Essential Facts and Stats For: Instagram


What Is It

Instagram is a photo-sharing service with a built-in social network that allows profiles to build up a network of people to follow and have other people follow its updates. Users add filters to the photos they share to brighten or darken them or add other cool effects. Instagram also allows for short videos to be shared. Videos have their own set of filters that can be applied.

Who’s Using It

Instagram reported in late 2017 that it had 700 million users, with almost three quarters of that number coming from outside the U.S.

According to a late 2015 Pew study, 28% of internet-using adults over 18 used Instagram. 24% of men and 31% of women did so. 59% of those users report engaging with the site daily. More demographic breakdowns are available here.

According to a 2016 comScore report, the biggest demographic using Instagram is the 25-34 group, accounting for 25% of usage. A 2017 comScore report included Instagram in the top 10 apps used by every demographic group under 55 and was used by 55% of the app audience.



Username: The @brandname of the account. As always, if possible this should be consistent with other social profile accounts to minimize audience confusion, create instant familiarity and aid in discovery.

Account Name: The full brand name for the account.

Email/Phone Number: The recovery email address and phone number for the account. Also, this is the email address alerts, if they’re turned on, will be sent to.

Bio: A short description of the brand being promoted that includes the core message of what the brand is and what the value proposition to the audience is.

Website: The main URL that should be associated with the account and brand. This is the only clickable link in the mobile app. So this can be a persistent, evergreen link or can be changed to tie into a current promotion or news event. If the latter is the case it’s customary to put something like “Link in bio” in the caption of a photo so people know where to find a link where they can read or find out more about a bit of news or other promotion.

Customizing the Profile

The only graphic that’s needed is a profile avatar that displays at 150 x 150 on the web and so should be no smaller than that.

Business profiles also allow for the addition of information that allows people to contact the business via call, text or email with the tap of a button. Those profiles also add additional metrics but require verification through connecting the Instagram account to a Facebook profile.

Building a Following

  • Directly mention people and other companies by using the @ symbol before their username. Use this frequently to draw more eyes to your content.
  • Use the search feature to find similar accounts as well as those of influencers or others the account should be connected with. For corporate accounts, be wary of following too many accounts since they will also show up in the feed, which can become cumbersome


Types of Posts

  • Photos: Photos can either be shot natively within the app or imported from the mobile device’s camera roll.
    • Filters: Instagram provides over a dozen filters to choose from that add various effects to the photo or video, from lighting changes to ones that make it look like an old-fashioned instant photo and more.
    • Caption: A caption can – and should – be added to each photo/video post. If the caption contains a typo (since most typing is done on a mobile device) they can be edited after posting. Captions can include links or URLs, but those links are not clickable from Instagram to an outside site, they just appear as text. Captions can also include emojis.
    • Hashtag: When appropriate, those captions can include a hashtag. On the mobile app, clicking on a hashtag will open a gallery of all photos containing that hashtag.
    • Photo Editing: Instagram offers a variety of tools that let you do some light photo editing within the app itself, including cropping, adjusting the light and color and adding a fade to the image. That all is in addition to the regular filters that can be applied.
    • Location: Location can be added to the update, creating what’s referred to as a “photo map” of where the user been and what they have captured. Updates with a location attached can be shared to Foursquare.
    • Sharing: Through the mobile app, Instagram photos and videos can be shared on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Facebook or email.
  • Videos: Videos can also be shot live or uploaded from the mobile device’s camera roll. Videos, when loaded in people’s feeds, will loop continuously until the person moves past it and can be up to 60 seconds long. Videos can also be made up multiple clips from the camera roll into a single video. Those shooting live videos can add a cohost to the broadcast to make a more communal event.
  • Stories: Stories are made up of multiple photos and/or videos, including those that haven’t already been shared to the feed. Those who have assembled stories appear at the top of the mobile app’s feed, allowing for easy access and are governed by the same privacy restrictions applied to the account as a whole. Stickers and other multimedia elements can be added to photos and videos. As of early August 2017, one year after their introduction, Instagram reported 250 million daily users. Stories can also be viewed on the web. Find out more about Stories here.

