Activist takeover: 10 things I learned about using Insta stories for campaigns

This week Nim did an activist takeover of performer Travis Alabanza's instagram. It was their first time using insta stories for campaigning... here's what they learned from the experience.

As a campaigner and trainer, I am always looking for different ways to make an impact in the world. Moving all of my campaigning online during lockdown is certainly a new challenge. I’ve just had a great experience getting my campaigning messaging out there on Instagram and I wanted to share what I’ve learned with the Bootcamp community and beyond. 

Most of my recent activism has been focused on trans rights issues, because the UK has become an increasingly hostile place towards trans people, in line with a wider global trend. A few weeks ago, Liz Truss (the Minister for Women and Equalities) made a statement on the government’s Gender Recognition Act consultation which cast a shadow on the future of trans people’s rights in England and Wales. I wanted to start organising to respond to this bump in the road in the movement for trans rights and had been at a bit of a loss as to what to do without the usual tactics available to me in this new world we find ourselves in. 

Enter superstar performer Travis. Like most of us, Travis’ work has been heavily impacted by the pandemic. As a theatre-maker they have had a lot of work cancelled. Without shows to talk about, they’ve had less content to share with their 41,000 followers. Travis realised there was an opportunity here to use their platform to uplift grassroots groups and activism. They suggested I do a takeover of their Instagram stories. 

As I started to record my first set of stories I realised I was out of my depth. I am very used to and experienced at messaging for campaigning, but I was struggling with a new tool and format that I’d never used before. Travis really held my hand (metaphorically of course, no social distancing was broken in the making of these videos!) and helped me understand what works as engaging content on Insta. They so graciously shared their experience, skills and knowledge with me and I couldn’t have done this without them – I’m now far more confident in using Instagram stories as a messaging tool for campaigning. 

With their permission, I thought I’d share the top tips I learned from them on how to make engaging and impactful stories with other campaigners, so that you can think about how to get your campaign messaging on Instagram too.

1. The usual rules apply: don’t forget it! 

  • Know your audience
    • I tailored my takeover to who Travis’s audience are:
    • folks who are already following them because they are interested in trans people and our lives. I wasn’t doing a 101 for people who knew nothing, but I also wasn’t talking to experienced campaigners or trans rights advocates
    • Sympathetic liberal professional types with a disposable income who could potentially be moved to donate to lots of great work and crowdfunds
  • Clear, simple messaging
    • No matter who your audience is it’s always best to break your message down into clear and simple points so that it’s easily understandable 
  • Have a call to action 
    • As with all campaign messaging — remember your goal is to move people to action so have a structure:
      • What’s the issue/context
      • What’s the urgency/why should people care right now
      • How can they take action on it

2. Make short bitesize videos

  • Insta stories cut at 10 seconds
  • You can make a longer video and it will automatically cut it up into shorter 10-second chunks
  • Don’t make each section too long or people will stop watching
  • Aim for a maximum of 1 minute
  • I broke down my messaging into 3 sections:
    • What’s the context: why has transphobia become such a big issue in Britain in the last few years
    • What’s the current urgent problem: Liz Truss’s statement on GRA reform
    • What can people do about it/call to action: 5 top tips for people to do in solidarity with trans people right now
  • Each section was about 1 minute total with text and links for further reading or action in between to break the sections up
  • I also included a “hi this is who I am and what I’m talking about” vid to start, and a “thank you so much for engaging and please keep taking action” vid to end in order to connect the audience with me as a person

3. Use text on the videos and images for more visual engagement

  • Travis was really great at identifying a key quote from each 10 second video and pulling it out and writing it on top of the video
  • This meant that even is someone couldn’t hear me, or wasn’t listening they could visually still be engaged and learning from reading across the videos
  • Because you can use lots of different fonts, stickers and emojis it kept the visuals really engaging
This is a screenshot of 5 images from Nim's insta story. They show different portrait images of text, image and Nim campaigning for trans rights and promoting different links.
Nim’s Insta story screenshots, May 2020.

4. Support people to learn more with links:

  • There’s only so much you can say in 1 minute
  • This makes it really hard to feel that you’re conveying as much information as you need to or want to about an issue that’s really important to you
  • This is where the “swipe up” feature on Insta really helps
  • You can create an image explaining that there is more info available and adding a link to an article/website/podcast for people to go off and read/listen to
  • This also really helped to make a pause/break between each of my 3 1-minute sections, making the content easier to digest for people watching
  • Sadly it’s only available on accounts with a blue tick or over 10k followers so thinking about takeovers here is useful (see point 10) but you could put a link to further reading in your profile to get around this. There’s even a cool site called which my friend Rachel introduced me to that let’s you create multiple links through one hyperlink, so you aren’t limited to just one in the bio and it’s totally free!

