Social Media 101: Instagram for Authors

Instagram Social Media 101 blog graphic

Instagram is one of the best social media marketing tools to help writers promote both their business and their book – if you use it right. It can also be overwhelming and intimidating if you’re just getting started. Don’t worry, I’m here to help. 

Let’s take a look at the basic features of Instagram, some tips and best practices for promoting your brand, using paid campaigns on Instagram, and selling your book directly from your profile! 

Social Media 101: The Essentials

Regardless of what platform you’re interested in learning more about, there are a few basic principles that remain the same. Keep these social media marketing tips in mind and you’ll be a pro in no time!

1. Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Pinterest, YouTube, Snapchat, Discord, Clubhouse… the list of popular social media channels is ever-evolving and nearly impossible to keep up with. Having a half-hearted and lackluster presence everywhere isn’t going to do much for you or your brand. Instead, focus your effort and energy on two or three social networks your potential audience is already using.

2. Separate Your Brand And Your Personal Page

There is a time and place for showing behind-the-scenes or personal content on your professional profiles – it’s fun, engaging content and helps to both humanize you and make you relatable to your followers. But fans of your brand don’t need to be – or want to be – privy to every status update or photo from Great Aunt Ethyl’s 95th birthday bash.

Create a separate account for your brand, and be selective about what you choose to share there. 

3. Use the Same Handle on Every Platform

The easiest way for your fans to find you on their social media platform of choice is to keep it simple. Looking for Lulu on Facebook? It’s @luludotcom. Instagram? @luludotcom. Twitter? You already know! Pick one handle and use it everywhere you go. 

Pro Tip: don’t make your handle the title of your book! Stick with something evergreen like your name, your pen name, or your brand/business name. 

4. Use the Same Look on Every Platform

Familiarity is your friend! You want your customers, or potential customers, to recognize you when they see you. Use the same profile picture – your professional headshot, your brand logo, your most recent book – on every platform. And, in addition to your profile picture, make use of cover photos on applicable platforms, like Facebook and Twitter. That’s valuable advertising real estate, don’t waste it. 

5. Cross-Promote 

Links to your social media should be readily available everywhere you are – especially your website, your Author Spotlight, and your other social media profiles.

Of course, cross-promotion goes both ways. Your social accounts should link back to your website and your book sales page. Make use of the “link in bio” features wherever possible! 

Now that we’ve got the basics down, let’s get back to the hot topic at hand – Instagram marketing!

An Instagram Primer

For many of us, platforms like Facebook and Twitter are familiar. We’ve been using them for years, and while some of the features have changed, the basic functions of those platforms have stayed the same. 

And then there’s Instagram. Launched in October 2010, it started as a photo-sharing app. Users could post a single square photo, often heavily filtered by Instagram’s in-app photo editing tools, to their feed for friends to see. 

Today, Instagram is a much more complex platform. Carousels – multiple photos in a single post – were introduced in 2015. Stories were launched in 2016. The ability to post rectangular photos – instead of just square – was added in 2017. Perhaps most importantly, in 2021 Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, posted a video with the caption “we’re no longer just a square photo-sharing app,” announcing what many users already knew – Instagram had officially shifted their focus to video content like Reels. 

But what are all these different features? And how can you use them as an author or business owner? Let’s take a look. 

Instagram Photo Posts

While it definitely doesn’t look the same now as it did back in 2010, the classic Instagram staple is still alive and thriving – the static image posted to your profile that is then visible in your followers’ Feed. Posts can be square or rectangular – portrait or landscape – and can be a single image or a carousel of up to ten photos. 

Every photo post includes a caption that can be as short as you want or as long as 2,200 characters. In addition, captions can include emojis, and relevant hashtags, and can tag other Instagram users/profiles. Captions can not include clickable links – links can only be shared as a single link in your profile’s bio, or as a sticker in an Instagram Story. 

You can get around this by including a call to action in your captions, inviting fans to “click the link in our bio” or “visit our website.” 

Instagram Stories

In 2016, Instagram launched Stories – short-format vertical (9:16) photos or videos that are not posted to your profile. Instead, Stories live separately at the top of your Feed or your Profile, and disappear after 24 hours. 

Historically you could only view a Story for 15 seconds before it would automatically move on to the next Story, but in the last year Instagram has been extending Story length to 60 seconds. 