Content Organization

As with almost all social networks there is no native taxonomy or tagging system to internally track posts. The addition of hashtags can help with discovery but don’t tackle internal organization at all.

Photos and videos, up to 10 at a time, can be added to galleries to create scrapbooks of specific events or moments. Media in galleries must be in the same format, though.

What To Publish

Making the posts on Instagram exclusive, something that’s not typically shared on other networks, can be attractive value proposition.

Don’t just share any old photo. Make sure it’s compelling picture that will resonate with the audience and is part of the overall brand goals.

Publish no more than 2-3 times a day. That’s about the maximum that’s sustainable and tolerable by the audience, though exact numbers may vary from program to program. But remember that Instagram is an app/network people engage with casually, so over-publishing means you’re pushing posts from friends down in the feed and so may view too many posts as being overly-intrusive.

When to Publish

Different studies and analyses of post engagement across a number of accounts have provided different results and recommendations. As with most things, the best coarse of action is to weigh program goals and tactics against when the program’s specific audience is engaging and make the best decision.

In other words, metrics may show that the audience is most engaging at 3PM on Tuesdays. But not everything can be posted at that time and a regular publishing cadence needs to be maintained. So balance timeliness of content with the desire to reach a large audience without falling into the self-fulfilling prophecy trap.

Contests and Promotions

Instagram itself offers tips on how to run an effective contest. Mostly those involve asking for photo submissions that include a hashtag that’s unique to the campaign to collect entries and identify winners. “Like to enter” contests that simply ask people to Like a photo can also be run.

As always, terms and conditions of the contest should be clear, something that’s somewhat difficult on Instagram since captions can’t link out to a blog post of page with those rules.

Other Best Practices

  • Photos and videos display at 640 x 640 and should be optimized for that size.
  • Choose filters wisely. While there are lots of filters to choose from, not all of them are especially popular with the audience. Do your research and see if your audience reacts positively or negatively to filters being used.
  • Using hashtags around a particular event or campaign – and encouraging others to do likewise – is a good idea. Those photos can be curated either on-domain through the Instagram API or through a service like Storify
  • Keep in mind that Instagram is an engagement platform, not a conversion network. Since links don’t work there’s no chance to link to a product page or blog post to find out more. So plan content accordingly and make sure correct expectations are set
  • Use hashtags wisely to align your content with popular topics and events. Use this carefully, though. It is easy to litter your content with hard-to-skim hashtags, or align unintentionally with a topic that has nothing to do with your organization.
  • Feature links to your social communities on all communications materials online and offline
  • Sharing photos to other networks like Twitter and Facebook can be a good awareness tactic to grow a new or struggling account. But be careful that cross-posts don’t intrude on the editorial cadence on those networks


Audience Engagement

There are a few different forms of engagement people can take a photo or video:

@mention: Tags the account of another user, letting people click through to that account and view their photos. These mentions also show up in the Activity tab of the account that’s been tagged.

Comment: Just as on other platforms, people can comment on Instagram photo posts. The network also allows for threaded conversations to more clearly distinguish conversations. Comments can come in the form of simple text or can include photos or videos.

Like: Similar to Liking or Favoriting on other social networks, signals approval of that post. This does not create any additional post on the account of the person doing the Liking, it’s just meta-data added to the post.

Instagram Direct: Allows a user to send any photo or video from their feed to another user directly as a “Hey, you might like this” heads-up or for any other reason.

Other Best Practices

  • If staffing allows it, having someone who can be active in the comments and respond to on-topic questions can be extremely useful in building up an active, loyal fanbase.
  • Moderate comments effectively, as much as resources allow. Comments on Instagram can quickly go off-topic and sometimes become abusive so make sure someone is keeping an eye on them for potential problems


Apps and Sites You Need

The native mobile app is the primary way to publish to a profile. It allows for all Instagram functionality, including posting, adding filters and so on. After years of not being able to do so, Instagram finally enabled account switching in February 2016, making it easier for social media managers to toggle back and forth between personal and professional accounts.

Profiles can be viewed and edited online. Online profiles also allow for engagement actions such as Liking a photo or leaving a comment. Other tools such as Hootsuite, Shoutlet and others can display a feed of updates from the profiles an account is following but no interaction is available through those tools.

