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What is Instagram? A beginner's guide

It's like your old-fashioned photo albums but with things called 'hashtags.'
November 29, 2022
Instagram stock image 9
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

Instagram — the platform that launched the whole photo filters craze, as well as countless influencer careers. It’s now the property of Facebook/Meta, and as such, a lot of loyal users are not happy with the direction in which Instagram is heading in its relentless quest to catch up with TikTok. However, it remains a popular platform, much beloved by e-commerce, influencers, and celebrities. In case you are an Instagram newbie asking yourself, “what is Instagram?”, we have put together a huge guide that pulls together all of our previously published work on the topic.

What is Instagram?

instagram android authority

Instagram is a photo-sharing service reminiscent of Flickr, where users can add image filters, captions, and clickable hashtags and tag other users. Due to its ownership by Facebook, the user can also cross-post those images to their Facebook account.

The company was founded in 2010 and was originally only for iOS phones. It took two years for the Android version to appear after Facebook shelled out a billion dollars for the business. By this point, Instagram had over 30 million users. Today in 2022, that number is a conservative two billion users. A desktop version is now available, but for a long time, Instagram was (and still is, to a large extent) a smartphone-dependent platform. As of November 2022, there is still no tablet version.

Who uses Instagram?

people using smartphones

Here is a breakdown of some user demographics on Instagram. Obviously, these numbers fluctuate all the time as users come and go.

  • Instagram is heavily skewed in favor of female users (70% to 30%)
  • 90% of users are under the age of 35. However, the younger end of that scale is likely being pulled toward TikTok.
  • 24% use the app several times a day.
  • The most active users are those with a college education.
  • iPhone owners and Android owners are equally split 50-50 on Instagram.


Despite its popularity, Instagram has its fair share of critics. Some criticize it for teenagers’ mental health, while others condemn it for its privacy policies and inappropriate uploaded content. It nevertheless retains a loyal following, despite the growing popularity of rival platforms such as TikTok.

Some of that loyal following, though, have criticized the platform in recent months for pursuing a video-first policy in an attempt to curb TikTok’s advance. Instagram was consequently forced to backtrack.

How to join Instagram

sign up for instagram

Like all social media platforms, it is extremely easy to set up an Instagram account. First, get the app — the iOS version or the Android version. You can also use the desktop site, but it is a bit limited.

You should next determine what reason you are using the site. If you plan to only use it for personal reasons and to post interesting snaps, then a personal account is likely enough. However, if you plan to use it for a business, then a business account would be better. If you are an artist of some description, there is also a creator account. All three types of accounts are free, and you can switch between them as many times as you want.

Business accounts and creator accounts come with extra features, such as visitor analytics, sponsored content tags, deeper integration with Facebook, and being able to show more details about yourself on your profile. You can also sell things on Instagram if you meet the criteria. More on that later.

When setting up your account, you have to come up with a unique username, and the email address must not be currently used with an existing Instagram account. You can change your username and profile picture later if you wish.

Setting up your Instagram feed

setting up new instagram profile

Once your account has been set up, you should do the following :

  • Set up two-factor authentication.
  • Add a phone number (for account recovery purposes). The phone number will remain concealed from other users unless you choose to reveal it in the profile of a business account or creator account.
  • Let Instagram look at your phone contacts and Facebook friends. This will show you who you know on the site.
  • Set up your profile.

We will be looking at these at various points in this article.

Search and follow hashtags

As well as following people, you can also follow hashtags. A hashtag is a descriptive keyword to describe what an image is about. That keyword is made clickable by adding a hash symbol before it (#). So by clicking on a hashtag, you can see all images with that hashtag.

To find a hashtag to follow, go to the search function and add the keywords. Then click the blue follow button.

instagram follow hashtag

This is useful if you are heavily interested in a particular subject, are researching something, or if you’re simply traveling somewhere and you want to see some photos of where you’re going to. You should remember, though, that common hashtags such as books, travel, dogs, etc, have tens of millions of images. This means that the feed is constantly updating and fast-moving. It would be better if you were to niche down and get a bit more descriptive.