For creators interested in preserving their Stories for longer than 24 hours, Instagram introduced Story Highlights. This allows you to create curated sections on your profile to add Stories too – for example, Lulu has a highlight with all our Stories about new blog posts. Stories in Highlights do not expire, so they are always accessible to new followers.

If your profile is public, or a business account, anyone can view your Stories. If your profile is private, only your followers can view your Stories. Users with public profiles can curate a select list of their followers, known as a “Close Friends List,” to view exclusive or private Story content. 

Stories also add a variety of interactive features designed to encourage engagement between users. There are a variety of Stickers you can add to a Story – you can create polls with customizable questions and answers, invite viewers to ask questions, add a countdown to a specific date or event, create your own custom brand Stickers, and more. Learn more about the variety of applicable Stickers in the Instagram Help Center

Instagram Reels

The most recent of the major Instagram post types, and the one most thoroughly promoted by Instagram itself right now, is Instagram Reels. Reels are short-form videos – up to 90 seconds – that combine the style of an Instagram Story and the functionality of an Instagram photo post. 

Reels are 9:16 videos that take up the whole, or the majority, of your phone screen in the same way that Stories do, but are not restricted to a 24-hour lifespan. Reels can be posted directly to your main profile, showing up as a new post in your grid, and can also be viewed in a separate Reels tab on your profile. 

Sound familiar? Instagram Reels are largely considered to be a direct response to the overwhelming success and popularity of TikTok. And in fact, many of the trends and popular content styles are the same on both apps. 

With Instagram openly shifting its priority focus to video content over photo content, it is essential for you to become familiar with the art of Instagram Reels. To learn more about Instagram Reels: 

Basic Free Promotion on Instagram

Now that we have a better understanding of the different ways you can use Instagram, let’s take a look at how you can use those features to promote yourself, your business, and your book through everyday Instagram activity. 

Tips & Best Practices

Before you get started or get too far into your Instagram strategy, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

1. Business Accounts versus Personal Profiles

When you register for an Instagram account you will automatically create a standard user account. If you intend to use your account to promote your brand, you may want to consider an Instagram business account.

Business accounts have several advantages – to start, you’ll have access to all kinds of invaluable insights and data that you wouldn’t normally have access to as a personal user. You’ll also have access to a professional dashboard and built-in Instagram analytics tools. Business accounts are also necessary if you’re interested in doing any paid promotion on Instagram, either by boosting your post or running paid ads. 

Instagram thoroughly details the steps to convert a personal profile into a business account

2. Professional Branding

I’ve already touched on the idea of keeping a consistent look across all your social media platforms, and that definitely holds true for Instagram as well. But you should also consider creating an aesthetic for your brand’s presence on Instagram specifically. 

Some Instagram users are highly selective about what content they post on their Instagram in an attempt to give their profile a specific look or style. Posting only images that fit into a certain color palette is one example. Other accounts stick to a post template – if they regularly post graphics of empowering quotes, for example, they’ll use the same template for every new post, turning their profile into a uniform grid. 

For others, the aesthetic focus is on Story presentation. Part of the customization of Stories includes adding text overlay to your graphics and videos, or adding a colorful background. Instagram provides options for font, style, and color customization for these extras. Consider picking a specific “look” for your brand and sticking to it – use the same font on all Stories, the same highlight color for the font, and the same preset background. Users will begin to recognize, even subconsciously, your content as being yours if it has a consistent style. 

Finally, consider using a custom brand hashtag. It’s an excellent way to keep track of all your brand-specific posts. It’s also a great way to encourage fans of your brand to share their own content with you – if someone posts a picture of your book with your brand hashtag in the caption, you’ll see it. 

To learn more about using hashtags on Instagram, check out this help article from Instagram or this guide from HootSuite. 

3. Post Quality Content

Whether its priority is video content or photo content, the fact remains that Instagram is an image-first platform. You could write the snappiest, wittiest caption in the world, with a call to action leading people to the most valuable book money can buy, and all of it would mean absolutely nothing if your image is bad.

If you want users to “stop the scroll” and pause long enough to actually read, and hopefully even engage with, your Instagram content, you need to post content that will get their attention. Your photos and videos should be high-quality, eye-catching images – not screenshots of your website with your book so small you can’t even read the text on the cover, not videos that look like they were filmed in the dark on a flip phone. 