Hyperlapse: A stand-alone video app that allowed people to take what are essentially time-lapse videos. So people can shoot video over the course of minutes or even hours and then compress it down to just seconds, adding stabilization to make the video even nicer.

Layout: Allows publishers of all kinds to easily gather a few images into a single collage that is then shared via Instagram.

Third-party apps like Repost add functionality Instagram does not have itself, especially the ability to share another person’s post in a way that’s similar to Retweeting on Twitter.

Advertising Options

Ads come in Photo, Video and Carousel flavors, allowing for the insertion of a static photo, 60-second video or carousel of photos into people’s feeds. Those ads can be used to drive clicks or conversions to a website – something that’s not possible with organic posts – increase engagement, app downloads or some other goal.

More information can be found here.

New tools were introduced regarding branded content posted on the network. Those include a tag creators can use to signal disclosure of a paid relationship and access to metrics to help the brand behind the campaign measure success. Instagram signaled these new guidelines would be accompanied by new enforcement efforts to make sure everyone is complying with them.

Reporting and Analytics

Native analytics are largely missing, with network size being the only account-level number accessible. The number of comments and Likes on each individual photo or video post can also be viewed, but not an aggregate number. Instagram will also display the number of views a video has.

Third party tools like SimplyMeasured can be used to pull additional numbers, including:

  • Total Engagement (Likes + Comments)
  • Average Engagement per Photo
  • Most Engaging Photo
  • Likes/Comments per Photo

Advertisers have access to enhanced native analytics that offer post impressions, reach and more, with an emphasis on tracking how well the ads being run are performing.

Business profiles offer access to additional metrics showing what photos are performing better than others in real-time. There’s also the ability to boost photos through paid promotion from within the app. Dashboards also offer demographic data of the account’s audience.

15 Minutes To Plan 7 Hours

I was feeling slightly overwhelmed by the number of items on my To Do List yesterday morning. I’d organized my list and was fairly confident I’d captured everything I needed to do so nothing had slipped through the cracks. Still, I was spinning out and needed a plan.

So I stopped what I was doing. I pulled out a piece of paper and, on each line, wrote a half-hour block of time through the end of the day. On each line, I wrote what needed to get done. If I thought it would take just 30 minutes, it went on one line. If it would take more, I drew an arrow down through the period I would allot to that task.

That schedule wasn’t perfect, but by the end of the day, I’d accomplished most everything I’d set out to. The 15 minutes I spent getting everything out of my head and creating a plan to get it all done cleared my mind, steadied my nerves and allowed me to move forward. I felt like I’d prioritized the right tasks, which helped me end the day feeling I’d accomplished the right tasks.

It’s a small thing, but it made a world of difference.

Sprout Social Quantifies the Call-Out Culture

Sprout Social is out with a new report on what it calls “Call-Out Culture,” the tendency of people these days to use social media to use social media platforms to air their complaints, bad experiences and other grievances involving brands. As always, there are a number of interesting points made throughout the report but a couple large-scale takeaways jumped out at me.

Call-Outs Revolve Around Frustration or Anger

The reasons people take to social media – which they do more than any avenue other than in-person customer service – to air their grievances or issues is because they see it as a public service of sorts. They want to call attention to something, espy bialy some form of a bad experience they had that they want to warn others of. That’s important because the number one reaction by other consumers to what someone posts is that they’re glad they saw it while they were researching a company or product prior to purchase. Mostly those negative call-outs are being done for just that purpose, to warn others, while smaller percentages are seeking refunds or discounts as a result.

There are a few charts in the report regarding consumer reactions to various kinds of brand responses to those complaints. Negative responses will lead to further negative action while positive action can turn things around and encourage more positive follow-ups from the consumer, though that’s not guaranteed.

Of course what’s left out of that is what constitutes a “good” response. That, in my experience, can run the gamut from the simple acknowledgment of someone’s point of view and issue to demands the company makes drastic changes to a product or business model. Some of those are wholly unreasonable but still may be lumped in with the “poor” response consumers think they’ve gotten.

