Happy Birthday, Instagram! & my top tips for personal and corporate use

Instagram celebrated its fifth birthday yesterday, a month after hitting its 400 million user milestone. It’s a beautiful, simple, everyday story book and one of my favourite forms of social media. It has, without a shadow of a doubt, helped hone my photography skills as well as my appreciation for the little details woven into ordinary life that are so easy to miss. It has allowed me to meet some wonderful, interesting people who I now call friends, while letting me stay in touch with friends who are far away (which, for a third culture kid, is very much appreciated!) And it has provided opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise come across – networking for work at No More Traffik and promoting our message, launching our creative business and building our Brown Paper Packages clientele, receiving invitations for lots of fun events. When you think about it, this little app that I just scrolled through over lunch has a lot to answer for!


I’ve put together a list of my ‘top tips’ for getting the most out of Instagram, but I must preface it by saying that the best thing you might do with it is to throw it away – Instagram is first and foremost about enjoyment…keep that your focus and you can’t go wrong (unless you enjoy posting endless meerkat photos in which case you and I have different definitions of ‘enjoyment’!) I’ve also shared some tips about safeguarding and staying safe while using social media – read them here.

Tips for personal use…

Go back to school

Get to know what kind of pictures you like to take and what kind of look you like them to have. Do you love landscape? Are you a monochrome fiend? Do what you love and learn to do it better: there are thousands of brilliant Instagram accounts providing inspiration and even tips for taking good photographs. Make the most of them! A few basics here to get you started: mess around with angles and perspectives and distance, keep things straight and symmetrical if you’re face on, consider the rule of thirds (throw it out the window sometimes though), make sure your camera is focusing on what you want the picture to focus on (screen tap for the win).

Check yo’ equipment

And by ‘equipment’, I really just mean the world of apps that is available at your finger tips! My favourite for photo editing is by far VSCO. I also love Diptic for collages and A Beautiful Mess for text and fancy squiggles. I also use Fused for overlaying photos on each other. All that being said, Instagram have recently really upped their game with their in-app editing facilities and I find there’s nothing better than a wee tweak of brightness and contrast levels (oh – and the fade feature is brilliant for that misty autumnal look that is very in at the minute!)

Gallery-it up

This is a funny one and it’s important to remember not to let it get too legalistic about it (have FUN, remember?!) However, some consistency in your photos will mean that your gallery looks appealing and ‘together’, which I do like. For example, I try to keep my images looking like they’re of similar quality and clarity and always use squares. I won’t post two of the same kind (i.e. landscapes, flatlays, etc…) of images consecutively, and I really enjoy having lots of blue and white in my photos. Every once in a while, I post a picture of my hand lettering. Keep it simple.

Don’t be afraid of hashtags

Now, there are some hashtags that deserve all the giggles they get. However, if you want your images to be searchable, use appropriate hashtags. Also, consider creating your own! I realised I was posting a lot of photos from weekend adventures around Northern Ireland, so I tagged them with ‘CaptureNI‘ – and now there are over 1500 images with the tag from lots of different users. I love going through them and appreciating other people’s snaps of our wee country! Similarly, shop through hashtags – they’re great for recipes and creative inspiration. They were also the reason I brought metallic tattoo headbands to my sister’s wedding, which all of us bridesmaids ended up wearing for real!

Tell me a story

Oh, BIG TIME. This does NOT mean over-sharing. I have a whole other post coming about that later this week. All it means is that people follow you because you’re you, and because of the story you tell with your photos – why do you love that step so much? Why is he crying tears of laugher in this photo? Why are you sharing a photo of your great aunt’s wellies? I’d love to know. (Remember that you can tell stories without words, too…that’s the beauty of Instagram!)

Keep the best bits of life offline

Post about the good bits, but don’t forget that real life is so much more enjoyable than Instagram could ever be. Keep the best bits sacred and maybe even secret.



A few extra tips for businesses/organisations…

Commit to a look and create a culture

Prime example of this is No More Traffik’s insta which looked a little hap-hazard until the lovely Rachel came in last Spring and changed its life. Unless it’s a photo for a specific campaign that is in colour, we use the monochrome ‘Inkwell’ filter…with little splashes of red for special moments. Easy. (Also – especially important for businesses and organisations…use quality images and always credit images that aren’t yours – stay classy!) We have also started a few regular posting slots, such as blogs on Wednesdays and lettered quotes on Sundays. Followers opt into this and contribute to both features, which is great!

Don’t be afraid of hashtags (part II)

As above, but this time, your aim is to be very searchable! If you are selling daisy chains, promoting veganism, or want people with a special interest to sign a relevant petition, research the hashtags they would be coming across and use them! It’s also a great idea to have your own, that users can contribute as well – for example, when people receive prints they’ve ordered from Brown Paper Packages, they post them under the hashtag and we love seeing them.

Follow back

You will inevitably get more engagement from people who follow you if you follow them back. Simple!

Be friendly

Along similar lines, interact with your followers as much as you can. Involve them in competitions (giveaways have been GREAT for spreading the word about Brown Paper Packages!), hashtags, re-post their photos where applicable, comment on their photos, etc… People like it when there is a person behind an account. Be a person!

Stick to your message

People won’t be able to follow your posts if they’re all over the place – if you’re promoting a message, stay on message; if you’re selling a product, keep your posts related to that product. Our Brown Paper Packages account is full of photos of our work – people who follow us know they will get images of painting and lettering. Nothing more, nothing less.


I’d love to hear your top tips for using and enjoying Instagram. Comment below, or why not leave me a comment on Instagram itself?! I’ve also shared some tips about safeguarding and staying safe while using social media. Be sure to check them out here!

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