Instagram For Dummies
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There are a ton of techniques that will help you do well on Instagram. Sometimes, however, it helps to understand what not to do to ensure you create better content or build a better community with your Instagram followers.

Instagram don'ts ©Shutterstock/Dean Drobot

If you want to make sure you make the best of Instagram, it can help to learn what doesn’t work or what will annoy other people so you can avoid those mistakes.

Using the same name as your Instagram username

Nothing says “amateur” on Instagram faster than when your name and username are the same exact thing.

The username is designed to be all lowercase and a string of words, names, or numbers perhaps separated by a period (.) or an underscore (_). The name of the account, however, should be in sentence format, utilizing capital letters, spacing, and even emojis.

If you want your username and your name to both be your actual name, your username might be @barackobama while your name would be “Barack Obama.” (No pressure or anything.)

You could include emojis in your name, to add more personality to it. Because the only searchable criteria on Instagram are your name and username, if you want to be potentially found for something in particular (like your career), you might want that keyword to be part of your name.

So, while you may keep your username as @barackobama, your name might read “Barack Obama, Former President.” Just note that you’re limited to 30 characters for your name, so your name can’t be, “Barack Obama, Former President, Husband to Michelle, Father to Malia and Sasha.” That kind of info is what your bio is for.

Picking an irrelevant Instagram handle

Your username is how you’re recognized on Instagram. From posting to liking other content and more, you are your username. Therefore, it should appropriately reflect who you are.

A random series of letters and numbers will make you hard to recognize. It will also make you look untrustworthy, and more people will be skeptical that your account is spam or fake, making them less likely to interact with you. An awkward or random username can also make it hard for people to find you if they’re trying to spell out your username to find you in search.

You can avoid these issues by picking a username that’s easy to recognize and share!

The exception to this rule would be if you wanted to keep your account more private and not have it easily found in search. In this case, you might actually want to consider a username that is irrelevant to your actual name.

Using a bad profile photo

One of the downsides to Instagram profile photos is that they get reduced to a very small size in the feed. Even a great full-size photo can look bad or poorly formatted when shrunk down to a circle one-half inch in diameter.

In some cases, a perfectly normal photo looks inappropriate or resembles a completely different object when the size is dramatically reduced. Images with a lot of text also tend to look bad on Instagram — the text becomes illegible.

Choose an image that has good resolution, a clear object of focus, and a simple background. Avoid using a really busy image for your profile photo. If there are lots of people in the photo, or if it has a messy background, the context of the image will get lost when it’s shrunk down.

Not including a bio for your Instagram profile

The description in your bio is an easy place to tell new people on Instagram who you are. Leaving this field blank is the equivalent of walking up to someone at a party, telling them your name, and then saying nothing else about yourself.

Your bio can say anything you want about who you are, what you do, what you’re known for, and so on. Take the time to write something that will help you to connect with new people who find you on Instagram.

Ignoring Instagram stories

Instagram stories are currently used by more than 500 million people every single day. With such a large audience and opportunity to connect with new people, you don’t want to ignore this part of the app.

Instagram has put a big focus on story-formatted content, and it’s expected that this type of content will only continue to grow in its creation and consumption. Ignoring stories means that you won’t attract as many followers.

Plus, if your existing followers prefer to consume story content and you’re not creating that type of content, you’ll miss out on the opportunities to connect with those followers.

Not using captions

Instagram is a visual platform, designed around photos and videos, both in the feed and in stories. It wasn’t designed for lots of text or long blocks to read through. And although a photo may say a thousand words, a good Instagram caption can actually drive interactions with your followers.

A photo or video on Instagram without a caption often lacks context. The caption is the opportunity to further convey your message or purpose of the post and connect with your followers. It’s a place where you can ask questions, offer a call to action, or simply provide a story and background to the post. These types of interactions are critical to building relationships and driving conversations on Instagram. Don’t leave a blank, empty caption on your posts!


Hashjacking is the act of using trending hashtags on your posts to show up in front of new people. If you’re attending New York Fashion Week and use the #nyfw hashtag in your posts, that’s okay, because your content is actually related to the #nyfw hashtag. But if your post has nothing to do with New York Fashion Week, then using the #nyfw hashtag would be hashjacking because you’re using a popular hashtag just to try to get your image or video in front of a popular audience.

