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Instagram 101: How to get started with Instagram

Instagram 101: How to get started with Instagram


It’s not hard to join this image-based social network

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Instagram on phone
Photo by Brennan King / The Verge

If you haven’t added Instagram to your set of social networking apps, then perhaps you should give it a try. Instagram places the emphasis on visuals — photos, GIFs, videos — but the difference between it and, say, TikTok, is that it doesn’t necessarily depend on off-the-cuff, in-the-moment material.

Instead, you can choose the best photos or videos you’ve got and present them to the world as finished products. Or, if you want, you can just take a photo or video and pop it in for an immediate reaction. It’s up to you.

Instagram is a mobile-centric app. You can access your account on the web, but it’s really meant to be used on a mobile device. Here’s how you can start an Instagram account on your phone; in this example, we’re using an Android phone, but the app isn’t much different on the iPhone.

  • Download the app for your Android or iOS device. You’ll be invited to sign in if you’ve already got an account, or start a new account. In this case, of course, we’re starting a new one.
  • The first thing you’ll be asked will be if you want to allow Instagram to access your contacts. You can allow it or deny it; if you choose the latter, you can still sign up.
  • You can then start to create your new account by entering either your phone number or your email address.
  • Create a password — and notice that you’re being invited to either “Continue and Sync Contacts” (which will be highlighted) or “Continue Without Syncing Contacts.” The small print beneath explains that your contacts will be synced on Instagram’s servers to help you find friends and “help us provide a better service.” Choose whichever you’d like.
  • You’re then going to be asked to add your birthday. Why? Because it “improves the features and ads you see.” And presumably, verifies whether you’re an adult.
  • The next screen welcomes you to Instagram. The app will create an automatic username for you from the name that you entered when you registered (the username is what will be used to identify all your content). However, if you want something more imaginative, you can change it at this point to any name you like (assuming nobody else has taken it already). If the name you want is available, you’ll get a checkmark and can go on to the next screen.
  • The next screen invites you to “Find Facebook Friends to Follow.” You can connect your account to Facebook at this point or skip the screen. If you choose skip, you’ll be given a second chance — are you sure you don’t want to connect to Facebook? Really truly? Oh, well. Skip if you must.
  • On the next screen, you can add your profile photo. It’s a good idea to do so; it will help identify you to your followers. The profile photo can be of you, of your favorite pet, or of whomever (or whatever) you want. You can import it from Facebook, choose it from your mobile library of photos, or take a selfie right then and there.
  • Once you’ve entered your profile photo, Instagram will offer to create your first post using that photo. It’s not a bad idea — it’s a good way to start your feed while you’re getting acquainted with the app.
  • Instagram then gives you a list of possible people to follow — and, once again, offers to connect you to either your Facebook account or your phone’s contacts. If there are people on the list who interest you, it’s not a bad idea to pick a few to populate your feed, but if you don’t see anyone you particularly care for, don’t worry about it. You can find friends, politicians, favorite series, organizations, and a bunch of other possibilities to follow later on.

And you’re finally past the opening screens and on the main page for your Instagram feed.

Now, when you add photos, GIFs, or videos, you’ll see them in this feed; when the people who you follow add content, you’ll see that there as well, and you’ll be able to like and comment on each entry.

Need more? Here’s a quick rundown of the icons on the bottom of the screen, from left to right:

  • The home icon takes you to your main feed.
  • The search icon lets you find accounts that you are already following and accounts that you might want to follow.
  • The plus icon lets you add your own content.
  • The activity icon gives you a list of all the recent likes and comments you’ve received on your entries.
  • The profile icon brings you to your profile page, where you can edit your profile photo and description and see all the content you’ve contributed. You can also see how many posts you’ve put up, how many followers you have, and how many people are following you. (If you tap on either the “Followers” or “Following” figures, you’ll get a list of their names.)

On the top of the homepage, you can also access Stories posted by you or those you are following. (Stories are Snapchat-like entries that disappear within 24 hours.) An icon in the upper right corner lets you send private messages.

It’s now up to you to explore your Instagram account and, if you’re so inclined, to develop it into a real creative outlet.

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