Instagram Features and How to Use Them [ CHEAT SHEET ]

Instagram is a great tool for business, with a lot of features that can help you build engagement with your followers and potential customers. Playing around with the different features is a great way to get a feel for what works for your brand while building engagement in the process. You may be wondering what features to try first and how to even get started. With Instagram adding new features all of the time, it's difficult to keep up.


Fear not – we’re Instagram pros and we’re here to help! Here is our Instagram feature “cheat sheet” where we’ll give you an overview of each feature, why and how you would use it, and how to weave it all together.


Let’s get started:


YOUR TIMELINE


What is it: Your timeline is essentially your profile. All your posts live on your timeline and are viewable whenever someone clicks on your profile. You also have an ‘about’ section, a link space for your website, and a ‘highlights’ area (which we’ll cover a bit later).


Why you use it: Your timeline is where people will quickly get the basics of what your business is about. In today’s world, your Instagram page may be the first experience someone has with your brand. Make sure your ‘about’ section is relevant, you add your geographic location or region you serve, your profile photo looks good, your highlights section is clean (if you have one) and your content is fresh and relevant.


Use your timeline to post a mix of content that will appeal to your audience. This is where you post a mix of the three E’s: engaging, entertaining, and educational, as well as promotional. People might hit your timeline to see who you are, find your website, send you a message, or browse your content. This is where you make your first impression so make it a lasting one.


How to use it:

  1. When you open Instagram, click the bottom right round profile photo to get to your timeline

  2. To edit your profile photo, click on your profile photo where you see a blue ‘+’ sign

  3. To edit your profile’s ‘about’ section, click the ‘Edit Profile’ button on your timeline page

  4. To post a new photo to your timeline, click the [+] on the top right of the page to upload your content, description with hashtags, and any other relevant info

STORIES


What is it: Instagram Stories are a space where you can create bigger, richer stories by uploading photos, creating content like polls, share content, or post short videos. Stories are “live” for 24 hours, and then they disappear for your audience (but live on in your archive just in case you want to reuse them).


Why you use it: Stories are a great way to engage your audience in a deeper way more frequently. Getting creative with the type of content you share means that your audience will be more likely to engage, and the more frequently you post and the more engaging your content is, the more you’ll pop up in everyone’s feed.


Stories are also a great place to gain feedback (through polls), use the Ask a Question feature to interact with your audience either for fun or to gain feedback, and encourage them to share your content when you post shareable things.


You can also use stories to link to content, with the ‘See More”/Swipe Up feature that it offers. Users can “swipe up” at the bottom of a story and go right to a link.


How to use it:

  1. On your main feed, click the top left circle that has your profile photo in it. It should have a little + sign showing

  2. Click “Add to Your Story”

  3. You have the choice to snap a picture, film a video, or click the bottom left box to upload a previously created image or video

  • Note: When you upload a video, you will want to add captions to the audio so folks can read without sound. This not only makes sure your content is relevant to the viewers who watch videos with sound off, but it is accessible for the hearing impaired as well.

  • After you film/upload your video, click the square smiley face option, and then click “CC Captions”

  • You can also create layouts, polls, Ask A Question, quizzes – play around with all the features and have fun with it!

IGTV


What is it: IGTV is a long-form video space that is viewable in the Instagram app which allows Instagram users to upload longer videos than you’d see in stories and posts. It was imagined as a space where creators might upload a regular series of videos that can be released on a regular basis, but a lot of times brands use it to share longer promotional content, live interview recaps, and YouTube style vlogs.


Why to use it: IGTV is a great place to upload things like tutorial videos, Q&A sessions or interviews (such as recordings of an Instagram Live or webinar), creative content like behind the scenes at your company or a sneak peek of how a product was made, or streaming an event.


How to use it:

  1. Click the [+] button at the bottom of your main screen

  2. Choose a 60 second or longer video and click “Next”

  3. Select share as Long Video

  4. Pick your video’s cover image

  5. Fill out a title and description


REELS


What is it: Instagram Reels are 15- to 30-second multi-clip videos with sound that you can edit with effects and tools to make interactive and engaging. They’re essentially Instagram’s response to the popular app, TikTok. You can make these videos right on the app or upload one you have created before uploading that fits the dimensions.


Why to use it: Viewers love watching quick clips and scrolling endlessly through reel content. Instagram Reels capture a wider audience than TikTok, since not everyone may be comfortable using the TikTok app.


These reels can be informational (such as how-tos or tutorials), funny, awe-inspiring, or even be someone filmed talking. Again, remember to caption the videos for accessibility and for those who watch without sound.


Your Reels will show up on your profile page under your Reel section, so people who land on your profile can view them anytime. This is a great way to showcase what your business is all about!


