Information Today, Inc. Corporate Site KMWorld CRM Media Streaming Media Faulkner Speech Technology DBTA/Unisphere
Other ITI Websites
American Library Directory Boardwalk Empire Database Trends and Applications DestinationCRM Faulkner Information Services Fulltext Sources Online InfoToday Europe KMWorld Literary Market Place Plexus Publishing Smart Customer Service Speech Technology Streaming Media Streaming Media Europe Streaming Media Producer Unisphere Research

Vendors: For commercial reprints in print or digital form, contact LaShawn Fugate (

Magazines > Computers in Libraries > October 2018

Back Index Forward
Vol. 38 No. 8 — October 2018

How to Use Instagram for Community Engagement
by Meghan Kowalski

You want your content to be share-worthy and comment-worthy

[NOTE: This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Computers in Libraries under the title “Picture This: Using Instagram to Connect With Your Users.”]

INSTAGRAM IS A SOCIAL MEDIA POWERHOUSE. The aesthetics of the platform draw users in and keep them engaged for long periods of time. If your organization is not already using Instagram, you are missing a great way to attract new patrons and turn regular users into advocates. Instagram is not just about posting pretty pictures. Instead, it’s about community engagement. You can use this platform to tell the story of your organization and your patrons, both online and offline.

It’s All About the Photos

As with all social media, you can’t just create an account and expect users to find you. Instagram takes dedication to do it right. To truly engage your community, you have to follow some best practices to craft great posts and attract followers to your account.

First and foremost, bear in mind that Instagram is all about great photography. Photos with little thought to design or aesthetics will be skimmed over or ignored by your community. The person in charge of your account does not need to be a professional photographer, but he or she should have an interest in photography and an eye for creating engaging images. Don’t be afraid to solicit images from staff members who enjoy their work and can craft fun and beautiful images that show their passion for what they do.

Tips and Tricks

When it comes to creating great images, there are a few key points to remember:

  • Great photography relies on the right lighting. Whenever possible, use natural light. Flash photography can be harsh or lead to washed out images. If you’re taking pictures of items in your collection, move them in front of a large window or take them outside to stage your picture. If you’re taking pictures of spaces or patrons, open blinds to let natural light fill the space.
  • Consider how to frame your image. Try focusing on symmetry or following the rule of thirds to create aesthetically pleasing photos.
  • Get creative with your positioning. Dynamic perspectives, such as shooting from below or above, can lead to great pictures. Sometimes, you have to sit on the ground or climb a chair to get the best perspective for your photograph.
  • Shoot various angles of the same scene to give yourself multiple options to use on your account.

Do’s and Don’ts

Once you have your images, edit them to bring out their best features. Instagram offers myriad filters, but don’t go overboard. The best Instagram photos are the ones that still look authentic. If you do choose a filter, stick with one that enhances the photograph, and don’t mask it with colors or shadows. Instagram also has a built-in editing function that is separate from the filters. With this feature, you can easily adjust the brightness, contrast, warmth, and other aspects. You can also mix a filter with the editing function. Whatever you choose, be gentle. You want the image to speak for itself and not be drowned out by postproduction decisions.

When taking, selecting, and editing photos, you want to consider the branding. Your Instagram account is a part of your overall marketing strategy. If you post photos that lack consistency in composition and content, your message will be muddled. Instead, your Instagram profile should be a well-curated collection. While you can (and should) show a mix of images to highlight all your services and offerings, you can create consistent branding by sticking to a small collection of filters and editing styles.

It’s All About Your Image

In terms of curating your posts, you should focus on three things: authenticity, themes, and regularity. You want your images to be authentic to your organization and brand. If your library is known for engaging programming and gleeful storytimes, it does not make sense to post images of a stately building that comes across as silent and academic. Tell the story of your library as it really is. Follow themes in the content you post. If you have regular author talks or makerspace events, post about them consistently. Repetition not only reminds your community about what you do, it also gives users something to look forward to. If you always post recommended reading on Friday, you will have users seek out your Instagram feed to see the latest installment.

Finally, post often—at least once a day, but preferably more if your organization and staffers can support that schedule. Instagram’s algorithm rewards regular posters by pushing their images up the feed. Posting regularly also means that your community knows you always have new images coming, and it’s worth checking back or following your account.

Now that you have great images with consistent branding and an active feed, it’s time to help your users find you. Hashtags are great on Instagram. Make sure you have at least one organization-identifying hashtag added to each image. This could be your library’s name or slogan or simply a word or phrase your community associates with your library. Furthermore, add hashtags that serve as metadata for your pictures. Look at the content, and think of terms that are associated with the image and add them to your post. You should also include a location or geotag for each image. Some users like to search for images of an area, and geotagging is a great way to make sure you’re in the mix. If your library is a part of a larger organization, consider using your organization’s geotag as opposed to your library’s tag to draw in a larger audience.

It’s All About Community Engagement

Another way to help your users find you is to engage them directly. When people follow you, follow them back. Follow other accounts that are relevant to your organization or community. When you post images, consider tagging specific Instagram users who are relevant to, or represented in, your image. If users comment on your posts, you should, at the very least, like their comment. Reply to all comments that warrant a response. You should also pay attention to the Instagram accounts you follow and comment and like other people’s posts. Instagram is all about engagement, which means you need to be active on the platform.

