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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Confessions of an Instagram Newbie

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

dog on tightrope

They say you can’t teach an old dog a new trick. I disagree. There are numerous stories of older people learning and achieving great things.

In our family, the example we use is my mother learning how to drive a car for the first time at the age of 68 after my father passed away. Talk about having courage to learn something new!

My new trick is Instagram, have you tried it?

For me, my new “trick” is attempting to learn how to effectively use Instagram. I’ve only been on the social media platform since early April and definitely consider myself a newbie.

I feel a bit like the old dog in the photo ready to fall, but rather than look down I am trying to look forward and have confidence that someday I will feel proficient.

Why did I feel compelled to be on Instagram? To connect with future students who would be using the book: Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide.

According to our chapter on social media, one of our primary target markets – dietetics students and interns – is much more likely to be present on Instagram than on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. We might be able to reach dietetics educators and practitioners via those other platforms, but to reach students and new professionals Instagram is the place to be.

I didn’t want to wait until the book was ready for market before getting started. I wanted plenty of time to learn this new platform and establish a profile and feed. As an expert in communication, it is imperative that I practice what I preach and be willing to learn how to use new channels of communication.

Simple steps for engaging on Instagram

Are you on Instagram? If yes, I invite you to connect with me at:

If you’re not, allow me to encourage giving this social platform a try. It is more casual than LinkedIn and appears to encourage a greater degree of engagement than Facebook or Twitter. I have certainly found posts on Instagram garner more reactions than any of those other platforms.

As a novice, I have yet to venture into creating Instagram TV and am just beginning to experiment with stories. I am starting with the basics and thought I would share a few things I’ve learned along the way.

image of Instagram profile

First, begin with your profile. It is your personal or professional billboard. You have a limited number of characters so make them count. Tell the visitor what you can do for them. Why should they follow you?

In describing what I do, I decided to focus on the book, Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide, in which I served as editor. This is followed by my tagline: "Leading nutrition professionals to communicate with excellence and confidence."

I use a free program called "linktree" to provide links to various pages on my website that correspond to the book, my blog, free tip sheets, our community, etc.

Once you have your profile set up, it’s time to determine what the theme of your feed will be. Your posts will consist of images and captions that work together to represent you and your “brand.”

For me, everything I post focuses on the theme of communicating effectively, specifically geared toward other nutrition professionals. Even posts that give visitors a behind-the-scenes look into my life fit my theme because I carefully select what I say to incorporate communication and making connections.

Instagram feed with a square of 9 images

An Instagram feed can be viewed as single posts vertically, or in a grid as in this image.

Instagram experts recommend strategically planning your posts so that they work well together when viewed in this format.

All of your images, images with text, colors and white space, and the overall feel of your feed should provide a cohesive look.

As a newbie, I have only gone so far as creating a pattern where I alternate images with text and those without. I have a planning calendar that helps me keep on track. Maybe someday I may get fancy with filters and other tricks to create a more unified “look,” but for now my primary objective is honing my messages.

Each image needs a caption. What you write at the beginning should grab the attention of the user and compel them to read more because only 87 characters are visible without scrolling.

Captions can be effective long or short, and many longer ones are broken into chunks with spaces added in between. The best captions encourage engagement and the most successful requests ask for short, simple responses or even the use of an emoji to declare your opinion or degree of agreement.

At the bottom of a caption, or in the first comment, Instagram experts encourage strategically using hashtags. These help users find the content they are interested in and can help your content be found. Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post.

I am experimenting with hashtags and using some that are very popular along with others that are less frequently used. I created the hashtag #CommunicatingNutrition to be used each time I post about the book and encourage anyone interested in it to search for that hashtag. One of the tricks I use to add hashtags is to create a caption in the Notes app on my phone and copy and paste it into Instagram.

Are there any other “old dogs” out there attempting to master Instagram? I don’t aspire to become an Instagram expert, but I do intend to keep on getting better.

What are you learning? Are you experimenting with social media? From one newbie to another – don’t give up. In the end you will gain a new skill and a whole new community to connect with. After all, that’s the point of social media.

“Always walk through life as if you have something new to learn and you will.”

~ Vernon Howard

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