9 Things Teenagers Can Teach You About Instagram

Teens are better than you at Instagram. Try to keep up.

Instagram has more than 300 million active users, and standing out in that crowd can be tough. Looking to the app’s huge community of teen users can teach you just about everything you need to know to make your account more appealing and fun to follow.

In the U.S., about half of people ages 13-17 are on the app, myself included. This group’s most successful users tend to have a personal and precise feel to their pages ― they’re not just taking photos haphazardly, throwing on any old filter and posting without giving a thought to captions or hashtags. Oftentimes they’re even using other apps besides Instagram to select the perfect filter or add extra features.

A lot of care goes into the best of these teen-curated feeds. Here are some tips you can pick up from them on taking and posting more engaging pictures:

1. Live by an aesthetic.  

Instagram feeds look cleaner and classier with a certain vibe. Pictures should be unique while working toward setting an atmosphere, either when viewed individually or as a group. That means choosing and sticking to a certain aesthetic ― whether you’re populating your feed with a certain color palette or choosing photos that don’t completely fill up Instagram’s square frame. 

Filters are also good way to achieve this. Your posts can really shine if you find the perfect filter for you, even if it’s #nofilter at all. 

The Instagrammer below likes to run his pics through a filtering app before posting. He tends to favor VSCO Cam’s F2 filter. The result: a feed that features toned-down, relaxed colors. 

Here's another effective aesthetic, this one using colors that pop inside neatly framed photos:

2. If you’re going to use white borders, commit to that decision.  

Instagram won't let you upload a rectangle-shaped photo, so people get around this by using apps like Whitagram or Squaragram to add blank edges on a vertical or landscape photo, or to shrink and surround their photos with white. However, a surefire way to destroy your aesthetic is to mix white-framed images with full-square ones. 

If you specialize in taking rectangular-shaped photos that just don't work inside Instagram's standard square frame, adding white borders might work for you -- as long as you apply this feature with dedication.

Here's an Instagram feed that stuck to the white border aesthetic and pulled it off: 

On a side note, never use black or colored borders. Just don't even go there.


3. Long, ambiguous quotes don’t belong in photos or captions.

If you want your photos to convey a message, let the pictures do the talking. Intense words from an unknown source aren't the answer. Adding text onto the photo itself can ruin both the image and the aesthetic, and long quotes can be a bother or an irrelevant distraction from the quality of the moment.

Here's a time I tried to use a long, unsourced quote:


Even though this "deep" quote got a lot of likes at the time, I didn't want to become known as that girl who uses obscure, paragraph-length captions. Lesson learned. 

4. Don't post too often. But don't wait too long between posts.

If you're posting seven photos all at once, you're doing something wrong. I'm not going to tell you exactly when or how often to post, but if I'm scrolling through my Instagram, and I'm only seeing pics from your account, I'll be tempted to unfollow. At the same time, you don't want to be so inactive that you leave 20-week gaps between your posts -- people will think you deleted the app and might unfollow you.

5. Be careful with collages. 

Instagram doesn't give the option for collages, meaning you'll have to download a collage-building app like Pic Stitch or PhotoGrid. But beware: You may feel an overwhelming urge to compile every single moment of an event into one frame. This is a huge mistake; it looks messy and unprofessional. You'll have to be selective. 

Here's an attractive collage: 

This is a clever display of the same image three times. Something like this could detract from your aesthetic, if you typically post seamless, square photos. But it's also a pretty good way to avoid white borders on a panorama shot.

6. One hashtag is enough.

The endless stream of hashtags typically used by new Instagrammers or like-desperate accounts (we see you, #TagsforLikes and #FollowForFollow users) is a bit much. Do what feels right, but try to limit your hashtags to something that truly encapsulates the photo's subject or serves as a witty commentary on the image. 

7. Be bold.

Photos stand out when they take risks. That could means trying out a thought-provoking caption or posting a genuinely candid photo of yourself (fake laughing doesn't count). The typical hand-on-hips smiling photo doesn't truly show who you are as a person or a social media user.

8. Leave people guessing. 

If you show your followers you have a knack for perfectly mysterious or straightforward, informative captions or images, they'll look forward to your next post. This Intagrammer posted the following photo, which not only fit his aesthetic but employs a short, direct caption: 

9. Keep it simple.

Instagram has come to be an art form as well as a competition. The easiest rule to follow is to stay uncomplicated and true to yourself when it comes to photos, captions, bios and everything in between.

Don't overthink it.