Hashjacking is heavily frowned upon. The content that shows up in trending tags but is completely irrelevant is usually ignored at best. If you’re hoping to find new people, chances are, these people aren’t going to follow you — plus, now they have a bad impression of you, so using this method can actually hurt your reputation.

You may even find your content getting reported for spam by people who don’t think your content belongs. And getting flagged for spam content will punish your account for at least 24 hours because you won’t show up in other hashtag searches.

With the consequences of hashjacking, it’s not worth using these hashtags unless, you actually have content related to the topic.

Tagging Instagram users who are not in the photo

You can easily tag other accounts in your Instagram posts. Tagging people is so easy, in fact, that people often take advantage of it! You should only tag people or brands that actually appear in the post itself.

For example, if you share a photo of you and your friends at a local restaurant, you could tag each of the people in the photo. You could also tag the restaurant’s Instagram account because you’re eating there. And you could even tag the brands for the clothing you’re wearing in the photo. All of that would be acceptable because those accounts are in the photo you uploaded.

What you don’t want to do is tag a bunch of other accounts of famous people, or influencers you want to connect with, or brands that aren’t in the photo, or people you follow. Some people do this to try to grab the attention of these other accounts, but the kind of attention you’ll get is negative at best.

Another common tactic some people use is to post a motivational quote or similar content and then tag a bunch of people they want to “inspire.” Unless these people are your friends, most people don’t want to be tagged in your photos.

These tagging tactics can often be viewed as spam and may get your account flagged for bad behavior. If you’re regularly tagging people inappropriately, they may also unfollow you or block you. So, avoid these tactics and only tag the people or accounts who actually appear in the post.

Following everyone who follows you on Instagram

Instagram is a heavily engaged platform, and you’ll see a lot of reciprocity where people follow you back if you follow them. But there is no expectation of reciprocal following. You don’t need to follow everyone who follows you.

Instagram is meant to be fun. But it will only be fun if the content you see in your feed is content that you want to see. If it’s full of your friends, family, favorite celebrities, brands you love, and accounts that inspire you, then you’ll enjoy it, which means you’ll log in more often, interact with more content, and enjoy the whole experience.

In contrast, if you follow hundreds of people you don’t know simply because they followed you, your feed will include those people’s posts, with their families, musings, random content, and whatever else they choose to post. Chances are, this content won’t be relevant to you and you won’t want to see it or interact it with it.

There’s no need to fill your feed with things that don’t matter to you! If someone follows you and you like her content, follow her back. But don’t feel any obligation to follow everyone who follows you.

Using automated tools to follow or like others

As you get deeper into the Instagram experience, you’ll likely discover a variety of tools that offer services to augment your Instagram experience. Many of these apps or websites are legitimate tools that properly integrate with Instagram and will help you get more value out of Instagram.

Tools that offer to automate the process of liking posts, leaving comments, or following people for you are not these approved tools. In fact, any tool that does this is violating the Instagram application programming interface (API) and violating the terms of use you agreed to when you signed up for Instagram.

Using any of these tools can put your account at risk of various penalties, up to and including your account being shut down. So, don’t rely on any tool that automates the interactions on Instagram for you!

You can, however, use a tool or app that helps you manage your Instagram account. Tools like Hootsuite allow you to connect your Instagram account so that you can post to it from a desktop and manage your comments and other notifications.

Most of these dashboard tools, like Agorapulse, Sprout Social, and Tailwind, only integrate with Instagram Business profiles though. Again, this is due to the way the Instagram API is set up. If you’re using a personal profile on Instagram, you’ll find most tools limited in their ability to integrate with your account.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Jenn Herman, a social media consultant and world-renowned Instagram expert, pens a top-rated social media blog, Jenn's Trends.

Corey Walker offers social media strategy, content, ad management, and analytics focused on Instagram and Facebook.

Eric Butow provides website design, online marketing, and technical documentation services to businesses.

Jenn Herman, a social media consultant and world-renowned Instagram expert, pens a top-rated social media blog, Jenn's Trends.

Corey Walker offers social media strategy, content, ad management, and analytics focused on Instagram and Facebook.

Eric Butow provides website design, online marketing, and technical documentation services to businesses.

John Sonmez is a software developer and the author of two best-selling books, The Complete Software Developer's Career Guide and Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual. He is also the founder of the Simple Programmer blog and YouTube channel. Eric Butow is the owner of Butow Communications Group (BCG), which offers website design, online marketing, and technical documentation services for businesses. He is the author of 32 computer and user experience books.

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