Consumer Brands Feel the Burn

Unsurprisingly, consumer goods brands are the ones that feel the brunt of consumer social commentary. That category is both the most complained about and the one that’s seen as the most in-need of improvements to its social customer service efforts.

Those are, though, also the same companies that have the biggest challenges of scale to surmount. Those companies sell hundreds of products to millions of customers every day, so a social customer service effort that could handle that worldwide would be massive, the size of a large PR agency and still likely not tackle everything. This is something that’s often overlooked by hard-core adherents to the “every Twitter mention/Facebook comment *needs* a response, mostly because those consultants aren’t the ones who stick around to actually build that response workflow.

We Live In Public

It’s still fascinating to me that complaining publicly about a product or experience is, seemingly, the go-to tactic for so many people. I’m guilty of doing so from time to time, but almost always go back to delete that post because I feel bad shortly after doing so. Or I wind up apologizing for my public trash-talking, as I did one early morning after a bad experience with an airline. I posted my frustrations on Twitter and got a response from the brand, which is a credit to them. But I realized I didn’t need to do that, that doing so was kind of rude, and apologized.

That’s partly rooted in my personality, which is geared to suck it up and keep my thoughts to myself like a good German Lutheran. And it’s rooted partly in my own experience on the end of Tweetdeck, the one who’s trying to monitor comments, triage those in need of care and respond where appropriate. That can be draining, soul-sucking work since you’re indirectly being blamed for an experience you had nothing to do with. But it’s your work that will determine how the consumer responds and if you can salvage the relationship.

Before you take to Twitter to talk about some brand’s #epicfail, keep in mind that those are people who you’re talking about and to, not a faceless corporate entity. That may change the calculus when determining what or what not to voice your frustrations over.

The Value of Professional Social Media Management

“Chris, didn’t you work in web design or something?”

“No, social media marketing.” 

“Oh cool…want to start an Instagram account?”

That was the conversation that lead to my starting a photo feed for the store I’ve been working at for the last several months. Since I fired it up I’ve tried to post regularly and put into practice everything I’ve learned over the last decade of content marketing program management, even if it is just for a single local store and not a worldwide consumer brand.

Over the last few days, though, I haven’t posted anything. That’s because I feel it would have been insensitive to do so while a huge chunk of Texas is underwater and preparing for a recovery process that could take months if not years. I’ll ramp it up again in the near future, but there’s a crisis happening and so I’m going to take a break.

My decision is based on those years of experience. It’s based on seeing one brand after another called out for continuing on with business as usual while people were suffering. The account isn’t huge, but even if no one were to take us to task to the extent that we become a cautionary tale in Adweek it’s the right thing to do.

The experience and insights that culminated in my making this decision are mine. I worked hard to accumulate those instincts. When social media management is simply one of the tasks you assign a part-time office manager, you don’t get that. But that’s who’s being given the reins if many of the job postings I come across are any indication.

They may do a fine job and the profiles will be managed without headache. If so, great. But when a crisis, either internal or external, comes along, you’re going to want someone whose experience extends beyond their own personal use of Facebook.

comScore Updates Millennial App Usage Stats

comScore last week released its 2017 U.S. Mobile App Report, a look at what apps young people were using and how those apps were being used. Recode has a couple good stories about the study, including which apps are most popular with which demographics and how Google and Facebook dominate the lists of top apps. There are couple things that jump out at me, though, when considering the larger narrative presented in these stats.

Net Neutrality is Essential For the Future

The fact that Google and Facebook account for either nine or all 10 of the top apps in every demographic group should be incredibly disconcerting, Pandora being the only exception in two of the four buckets. That means those two companies, which aren’t answerable to any sort of public commission or group that ensures the public interest is being served, are the primary touch points to the web for most people. A lot of power is controlled by just those two companies, enough that it could…I don’t know…sway elections if it were misused.

Both Facebook and Google have insisted on a laissez faire approach from government and other groups, insisting that we trust them despite the lack of transparency either provides into how news is filtered in their systems, how search results are determined and more. And that’s *without* actual systems that help to keep them at the top of the heap by stifling innovation among upstarts.

