The words ‘Instagram’ and ‘schedule’ are not exactly natural bedfellows. The notion of carefully curating and managing posts on a platform that espouses the spontaneity of a Polaroid-like image in a digital format is somewhat conflicted.
However, while Instagram might be regarded as the web’s largest repository of cats drinking coffee on fixed wheel bicycles, it’s also an integral component of many companies’ and professional photographers’ social media marketing strategies. As a consequence, a great many photos shared there aren’t smartphone-snapped-shots conveying a sense of the here-and-now; they are carefully selected images that conform to a prescribed narrative or aesthetic.
I am not sure what it says about how I use Instagram, but a scan of my feed reveals that most of the photos posted by the people and brands that I follow weren’t shot on a smartphone. Over the past 24 hours there were a few ‘I’m here right now and sharing this moment,’ photos, but most of what I saw was far more considered and manicured. There were long-exposure landscapes, studio portraits, as well as shares from brands, and some behind-the-scenes glimpses of photographers at work, to give you a feeling.
It might not have been how Instagram’s founders envisioned the platform would evolve, but Instagram is a powerful marketing tool, whether that’s for professional photographers to showcase their capabilities and present themselves to the world via another channel, or for brands to use delicious imagery for promotional purposes. Every UK supermarket from Lidl to Waitrose and via the Co-Op has an Instagram feed. Manchester United, Lancashire Cricket Club, and Sale Sharks Rugby Union club all have an Instagram presence. Media organisations, lifestyle brands, and retailers: they’re all there.
This movement away from spontaneous sharing among friends toward considered curation with a professional overtone brings with it a need for better organisation and feed management. Spontaneity isn’t necessarily to be shunned, but scheduling does become an imperative. Whether it is to ensure that a brand maintains regular communication with its followers or to take life easier for the team handling social media marketing, it’s the sort of control that isn’t just useful, but vital.
However, Instagram does not support this functionality, and furthermore, it guards its API very closely, meaning that the digital cottage industry that has sprung up in the environs of other social platforms has been somewhat limited by Instagram’s closed shop. Finding a means to post to Instagram without being in the app is very tricky. If, like me, you rely on Buffer to manage your social media presence, you will have noticed that there is no Buffer-Instagram integration.
Primarily, Instagram-scheduling platforms have relied on allowing users to prepare their posts and reminding them to share them, not on actually posting them. That’s the case with the very popular Later, which used to be known as Latergramme. You install the app on your phone and prepare your photos for posting. When the scheduled time comes, you press a button to confirm the post.
Whether this is a philosophical position or a business decision on Instagram’s part is open to debate. Certainly, in keeping its API close to its chest it is protecting its own brand. But the constant encouragement to come to the app in order to post helps to foster the community that drives it; you’re going to see at least one image from someone you follow every time that you go to share an image. It also helps to maintain the sense of immediacy from which Instagram developed and get eyeballs on any advertisements that are pumped into users’ feeds. I’m inclined to say that preventing automated posting is the result of the combination of philosophy, economics, and brand protection.
There are, however, some companies working on novel means of actually posting images to Instagram on a schedule, rather than just sending a reminder. Quite a few of these rely on a hive of mobile phones or tablets posting your images at designated times. But they come with their own stumbling blocks, namingly that you are required to hand over your Instagram password to them. When I checked out Autogrammer, I got as far as logging in to its platform, but stopped when it wanted my Instagram password. It might be stored in 128-bit encryption, but I still wasn’t convinced. This approach feels like the worst of both worlds for Instagram users.
No company is under any compulsion to provide anything, whether that’s an Android version of its app or a particular brand of frozen chips. But there does come a point when listening to the needs of your users and recognising that the product or service that you provide has perhaps diverged from your original intention can reap dividends. Instagram might have started life as a Foursquare-like check-in app, but it has grown into something far larger and removed from that, with a much wider appeal. Is it then time for Instagram to consider offering a paid-for account that permits scheduling and provides analytics as a part of its corporate offering? It’s another means to monetise the app, and does it in a way that would appease brands without turning them, or other users, away from the platform. Let the evolution continue.