Odds are good that you’ve got a perfectly serviceable camera on whatever device you’re reading this post from. And there are tons of resources online to help you practice and perfect your photography and videography skills. The bottom line is: there is no point wasting your time on an Instagram presence or Instagram content strategy unless you’re going to post images and videos that meet a certain standard. If that’s not for you, that’s fine! That just means that Instagram is not for you either. 

Experiment With Different Types of Content

Photo posts, carousels, Stories, Stickers, Reels – I’ve thrown a bunch of different kinds of content at you so far. The good news is, you don’t need to become an expert in all of them. What you do need to do is, at the very least, try all of them. 

You won’t know what resonates with your existing followers or with potential new fans until you try it, right? So experiment with all the different types of content you can use on Instagram! 

Go further than just the basics of single photo, Story, and Reel posts. Try posting a photo of your book, a photo of you with your book, and a digitally-created graphic of your book, and see which one gets the most engagement. Try posting videos to your feed, videos exclusively in your Reels tab, and videos in your Story. Test out single images versus carousels of images. 

You can even experiment with how you’re posting on Instagram! Test out different times to post – do you get more engagement if you post in the morning, at lunchtime, or in the evening? Do your posts get more attention when you post regularly – once, maybe multiple times a day, or are you better off posting every few days? Do your Stories get more views when you’re sharing updates in real-time, or when you’re posting after the fact?

Try everything! Try it twice! Track your progress and results, so you can understand exactly what works best for you. Eventually, you’ll find a content strategy that works for you, and before you know it you’ll be an Instagram pro. 

Promoting Your Brand & Book on Instagram

Okay, but what kind of content? How do you take these different post types and use them to grow your business? 

The first step is to understand that your presence on Instagram, or any other social media platform, is about growing your audience for your brand, not your individual products. Books have a surprisingly short shelf life. Most customers aren’t going to buy more than one copy of a single book, so you won’t be creating repeat customers by putting all your efforts into promoting just one book. 

Of course, you should promote your book! In fact, Instagram is an excellent platform specifically for book promotion, thanks to the fairly massive community known as #bookstagram. Post aesthetically posed portraits of your book. Post quickly snapped photos of your book in the wild. Post graphics with your favorite quotes, teaser content, and with reviews from readers and fans. Never forget to include a call to action encouraging viewers to buy your book, and always make sure that your book is easily accessible from your profile. 

But promoting your book should not be the end-all-be-all of your Instagram content strategy. You want people to buy your book, sure, but you want them to remember your brand. That way, when you put out a new book – or any other product related to your brand – they’re already true fans, primed to buy from you too. 

How do you promote your brand? Instagram may have different options for sharing content, but you can still post valuable information on Instagram. Consider, for example, creating a carousel of graphics with four key points from your latest blog post, then a call to action telling viewers that if they found this information helpful, they can find more on your website. You can even make use of tools like your bio link or the link sticker on Stories to send viewers to your site.

But, perhaps, more importantly, Instagram gives you the opportunity to ground your brand in the real world. You’re reminding your followers that you’re not just another voice shouting out of the void – you’re a person, an author, an entrepreneur, doing your best to share something valuable from one human to another. 

Looking for a few content ideas? 

  • Share behind-the-scenes content 
  • Share a Story of you getting ready in the morning for a day of managing your business
  • Create a Reel of you packing an order 
  • Post a carousel of before and after pictures as you edit your next draft
  • Share photos and videos from events and book signings you’ve either attended or spoken at

Share insights into what makes you stand out not just as a brand but as a person of interest in your field; show your viewers why they should trust you to teach them something new. 

Basic Paid Promotion on Instagram

While the majority of your Instagram activity will be everyday content posted to your profile – also known as organic content – you may sometimes want to put money behind a promotional campaign. Paid promotion can be a valuable way to deliver your content to a targeted audience (of your choosing), to spotlight posts that may otherwise get lost in the vast ocean of Instagram content, and to directly sell your books. Campaigns can be especially valuable during the holiday shopping season, if you’re running any big promotions or discounts, or right around the time your book launches. 

