Instagram Best Practices

Instagram Best Practices

Instagram is a visually forward social media platform that emphasizes photo and video sharing. UC Davis uses Instagram to primarily access current and prospective students by posting content surrounding student life, university information, and prospective student admissions.

Post to tell a story.

Use good-quality and inclusive imagery specific to UC Davis and your unit to pull audience members in and connect them with your content. Create content that is relevant to your audience while also staying true to the goals of your account. Don’t post just to post; make sure your content has a purpose and that that purpose is meeting your audience’s needs and the communication needs of your unit. 

Leverage user-generated content (UGC). 

One way to keep up with content volume and engage your audience is to feature their content on your account. Search hashtags and key accounts to source potential partners. Ask your student interns and staff if they can share their best images, videos and stories for you to use. Always ask for permission to re-post content that has already been posted, and give credit to the owner of the content by tagging their account or mentioning their name in the caption of the post. Be sure to check out that person’s account so you are linking back to a credible person and that their account is appropriate to be tagged. 

Follow the ideal specifications.

Instagram is all about great visuals and content. Photos should be tightly cropped, and subjects should fill the image frame. Photos should be resized with a maximum size no larger than 1080 pixels wide by 1350 pixels high – any larger photo dimensions uploaded will be converted and compressed by Instagram, reducing the quality of the photo post. 

There is no perfect time to post.  

Post with frequency throughout the week, but not more than twice per day if you can avoid it. Use scheduling tools, like Sprinklr, to help spread out your content throughout the week. Optimal posting times depend on your audience’s behavior, and Sprinklr’s smart scheduling tool shares these optimal times based on your user data. 

Instagram Reels.

Reels are an Instagram feature created to meet social media users’ growing want for short video content. Every video uploaded to Instagram is considered a Reel. They are vertical and have the dimensions 1080x1920; however, horizontal video content can be uploaded as a Reel, so long as it fits within these dimensions. Over half of people interact with a Reel (by liking, commenting, or sharing) at least once a week, and Reels make up more than half of content shared in messages. Therefore, incorporating Reels onto your feed is a great way to engage users.

Instagram tends to promote Reels through the algorithm in order to compete for user’s attention with other short-video format platforms like TikTok and YouTube Shorts. There are some tips for creating better performing Reels on Instagram. For example, if you edit videos in another app, make sure to also use Instagram Reels editing tools such as captions, voiceover and music in-app so that the algorithm prefers your content over, for example, a video brought over directly from TikTok. Additionally, using Instagram Reels editor features on the video itself makes it more accessible. 

Instagram Reels features:

  • Editor - If you’ve ever worked with iMovie, the Instagram Reels editor is quite similar. It’s easy to use, and since we recommend most features be added to a video using the Reels editor, it is a good idea to create the video entirely in-app.
  • Text - Add text to your video when appropriate using the text feature that is identical to Instagram Stories. Use text for big ideas and concepts in the video and be sure not to override the video with too much text.
  • Audio - If you have a personal account on Instagram, you have access to a wide variety of trending music that can be applied to any reel. If you have a business account however, you only have access to a limited amount of non-copyrighted music. While these options aren’t great, it is one of the pitfalls to having a business account.
  • Captions - Most times, your Reel will have some form of audio component. Whether it’s a song, a person speaking or a voiceover, it’s important to have captions to be accessible. Use the captions editor and adjust the wording to make sure the captions accurately transcribe the audio component.
  • GIFs - Using UC Davis GIFs on Instagram Reels can appeal to your brand in a visually appealing way. To access the UC Davis bank of GIFs, click the "GIF" option on your compose menu and search for “UCDavis." You can also see all UC Davis GIFs on our UC Davis Giphy account
  • Effects - there is an option to add filters and effects to videos. While filters and effects are not recommended, you can use them if a specific trend calls for those features.

[Instagram Reels help] 

Hashtag and keyword searches.

Keep track of conversations happening around your area or #UCDavis through saved searches. Familiarize yourself with the UC Davis frequently used hashtags. For more hashtag strategy, visit our best practices for content building.

Leverage the Stories format for a big impact.

Instagram Stories are an engaging element on the platform. Stories allow you to create immersive, full-screen, content that incorporate photos, videos, text, graphics and other interactive features. Use Stories to pull your audience in for topically relevant bursts of edutainment. 

Post Stories more frequently than in-feed. Posting Stories 3-4 days per week is a good practice. When sharing a link, it is better to share links via Instagram Stories rather than in-feed because users can click on them.