5. Give clear next steps and was for taking action:

Like all good campaign messaging you want people to be moved to action

  • I broke “what people can do to support trans folks right now” down into 5 easy things and made sure there were links for taking action or more information on as much as them as possible

i. Take action: sign this petition and/or write to an MP about Liz Truss’s statement and I linked to places they could do this  (you can take these actions now too!)

ii. Keep an eye out for news being buried about anti-trans policies and politics during the pandemic globally. Find it and then help to share it to raise awareness e.g. Colombia, Hungary, USA

iii. Validate Trans people! During the pandemic Trans people are especially isolated, precarious workers so hit very hard by lack of work, and many of us are living in hostile environments right now. You can smile at us on the street to let us know we are safe, validate trans people you know with caring messages, and send nice messages to trans people doing great things on social media. I created this twitter thread last week where people validated their trans friends publically and it was *delightful*:

iv. Donate to fundraisers to help trans people, sex workers and QTIBIPOC folks: 

Gendered Intelligence
Belfast Trans Resource Centre
Queercare network
London Intersex and Trans Community Healthcare
East London Out Project
Mutual Aid Trans Edinburgh
Trans Grocery Project Glasgow
QTIBIPOC Hardship Fund
SWARM sex workers collective
Global sexworker crowdfunds
Out and Proud African LGBTI+ group 

v. Make small changes where you are. Transphobia is big, but changes can be small & have huge impacts. For example, work in a shop? Ungender toilets/clothes. Have work emails/zoom calls? Ask people to share pronouns. Work in reproductive health? think about language for trans people.

6. Share across different platforms 

  • Just because the post is on Instagram doesn’t mean you can’t post about it on other platforms
  • To get people to engage with it, Travis and I shared about it on Facebook and Twitter as well
  • Once it was over I posted a summary thread of everything I had covered on twitter so that people could learn from and share it there too!

7. Use your friends and community for support

  • Remember that we are part of a community of campaigners and activists! We all bring different skills and experiences to the table
  • I literally couldn’t have got any near as much engagement without Travis’s help
  • Travis is an experienced pro on Insta and was gracious enough to share that experience and knowledge with me. But a significant amount of the support they gave me was moral support and confidence boosters in myself which made it a much more enjoyable and less anxiety-inducing process. Your friends don’t need to have 40k followers to be able to support you.
  • If like me, Insta stories is new to you, ask your friends to help you out – for technical support and moral support

8. Be ready to respond

  • Each one of my 10-second videos got around 3200 views
  • Each one of the links I posted got about 300 opens
  • Travis received about 100 different messages through the day including feedback, but also requests for help (for example, a lot of people said they had written to their MP about Liz Truss’s statement and hadn’t heard back — did we have advice on what to do next)
  • Be prepared to take the time to reply to people who take the time to message you

9. Save it to your stories

  • Instagram stories disappear after 24 hours
  • BUT! You can save them to your profile
  • Do this so that people can engage even after the 24 hours
  • It’s also important that we archive our work so that it isn’t written out of history
  • Finally it can help to watch yourself back the next time you are doing a campaign to learn from what you did well and what you think you could do better at!

10. Takeover!

  • My message got much further than it ever could have on my own Instagram because it featured on Travis’s and they have over 40k Insta followers
  • In addition to having giving me a much bigger audience reach, people with a blue tick or over 10k followers have access to 2 of the additional features I used:
    • Swipe up for further reading
    • See the analytics of how many people viewed, opened and engaged
  • When you are thinking about getting your message out there, think about who has a large audience that could benefit from your message
  • I was lucky that Travis asked me to takeover their stories, but it’s definitely something I would consider asking well-placed influencers in the future
  • When you are approaching them, think about what you are asking for and why using their platform might help
  • Also, remember that people with online platforms are people too — they’re busy and get asked for things by people in their DMs a lot so be kind and approach them with sincerity and respect


Now that I’ve done my first Insta story campaign action I feel much more confident doing another one in the future. I also have thoughts on what I could do better. Here’s what I wish I’d known or thought about in advance:

  • Visual changes of where I was/what I was wearing in the sections
    • I think if I’d have changed my clothes/lighting/location it would have kept the videos more visually engaging
    • It would also have made it clearer to my audience that I was moving through 3 distinct digestible parts
  • More images to cut up my talking
    • Another way I could have kept people more engaged and worked with different learning styles more would have been to put more images in between videos
  • Clearer bite-size talking points
    • I think by the time I got to the taking action section I had clearly broken it down into 5 things to do
    • I think I could have benefitted by thinking about what are the top 3 things I want to say in the other 2 sections and making it more accessible to people that way!

So there we have it — all my learning and top tips from my first ever Insta story campaign challenge! It certainly demonstrates a need to bring more social media savvy people who want to support our work, bringing them in to support us in thinking about our campaigns. Travis has kindly said that they are open to volunteering their advice to campaigners and activists during lockdown – what a sweetheart. 

I hope you find them useful and if you’d like to take action for trans rights then please do sign the petition, contact your MP, share stories about how trans people are being treated right now, or donate money to any of the urgent and important fundraisers above. 

Follow Nim on twitter here: @NMRLPH  and Travis here: @travisalabanza

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