Platform outline

Instagram is a social media platform based on sharing quality imagery and photographs. Across Instagram, you will find professionals, hobbyists, individuals, businesses and organisations.

Instagram is about telling visual stories whether through posting your latest photograph to your feed or engaging audiences with your Story. The primary goal of Instagram is to share and discover the most visually interesting photographs and videos. Every user profile has a follower and following count, which indicates how many people they follow and how many people follow them.

Facebook and Twitter have the feature of being able to upload images. But Instagram is the social media platform designed for images, visual storytelling and aesthetics.

Features of Instagram

Feed: This is the main area of your profile where you post your photos and videos. These photographs and videos appear in the feeds of your followers, as well as those who follow any hashtags you add to your post.

Story: Instagram Stories are portrait photographs or videos that last up to 15 seconds and vanish after 24 hours. They’re presented at the top of an active user’s app while they’re signed in, rather than in the feed, and maybe tapped through to view.

Unlike the feed, Instagram Stories provides a variety of options to promote interaction. Within Stories, there are stickers that allow you to ask questions, create polls, and more. In addition, the Instagram Stories design makes it simple for users to send you direct messages. You can also save your best Instagram Stories to your profile highlights so they are accessible beyond the 24 hour period.

Reels: This is where you will find short-form video content within Instagram and is a response to the proven success of TikTok. You could consider reading the TikTok guide and employing what you learn to Reels as much of the content is similar. If you are creating short-form content then you will benefit from cross-posting your content across Reels and TikTok.

This how-to video will take you through the basic features:

Techboomers – Beginners guide to Instagram Reels

#Hashtags: Hashtags are a form of metadata that identifies digital content on a specific topic. They are often used to connect people around a particular discussion or idea. You may have seen tv shows and movies use them to create discussion and promote their content. This guide provides insight into how they are used on Twitter and other platforms.

Hootsuite – How to use hashtags in 2021: A quick and simple guide for every network

If you are using Instagram for the first time consider reading the following guide for beginners:

Museum Next – Tips to get your museum started with social media

If you are familiar with the platform but are interested in learning more before approaching storytelling on the platform, then this guide may be a useful read:

Sprout Social – The ultimate social media for museums guide


Across the Digital Engagement Toolkit, we are looking at who engages with a particular platform by generation. You will find more detail on this within the platform finder. When looking at audience engagement by generation it is important to keep in mind it is not definitive of everyone’s behaviour. However, understanding the broad trend of a generation’s approach to a platform is useful to understand the audiences you are most likely to find there. For the purposes of this toolkit, we are using terminology that defines audiences with the following demographic terminology: Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z.

The most dominant audience on Instagram is Gen Y who embraced the platform quickly from its launch. However, they are not the only creators and users for the platform with Gen Z and Gen X both having a significant user base on the platform.

When thinking about your audience and the content you make for Instagram it is important to remember this is a platform designed for mobile and for people viewing it in their free time or on the go. Audiences can browse through content at speed and with a carefree approach, therefore you have only a few seconds to grab an audience’s attention. Instagram users are looking for what catches their eye or to see the latest from accounts they know they love.

Storytelling guide

Instagram is a platform where understanding visual design and quality is rewarded by higher user engagement. It is about visually striking and unique photographs and showing audiences things they may not otherwise see.

Archives have a wealth of material that can be shared but it is vital that this is done in a considered way.

Visual consistency

An important part of creating content for Instagram is deciding upon a consistent style that you use for your photographs that appear in your feed. Your feed should have a consistent artistic style or a way that your content fits together. Take some time to scroll through the feeds of popular creators and relevant popular accounts and see what they’re doing to connect their feed and present a consistent style. The ‘Inspiration’ section has some recommended accounts to get you started with thinking about visual consistency.

You will want to avoid your feed becoming a mix of unconnected imagery that looks unconsidered or messy. Think about your posts as pieces of art. Having guidelines for what your art looks like and an idea of what is a worthy photo for your Instagram feed will be useful. Do not treat uploading photographs to Instagram as you would Facebook or other social media; for Instagram, the photo is the narrative you are telling and although you may explain the image with a short post you should consider this in addition to its visual story.

Consider the overall purpose of your Instagram account and decide upon the narrative you want your account to tell. Will it, for example, provide behind-the-scenes activity to give viewers a better understanding of your archive or will you utilise Instagram to display your collections and their stories to a wider audience? You will discover further help with developing a voice for your archive’s digital content within the Creative Inspiration Guide.

Don’t forget the background

When taking a picture of an item in your collection it will be natural to make the subject of your photograph the main focus of the image. However, don’t forget to consider what else you can tell by capturing and setting up the background to your photo. What is the most photogenic part of your archive? What backdrops do you have within your archive that instantly sets the location as an archive in the audience’s mind. Consideration of the whole photo and everything that can be captured allows your audience to see more of a story.

When looking at a photograph you want to know something about where it was taken and not just what is in it. You could also consider how you express the personality of the photographer or your archive by what you choose to set up and capture your images. For example, do you have a token item that appears in every photo?