Instagram Story features:

  • Text - Add text to your story using the text feature. Be sure not to override the video with too much text.
  • Mention - Tag relevant or mentioned accounts to increase traffic to their page and also to increase traffic to your page if they repost your story.
  • Interactive Features - Questions, quizzes, polls, slide bars and "Add Yours" are a great way to engage with your followers and learn more about them.
    • Questions - Use the question sticker to a receive a personalized written response from your followers.
    • Quiz - Use this feature to quiz your audience about a particular topic that is relevant to your account. A good practice is to include a slide following the quiz question explaining the answer and its relevance. 
    • Poll - Use polls to gauge what your audience is feeling about a certain topic. Be cautious about the questions you ask, as you don’t want your audience to overwhelmingly choose an option that may provide backlash or evoke something controversial. 
    • Slide Bar - A simple way to engage users is by asking them to move the slide bar to gauge their feelings on whatever you ask. You can change the slide bar emoji, so choose an emoji that relates to the story.
    • "Add Yours" - This sticker feature allows you to create a prompt that users can use to add to a giant communal story. As a professional account, do not use this feature as users can upload content publicly that you cannot control which can lead to inappropriate content being linked to your account. 
  • Link - You can provide links to a website without having users go to your bio. It is highly recommended that you use this feature to link out to your website, resources, etc. Make sure your link is relevant to the story. Links can also increase your website traffic.
  • Countdown - This calendar-like feature is a sticker that allows you to choose a date and time. Use this feature to promote a future event, as it allows users to set a reminder for that event.
  • Hashtag - Use hashtags when appropriate, but not too much. Hashtags only create engagements through sticker taps.
  • GIFs - If you’re wondering where the best place to use GIFs on Instagram is, it’s on Stories. Using UC Davis GIFs on Instagram Stories can appeal to your brand and make the story more visually interesting. To access the UC Davis bank of GIFs, click the "GIF" option on your compose menu and search for “UCDavis." You can also see all UC Davis GIFs on our UC Davis Giphy account
  • Filters - You can add filters to stories, but it is not recommended.
  • Draw - Use this feature to create squiggly lines, dots and other design features that may increase the visual appeal of your story. Use this appropriately and sparingly. 

Creating an entire Instagram Story that looks professional is difficult to do natively through the app. We strongly recommend using digital design tools like Canva to design Instagram stories. Incorporate space into these designs to then manually add these features on top of those stories. Engagement is important, so don’t miss out on these interactive features.

Instagram Accessibility Best Practices

When posting on Instagram, key accessibility areas to consider are: graphics, image and video descriptions, alternative text, video captioning, post copy and profile setup (for both in-feed and story posts).

In-Feed and Reels Posts  

Image Accessibility

Graphics: General guidelines 

  • The most frequent graphic accessibility mistakes on Instagram are too much text, text that is not large enough, or over-reliance on graphics and color to convey important information without sufficiently writing alt text to accompany it. 

Image descriptions: General guidelines 

  • Include it in the post copy and separate from the rest of the post copy with a line break. 

Alt text: General guidelines 

  • You can add alt text when posting natively, from your management platform, or edit it after you post.
  • How to add alt text: Instagram Help 

Video Accessibility

Captioning: General guidelines

  • Instagram in-feed videos (Reels) only allow for burned-in (open) captions.   
  • If you’re developing your video in Instagram, you can use the “Captions” sticker available on Stories and Reels.  
    • Be sure to edit the sticker captions for accuracy. 
    • Don’t forget to include burned-in song lyrics too.
    • How to add stickers captions to Instagram Reels: Instagram sticker help
  • Leave an appropriate amount of room above or below the video captions. Consider where the video captions will be in relation to the post copy when you are in the Reels interface on a mobile device.
  • Note: if a post has no burned-in captions, individual users can turn on auto-captioning as an alternative.  

Video description: General guidelines

  • Include your description in the post copy and separate it from the rest of the post copy with a line break.
  • Remember to include a flashing imagery warning at the top of your post copy if necessary.

Post copy: General guidelines 

  • Here is our recommended order for setting up an accessible post copy on Instagram: example
  1. Post copy 
  2. Photo credits
  3. #CamelCaseHashtags 
  4. Image or video description. If there are multiple images in a post (carousel), include a description for all images like this:
    • Image descriptions:
    • 1: First image description
    • 2: Second image description

Story Post

Image Accessibility

Graphics: Be mindful of readability, especially when getting creative with design elements.

  • Think about how someone can consume content in 15 seconds, and what might distract them from the information: overuse of stickers, colors, or moving images. 

Image descriptions: no option available

  • Because alt text and image descriptions are not available on Instagram Stories, consider turning graphics into videos and adding voice recordings on each slide.

Alt text: no option available

Video Accessibility

Captioning: Always use burned in captions when posting videos to Instagram Stories, including song lyrics.

  • Leave an appropriate amount of room above and below video captions. Consider where the video captions will be in relation to the profile name at the top and reply box at the bottom in the Instagram Story interface on a mobile device.
  • An option for burning in captions if you’re developing your video in Instagram is to use the “Captions” sticker available on Stories.
  • How to add caption stickers: Instagram Help 

Video Descriptions: no option available

Profile Setup 

Things to keep in mind when you are building your profile and bio:

  • Capitalize letters only when appropriate. Use CamelCase hashtags, shorten your URL link if you can and avoid excessive emojis.
  • Check the text size on your profile image and Highlights thumbnail. Double check the text size on your phone to see if the words are large enough.

More resources: Instagram Help