Right now those upstarts, many of which wind up being bought by either of those two or a handful of other companies, may be the only thing keeping them in check. If rules stripping away net neutrality concepts were put in place and only the biggest were allowed to survive, the monoculture that results from such a system would only grow bigger and more dangerous. That may sound like hyperbole, but remember that our government has only been curbed at times by a viciously free and open press. If these two companies – or any two others – are allowed to consolidate more power, democracy withers even further.

App Homescreens are the New Trapper Keeper

This is slightly less serious than the first point, but two things struck me regarding the aesthetics of the mobile experience: Young people won’t tolerate bad app icon design and they like to keep their home screen clean, with most preferring to organize all but a few chosen apps into folders.

That says to me that they see their home screen as an extension and representation of themselves, their personality and their “brand.” They want that home screen, should someone else see it, to convey a particular message about their preferences and habits. Those screens are carefully curated in the same way the brands people follow on social media, the stickers they put on the front of their laptop and other public displays are.

So there should be a lot of pressure on app designers and companies as a whole to make that cut. Just like my parents’ generation was very picky about what, if any, bumper stickers were added to their cars, young people today are very picky about what apps they want to access regularly. While there’s a stated antipathy toward push alerts, those are more essential when apps are nested in this way since they might serve as the only reminder to the user that the app is still active. That can mean either with a company continuing to push new content or as a statement that the social network is still being actively used by a relevant group of people.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Netflix Refines Its Conversion Funnel

A lot of people have been linking to this Wired story about “The Defenders” and how Netflix is using it as a way to gauge the effectiveness of various recommendation paths to the show. You know, those thumbnails at the bottom of your screen or other prompts that offer suggestions on what you might enjoy next.

That’s really interesting and there are some fascinating details in there about how Netflix segments the audience and uses the data it gathers about your viewing habits to tailor all manner of recommendations. One thought jumped out at me as I was reading it, though:

This is just conversion path optimization.

Spend any amount of time dealing with online marketing and you’ll encounter a situation where you need to define the ideal conversion path for your customer. That path needs to be defined but then measured, analyzed and tested to see where customers might be falling off. Whether you’re dealing with email, social media or anything else online, a purchase or other conversion is the goal of at least some percentage of your program.

That’s exactly what’s going on here. The difference is that Netflix already knows a lot about you and is able to customize the path to what it feels to be your preferences. Most conversion campaigns will have some of that data but not nearly to the granular, everyday usage level that Netflix does.

This kind of customization, considering it’s coming from an entertainment company like Netflix, has the potential to greatly influence the tastes and preferences of a vast swath of society. It basically decides what tastes or preferences to reinforce and which to ignore, making the decision for the viewer, who doesn’t have to put much effort into the process beyond clicking a button.

If that sounds like a feedback loop, you’re not wholly wrong. Netflix will continue to spend cash on original series and movies based on data showing what its customers want, refining that production process based on results. A recent study made a lot of headlines claiming young people haven’t watched many classic films, particularly those made before the 1970s. That just happens to coincide closely with Netflix’s catalog of films, which only sports a couple dozen black and white features.

What Netflix is doing with “The Defenders” isn’t all that different from the A/B testing any other company does, giving different audience segments different experiences to see which works best. It’s just that Netflix has a lot more data to work with – just as Facebook does when determining which posts and ads to display – and the ability to even more finely personalize that experience over time.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Last Week on Cinematic Slant

Just one marketing recap last week as I looked at the smallish push for Beach Rats, which was heavy on tone and light on character. Though I did also flashback to the 1991 marketing of Terminator 2: Judgement Day to celebrate that film’s 3D 4K theatrical rerelease.

In addition to that I commented on what I was most excited to see in a solo Obi-Wan Kenobi movie, what seemed less intriguing about a planned movie focusing on the origins of The Joker, how I think early digital releases could shake up the goals of movie marketing campaigns, why Monty Python and the Holy Grail is still my favorite comedy, why an upcoming Pearl Jam concert film is being sold as a 2016 Cubs documentary and more.

