Instagram’s ideal is for real-time sharing. It aims for in-the-moment spontaneity. But that’s not necessarily a good fit for every use. Sometimes you might want to be able to schedule when a post goes public.
Maybe you’re using it for social media marketing and want to post at specific intervals or at what you’ve determined to be the best time of the day to reach the most followers. Or maybe you have a batch of photos to post but don’t want to flood your followers’ feeds and also don’t want to use the multi-photo post feature. I will sometimes use it when I’m traveling, so that I can post updates quickly while on the go.
You’ve no doubt noticed that the Instagram mobile app doesn’t offer any scheduling features. Nor do the mobile or desktop versions of the website. That’s not accidental. Instagram takes a dim view of automated posting of all kinds.
But there are a number of different ways to post to Instagram from a computer or website. Some of them offer scheduling; some don’t.
Here’s a rundown of some of the best ways to schedule posts to Instagram.
Instagram’s Terms of Service
Before you dive in with any of these, it’s important to know that Instagram has strict rules about automatic posting. The API that third-party apps used contains specifically limitations on doing that, and it’s important to note that if Instagram finds you in violation it might shut down your account.
That said, there are services that have come up with a way to work around the problem while staying within the rules. They’re the safest ones to use, and they’re under the “Push Notification Reminder Services” section below. The catch is that they’re not fully automated–they get you part of the way there but still require user intervention to do the actual posting.
Push Notification Reminder Services
These are the safer options to use because they are designed specifically to work within Instagram’s terms of service. They’re not fully automated–they’re essentially beefed up reminder services.
They get you part of the way there, but to actually post you have to respond to a popup push reminder and do the final step of posting manually. So it’s a two-step process: schedule and then publish.
The advantage of this approach over simply setting a calendar reminder is that once you’ve scheduled the post, the photo and caption info will be passed on to the Instagram app as well as copy the caption text into the phone’s memory for you to paste directly into the Instagram app.
Buffer is an online service that allows scheduling for multiple different social media services. It sets itself apart from other social media management services with a distinctive way of tackling the issue of scheduling and deferred posting–the buffer queue that gives it its name.
It’s a combination of mobile app and web service. Technically, you can post directly from the website without needing to install the mobile app, but you’ll need the mobile app if you want to take advantage of scheduling Instagram reminders.
There’s a free version with stripped-down features, and paid subscription plans for more features.
Buffer now offers Instagram as one of the social media services it can work with, although its Instagram functions are pretty bare-bones. And Instagram posts are not as automated as when working with some other social media services.
I’m using the Buffer website for the illustrations here, but the scheduling features I’m describing work with both the website and the official Buffer mobile app.
For the start of the process it treats Instagram posts just like any posts. You select what you want to share and then choose whether to add to your buffer queue, post immediately, or set a custom time for that specific post. If you choose the schedule post option, you can choose the date and time. The time is based on the timezone you’ve selected for that account in Buffer.
Some things you can’t do as part of the process include cropping, adding filters, or in-photo tagging. You will get the opportunity to do those things at the time of actual posting.
You can schedule as many as you like–they’re all added to your Instagram queue just like any other post.
But the next part of the process is where things get different. With other accounts like Twitter or Facebook, anything in your queue will simply post publicly at the you’ve set–you don’t have to do anything else. But with the Instagram function, what you’ve actually done is set a reminder–there are still steps to do to make the post actually go live.
At the time you’ve scheduled, you’ll get a reminder popup on your mobile from the Buffer app (make sure the Buffer app is installed and you’re signed in, of course).
It’ll then pass you over to the Instagram mobile app where you can proceed as you would for a normal Instagram post.
Hootsuite is an extensive suite of tools for managing social media presence across multiple services and accounts.
Like Sendible and Sprout, Hootsuite caters to heavy-duty social media marketing users, but unlike those two, they also bridge the gap to lower-volume users. They have a feature-limited free version that includes scheduling that might be enough for low-volume users. There’s also a $19/month plan that includes extra features.
Like the other services in this section, after you’ve schedule an Instagram post you’ll be send a push notification reminder when the time comes. You can then complete the process using the Instagram app. One distinctive feature of Hootsuite is that it has an auto-schedule feature, which chooses the time based on when you’re account gets the most response.
You can find more details here.
