If you’re reading this, I assume you are here for the same reasons I began this project. I assume you want your social media to work for your publication, gaining exposure for your work and helping you with your marketing. There may be other reasons why you are here, and I hope we’re able to meet those needs as well. 

Think of the ‘30 Days of Instagram’ as a workshop for your social media content, where you can find what works best for you and your staff. This isn’t meant to be prescriptive. More so, I am giving you examples of what works for other people and the best practices there are for increasing followers. I am encouraging you to try new things. 

There may be times where the suggestion or post type isn’t going to work for you. That’s okay! The key is to post at least once per day something of value to your audience. The keyword here is value. That’s what you need to be thinking about as a publication. That’s also what you need to be thinking about for your social media. 

What you do when the thirty days ends is up to you. I would recommend creating a schedule of your next thirty days as a follow-up to keep the momentum going. Use your analytics to determine what post types engaged with your audience the most and keep up the great work you are creating. 

Let us get started on this social media adventure.


It’s all business here

Your publications account needs to be labeled as a business account for you to track your statistics, so make sure you are set up as one. 

You can convert your account to business by doing this:

Settings -> Account -> Switch to professional account -> Business

This will unlock insight into your post’s success from the time you register as a business account, so do this as soon as possible. You’ll gain awareness into what types of posts engage your audience the most and when the best times to post are. 

Naming your account

Your username is how people will find you, so choose a name that is clear and easy to remember. Don’t include years and try to include your school abbreviation. This makes it easier for people to search for you or find you. Instagram allows you to change your username, so if you feel like you can improve it, now is the time to do it. 

Also, your account should connect to your publication email account, not a student’s personal email address. The student will graduate and you will need to change your password every few months. Keeping the account linked to the publication email means that you can reset the password as needed. You’ll never have to worry about losing an account if it’s permanently linked to your publication email. 

Branding your Instagram Account

As an organization, you should have a marketing brand package already in place. A typical brand package should include fonts, how they are used, colors, and a logo. If you don’t, then now is the perfect time to get your design team together and to complete a branding package. 

It’s essential to your publication’s success to have a recognizable brand look. From your posters to your paperwork to your social media, there should be a distinct, recognizable appearance. This helps to build awareness of your publication and increase your professionalism. If you want people to take you seriously, you have to look serious. 

Other than marketing and text-based posts, colors from your publication brand package can be used in your story highlights on Instagram as a way to continue a branded package. If you use stories and highlights, be sure to include the highlights image as a branded visual. 

The logo used for your profile photo should be a clear representation of your brand, clean and easy to comprehend at a small size. Keep it a simple, obvious representation of your publication. Always come back to creating that professional, branded feel.

To watermark or not to watermark?

One choice each staff needs to make is whether to include a branded watermark on each image they share. 

For us, we’ve chosen to watermark. The watermark encourages people who share your photo to include credit to your program. It also gives credit to the photographer, giving them a space to take pride in it. While it’s illegal to share images taken off the internet without permission, the pervasiveness of this practice makes it a reality for every staff to deal with it. Watermark or not, people will save these photos for their personal use. 

There are benefits to not including a watermark as well. It would speed up the posting process so it is less burdensome, and you can get stories out faster without the watermark. You’ll have to discuss and decide as a staff what makes sense for you. 

Filter usage

I am going to encourage all staffs to not use any filters in their photography. Consistency in the editing style is important, but filters cloud the photographer’s work. They aren’t a journalistic representation of that moment. At times, they also look cheesy or ill-suited, pulling away from the professionalism of your brand. 

Instead, teach students how to edit for your posts. Share tutorials and paper guides on how to adjust the levels for contrast and color correction. It’s going to make them better photographers. It’s going to make your feed stronger. 

Following a Plan

You also need to decide whether your account will follow students back. We’ve chosen as a staff to not do this. Mostly, we don’t want to see students’ posts in the feed when we access the account. It seems like a liability or accountability issue if we are to see them doing something dangerous or illegal. The benefit to following students back is that some students only like to follow accounts that follow them back to increase their follower count. It’s completely up to you, but have a policy in place for this. 

Ready to plan? Here’s a checklist to make sure you’re ready: 

Our Instagram connects to a publication email account and is set up as a business account.

We have a professional, complete branding guide we will be using as a publication this year, including on all social media platforms. 

We have a plan for photo editing and watermarking based on a conversation as a staff. 


Who is doing what?

This is all about doing social media on purpose, with a purpose. You must create a plan on who is doing what and when they will do it if you want this to happen. It has to be intentional. 

Put 1-2 students in charge of running the full 30 days from start to finish. If other students will be helping create the content, I encourage you to create a rubric and deadlines for everyone involved. Hold everyone accountable for their work. Communicate why the consistent posting is important for growing followers. Do all this now, before you start your 30 days. 

