A recent survey affirmed that Instagram is the most popular social media network for teenagers. With the geotagging feature, use of hashtags, and an easy-to-use interface, it may also be the best social media platform to reach your teen audience, and you don’t need to be a professional photographer to use it—I promise.
So how do you begin? After you’ve created a username and profile, start following Instagram users. You’ll get great ideas from other libraries, bookish accounts, and accounts of teen interest. The occasional “regram”—reposting photos from accounts that you follow (with credit, of course)—can also provide great content when there isn’t time to take your own photo or locate something special to share.
Find local accounts that are pertinent—cultural institutions, organizations you’ve partnered with, and businesses. It’s probably best practice not to follow individual students or patrons, unless they have a dedicated Bookstagram account on Instagram (more on that soon). One of my book club members does, and it’s fun to keep up with what she’s reading.
Start with your collection—there are many ways to showcase your books and materials. In fact, an entire Instagram community is dedicated to sharing beautiful photos of books; just browse #bookstagram for ideas. Popular shots often feature props and great lighting. On our account for the Lawrence (KS) Public Library Teen Zone (instagram.com/lpltz), I snap photos of books as they arrive to highlight recent acquisitions or titles that I’m reading. A photo series I created over the summer paired books with specialty sodas from our local shop. Get creative and take inspiration from other book lovers’ accounts—and don’t be afraid to highlight music, movies, video games, and more.
Make an effort to include yourself and your staff in some photos or videos. Many libraries participate in #bookfacefriday, where they share artfully lined up book covers showing some part of a person’s body with their own. Share a picture of your staff with their favorite books or have them review a recent read in a short video. It they’re camera shy, consider a mascot like an action figure, stuffed animal, or figurine.
Advertise your programs on Instagram. Share behind-the-scenes preparation snapshots, such as the elements of a craft or tech program, the book you’re discussing for book club, or a pizza party, with a reminder to sign up.
Posting these a few hours before an event is a great way to jog teens’ memories about the time, date, and location. Promoting a big event in the weeks leading up to it can be effective at building interest and anticipation. But young adults often don’t know their schedule or transportation options until immediately prior.
Teen programs provide terrific material for photo sharing—just be mindful of your library’s policy about using photos of people’s faces on social media. Our teen advisory board members all have a photo release form on file; any program that requires parental permission also includes a photo release. I’ll only post photos of teens’ faces if we have a signed form; large group photos of outdoor programs in which individuals faces aren’t readily identifiable are also OK.
At my library, we’ve had success getting our regulars to follow by posting signs with our account name at our circulation desk, computers, and gaming stations. It’s also a good idea to include this info on your flyers. If your library has a general Instagram account (mine is instagram.com/lawrencelibrary) or local schools have them, establish a reciprocal relationship of promoting each other’s content. Make sure there’s a link to your account from your website, and share it across other social media platforms.
When conducting outreach, bring along bookmarks with information about the account, take a picture while you’re at the outreach location, and geotag it so that others can find it when searching by that place.
Hashtags, especially those that are widely used in your community, are another great way to gain exposure and followers. A quick search on Instagram can tell you how many times a tag has been used, an indicator of its reach. Other popular library, book, and technology-related tags allow you to interact with people globally.
Consider hosting a contest when your account debuts or use a special occasion to gain followers. Have people share photos from library events or a photo that follows a certain theme, such as their favorite place to read, or book and beverage combos, with a hashtag, and hold a drawing for the winner and give away a small prize.
The best way to gain followers, though, is to personally invite them. If they have smartphones, ask if they use Instagram and point them to your account. At events, encourage them to take photos and geotag their location as your teen area or library.
Tips for great pics
Always take pictures with your phone camera, not the Instagram app. They’ll be of higher resolution and quality, and you can crop or edit in Instagram or other apps.
I see lots of photos on library accounts showing a handful of people in a room, but it’s not exactly clear what they’re doing. Get close to your subject. Shoot from above to capture what some teens are working on with their hands. Don’t worry about perfectly posing your shot, but take several and compose a collage that tells the story of what’s happening.
A surefire way to improve your photos is to have better lighting—especially natural light—and to avoid backlighting. Don’t shoot directly underneath lamps and ceiling lights, and if you have a window, set up your photo with the sunlight filtering through to the right or the left of your subject.
There are other ways to brighten your photos, and Instagram makes it easy to create photos that are appealing to the eye. You can straighten crooked shots, lighten pictures taken in low light, and adjust contrast right within the app. These are the most common tweaks I make before posting, and they take a few seconds. If you want to go further, apps like VSCO and Afterlight offer more editing options. Experiment and find your own style of editing for a cohesive, memorable look.
For another layer of design, inexpensive apps such as A Beautiful Mess, Studio, or Little Moments let you add doodles and text. Phonto is a free app that also lets you incorporate text in a variety of fonts.
