “From People I Follow”, or “From Everyone”, for the following categories — Comments, Comment Likes, Likes and Comments on Photos of You, Follower Requests, Accepted Follow Requests, Friends on Instagram, Instagram Direct, Photos of You, Reminders, First Posts and Stories, Product Announcements, View Counts, Support Requests, Live Videos, Mentions in Bio, IGTV Video Updates, and Video Chats.

If you’re overwhelmed by that list, I get it — I am, too. If you’re unsure what notifications you want to receive, you might start with your notifications on “From Everyone”, and if certain notifications begin to annoy you, you can turn them off later.

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.

how to change instagram notification settings: access profile

2. Access “Settings.”

After you arrive at your profile, click the hamburger menu on the top right-hand corner.

how to change instagram notification settings: access settings

A popup menu will appear. Tap “Settings.”

how to change instagram notification settings: tap settings

3. Tap “Notifications.”

On the next screen, click “Notifications.” 

how to change instagram notification settings: enter notifications settings

There, you’ll be able to change the notification settings depending on category. These categories include:

  • Posts, Stories, and Comments
  • Following and Followers
  • Direct Messages and Calls
  • Live and Video
  • Fundraisers
  • From Instagram
  • Email and SMS
  • Shopping

how to change instagram notification settings: view all notification categories

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

4. Check off the notifications you want to receive.

Access each category individually and choose the notifications you want to receive. Here are the options, for example, for “Posts, Stories, and Comments”:

how to change instagram notification settings: toggle notification settings

The options will vary depending on category.

And that’s it! Next, let’s explore how to connect your other social media accounts to your Instagram, so when you post an image to Instagram, you can share it with your other online audiences, as well.

Can you connect to Instagram to other social accounts?

Yes, you can connect Instagram to Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook, but it’s no longer done through Settings, as it used to be.

Now, you do it on a per-post basis.

If you want to share a post to other platforms, you navigate to the actual post you want to cross-publish on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, and then manually share it that way.

Here’s how:

1. Open up the Instagram app.

2. Navigate to your profile.

3. Tap on the post you’d like to cross-post.

4. Click the three dots on the top right-hand corner of the post.

how to link instagram to other social accounts: access post settings

5. On the pop-up menu, click “Share.”

how to link instagram to other social accounts: tap share on the post Note: Don’t click “Share to,” which will give you an option to AirDrop or share the post to your contacts.

6. Toggle the accounts you’d like to share the post to. If you’re not already signed in, you’ll need to do so right within the Instagram app.

how to link instagram to other social accounts: toggle the social accounts

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

In the next section, I’ll show you when a linked account comes in handy.

Upload, Edit, and Post an Image

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

Instagram is an entirely visual platform. Unlike Facebook, which relies on both text and pictures, or Twitter, which relies on text alone, Instagram’s sole purpose is to enable users to share images or videos with their audience.

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 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 your Instagram profile. Instead, you might choose 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.”

how to upload an image to instagram: click the plus button

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.

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. Instagram’s Stories feature is 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.

how to upload a story to instagram: access the story camera

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. Using Instagram’s search feature, you can find celebrities, brands, and friends. Additionally, you can search “Tags” or “Places”. “Tags” is particularly useful if you know what type of content you want to find, but you’re not sure who posts about it.

For instance, you might search “#familyrecipes” under tags — your results will include any images with that hashtag. As you peruse, you might find someone who posts content you really like, and you can choose to follow them so their content appears on your feed.

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.

how to follow on instagram: click the search icon

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

For this example, I searched “architecture.”

how to follow on instagram: view results

Instagram allows you to either search all posts that contain the word “architecture,” or “See all results” and see tags and places.

how to follow on instagram: browse through the results

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.

how to follow on instagram: follow an account you like

And that’s it! You’re on your way to becoming a pro. To take your account to the next level, plan out your next posts using an array of content ideas and templates.

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, 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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