Also, schedule some time to reflect on what’s working and not working in your posting. Have your staff look over your feed together and discuss the direction you’re working in. 

Where to start

Depending on the number of followers you have, implementing some physical marketing for your account may be necessary. This may be something you want to do anyway, even if you already have a solid follower base. Followers beget followers. The more followers you have, the more likely students are to tag their friends and share your posts. 

Some suggestions to increase your followers in real life:

-During grade level assemblies, include a slide about your publication’s social media accounts and a few reasons students should follow you. (See photos of themselves and their friends, find out about upcoming events, learn more about their school community… remember, we’re building value here.)

-Create branded flyers and place them around campus. Include your Instagram username large and some great photos as examples of what they will find. Link using a QR code. 

-Include your social media info on publication staff shirts. 

-Pass out flyers or business cards, which may have been printed by https://www.printron.com/our-flexographic-plating-mounting/, at games with info on your account. 

-Share your Instagram posts to your other social media accounts when first starting. For there to be value in each of your social media accounts, they need to have at least 50% unique content in each. Keep that in mind when sharing out your Instagram on other platforms. Especially in the beginning, your existing follower base needs to connect to your Instagram as well. 

-When you create a post about a specific group on campus, email or text teachers and friends to let them know it is up. Tagging them in the post is great, too, but one-to-one contact is a more direct way to get people to view your account. 

How will you design posts that need design?

Most posts are photography based, but not all. Some posts are text-based or graphics-based, and you need to have a plan in place for these. 

First, they need to follow the colors and fonts that you first outlined in your marketing brand package. Second, they need to look professional. Remember, if we want people to take us seriously, we need to look serious. That doesn’t mean we need to look boring or too mature, but we do need to include a thoughtful, professional looking design that builds into our brand. 

Reflect on your staff’s strengths. Is design one of them? Great! Put some templates together in Photoshop or InDesign based on the post types list so you’re not trying to design these posts in a single class period. Look through the example accounts for ideas on these, as well. 

Is design not a strength for your staff? That’s fine, too. We’re lucky to live in a time where there are resources for creating well-designed products. Adobe Spark Post and Canva both offer ways to build graphics online. Figure out what works best for you.

In either case, consistency to your brand and high-quality design matters here. 

Start creating before you start posting

Some posts are timeliness based and will need you to create the post in a small amount of time before posting. However, some posts can be created days or even weeks ahead of time. Look ahead at the 30-day plan and get started now on what you can get started on. Don’t wait until the day before when you could have many of these ready ahead of time. 

It all comes back to the idea of doing this on purpose, mindfully. You aren’t going to grow your social media by squeezing in a post every so often when you think of it. You need to have a purposeful plan, and you need to build your followers on purpose. 

There are even websites, like Hootsuite, which allow you to schedule your posts ahead of time. It will post for you on the day and time you choose. 

The recommended time to post is between 2-3pm on weekdays. You’ll need to pay attention to when you post and when you have the most engagements. Your community is unique and the best time to post will be unique, also. Pay attention and adjust accordingly. 

Good examples: Have a list of social media accounts that post the types of posts you do and/or are good examples of a branded Instagram. Reference it once a month for ideas. Here’s our list to get you started:

  • ucf.football
  • nygiants
  • ucf.edu
  • ufpibetaphi
  • univmiami
  • nytimes
  • vicenews
  • bbcnews
  • orlandofoodienews
  • orlandosentinal

Follow #30dayspubinsta & include it in your posts to follow along with us. 


You’re building value here – quality content always

You need to be answering with every post – why do I follow you? The key is to build value in every post you do, reinforcing the worth of your account. If you do this, you will grow your followers and keep your followers. Accounts that fail to consistently build value also fail to build followers and engage with them in their content. 

One way to build value is to have better content than everyone else on campus. For the most part, we have the best cameras, writers and designers on the campus. Use their expertise to create consistently strong content that surpasses what other students and faculty can do. 

Another way we build our value is by developing the expectation of something great each day. If we post quality content, we’re on the right track. However, if it isn’t consistently appearing, we’re not a part of the person’s expectations when they are viewing their feed each day. It also will increase your followers to post daily as you will gain followers with each post. It is the most effective way to gain followers. 

Judging photography

It’s easy to say that your photos need to be great, but I know it’s a lot more challenging to produce great photography. I know this, but you still need to do it. The quality of your photography is massively important to the quality of your posts on Instagram because it’s a photography sharing site. You can’t slack off here. 

First, anyone taking photos for the social media account needs to understand what a good photo looks like. Create a document with ten photos on it that fit the qualification of ‘great photos’ taken by your organization. Write a brief explanation for each of them. Train students on how to edit for lighting and color correction, but remind them no filters. Every photo that appears on your feed needs to be bright with a clear contrast between darks and lights. It also needs to be color corrected for lighting issues. No yellow, dark photos allowed.