Later is a combination web service and app specifically for scheduling social media posts. In addition to Instagram, it also works with Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
It’s a combination of mobile app and web service that work together. It’s among the most full-featured here because in addition to letting you choose the date and time, it also gives you integrated analytics and things like recommendations on the best time to post based on when you’re likely to get the most response from followers. They have a feature-limited free account, but for any of the extended features like being able to work with multiple users, post videos, and higher numbers of posts per month, you’ll need to buy a monthly subscription, with plans starting at $9/month up through $49/month depending on the feature set you want.
You can post and schedule either from the mobile app or the website. But the website has a lot more features related to managing your schedule, like a visual calendar view and analytics.
You can also connect it with your Google Photos or Dropbox Photos folders.
As far as whether they violate Instagram’s terms of service, this is what they say:
You can find more details here.
Like Hootsuite, Sendible is a full-featured social media management tool. It’s aimed pretty squarely at the social media marketing end of things, which is reflected in its pricing model. There’s no free plan–or, rather, there’s a free 30-day trial but no ongoing free plan. It’s really designed for teams, agencies, and brands.
It includes an extensive collection of analytics, lead generation, and customer profile tools. You can also do things like monitor Instagram keywords.
Like the other tools here, it’s a push notification system. But a slightly different twist comes thanks to its emphasis on tools for teams–you can specify the push notification to go out to other people, perhaps your marketing team, for instance. You can find more details here.
Like Sendible, Sprout is designed for heavy-duty social media management. They’re also both aimed at the team, agency, and brand level rather than for individual users, and that’s reflected in their pricing. They do have a 30-day free trial, but their regular plans start at $59/user/month.
You can find more details on their Instagram scheduling tools here.
Preview is a bit different to the others. It’s an iPhone app where everything is handled within the app on the phone rather than through a web service. It still sends you a push notification reminder, but it’s more self-contained than some of the others. You will still have to open the Instagram app to do the actual posting.
It gives you a suite of image editing tools, like filters, and provides a visual way to see your upcoming posts.
You can find it on iTunes. It’s free.
Fully Automated Scheduled Posts for Instagram
Use these with care. Instagram takes a dim view of automated posting and might close your account if they find you in violation of their terms of service.
Gramblr offers what amounts to fully automated scheduling. It’s a third-party option designed specifically for Instagram. It’s a combination of app and web service. There are versions for Mac and Windows. It’s free. But of all the ones listed on this page, it’s also the most suspect with regard to Instagram’s terms of service.
I have a separate post on how to post to Instagram using Gramblr that offers an overview.
The scheduling part is easy to use. After you’ve cropped the image, applied any filters you want, and added captions and tags, the last step is deciding when to publish it. You can choose to publish immediately or at some other time. If you choose the latter, you simply choose the date and time. The time is based on whatever timezone your computer’s clock is set to.
You can schedule as many posts as you like. They’re added to a schedule queue that you can then go into and edit at will. (You can schedule as many individual posts as you like, but Gramblr doesn’t support multi-photo posts. So far as I’m aware, the only way to post multi-photo posts currently is by using the official Instagram mobile app.)
Note that Gramblr’s scheduling is not completely set and forget. Your computer will still need to be on at the time to post.
As Gramblr explains the requirement:
You must keep your computer ON for uploads to take place. If it is asleep, it will wake up for the upload. If it is shut down or hibernating, it will not wake up. If your computer cannot contact our servers within 30 minutes, the upload will expire and it will never occur. Check your power settings to make sure you are on High Performance. All uploads will occur +/- 10 minutes from the specified time.
That might help it meet Instagram’s rules–since it’s essentially still posting in real-time–but I can’t independently vouch for that. Of all the ones listed here, with regard to Instagram’s terms of service, Gramblr is probably the most suspect. So proceed with caution, especially if you simply can’t risk having Instagram shut down your account.
Hopper Instagram Scheduler
This one pitches itself as a fully automated Instagram scheduler. It focuses exclusively on Instagram. It’s a combination of a web service and mobile app.
I haven’t yet had a chance to try it, but you can find more information about it here.
It doesn’t require the reminder function, can work with videos as well as photos, and has bulk upload and scheduling.
The pricing is based on the number of Instagram accounts, with a single account starting at $19/month. There’s a free 14-day trial available (you have to provide a credit card to start the trial).