Set up your profile

instagram profile mark oneill

The next step is to set up your profile. After all, this is how people will ultimately find you. If you are a business or creator, being invisible on Instagram would obviously be bad news.

You will find an Edit Profile button on your profile page, and you can use this to add whatever details you want.

  • A photo. As of November 2022, you can also add an avatar.
  • An external website link. Since this is the only external clickable link allowed on Instagram, many people frequently update this link to whatever they are promoting at any given time. There are also services such as Linktree, which is pretty much a glorified landing page for all your links.
  • Your bio. You can add hashtags to your bio to make yourself more discoverable in search results.

Posting your first ‘gram

start new instagram post

Once you’re all set up with your account, it’s time to post something. Just click the plus icon at the top of the screen and select the type of post you want to make. But there are some things you need to think about first —

Getting the right size of picture

instagram photos

On Instagram, pictures are generally in portrait mode (square is best). Any in landscape mode (rectangular) will be cut off at the sides and look ugly as a result. You can however zoom in with your finger to show a certain area of the picture — but it will still be a square image at the end.

The ideal dimensions should be 1080 x 1080 px. However, you can also do 1080 x 1350 px. If you need to resize your picture, you can use a site such as Canva or Pixelhunter.

Posting multiple pictures at once

posting multiple images to instagram

If you have a series of photos all on the same subject, you can post them together as a carousel. Visitors can then just tap or click between them. This is good if you want to show a lot of images but don’t want to post them individually and flood people’s Instagram feeds. It also makes your profile neater and easier to navigate.

Using filters

filters on instagram

Filters were all the rage in the early days of Instagram. However, there seems to be a ‘filter fatigue’ these days, with many users preferring to see unfiltered images. In fact, there is a big #nofilter hashtag. However, if you feel that your avocado-on-toast breakfast deserves a moody Gingham filter, then go for it.

Writing captions

instagram caption

If the image is the most important aspect of the post, then the caption is arguably the second. If someone clicks on the image, you need to provide a compelling caption to make someone want to like the image and even leave a comment. Instagram’s algorithms absolutely love engagement, so the more encouragement you can provide for people to like and leave comments, the better.

Adding hashtags

hashtags on instagram

Hashtags are the difference between your images being discovered or completely disappearing into the void. As we explained before, a hashtag is a clickable keyword that an Instagram user can add to their image to make it discoverable in search results. There is a lot of debate on how many hashtags are appropriate for a post, but the general consensus seems to be no more than 30.

display purposes hashtags on instagram

There are many apps and sites that can help you find appropriate and trending hashtags. On the desktop, an excellent one is Display Purposes. There are also mobile apps that do the same job.

To add a hashtag, go to the comments section of the image, type #, and begin typing the hashtag. A pop-up menu will show you which ones are available. Click the one you want, and it will be inserted into the post. Of course, if a hashtag doesn’t exist, you can invent a new one.

Tagging other Instagram users

tagging someone on instagram

The next important thing is to try and tag an Instagram user — but only if they are relevant to the post. Otherwise, you are going to be accused of spamming, and that is never a good label to have. Done properly, though, tagging someone is a good way to start a conversation.

Putting captions in your videos

If you are uploading a video, you should really enable captions. Lots of Instagram users scroll through their feeds with the sound muted. So if you don’t have captions, very few people are going to make the effort to find out what you’re saying. All it takes is a tweak of the account settings.

Uploading GIF images

uploading gif image to instagram

GIF images are very shareable, and if you want to put one on Instagram, you can do that – albeit with a workaround. You would either need to use an app like Giphy or convert the GIF to a video file. Be aware that if you use a GIF for commercial purposes, there may be a copyright issue involved. So tread carefully and see if you can find a legal owner for the GIF image first.

Responding to and monitoring comments

instagram comment spam

Once your post is out, it will hopefully start to attract likes and comments. If your post starts to attract a lot of comments, then you need to start responding to them and deleting any spam. Unfortunately, spam comments are becoming a huge problem on Instagram these days, as automated bots post comments on any image with a certain hashtag.