Content Marketing Updates for 8/25/17

  • Snapchat has introduced Crowd Surf, a new system that uses artificial intelligence to find when many people are sharing video from a concert and assemble also those clips into a single video.
  • Facebook has redesigned its “trending news” section for mobile reading, making it easier to sort through updates and including related stories from a variety of outlets.
  • A redesign of the mobile News Feed in general is designed to emphasize visibility into who’s engaging with a post, where a link might take you and more to make the whole process, presumably, a bit more transparent. It also updated a number of features in the Camera app.
  • A new green dot will show you when someone has been active on Tumblr recently, letting you know who might be available to chat.
  • Instagram has added comment threading to help keep conversations going more naturally.
  • LinkedIn has introduced a new native video creation tool for the mobile app that will be rolling out to all users over time.
  • I’m not going to be switching over to Ghost anytime soon, but it’s great to not only see someone innovating in the blog platform space but also doing so in an open-source manner.
  • Twitter’s Explore tab will begin showing people topics they may be interested in sorted in a way that’s based on their usage of the platform. That’s an attempt to make valuable, relevant information more prevalent, especially to new users.
  • Interesting statistics here on why young adult shoppers prefer the experience on a brand’s own website as opposed to that of a retailer.
  • Could be bad news for Snapchat as influencers identify it as the one they are or are most likely to drop in favor of Instagram and others.
  • Facebook is selling in-stream spots separate from bundled News Feed buys, something that was apparently high up on the list of requests from agencies.
  • The photo you’re responding to on Instagram will now appear as a sticker in the photo you take as the response. Sure, why not.
  • Facebook’s latest target in the News Feed: Video clickbait. Specifically, it’s taking aim at some of the slimy tactics disreputable publishers engage in to trick people into playing their videos.
  • Apparently we’re more prone to make rash, impulsive shopping decisions on our phones than we are in person or on our desktop computers.
  • After bringing GIF-like previews to YouTube, Google is now introducing six-second previews of videos directly in search results to, it says, help inform people as to what they’re about to click on.
  • YouTube is curating a “Breaking news” section across platforms to help people stay connected and/or know what level of panic and despair to maintain.
  • Digital video advertising is growing ever bigger in absolute dollars, but as a percentage of overall digital ad budgets it’s remaining pretty flat.
  • Chat bots are something marketers need to educate themselves on ASAP.
  • Facebook’s new tool lets brands directly boost posts from influencers they’ve engaged in branded content campaigns, keeping the original person’s branding on the post. Ad execs, though, worry that this will lead to influencer posts being suppressed in the feed, diminishing reach unless dollars are spent.
  • Snapchat is the latest platform company to announce it will be moving into providing a home for exclusive scripted video content.
  • Some early success stories coming out of Facebook Watch, though I have to wonder how much of that comes from these videos being given preferential treatment in the News Feed.
  • You can now take 360-degree photos and video from within the Facebook app itself.
  • Publishers in the Medium Partner Program will have the option of making stories available only to members and then be paid based on engagement and reach. That also includes a metered paywall limiting non-members to a set number of “free” posts they can read per month.
  • As part of its effort to help restore trust in what news is shared on its platform, Facebook will display media brand logos next to stories from that site.
  • New updates to the app include a section of recommendations based on what you’ve watched and enhanced user profiles.
  • Email management software is the most common tool used by content marketers, followed by content management systems.
  • Snapchat will let advertisers control whether their ads appear alongside all content or just that produced by the company itself and its media partners.
  • You can now edit Anchor’s new videos and share snippets.

The Challenge of Gaining New Experience

It’s an old line, repeated by countless new college graduates and featured in most any movie or TV show where someone is looking for a job: “The job says ‘experience needed’ but how am I supposed to gain any experience if no one will hire me?”

I’ve run into a similar speed bump in the last year, both as I searched for full-time jobs and freelance gigs. I can write on just about any topic and have content strategy skills that can be applied to any industry, but people specifically want someone with experience in (fill in the blank field). That’s narrowed the pool of jobs I’m even considered for significantly since there are some industries I’ve simply had little to no experience with.

I don’t necessarily blame them. I get it. They want someone who they feel is most qualified for the job and I don’t have experience in some industries. I haven’t done a lot of healthcare work. I haven’t done a lot of food industry work. When asked, I’ve made the case that the experience I do have is easily translated into other industries because I’ve focused on processes, not specifics, but that hasn’t gone very far. There are apparently plenty of other applicants who check more of the boxes than I do and who therefore jump to the front of the line.

