Is There More to Instagram Than Just a Social Application?

Can Instagram be used for educational purposes?

Instagram Maybe. At UCLA Powell Library, they’ve had more success using Instagram to connect with their students and engaging them in teaching and learning than with any other social network they use. Using Instagram as a way to engage people into learning makes sense, because it reaches a young, urban, and diverse demographic population. The UCLA Powell Library uses four social networks to connect with their students and to engage them in learning: Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram. With Instagram being the most rewarding of the four. Their Instagram followers tend to be very engaged and alert to their content.

The use of Instagram to an academic library

Currently Instagram is the third most popular social network used by U.S. College students. It’s still behind Facebook and Twitter in terms of adoption rate, but the level of engagement on the network appears to be much higher. According to Melanie Shreffler who works at Smarty Pants, which is a youth and family market research firm, teens and people in their 20’s are spending less time on Facebook and more time on alternate social networks like Instagram.

Instagram reaches a more diverse and younger audience than other social networks. Instagram users appear to be much younger than Facebook users which tells that every new class of college students is bringing a larger pool of Instagram users. Many of the students are eager to follow the identity of the campus as they adapt to their new home. If your school, library or any other place that educates is targeting a diverse and young population, you may have more success with Instagram than other social media networks.

Connecting with college students

In early 2012 when the UCLA Powell Library were monitoring their Twitter feed, they kept finding pictures of their library with the origin on Instagram. Their students were using Instagram to record their time inside the library. For the library this was a clear sign that they needed to be in this online space. They created an account, called: @ucla_powell_library, and posted a few pictures. Thereafter they liked every picture that was geotagged to the library. Even though they maintained minimal presence on the network, their base started to grow, fast. This shows that even a library, which most often is linked to obligations to study, can easily grow and gain a wide audience on Instagram.

How to use Instagram for teaching and learning?

Instagram has become a fun learning tool for the UCLA Powell Library and their students. Last summer, they had an exhibit that featured medical artifacts from the Civil War. They took a picture of a surgical tools kit, which had a few things including a small traveling saw that is used for amputations, and posted it with the question, ‘Can anyone guess what the saw was used for?’ At the time, they had only 95 followers, but nonetheless received a few guesses and various likes, which is a lot more interaction than they would have seen on Facebook.

The UCLA Powell Library also integrates content that comes from the UCLA’s curriculum. By doing this they seek to distribute the knowledge that comes from one course to others in the community. An example; last year they worked with a class studying the history of the brain. They took a picture of a very beautiful, old phrenology map owned by the library and that was used in the course. They posted it on Instagram with the following question: Does anyone know what this map of the head is? Someone guessed the correct answer, right away. They subsequently followed up with some worth knowing facts about the history of phrenology.

They found out that special collection items and digital library images can be a treasure of social media content. The library has several goals, one of them is to increase students’ exposure to special collections items. Because of that they post one whenever they can. One of their former interns would search their digital library for historical pictures related to the current day in history. He then would post the picture with some interesting information about the event or person. Many of the special items are old enough to avoid copyright concerns, but it is always best to check with your library’s copyright expert before posting anything.

Tips on gaining popularity on Instagram

As many know; the better your pictures look on Instagram, the more successful you will be. The quality of the pictures is much more important on Instagram than on other social networks like Facebook or Twitter. To purchase IG followers can be a good approach, both if you’re just starting or if you’re already made your entrance to the social media networking site. A nifty tip to get better-looking pictures is to never use the camera function on the Instagram app. But instead use the default camera app of your phone and then go to Instagram to crop, filter and post the picture. You can also consider using a picture-editing app like Pixlr, InSelfie and Snapseed.

Another great tip is to be wisely with the rate of posting. Every image you post will appear in the feeds of your followers and when you spam their feed, they will unfollow you. The UCLA Powell Library found that they don’t need to post more than two to three pictures a day. Their sweet spot is to post one perfectly-crafted picture a day. So if you want to grow your account, experiment with the rate of posting and find your own sweet-spot.


We began this article with the following questions; ‘Is there more to Instagram than just a social application?’ And ‘Can it be used for educational purposes?’. As seen with the experience from the UCLA Powell Library there is more to Instagram. It can be used for many purposes like spreading information and educating people. Besides that, Instagram can be used to grow your business and bring it under attention of the population you want to reach. The answer to the second question is more difficult to answer. Yes, the library gained attention of their students through the follows and likes, but does this tell that the students actually learn from the information in the posts. Or do they follow and interact with the account for a different reason? One of the reasons can be that they use the library account to gain some followers on their own. To really get a solid answer to this question this needs to be tested. But even if most of the students don’t remember or pay attention to the information in the posts, the information still gets spread and will educate the people that are interested.

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