If Facebook were a chocolate chip cookie, Instagram would be the chocolate chips. Instagram does away with all the political commentary, obligatory birthday wall posts, and humblebrags, serving up just the sweet stuff: The pictures. The social photo-sharing app lets anyone with an iPhone or an Android phone (and maybe soon a Windows Phone?) play photographer and give others a glimpse into their life. It also lets us peek into the lives of those far more interesting than ourselves (Rich Kids of Instagram, anyone?)
But with this great power comes great responsibility because any social media platform is only as engaging as its users. While there are no steadfast rules about using Instagram, there are some dos and don'ts that will make you a more effective – and less annoying – Instagrammer (or IGer, as we affectionately call ourselves).
First and foremost, you should establish your motif and stick with it, whether that theme is a collection of shots from your daily life or solely skies, like this guy's. Your followers will come to expect a certain quality to your photos, and while it can be fun to stray occasionally, too much deviation might bug them.
Of course, ultimately, it's up to you how you use Instagram. If you're trying to amass a strong following or even just get along with other IGers, though, you'll want to read through these unofficial guidelines governing Instagram etiquette.
1. DO: Match your Twitter and Instagram usernames
Those who follow you on Instagram will likely want to follow you on Twitter as well, but if it means wading through all your online identities, they'll give up quickly. Keep it simple by using the same handle on each.
2. DON'T: Ask people to follow you
It's tacky. Just don't do it.
3. DO: Be social
Instagram is, after all, a social network and relationships are a two-way street. Follow your friends and favourite brands, celebrities, and smart photographers. Generate a conversation by leaving a comment, but remember, if you are replying to another comment, tag the user with @username so that he or she gets the notification. When you really dig a photo, give the user a pat on the back with a "like." (Tip: Double-tapping a photo will automatically like it.)
4. DON'T: Like every photo
Your stamp of approval is meaningful to those you follow, but liking every photo diminishes the value of that stamp. No one likes an Instagroupie.
5. DO: Take interesting photos
Yes, "interesting" can be subjective, but you can judge the quality of your photos on the number of likes and comments they get. Consider composition and lighting.
6. DON'T: Flood the feed
Posting one photo a day is a good rule of thumb. Posting six blurry photos of your favourite band on stage at a concert from slightly different angles in the span of two minutes is not. You'll lose followers faster than you can type "#OneDirectionInfection."
7. DO: Apply filters like makeup
Filters should enhance, not obscure. That means the blur feature, too.
8. DON'T: Post DSLR photos
Instagram is meant to celebrate the beauty of mobile and spontaneous photography. Purists will protest any uploaded DSLR photos, especially if they've obviously been edited in Photoshop. It's as sacrilegious as using a tool like Twitlonger to post tweets longer than 140 characters.
9. DO: Use hashtags tastefully
As with Twitter, using hashtags can increase the visibility of your post. Sure, you can make up your own ridiculous hashtags, but using popular ones like #instagood (for shots IGers are proud of), #photooftheday, #tbt (for Throwback Thursdays), or #nofilter (to showcase a natural photo) can lead to a surge of likes and comments.
10. DON'T: Take horizontal photos
Instagram squares up your photos, so make sure you snap shots vertically, not horizontally (unless you plan to zoom in) to avoid black bars on the top and bottom. You only get so much space, so use that space to its full potential.
11. DO: Write captions or tag locations that explain the photo
Whether you're snapping a syrupy brunch plate or a tree-lined block, give your followers some details about what they are seeing. It will let them know where they can order that meal, for instance, or if they know the area you are exploring, they might be able to recommend a secluded coffee spot nearby. Ah, discovery, the true essence of social media.
12. DON'T: #latergram
It's called "Instagram" because scenes are captured – you guessed it – instantly. Posting photos from last night ruins the live-feed intent, and using #latergram will hardly rectify the faux pas.
13. DO: Take advantage of add-ons
Have a great before-and-after photo to share? Stitch it together with PicFrame. Vacationing in a new city? Send your friend a "Wish you were here" using Postagram. Countless Instagram add-ons will enhance your experience, and you can find an abbreviated list of them on Wikipedia.
14. DON'T: Screen capture
Your smartphone has a camera for a reason: To take pictures. Screen captures of your iMessage conversation won't likely be funny to anyone else, and a shot of the weather forecast for the tropical island you're vacationing on will only make you seem like a jerk to your landlocked followers.