If you want to share a lot of photos of an event in one post, or create a slideshow of new books, check out the apps Party Party or Flipagram. Two Instagram add-on apps offer more options: Hyperlapse creates timelapse videos, and Layout is the native collage app.
Streamlining my workflow
Since I contribute to our teen social media platforms and oversee several main library accounts, I’ve learned some shortcuts to ensure that social media stays fun instead of becoming a chore.
First, I try to stockpile photos that aren’t time sensitive to share later. I block out time to create readers’ advisory-related pictures, such as “if you like this book, try this one” posts. I take half a dozen when I have a little free time and save them to an album on my iPhone to edit later. Occasionally, I snap photos of recurring programs that can be shared as reminders for future dates.
Instagram doesn’t allow posting from third-party apps, but you can utilize the app Latergramme to upload photos from your desktop and schedule reminders to post later. This is a great tool—the app sends a push notification to your phone when it’s time to post.
All social media posts are best when they are organic, authentic, personal, and seem effortless, so forcing it doesn’t get you much mileage. Be strategic about what you post and mindful of ways you can use it to reach your audience. During programs, I try to think proactively about what might make a good photo. Try to find a lull in the action to step aside and take a snapshot, but sometimes a photo opportunity just doesn’t arise. If I don’t get a photo, I don’t stress out. If you are using a variety of social media platforms, I’d suggest utilizing the recipes on IFTTT.com (“if this, then that” formulas) to share content. Set up posts with a hashtag to cross-post to Facebook, or create Instagram pictures to be tweeted as a native photo attachment rather than just a link to Instagram.
When cross-posting content, be mindful of what the end result will look like on each platform and take into consideration the limits of each one. My best results involve the Twitter recipe. I keep the initial caption short to fit Twitter’s character limit and then immediately edit the picture on Instagram to add the location, a longer comment, or any additional hashtags. I post on Instagram first without location geotagging or excessive Instagram-specific hashtags, knowing it will automatically go out on Twitter with that format. Then I go back into Instragram and edit to add hashtags and geotags.
Are you a stats junkie? The Iconosquare app can help you gauge how popular your content is, figure out the best times to post, and find relevant and popular hashtags. I check in with the account on a regular basis to monitor comments and interact with the accounts we follow, too.
Librarians and library workers who serve teens know that staying up on trends, including those related to social media and marketing, is just part of the job. It’s hard to say how Instagram will fit into the teen social media landscape in the future. But for now, it’s a fun, highly effective way to connect with teen patrons and showcase the awesome things that you’re doing in your library and beyond.
20 Accounts to Follow
Epic Reads Sponsored by Harper, this account features amazing #bookporn pictures and promotes YA lit beyond its own imprints.
Penguin Teen The account for Penguin YA imprints regrams awesome pics by book bloggers; great for finding bookish accounts.
The Novl A peek behind the scenes at the Little, Brown Young Readers teen books.
This Is Teen The feed for Scholastic’s YA division is a mix of pretty pix of its books and author events, and even has a Katniss braid tutorial.
Teens at Vancouver Public Library This teen-focused public library account is a great model, with pics of programs, books, and staff with dynamic captions.
Hillsboro High School Library This high school library account is very active, with a mix of photos and video, plus custom hashtags to engage.
Strand Bookstore The legendary NYC haunt grams new releases, shots from the rare book room, staff picks videos, and author events.
Powell’s Books The Portland, OR, store feed features great books; an “open thread” posts bookish questions encouraging discussion.
Jenny Han The author’s Instagram has adorable pictures of Han with author friends, shoe shots, sweet treats, and books.
Maggie Stiefvater Fast cars and lots of her original art are featured on the witty author’s account.
Fierce Reads The account from Macmillan features hot new releases in YA and has hosted photo contests— great inspiration for libraries.
Simon Teen The team behind Simon and Schuster’s YA focused feed has recently switched it up from graphic design advertisement posts to beautiful shots of books against stark white backgrounds.
Tor Teen The sci-fi and fantasy imprint showcases forthcoming titles, behind-the-scenes pictures of authors, and quotes from favorite books.
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Teens Pittsburgh does a great job of showcasing programs and letting followers get to know staff.
Franklin Park Library Teens Franklin Park advertises future programs and shares highlights from programs, all with a healthy sense of humor.
Cape May County Library Teen Zone Cape May County’s photos often feature their mascot, Clickety, making book recommendations.
Glenthorne ( London) High School Library In addition to promoting collections and programs, Glenthorne also showcases original art by teens.
Old Town High School Library OTHS features behind the scenes of the library media center and also shares inspirational quotes and posts.
Find inspiration on styling beautiful #bookstagrammers by following these accounts.
Blue-Eyed Bibliophile Teens might be your best resource for creating amazing images. This account is run by a bookish eighteen-year-old who takes beautiful bookish photos.
Overflowing Shelf This YA-lovin’ instagrammer snaps photos of books, coffee, and sweet treats.