Creative thinking and exercises

Exercise one – your collection

On a piece of paper, write down your initial thoughts in response to the following questions:

  • What are the tools of your trade, the processes, the paperwork and things you would only ever find in an archive? These could be a part of the visual language of your Instagram content.
  • What do you have in your collection that might catch someone’s eye? You don’t always have to focus on the items you hold; the world that exists around those items may also be useful to your visual identity.

Exercise two – creative intent

Who are you posting for on Instagram and what is the purpose of your content? Consider writing yourself a creative brief or statement of intention for your Instagram content. Then discuss what you think this suggests about the qualities of the photos you will upload.

Creative brief example: Our Instagram account will be a window into what an archive looks like. We will use the incredible building we are contained within and our varied rooms to create visually engaging and rich content. We intend to inform and give insight into what an archive is like for those that have never been.

You could think about creating a practical series of stories that shows what a visit to the archive can look like for the first time visitor – to registering, navigating the building and how to get their requested items in the reading room.


San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s account is very visually striking and there is a consistency to what and how they post. Some images tell an instant story and some leave you with questions. Each post is considered. Take a look through and see which of the posts engage you. Which do you think tells the most visually interesting story?

Archaeological Analytics have compiled a great list of Instagram content. There are many striking examples amongst these images and you can see that some have visual styles emerging and some are less concerned about being consistent with their imagery. Nevertheless, what you can see from all of the accounts, is that they instantly tell a story of history and the past.

Historynebraska particularly has a strong sense of style and you can see a few different styles used in a consistent way across their feed. There is seasonal content as well as visually engaging content.

Archives Wales Archifau Cymru uses visual graphics to give an identity and familiarity to their images. Using a graphic template enables a shorthand to keep the feed content consistent, however it’s important to note that one drawback of using a template can be that you risk it dominating the content of the photo.

Dr Johanna Green’s account details the materiality of historical books and archive material.

Aberdeen Harbour has an Archive Takeover saved in their highlights. Their archive takes a look to see how they have used the Stories feature.

Helpful stuff

Social Media handbook

Embrace Digital from the Heritage Lab – social media handbook for cultural institutions and professionals. This helpful free guide covers everything from developing a social media strategy to planning your social content.

Social Media toolkit

The European network on cultural management and policy (ENCATC) – social media toolkit for cultural managers. This toolkit offers a deep dive into all aspects of social media from understanding online marketing to analysing online data to understand your audience.

Design Apps

Unfold is a website from SquareSpace can help you create visually consistent posts for Instagram and allows you to use templates to create visually striking posts for your Instagram feed and story. If you find the prospect of creating a visual identity challenging then this will support you through creating a design you like.

Layout is an app available on both Apple and Android. It enables you to combine multiple photos into a range of different layouts. This is great for when you have a collection of photos of different sizes and you want to present them in a visually interesting way.

Adobe Creative Cloud Express (formerly Adobe Sparkpost) has a range of tools and templates to help support the visual design of your Instagram posts and stories.

Pixlr is a free photo editor has a lot of features that can help with any photo editing you need doing.

Explore Your Archive

The #ExploreYourArchive campaign operates across three social media platforms; Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Using #ExploreYourArchive on any of these platforms will greatly increase the size and range of audiences viewing your posts. The Explore Your Archive team searches for the hashtag daily and reposts your content to further promote your posts.

How to measure impact

You can measure impact using Instagram Insights which is only available through a Business or Creator account and is only accessible through the Instagram mobile application.

Instagram has lots of ways to measure engagement and as the platform supports becoming an influencer and growing your audience there is a lot you can gather from its analytics. Instagram Insights can help you gain a better understanding of your account’s followers and performance and you are able to gain a better understanding of your audience’s engagement with specific posts, stories, videos, reels, and live videos. If relevant, paid activity is included in your account’s insights and stats.

The guides below give an in-depth look at how you can measure the engagement of your posts and offer tips to help improve engagement:

Oberlo – Instagram engagement – what it is and how to improve it

Later – The ultimate guide to Instagram analytics

Medium – The analytics of social media in cultural heritage


This guide covers ways you can utilise the in-app accessibility features that Instagram offers, as well as guidance and insight for how to make your content more accessible:

The Big Hack – How to make your Instagram account more accessible

Government Communication Service – Planning, creating and publishing accessible social media campaigns


A range of studies, some carried out by Instagram’s owners Meta (Facebook), have shown that Instagram use can have negative impacts on young people, particularly around body image and self-esteem. Be mindful of content you are planning to post which might intersect with these concerns, such as fashion images. Do not be tempted to imitate certain platform norms which might encourage you to contribute to the problem.

Forbes – Here’s how Instagram harms young women according to research

Psychology Today – Why Instagram is worse for body image than Facebook

Further reading

Digital Pathways – Resource portal. This portal has aggregated useful resources from different organisations on a multitude of digital topics. Guides relating to aspects of digital engagement are included.

Digital Culture Network – How to take your Instagram account to the next level (webinar)

After Digital – How to harness Instagram Stories within arts and culture

Mad Fish Digital – How to use ethical social media marketing to attract your audience