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Instagram 101 for sports organizations


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In one of the first viaSport Social Media Toolkit modules 'what social media site should your organization be on', we suggested that sports organizations should focus primarily on Facebook and Twitter and add other 

platforms depending on human resources. Many sports organizations, however, report that while they have had great success with Facebook, they struggle on Twitter because their community members don’t use it. In fact, some sports organizations have decided to focus more of their social media efforts towards a platform that is used by a higher percentage of their community members: Instagram.

Despite its reputation for being the land of filtered photos of sunsets, Instagram is growing quickly and is an excellent fit for sports organizations. Every day, over 150 million users share over 40 million photos. Instagram’s demographic skews younger than other platforms—only 13% of users are over 35—which makes it the perfect way to reach athletes, volunteers and other younger members. Your members are already talking about your sport on Instagram. You might as well get involved in the conversation.

Think Instagram might be right for your sports organization? We’ve answered your top Instagram questions to get you started.

What can I do on Instagram?

  • Post photos
  • Add filters and other effects to your photos
  • Post 15-second videos
  • Follow users
  • Share your followers’ content (called “regramming”)
  • Use hashtags
  • Tag users
  • Geo-tag locations
  • Participate in trending hashtags like #MotivationalMonday and #TransformationTuesday.

How can I get the most out of Instagram?

  1. Instagram search screenHave a goal: Before you use any social media platform, you need to have a clear plan for success. Learn how to make a social media action plan.
  2. Discover what your audience wants: Most brands treat Instagram like a “lifestyle magazine.” Instead of directly marketing their products, they instead depict a certain lifestyle that their users might aspire to. Your sports organization, for example, might show people leading an active, healthy lifestyle. To find out what your community members want, follow them on Instagram and see what content they like and share.
  3. Connect with your audience: Too many organizations simply post photos on Instagram and forget to take part in a wider conversation. Like and comment on your followers’ posts and regram the best ones.
  4. Post consistently: Most experts recommend posting at least twice a week.
  5. Value quality over quantity: Instagram moves at a slower pace than sites like Twitter, so don’t clutter up your followers’ feeds by posting more than once or twice a day.
  6. Connect to other platforms: Instagram is owned by Facebook and there’s a great connection between the two. Amplify your Instagram reach by synching your Facebook and Instagram accounts. You should also put links to your Instagram account on your website. Learn more about how to build a communications network.
  7. Screenshot of ContrastMaximize your profile: Use your logo for your profile photo and include links to your website or other social media platforms. Make sure that your user description is short and engaging.
  8. Create a consistent look and feel: When you visit some of the best brands on Instagram, such as Starbucks or Redbull, you’ll notice that they have a consistent aesthetic. Redbull, for example, loves to show high-octane, colourful adventure photographs. Starbucks prefers a more personal touch, often using hand-drawn images. Brainstorm what words you would like people to associate with your Instagram account. Is your sport edgy? Intense? Professional? Welcoming? Fun?
  9. Tell a story: They say that a picture’s worth a thousand words. Your photos should help you tell the story of your organization’s success.
  10. Be authentic: Instagram users respond positively to authentic content. If your photos are too highly edited or your captions sound robotic, your audience will tune out.
  11. Monitor trends: Be aware of ongoing social media trends by monitoring Instagram and other social media platforms. For example, several months ago a cancer agency started a #NoMakeupSelfie hashtag that went viral. Sports organizations that posted photos of their athletes with sweaty faces after a workout were rewarded with high engagement.
  12. Tag users and locations: To increase your post’s engagement, tag individual users or geo-tag the location where the photo is taken.

How do I take a great photo to use on Instagram?

Screen shot of a filter on Instagram

If you’ve dabbled in photography, you’re probably used to taking either landscape or portrait shots. Instagram, however, uses square photos. This means that you need to adjust understanding of the basics of photography. 

Here are some recommendations from photography experts:

  • Don’t use Instagram’s camera. Use the camera on your smartphone and edit the shot in a program like Snapseed.
  • Instead of using the rule of thirds, consider putting your subject in the center of the photograph. Many photographs also take advantage of diagonal space to frame their subject.
  • Shoot in landscape and then crop your photo to a square.
  • Don’t be afraid to use empty space. Simple photographs are more popular on Instagram than visually cluttered ones.
  • Use natural lighting or make a simple light reflector. Learn how to build your own simple light reflector.
  • Use apps like PicStitch to make a collage.
  • Don’t overuse filters. A recent study found that filter use is declining among Instagram users. Lo-Fi remains the most popular filter.
  • Take lots of photos and post only the best ones.

Learn more about taking engaging photos on social media.

How do I write a great caption on Instagram?

Though, Instagram has a 2200-character limit, studies show that the most popular captions are short. Depending on the subject of your post, you might want to include a short call to action and link back to your website for more information.

Remember: hashtags are a great way to increase the reach of your post. Studies have found that seven is the ideal number of hashtags on Instagram. After seven, engagement decreases.

What content should I share on Instagram?

Athletics photo with a inspirational quoteWith a little experimentation and some research, you can discover exactly what your community wants. Studies show, however, that Instagram users are mainly interested in a behind-the-scenes look into someone else’s life. Users also appreciate content that they can relate to personally. For example, the average Instagrammer might not know how it feels to do a punishing V02 max test, but they do probably understand feeling exhausted after a workout. A selfie of a red-faced athlete recovering from her V02 max test not only gives users a peek into the intense world of high-performance sport, but it also makes the athlete more relatable.




Consider trying:

  • Landscape shots of training and competition environments. (Though it’s a cliché, sunset and sunrise shots remain immensely popular).
  • Behind-the-scenes shots of training camps, events and competition. That egg white scramble might not be interesting to you, but a user might be fascinated by the diet of a high-performance athlete.
  • Inspirational quotes.
  • Success stories. Even small success stories have a place on Instagram.
  • Staff shots: Show the people who make up your organization.
  • Milestones and other celebrations.
  • #Latergrams of vintage photos.
  • Traveling shots at airports.
  • Simple photo contests.

Learn more about creating engaging social media content.

How do I use hashtags on Instagram?

Hashtags are an excellent way to increase the reach of your posts. Studies have shown that posts with seven hashtags get the most engagement, but don’t feel that you need to cram exactly seven into each post.

To get the most out of hashtags:

  • Capitalize each word in the hashtag to make it easier to read. (e.g. #ThrowbackThursday not #throwbackthursday).
  • Research popular hashtags for your sport.
  • Monitor what hashtags your followers are using.
  • Use the same keywords on Instagram as you use in your SEO.
  • Designate a unique hashtag for an event or contest.
  • Take part in daily hashtags like #ManCrushMonday #TransformationTuesday or #ThrowbackThursday.

How do I use analytics on Instagram?

Unlike other platforms, Instagram doesn’t have its own analytics. Both SimplyMeasured and Iconosquare offer free social media analytics.

Have a question about Instagram that we didn’t tackle? Have a best practice to share? Get in the conversation by tweeting at @ViaSportBC or @arley_mcneney or emailing


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Social Media Toolkit

The social media toolkit for sport communicators is intended to help B.C. sport organizations, clubs and other sport-related organizations navigate the confusing and rapidly evolving word of social media.