Instagram has gone under some serious transformation in recent years. From its beginning as an indie darling in 2010 to its takeover by Facebook for $1 billion dollars in 2012. It’s been in the last two years that it’s truly begun to stretch its legs.

So, what is Instagram exactly? Similar to other social networks, you can follow others – whether they’re friends, family, brands, or celebrities. Then their latest posts feature in the feed. Like Facebook’s news feed, this is the crux of the app. To contribute material to your profile, you post photos, alongside which you can tag others and provide captions.

Instagram is a hotbed for celebrities.

Instagram is a hotbed for celebrities.

When the iPhone 7 was released, Instagram featured heavily in the presentation, noting it would employ the new device’s wide color gamut in an update. Furthermore, it ditched the restrictive square photo-only approach, and has also begun tweaking other elements, such as allowing replies to comments and liking others. It’s become less of a photo feed and finally feels more like a community.

There are inspiring feeds every where you look in the Instagram community

There are inspiring feeds every where you look in the Instagram community

The real joy about Instagram for us, is the self-curation. The nature of the feed, and the collective aesthetics of your own Instagram means that posting a lot of similar photos just doesn’t generally happen. It’s more about showing where you were and who you were with at a certain time, rather than creating a full record of your life, like other social media so often seems preoccupied with. In that regard, you can use Instagram as much or as little as you want.

2017 is a great time to both start, jump back in, or learn some new things on Instagram.

Getting started

Sign up for free by downloading the app from the App Store.

You’ll need to register for account, which you can do easily if you’re already on Facebook. Simply tap the “Continue as…” Facebook button. If you prefer to keep the accounts separate sign up with either your phone number or email. Then, enter your name, a password and optionally tap the + icon to add a profile picture. On the next screen, add a username. This is what will appear when you comment on someone’s photo so it’s sensible to make it relatively reflective of your actual name if you can. The app will then ask if you wish to connect to Facebook to find friends from your account over there, but you can skip this if you like.

It's easy to sign up via Facebook, email or your phone number

It’s easy to sign up via Facebook, email or your phone number

The app will then take you to the Discover People page. Most of these are celebrities, so feel free to tap ‘Follow’ if you want to see their photos in your feed. When you’ve finished, tap ‘Done.’

Now you’re in. Let’s take a quick look at the first of the five main tabs. This is Home, which is where you’ll find your feed. This will house the posts from others you follow. In the top left is a Camera icon so you can quickly make a post (we’ll get to that later,) while on the top right is a Mail icon for sending direct messages to those you follow that follow you back.

Your Home feed. This is where the latest posts from others appear

Your Home feed. This is where the latest posts from others appear

The rest of this pane is taken up with the Story bar (again, more on that at the end,) and posts from those you follow. These are generally the most recent, but since 2016, Instagram has employed an algorithm that may show you older posts from those you interact with most.

You can comment, like and otherwise interact with others via their posts

You can comment, like and otherwise interact with others via their posts

Following others

The next tab is Search. Not dissimilar to the previous page, there is a bar for other Instagrammers’ stories – but these are generally celebrity accounts. Below, popular Instagrammers’ snaps are also displayed in a grid formation. You can tap to view, or use 3D Touch to peek and pop into the photo. At the top is the main search bar. Here, you can search for a specific person, tags – for example ‘Cooking,’ or ‘Cats’ – or a place, and it’ll return relevant search results. To follow an individual simply tap ‘Follow’ next to their name and their posts will appear in your feed.

This is the search screen to help you find interesting posts and people to follow

This is the search screen to help you find interesting posts and people to follow

The forth of the five main tabs is also relevant here – this is the Heart icon, which is split into two segments – Following and You. The latter shows all those that like your photos, or comment on your posts, while the former details the activity of others – which photos they like or comment on etc. To like someone else post, tap the heart icon when you see a post you like in the main feed. You can find all your ‘liked’ photos later in Settings.

Finally, tapping on the Settings cog icon in the fifth tab – your Profile – allows you to follow others that are either current Facebook friends that also use Instagram, or Contacts from your device.

