Instagram is one of the biggest social networks today, but not everyone is familiar with it. If you don't use social media, you might be wondering what Instagram is and how it works.
Below, we offer an introductory overview of Instagram. We look at what it is, what people use it for, and how to use its features yourself. By the end, you should have a good handle on how Instagram works.
Instagram is a free social networking service built around sharing photos and videos. It launched in October 2010 on iPhone first, and became available on Android in April 2012. Facebook purchased the service in April 2012 and has owned it since.
Like most social media apps, Instagram allows you to follow users that you're interested in. This creates a feed on your homepage, showing recent posts from everyone you follow. You can like posts, comment on them, and share them with other people.
In addition to posting regular photos and videos, which stay on your page permanently, Instagram also supports stories. If you've used Snapchat, or most other social media platforms, you'll be familiar with these. Stories allow you to post many photos and video clips in a series. Anyone can view these for 24 hours, after which they expire.
That's not all the options for video; Instagram offers IGTV and Reels, as well. Reels are a lot like what you'll find on TikTok: short video clips that are easier to share and find than stories. And IGTV is for longer-form video that you want to keep on your profile.
Aside from all this, Instagram also supports direct messaging so you can chat with friends in private. You can also explore profiles to see what else you might have interest in.
We'll show you how all this works below.
The best way to understand more about how Instagram works is to start using it for yourself. To do this, you'll need to sign up for an account on Instagram's website, or by downloading Instagram for Android or Instagram for iPhone.
You can also install Instagram for Windows 10, which is basically a port of the mobile app. While Instagram has a desktop site, it's fairly limited. It's passable for browsing your feed, but Instagram is definitely a smartphone-focused service. Check out your options for posting to Instagram using a computer if needed.
When you sign up, you can do so through Facebook. Alternatively, provide your name, email address, and set a username and password. You can create multiple Instagram accounts, should you ever need to.
To upload a new post to Instagram, just tap the Plus icon at the top-right corner of the screen. This lets you take a new photo or video, or upload an existing picture from your phone's gallery. You can add multiple pictures to one post, as well.
After you take your photo, you can apply one of Instagram's many filters with just a tap. If you want more control, try manually making changes using the Edit tab.
Finally, on the last screen, you can add a caption to your picture, tag people, mark the location if you want, and choose whether to share it to other social networks. Tap Advanced Settings for more tools, like disabling comments or hiding the like count.
Once you hit Share, your picture will appear on your profile and in your followers' feeds.
You might be wondering what the purpose of using Instagram is when there are so many other social networks around. The main draw of Instagram is that it's based around photos and videos, which are super easy to take with a smartphone.
You don't have to carry around a camera to share the world around you—just snap a photo, apply a filter, and you're good to go. Video is similarly simple. Anyone can record a quick video of themselves and potentially go viral, or broadcast to friends with no special equipment.
While it's not a concern for the average person, using Instagram as an advertising tool is also quite common. Some Instagram users use the service to amass followers, sharing photos solely designed to build a following. They then promote their blog or try to sell products to make money, using common Instagram captions along the way.
You'll usually see #ad, #sponsored, or similar in these posts to mark that a company has paid for the post to appear.