How to use it:


To view Reels, click on the little play/TV box at the bottom of your home screen


To make a Reel:

  1. On your home screen when you open the app, click the top right [+] button

  2. Swipe the bottom options to REELS

  3. Film your video, add music, effects, and play around with creating a video

  4. Once you’re finished, edit the cover photo with a video thumbnail or choose a cover from your camera roll

  5. Hit share

INSTAGRAM LIVE


What is it: Instagram Live is a feature that allows you to broadcast to your followers live. It’s really that simple!


Why to use it: Going live is a great way to connect with your audience in real-time. It’s great for having chats with experts, garner excitement for new products or offerings, talk through key issues affecting your industry, or anything that you want to talk to your audience about. It can be as long or as short as you want. You can plan it or schedule it – it really depends on the content.


It’s also a great way to go on with Q&A to answer audience questions. This helps followers see a human side of your business.


When you go live, your profile photo shows “Live” on the top where your Stories typically are, so you’ll also be front and center to all your followers.


How to use it:

  1. Open your Instagram Stories camera and click the “Live” option at the bottom of the screen

  2. Tap the button and start your live stream

a. Comment box allows you to type back to your audience (but, you’ll likely want to address the comments live as you speak)

b. Question mark box allows you to share submitted audience questions

c. DM paper plane icon allows you to direct message your live stream

d. The double face icon adds another user to the live stream to co-host. You’d use this feature for a live chat, for example, with an “expert”

e. The filter face icon allows you to apply filters

f. The camera roll icon lets you add an image into your stream

HIGHLIGHTS


What is it: Highlights are an area where you can group past Stories together. They live permanently on your profile as curated collections of your stories that followers can watch any time.


Why to use it: Highlights allow people to quickly find information about your business. One popular way to use it is to group content about promotions, products, or anything relevant so your followers can tap to find information. Some restaurants, for example, will have a MENU highlight or a HOURS highlight. But, the sky is the limit! Use it in any way that makes sense for your business.


How to use it:

  1. On your profile page, click the + highlight circle where your highlights bar is (underneath your profile)

  2. Select the Instagram Stories you want to add to your highlight

  3. Choose a cover photo

a. You can upload one or click from one of the stories. We recommend designing your highlight covers in a tool like Canva to make them look on brand


Pulling it all together…

When using the Instagram content suite of features, it’s important to think about how anything you do can live across multiple areas on the app. For example, a Reel can become a Story, and then you can also use it to make a Post. Here’s a sample scenario:

You’re hosting a live chat with an industry expert on Instagram Live next week.

  1. Create teaser content Posts and Stories with an image, date, and time

  2. Introduce the expert on your Stories

  3. Post a Q&A on your Stories and a Post graphic/image with a caption prompt to collect topics before the event

  4. Create a quick Reel promotion for your Live a few days before (post this on your Stories)

  5. Host the Live Chat

  6. Break up the content into a Reel teaser

  7. Post on IGTV

  8. Take quotes from the chat, and make graphic Posts

See how one piece of content can live on and on, before and after? With careful planning, you can ensure your investment in Instagram content can go the distance.


Play around with the features and see what really resonates with your audience. Watch how other brands do content and get inspired! If you need help, talk to the pros. We’re here to guide you with a customized content strategy and can help manage it all for you.



MAIN FEED


What is it: Your main feed is the first thing you see when you open you app. Here is where you’ll see the accounts you follow, but more specifically, posts from accounts you interact with most frequently. Thanks to the Instagram algorithm, you’ll mostly be fed content you engage with frequently (stuff you like, comment, and save).


Why you use it: This is where you will start proactive community management. Your main feed is where you can engage with the people you follow so that you can build a relationship keep those accounts top of mind.


How to use it: On your main feed you can share posts to stories, save (which is another awesome feature), click on geotags and hashtags to find more people posting awesome content, and attract more people to your account.



SAVES


What is it: Saves is a great feature which is often underutilized! You can save any post that you see while scrolling your main feed or searching an account on Instagram to view for later. This is a great way to collect inspiration and save ideas.


Why you use it: You can save collections in folders and organize them for ideas, competition, potential clients, inspiration – you name it! You can look at your saved posts once a week and engage with posts from the accounts you’ve saved posts from to make sure you never forget your engagement strategy.


How to use it:


To save a post:

  1. Click on the little flag button on the bottom right of the post image. This can be done on your main feed or as you scroll an account’s feed

  2. For information on how to save posts into collections, check out this in-depth blog for a how-to guide

NOTIFICATION BELL


What is it: The notification bell feature allows you to have the option to get notified any time an account makes a new content. You can choose to get notified of what you get notified for; Posts, Stories, IGTV, and Live Videos.


Why to use it: Never miss a post from an account you want to keep your eye on, whether it’s a partner, top customer, or your competition.


How to use it:

  1. Go to the profile of the account you want to be notified for

  2. Click the bell on the top right of their profile

  3. Click the toggle to blue for any of the content options you’d like to be notified for