Making a post

Now, this is the fun bit. Heading to the tab with the + icon will allow you to add your own photos and posts.

Select an image from your library, or take a photo directly within the app

Select an image from your library, or take a photo directly within the app

This provides three tabs – the Library lets you choose a photo you’ve already taken, the Photo tab lets you take a new photo, and the video lets you post a clip you’ve filmed. Once you selected a photo you’ll see it in a 1:1 ratio – the traditional Instagram square image. But you can now pinch and grab to make this regular size. You can also create a photo montage or, as of February 2017, select multiple images for one post.

Tap next, and you can add a filter. Scroll to the left and tap on the various filters and see how it affects your image above. The filters range from moody to film stock throwback, and there’s lots to play with. Tap the icon in the center at the top to alter its intensity, or tap edit in the bottom right to change other elements like contrast and brightness.

Add a filter to give your photo a vintage feel

Add a filter to give your photo a vintage feel

Tap Next once more and you can write your caption. You can also include hashtags, emojis, and tag those that follow you. You can also add a location or choose to send it to other social media like Facebook or Twitter if you’ve connected those accounts. Tap Share, and you’re done!

Add a comment, maybe even an emoji and a few hashtags (one of these may be ironic)

Add a comment, maybe even an emoji and a few hashtags (one of these may be ironic)

You can then view your post count, followers and followings, plus a grid of all your photos in the Profile tab.

Using hashtags

Instagram is big on hashtags. First made famous by Twitter, they’re essentially a word or a series of words without spaces preceded by the # symbol. You can turn anything into a hashtag, and it’ll turn the tag into a link that other users can tap to find other content tagged with the same hashtag. Users use it to find other people to follow or other images to like.

Some popular ones might be #catsofinstagram #cleanliving #selfie #summer #friends #fashion etc. Check out this link for some of the top hashtags of all time.

These are the cats of Instagram – users include the hashtag #catsofinstagram in the captions photos of their cats

These are the cats of Instagram – users include the hashtag #catsofinstagram in the captions photos of their cats

Connecting accounts

If you have multiple social media accounts, you may not want to go to the hassle of posting images to those networks separately. Thankfully, you can connect to accounts like Facebook, alongside the likes of Tumblr and Flickr which will enable the app to post to these feeds simultaneously. To connect accounts tap the Settings cog icon in the profile tab, then scroll down and tap Linked Accounts. Choose which ones you want to authorize, and enter your username and password when prompted.

You can also now add multiple Instagram accounts to the app without having to log out each time. Useful for those that may want an account just for their pet, for a brand, or maybe a visual exercise diary. Scroll down a bit further and tap Add Account.

Privacy

Like the sound of Instagram but don’t want the whole world to see your comings and goings? It’s very simple to lock your account so only those that follow you can see your posts. It also means that your posts with hashtags won’t show up to those that don’t follow you either.

Your account is public by default, but to make it private head to the profile tab, tap the Settings icon and then toggle the option for Private Account.

“Stories”

On the Home feed, you’ll notice a bar near the top which encourages you to add Your Story. This was a big update when it arrived in 2016. If you follow others that have created a Story post, you might see their profile pic. Tapping on this will show a short video clip, or image.

Instagram stories can be viewed from the Home feed. Tap them to view, or create your own – you can even add text and other effects!

Instagram stories can be viewed from the Home feed. Tap them to view, or create your own – you can even add text and other effects!

You can create your own short video clip by tapping ‘Your Story’ and taking a snap – or a video by holding down on the shutter button. These are good for quick ‘Live’ style posts. They don’t stay on your profile and disappear after a day or so. If you take multiple photos or video clips, they’ll all be stitched together creating a dynamic Story.

And that’s pretty much it for the basics – there’s plenty of nuance when it comes to Instagram, and it’s well worth exploring hashtags, following a few famous people, and making your own carefully selected photo posts. Everyone’s Instagram tells a story – what will yours be?