However, there are a few caveats to keep in mind. Instagram is fun, but you do need to make sure you’re following your organization’s policies and any applicable laws. When taking pictures of people—particularly children—you need to ensure you have the right to do so. Check your organization’s photo release policy; you may need to have your patrons sign a waiver before you take their picture. When in doubt, don’t take photos of people’s faces. It is good practice to always ask a patron (or the parent of a patron) before you take his or her picture. You should also show the patron the image you plan on posting and give him or her a chance to veto its use. Your Instagram profile should link to a page on your organization’s website where a Takedown Policy is publicly posted. If a patron asks you to remove an image, don’t fight it. Just remove it from your feed and move on. When in doubt, check with your legal department or administration to ensure that you are respecting your patron’s rights.

Doing It for the ’Gram

You’ve likely heard the phrase, “Pics or it didn’t happen.” This is the “doing it for the ’gram” mentality. If it’s not worthy of being posted to Instagram, is it really cool? While this attitude is certainly debatable, it’s an important aspect to keep in mind. You want your content to be share-worthy and comment-worthy. You want your spaces, events, exhibits, and other services to be worth posting about.

One way to harness this mentality is through influencer collaboration. Influencers are those Instagram power users who have large audiences and high engagement. While you may (and should strive to) be an influencer in your community, you can also work with influencers to help build your Instagram reputation. Influencers can be local famous faces, authors, sports teams, lifestyle gurus, mommy bloggers, etc. You can collaborate with them by having them attend an event or exhibit at your library or invite them to visit your organization and talk about their experience. Some influencers could even host events in your space. Additionally, you can get out of the library and work with the influencer where he or she is comfortable. Whatever you do, it has to be a collaboration. You can’t just stalk and tag someone with more followers than you.

It’s also helpful to design your space with Instagram in mind. Find a landmark for your library that is photograph- and selfie-worthy. This can be a mural, 3D sign, art object, or library mascot. Just make sure it’s something people are going to want to photograph and share. To make the best use of this Instagram-worthy prop, make sure it can be photographed in natural light or posed in front of without being completely concealed. It’s even better if your Instagram landmarks or spaces are interactive and visually pleasing. Instagrammers want to take multiple pictures from different angles. You should allow people to move objects, such as furniture, to get the best possible shot. Finally, if you know there is an Instagram sweet spot in your library, make that known to your patrons. Post a sign saying “Best Instagram Spot Here,” indicating that the photographer should shoot down to grab your floor mosaic or look up to see a fantastic art piece in great light.

When you host events or create exhibits, design them with Instagram in mind. They should be visually pleasing, interactive, and dynamic. Make it easy for your users to get great shots. One example is the Banned Books Week mug shot. Set up a background and cart of banned books. These props are now readily available for your users to play with. (Be sure to include a sign with your handle so patrons can share their pictures with you.) If you’re hosting a speaker or event, create a fun backdrop and event hashtag so that patrons have something to photograph and share. Most of all, make it easy for your users to interact with the environment.

For your own Instagram posts, engage your community through themes and motifs. Having a scheduled post once or twice a week offers consistency and gives your users something to look forward to. Ideas for motifs include Friday flat lay, bookface Friday, Saturday shelfie, recent returns, or library books seen in the wild. Make sure that your post has a consistent hashtag so people know what to look for.

Bring Instagram Offline

While Instagram is a mobile medium, you can bring it offline to further engage with your community. Instagram is full of great photography and diverse lifestyles, and you can celebrate this by highlighting the work of your community. Create an Instagram Wall where you feature photographs posted by members of your community. You can print the images and post them in acrylic holders, on bulletin boards, or using magnets or clips. Alternatively, share Instagram photos on your digital screens. Just be sure to ask permission before using the photo, and be sure to credit the creator’s handle. People love to see their work shared and appreciated.

You can also use images taken by your community or from your own account to create books, calendars, or prints. You can then use these items in fundraisers or giveaways. There are dozens of online sources that can help you create them, including Social Print Studio and Inkifi. Again, make sure to obtain print permission from each creator, and check with your legal department about applicable laws or regulations.

Finally, you can use your Instagram account to engage with your community through contests and giveaways. Host a photo contest that asks users to share their favorite space in the library or take a book selfie. Ask them to share a photo, tag your handle, and include an event hashtag. You’ve now created a feature in which users not only engage with you directly but can also engage with each other through searching, liking, and commenting on each others’ photos. You can also host a giveaway. Fill a branded travel mug with candy, and post a well-staged photo of it that asks users to comment or answer a question. You can randomly select a winner or have your staff vote. The main benefit of these contests and giveaways is that you learn who is paying attention to your account and can engage with them in the future. Those who comment and interact with your posts are most likely to be advocates for your organization and services.

Make Instagram Work for You

Instagram is a great medium for beautiful photographs and armchair exploration, but it is also a useful tool for community development. If you post dynamic photographs, are active through commenting and liking, and regularly showcase your community’s Instagram work, you will create an appealing environment that attracts users. Instagram is not a passive tool. It requires daily attention, but your dedication will pay off by building and engaging your community. By welcoming your users online and offline, you can strengthen your role in your community.

Happy ’gramming!

What to Showcase

In terms of what to post on Instagram, libraries have numerous options. You can feature collections, displays, exhibits, and events. You can also showcase spaces, services, or staffers or go behind the scenes. You can have fun with books, shelfies, reviews, and flat lays (in which you stylize objects and shoot them from above). If your library has a niche, show that off. If you’re still stuck for ideas, search Instagram and look at what other libraries, bookstores, and book lovers are posting. You can also check relevant hashtags, such as #librariesofinstagram and #bookstagram, for inspiration. Finally, it’s always worth looking at what members of your community are posting.

See what’s trending, and jump on board.

Meghan Kowalski ( is the former head of preservation for the Catholic University of America–University Libraries. She recently accepted the position of outreach and reference librarian at the University of the District of Columbia. Kowalski enjoys photography and practicing hand lettering.