To delete a comment on Instagram, click the little menu next to the comment if you are on the desktop, and select Delete. On the mobile app, you can swipe left on the comment, and a red Delete button appears. If someone is particularly irritating, you can mute them as well or block them. Don’t worry, blocking is not permanent. You can easily unblock the person again if you change your mind.

meta business suite

If you have a Facebook page and Instagram page connected to one another, then you can also make posts, schedule posts, and reply to comments using the free Meta Business Suite. We will explain later how to connect the two accounts together.

Instagram Live

instagram live

If you want to talk directly to your followers, then you can livestream on Instagram. It’s called Instagram Live and is like a talk show on TV. Set up your webcam, and your followers will be notified when you start streaming your live video. People can like your stream and leave comments as you are broadcasting, and you can also bring in people spontaneously to join in the conversation. Many celebrities take advantage of what Instagram Live has to offer, and you can too.

Posting to your story

An Instagram story is when you share a picture or a short video that stays on your profile for 24 hours. Stories are pinned to the top of your followers’ Instagram feeds, making them more visible, so many people use Stories for branding and promotional purposes.

Story measurements should be 1080 x 1920 px, and you can easily make them in Canva, or you can also Google for ‘Instagram story templates.’ You can add background colors, music, links, polls, and much more.

When your post is ready to go out, you have two options. You can post to the whole world, or you can post to ‘close friends’ only. This is where you designate an Instagram follower as a ‘close friend,’ and only they get to see certain posts.

You can theoretically share other people’s Instagram stories on your own feed, but as with all sharing options on Instagram, it is not so easy.

Making an Instagram reel

Reels are short videos that you can add to your profile that, like stories, remain for 24 hours. The videos must be no more than 15 minutes, and Instagram gives reels much more exposure and prominence than posts and stories. So brands are finding reels valuable, and they give the opportunity for creators to go all out and display what they can do.

To make a reel, go to your Instagram camera and flick to the Reels section. Tap the button, make your video, then add any stickers and other features that you want to add to it.

Find and follow your friends

instagram stock image liked post

Social media is called ‘social’ for a reason. You need to follow people to share, engage, and have conversations. So you need to find people on Instagram to follow. Back when you set up your profile, you probably already uploaded your phone’s contacts to find your friends. But what else can you do to get more Instagram followers?

You can start by liking posts which is done by tapping the heart icon, although the person who posted the image may have hidden their like count. Commenting on posts will also likely get people to follow you if the comment is constructive and thoughtful.

Another cool feature is a QR code that people can scan with their phone to be taken to your profile. You can put this on your website and social media pages or even print it out for business cards and leaflets. Just go into your settings menu and tap QR code.

Removing followers

An unfortunate fact of life is that you are going to be followed by automated bots on Instagram. There’s just no way to stop it. That’s why you should spend a bit of time every one to two weeks and remove those accounts from your follower list. Suspect accounts are usually those with scantily clad women and barely any pictures posted. Just use your best judgment.

Instagram chat

instagram chat

Instagram chat can be seen as a direct competitor to Facebook’s own Messenger service, and rumors have persisted that Meta intends to merge Facebook Messenger, Instagram Chat, and WhatsApp, all under one chat platform banner. Until (and if) that happens, Instagram Chat is a standalone service.

Just tap the arrow at the top of the main screen (it looks like a paper airplane). Then start typing the name of the person you want to message. Be aware that if they are not following you, you will be put in their Requests section. It will then be up to them to look in the Requests section and approve your message being moved to the Primary mailbox. This is, of course, an anti-spam measure.

Helpful tips and guides for Instagram users

Here are some more helpful tips for beginner Instagram users.

Link your Instagram account with a Facebook page

connect Facebook to Instagram

If you have a Facebook profile or page, then you can connect it to your Instagram account. Personal Instagram accounts can only be connected to a personal Facebook profile, while business and creator Instagram accounts can only be connected to a Facebook business page.