When you are posting more than one photo, ensure a few things. 

1. The best, most interesting photo is what appears first.

2. There is a variety of the number of people in each photo.

3. There is a variety of distances from the subjects in your photos.

4. There are a variety of angles (worm’s eye, bird’s eye, framing).

5. There are a variety of moments! Tell different parts of the story. 

6. Finally, a variety of people. It should be a part of your publication’s goal to cover a diverse group of students, telling the story of all the people in your community. Don’t lose sight of that in your social media. 

When it’s about you and for you, keep it infrequent

You’re going to need to post about yourself, for one reason or another. One of the big reasons we need an active social media account is to self-promote. We reach hundreds of students when we announce fundraisers, new stories on the news site, recruitment updates or upcoming events if our account is active and engaged. It also gives us a space to create our public image, which as many of us know, can be based on incorrect assumptions.

Part of your branding is creating a purposeful image of your program. Posts about something cool you did, an upcoming fundraiser or recruitment efforts need to reach your audience and build a message about who you are. Think about how you are building your value to your audience, even if you are just selling t-shirts. 

The general rule is that at least 80% of your posts need to be building value for your audience and up to 20% of them can be building value for you. If your feed has been for self-promotion, you may have noticed that the followers aren’t rolling in. We have to put the audience at the front of our posting decisions. 

Newsworthiness – why do I care? 

There are eight news values to consider when you’re deciding whether something has value to your audience. This can also impact which parts of the photo story or writing you include first, as you would in news writing. We want the most engaging content up front or first so that your audience hooks right away. 

The news values are proximity, impact, prominence, novelty, currency, timeliness, conflict and human interest. 

If you or your staff are not familiar with these, be sure you train to recognize whether a story applies these newsworthiness concepts. More information is available in the JEA Curriculum.

In your efforts to build value, the more the news values apply to the story idea, the more people will engage with it. For instance, a story on the varsity football game includes prominence (we know who they are), timeliness (it just happened or is happening), proximity (applies to most of your stories because you’re covering what’s going on around campus), currency (everyone is talking about the game) and because of this, it will get more views. 

Art class may have less engagement (likes and views) because it isn’t as prominent, so you’ll want to focus on things like novelty or human interest in those stories to increase the newsworthiness of your post. 

Bottom line: The more of the news values that apply and the more deeply they apply, the more engagement you will get from your audience with your posts. 

Tag everyone

As often as physically possible, tag students and organizations in your posts. It’s a pain, but this alerts them to your account. It gives them a reason to check it out and maybe they will follow you. Even better, maybe they will share your post on their story. Keep a list of school organization usernames to tag for easy reference. 


Over the course of the next 30 days, we’re going to try a bunch of different post types. The idea is to try them out, build up your content, and watch their engagement.  Monitor on the attached form which post types get you the most followers and which ones get the most likes, comments, shares and saves. At the end of the thirty days, you should be able to create a plan for the next thirty days that consists of your best post types and times to post. You’ll be an Instagram guru by the end, but for right now, we need to work on getting you there. 

Try to stick to the schedule because sometimes trying something new or outside your comfort zone forces you to see things in a new way. It also might surprise you what people get excited about. If at any point and time you can’t complete one of the post types, you can switch it out for another. We come from different staffs, backgrounds, and locations, so it’s okay to be flexible with the schedule, as needed. However, you must post every school day during the 30-day workshop. No exceptions. 

You can also beef this up by incorporating additional posts each day. There’s a list at the end of the post types of suggestions for other content. For instance, every person on our staff must have one photo day (all day photography) per nine weeks. We require an Instagram post for each of these, which helps us create consistent, quality content. Consider this the advanced track for staffs already using Instagram. I’ve created a resource packet as well that may help your content creation and supplemental posts. 

If you really want to get more views on your posts, you may also require your staff to market your account by sharing posts on their stories and tagging you. 

My last piece of advice is to remember to make these posts as interesting as possible. Dig for good stories. Go past your first idea and find things that are of value to your audience. Tell them something they don’t know. Surprise them. Make them laugh or sigh, but mostly, just make them feel something. 

Social media is at its best when it brings us together and reminds us we are not alone. 

Download the full packet below. I’d love to hear your feedback and tips in the comments below.

[Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Hankssaid.com. You can see the original post and much more on the site here.]

Courtney Hanks

Courtney Hanks, MJE is the journalism teacher at University High School in Orange City, Florida. She advises the UHSpress.com online news site and the Odyssey yearbook. In 2018, she was named a JEA Rising Star. She believes that Boston terriers are the best dogs, Netflix rules and that her students are capable of greatness. Follow Courtney @hankssaid on Twitter to see more journalism posts and visit hankssaid.com to see her journalism teaching resources.

Courtney Hanks has 2 posts and counting. See all posts by Courtney Hanks

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