There are two main ways to promote content on Instagram – the first is to create an ad campaign, and the second is to boost an organic post. But before we get into either of those there’s a key detail we haven’t talked about yet. 

Instagram Ad Campaigns

Instagram is owned by Facebook. Instagram, in all its millennial, photo, and video-sharing simplicity and glory, is part of the Metaverse. More often than not, this fact is avoidable. Sure, you’ll notice that you’re always given the option to cross-post your Instagram posts to a Facebook profile, but otherwise, the user experiences are pretty exclusive. 

Until you get into paid promotion on Instagram, that is. Because paid promotion on Instagram generally requires a Facebook Business Account. And most of your paid campaigns are built and executed from Facebook Business Manager, regardless of whether you’re running them on Facebook, Instagram, or both. 

Because ad campaigns are created in Facebook Business Manager, the individual ads don’t exist on your Instagram profile. You’ll never see those ads on your grid or in your Reels or Stories tabs, and users won’t stumble across them organically – they’ll only be delivered to the audience you target, and they’ll cease to exist once the campaign is over. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of running a paid promotional campaign, let me teach you. Pay extra attention to the section on measuring campaign success and some of the included resources for creating a successful ad campaign. 

Boosting Organic Content on Instagram

The other way to promote your content on Instagram is by boosting an individual post. Boosting a post will deliver it to a wider audience of Instagram users. You get to define that audience, so who exactly those people are is up to you. It might be your followers, but just a higher percentage of them than an organic post would generally get. Or it might be a lookalike audience of your followers – people who have specific markers in common with people that follow you but don’t follow you themselves. 

While you don’t need a Facebook Business Account for this type of ad, you do need to have a business Instagram account. If you do have that setup, you should see a button in the bottom right corner of every post giving you the option to “Boost Post.”

Instagram Boost Button on a post

Simply tap that button and follow the step-by-step instructions to boost your post! This help article from Instagram outlines how to boost a post with a Facebook Business Account. Alternatively, you can learn more about how to boost a post without a Facebook Business Account in this article

While a campaign created in Facebook Business Manager exists only in ad space, never on your Instagram profile, boosted posts started out as content that was posted directly to your profile. That means you’ll see any engagement on the ad – including likes, saves, and comments – directly on that existing post on your profile. It also means that, because the Instagram algorithm prioritizes content that has high engagement, your boosted post will likely get more organic engagement too. 

Whether you choose to run paid campaigns, boost organic content, or both, The Metaverse provides extensive resources to help you build Instagram Ads. 

Selling Your Products On Instagram

Let’s be honest – we’ve all bought at least one thing from Instagram in the last few years, right? 

Instagram offers several fairly unique opportunities for you to sell your products directly from your Instagram profile. Business accounts are able to set up “storefronts” on Instagram, allowing users to browse, add to cart, and even purchase products without ever leaving the Instagram app. 

There are ways to add your books as products right on your Instagram profile. If you’re using Lulu Direct, you can link your site to your Instagram storefront using these instructions from Meta Business Solutions or, if your site is powered by Shopify, these instructions from Shopify

If you’re not set up to sell directly from your own site, but still want to experiment with social media selling, consider the Shopify Starter Plan. Shopify recently introduced this option as a way for creators and entrepreneurs to dip their toes in the vast direct-to-consumer ocean, making use of the “Link in Bio” feature on social platforms like Instagram.

You Got This!

Social media marketing can seem like a big challenge, especially for a new brand vying for attention on a massive platform with a worldwide audience. And honestly, it is a big challenge. But it’s a challenge that can be well worth the effort! Just remember a few basic tips:

  • Don’t spread yourself too thin!
  • Instagram is all about quality video and photo content – don’t waste your own time by posting low-quality images that will get lost in the crowd.
  • Experiment with different content types, content styles, posting schedules, etc.
  • Promote your brand (that’s you!) as well as your book to earn true fans.

And above all, remember you got this! There’s a whole new world of readers and fans out there, and you have all the skills you need to find them, connect with them, and sell your book to them. Or, at the very least, get them to watch your Reel.

Lauren V, Social Media Manager

Lauren is the Social Media Manager at Lulu, which means she gets paid to spend a lot of time on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram every day. When she’s not browsing social media she can often be found voraciously reading romance novels, collecting books, or attempting to exorcize her cat.

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