Once you do this, you can then use Meta Business Suite to publish and schedule posts and reply to all of your Facebook and Instagram messages from the one hub.

Link Instagram accounts under one login

connect instagram accounts together

If you have more than one Instagram account, you can link them all together under one login. Then when you want to post on another of the accounts, just tap it, and you will be instantly moved over. No extra logging-in is required.

Related: How to get your Instagram account URL

Getting back your Instagram account if it is hacked or locked

instagram android authority account

It’s the ultimate nightmare — suddenly losing your account due to a hacker or an unintentional Instagram rule violation. It’s not necessarily the end of your account, though. Instagram has procedures you can follow to try to get the account back. It just requires a lot of patience, confidence, and luck.

When you do get your account back, it would be an excellent idea to reset your password.

Troubleshooting tips if Instagram is not working

instagram on mobile phone stock photo

Instagram is just like any other site. It’s not perfect, which means that occasionally there are going to be blips, hiccups, and system bottlenecks. If your Instagram account is acting up, we have a list of troubleshooting tips you can work your way through to try and diagnose the problem.

Download full-size versions of Instagram images

instantgram bookmarklet

Have you ever seen an image on Instagram and wanted to save the full-sized version? Or perhaps you want to make a backup of your Instagram photo archive? Whatever the reason, you can download full-size versions of Instagram images. Just watch that you don’t violate any copyrights.

The best tool is a bookmarklet called Instantgram. Just go to the Instagram photo page and click the bookmarklet. That’s it.

If you want to download a video, there are many websites that can do that for you, and they are all just as good as each other. Just Google ‘download Instagram video.’ Again, be mindful of intellectual property and copyrights.

How to see who has followed you and unfollowed you

If you want to keep track of who follows you and unfollows you on Instagram, then technically, it’s doable, even if it’s a little bit tedious. There are third-party apps that can make lighter work of it, though, if you are inclined to pay for this service.

Becoming an Instagram influencer

instagram influencer

Free swag for making a video or a few images — who can argue with that sweet deal? Many people have made careers out of being an ‘Instagram influencer’ where brands give them product samples in return for an Instagram endorsement. Getting started can be rather difficult and competitive, depending on what niche you want to establish yourself in, but it is still totally doable in 2022.

How to get verified on Instagram

instagram verified check mark android

Getting the blue verified tick mark on Instagram is a badge of honor for many people. It is meant to show that the person you are engaging with is the real person or the real brand. However, many users also see it as an achievement, something that sets them apart from others. It’s not an easy process though, and you’re likely to be rejected. The good news is that you can apply as many times as you like (and be rejected as many times as you like.)

How to delete your Instagram account

delete your instagram account

There may come a time when you may want to delete your Instagram account. If so, we have an in-depth guide for that. Like Facebook, you can either temporarily deactivate it or permanently delete it.

More Instagram tips and tricks

Do you need more Instagram tips and tricks? You’re hard to please, but, as usual, we have you covered!


Instagram does not notify the other person if you take a screenshot of a story. However, the person will be notified if you take a screenshot of a disappearing image in a chat.

Yes, your Instagram account active status can be disabled in the account’s privacy settings.

Yes, dark mode on Instagram can be enabled in the account settings.

No. Unlike LinkedIn, people are not notified if you look at their profile page.

Since Instagram only allows one clickable external link in a profile bio, many people update that link depending on what they have recently posted and are promoting. If you see ‘link in bio,’ go to that person’s Instagram profile and click the external link there.

Instagram asks for your phone number for account recovery purposes in case you are locked out. Your phone number is never publicly revealed unless you have a business account or creator account. In those instances, you can voluntarily choose to show a phone number.

You can view the Instagram site and its contents without an account. However, you cannot post anything on the site without an account.

Instagram only provides visitor analytics if you have a business account or creator account.

No. For a start, most of those bought followers will be automated bots which would add zero value to your account, as they would not engage with your content. Secondly, if Instagram finds out you have bought followers, that is grounds for your account to be closed.