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20 Ways to Make People Fall in Love With Your Instagram: A Guide for Libraries and Other Cultural Institutions


I recently attended the annual MCN conference in Dallas, TX, where lots of digitally-minded museum, library, and cultural people get together to learn from and about each other. While there, I gave an Ignite talk. Ignite is a specific style of talk where there are 20 slides, and each advances automatically after 15 seconds. The format forces you to get down to the nitty-gritty of what is important in your presentation, and makes for some exciting deliveries. My talk, naturally, was about something I am really passionate about: Instagram. Having co-managed the NYPL Instagram account (along with Billy Parrott, Managing Librarian, Art and Picture Collection) for the past 18 months, I shared my insights in a talk titled “Your Instagram Doesn’t Have to Suck.” But it’s really Twenty Ways to Make People Fall in Love With Your Instagram.

  1. Find Out What’s Wrong. There are some common reasons that cultural institutions fare poorly on Instagram, such as: all the photos you post are of marketing department-friendly art and programs that you’ve seen everywhere else already, your captions have no personality, and/or your posts are just plain boring.

    What's Wrong - photo of Frustrated app user

  2. People Want People. Your followers want to see the people behind the feed. They want to see the people who make your institution run—from the people sorting your books to the art installers to the security guards.

    Photos of NYPL staff

  3. Get Senior Management Involved. We all know that senior management is involved. But it’s important to show it. We’ve posted candids of our Chief Library Officer Mary Lee Kennedy to promote our #libraryshelfie day (more on this later) and our CEO/President Tony Marx enjoying a concert at our Holiday Open House.

    Senior Management

  4. Have a Reliable Schedule. Every Tuesday people know to look for our #reviewsontues, and Wednesdays is always #qandawednesday. We’ve had #librarywayfriday and #madlibsmonday, and even had an entire month dedicated to #literarymarchmadness. People notice what you post when, so be conscious of it.

    photos of scheduled posts

  5. Have Challenges. Look for fun ways people can contribute submissions. We’ve asked people to hunt for lions guarding libraries and tag them #nyplsafari. We post a #bookfacefriday each week and then repost our favorite submissions throughout the day.

    photos of instagram challenges

  6. Have Conversations. Don’t just ask a question and drop it, but discuss things! We post fun #emojibooks challenges, and often someone gets the answer very quickly. So we almost always are ready with follow-ups. One popular one is “What are other books by this author, answer only accepted in emoji.”


  7. Engage with Comments. Give people a photo and have them caption it. We do a #fakelitquote series with super flowery prose and ask people to contribute their own.

    ted 2 movie shoot

  8. Talk to Each Other. We reached out to a library in LeClaire, Iowa and asked if their mascot Stretch the Giraffe would like to come for a visit and ended up featuring him in our feed for an entire week. We were recently challenged to find fun mustache photos in our collections by the California Historical Society, and in turn challenged two other libraries to participate. It wound up being a really fun back and forth.

    stretch the giraffe

  9. Visit Each Other. When you’re on vacation, don’t just be a tourist—reach out and introduce yourself! People want to talk about what they’re doing and it’s great for us to showcase each other’s work on our feeds.

    American Antiquarian Society (l) and Gleeson Library (r)

  10. Join Community Initiatives. We joined in with other institutions on last year’s #museumselfie day. It’s a great way to find like-minded people to follow, and for them to find you.

    museumselfie day

  11. Play Off Existing Ideas. Museum Selfie Day implied you needed to be in front of art, specifically at a museum—people don't see their own artworks at home as the same caliber of those on a museum wall. But books, however... My books are just as good as your books which are just as good as your local library's books. So we decided to hold #libraryshelfie day a week later, and the stats were flooring: approximately 1,500 Instagram posts and 1,800 tweets from roughly 244 libraries/orgs/anything non-personal accounts. That includes posts from 14 countries (37 in Sweden!!), 28 US states (plus DC!), 112 public libraries, 58 college and university libraries, 18 publishers, and 16 museums. We even had submissions from a church, a restaurant, and a hospital.

    libraryshelfie day

  12. Bring the Community to You. We held a #libraryhopping meet-up this fall after seeing requests for something more organized in our comments. We had about 40 people show up for a tour that spanned 4 different downtown Manhattan branches and ended with a spectacular sunset on the Hudson River.

    libraryhopping photos

  13. Crash Events. We all have events. Just ask to attend one! Chances are the host would love the publicity, and you get to show people a different side of programming they might not necessarily attend or even know you have. By just asking, I’ve gotten to tour the collections with Mike Tyson, George Clinton, and Neil Gaiman, seen falcons and owls at a branch in the Bronx, observed a fast and furious book operations book sorting contest, and attended a mapping conference, a naturalization ceremony, and World Book Night.

    ​Various Library events

  14. Use Current Events. If you can’t get to your events, use current ones. Newsworthy items, historically significant dates, celebrity birthdays and more all make for great jumping-off points for content.

    various posts related to current events

  15. Use the Comments. Search for your organization as a hashtag to see what people are saying about you. Then answer them. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a photo of the lions out front and written something like “Oh that’s Patience, the other one is Fortitude. You can remember because he is closer to forty-two (42nd Street.)” (Also, you are welcome for that information.) When people post photos after getting their library cards, I always ask what they are taking out first. Using the comments takes a short amount of time but can totally make someone’s whole day.

    Instagram comments from users

  16. Use the Community. You have amazing Instagrammers in your community. Find them. Invite them into your spaces. They get access to cool locations for their portfolios and in turn they can help promote you and your brand. We’ve done this with #visitNYPL and it has been extremely successful.
    Photo in Rose Main Reading Room
    photo courtesy of Daniel Krieger
  17. Send People Stuff! We send out little packages to other libraries and even some individuals with NYPL-branded pens, pencils, pins, and temporary tattoos. We’ve seen them post their goodies in return using the #libraryflair hashtag, and it is a great way to help promote community and bring a piece of an Instagram-relationship into the real world.


  18. Co-opt Marketing. Take what your marketing department is doing and make it your own. When we had a fun quiz that told you which children’s book character you were, Billy and I both got The Little Prince. As this happens to be my favorite book ever, I put up a fun photo of all of my copies and showed off my literary tattoo. Billy used it an opportunity to showcase the musician Prince, who is, in fact, little in stature.

    Posts about The Little Prince

  19. Have Fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously. When we reached our one-year anniversary on Instagram, with threw ourselves a little birthday party and posted a video of the confetti- and balloon-filled festivities.
    birthday party
    Still image from video courtesy of Christopher Stewart
  20. Be Passionate. I cannot stress this one enough. If you run your account with passion, your followers will see this and give it right back to you.


Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

Emojis in posts

Hi there! Thank you for the adivices! We are still at the beginning of our Instagram experiences, but we'd love to know how you add emojis to your posted pictures. Do you create them on the computer and send them to your mobile device or is there even an app for that? ;-) All the best and a happy new one. Katrin

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