Similar issues were seen during my time in the PR agency world. There were quite a few occasions where I’d be part of a pitch team or hear about a pitch that was happening only to find out later that we’d lost because we didn’t have enough experience in X field.

Freelancing has opened me up to more industries. I have a bit more technology, engineering and other experience than I did a year ago, all of which is good and may open up more opportunities down the road. Honestly, I’m not sure how anyone who has any substantial number of years of work history behind them is supposed to counter this. To go back to the opening line, how am I supposed to gain experience if no one will hire me?

Without an opportunity to prove myself, I’m pigeonholed into certain fields. There are worse situations to be in, but when you’re trying to cast as wide a net as possible, limitations aren’t your friend.

Unlike demonstrable skills such as email marketing and Facebook advertising, this isn’t something a Hubspot or Lynda course will correct. You can’t take a 12-hour online tutorial in healthcare marketing and add it to your resume. Well…you probably can, but it’s not going to be worth very much in the eyes of potential employers.

No, what I’ve found is you just have to keep plugging along. Keep explaining that the skills you have can be applied to any sort of program in any industry. Say “yes” to opportunities that will take you outside your comfort zone and open up new avenues. Eventually, that will pay off. I continue to believe that.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Taking Notes Is a Two-Step Process

A post on The Writing Collective about how it’s fruitless to search for the perfect note-taking app because it doesn’t exist caught my eye and got me thinking about my own preferences and habits for taking notes.

Let me state first that taking notes is not exactly what I’d call a natural behavior of mine. By inclination I’m more of a listener during lectures and meetings, taking in the vibe of the room and considering the points of view being shared. I wasn’t great at this in high school and college, often jotting down points that were irrelevant to the point being conveyed and not helpful at all when it came time to review those notes and use them for anything productive.

It was well into my professional career that I evolved my note-taking skills, finding a two-step process that seemed to work pretty well for me:

Step 1: Hand-Written Notes

After trying to use software of some sort – Evernote, Word, whatever – to capture notes and thoughts in the moment I found it just wasn’t working. I was missing too much, it was taking me out of the room. I was trying to not only quickly capture what was happening but also got distracted by fixing typos, filling in gaps and so on. It was too much and the end results weren’t great.

So I switched to paper and started making sure I packed or otherwise grabbed a legal pad or notebook whenever I knew I’d be in a situation where I needed to capture notes. I didn’t worry about outline structure or other niceties, I just tried to get down all the important points I felt I’d need later. I’d walk out of the meeting with pages of scribblings.

Step 1.5: Collect Notes From Others

OK, this is a bit of a cheat, but I would gladly take on the role of compiler in most situations. I would ask my colleagues and coworkers who were also taking their own notes to send or give them to me, so I could make sure the official record included everyone’s contributions. You never know who caught something important that you missed, so getting a variety of inputs is essential.

Step 2: Type Them Up

Here’s where the compiling happens. Usually I’d use my own notes as a starting point, putting everything in a better structure. Then, if there were additional inputs available, I’d review them and add those where appropriate. Throughout this step I’d also be adding more thoughts and comments that had occurred to me while reviewing the notes. Eventually Evernote became platform of choice for this step and is where I would keep my own version of these, though I’d distribute them to the rest of the team via Word or Google Docs or whatever worked best.

Step 2.5: Create Action Items

Another cheat, but an important one. As I reviewed the notes and put them in an “archive” format, I would keep TextEdit open to the side of the screen and throw any obvious action items for myself or the team over there. Those needed to be separate from the more general notes and called out in a different way and this was a good opportunity to identify what had been mentioned in the meeting as well as anything new that occurred to me based on the notes for later assignment.

This multistep process helped me to:

  • Stay present and responsive during the meeting itself
  • Capture what I felt was important in the moment
  • Create a final document that included the input of the whole team
  • Keep all those in a format I could search and reference later
  • Identify action items resulting from the meeting

Do you have your own process for taking, collecting and formatting notes?

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.