Accessibility Settings

color options

monochrome muted color dark

reading tools

isolation ruler
social search guide Instagram Henk van Ess open source
social search guide Instagram Henk van Ess open source

Image: Shutterstock


» Guide


Social Search Techniques Using Instagram

Read this article in

Methodology Note: I chose English language examples as our user interface because new search options often appear first in English. However, most examples will work in other languages. In addition, I included screenshots to capture how these examples looked at the time conducted the searches. These results may change over time, however.

A beginner’s guide on how to search on Instagram, published via GIJN, is available in All You Need to Know to Search like a Pro on Instagram, followed by a Part 2. We recommend both articles if you are new to Instagram; if you’re looking for more advanced advice, this chapter offers additional tips.

Date Search via Instagram

Instagram’s search functionality is primarily based on keywords like hashtags, usernames, and location tags. If you don’t know any of these details, then the search algorithm won’t be able to find it for you.

Instagram’s date search feature is limited because the platform’s search algorithm is primarily designed to help users discover new and popular content, rather than retrieve specific content from the past. It’s optimized for speed and efficiency, rather than accuracy. Instagram always shows, like Twitter, the “Top” posts first. If you want the latest posts, scroll down a bit and look for “Most recent.” That is far from perfect.

Date Search via Google

Use Google to search Instagram for certain dates; Google may be able to find content that isn’t readily available through Instagram’s own search functionality. Google, by default, won’t see everything because Instagram doesn’t allow full access, but it’s worth a try. Say you want to find posts about an accident in Phoenix last week. Do this in Google:

social search guide Instagram using Google

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

As you can see, when we did this search, we got two (not so good) hits.

Date Search via Google Images

If you’re struggling to search for dates on Instagram, there is a more effective solution. Google Images uses a distinct search algorithm and criteria, allowing it to locate images and photos from across the internet. Given that Instagram is also focused on visual content, Google Images may be a useful alternative for finding what you’re looking for.

Due to its fine-tuned search engine, Google Images may find more relevant images from Instagram than the regular Google search engine. Let’s repeat the search we just did.

social search guide Instagram Google image results

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

The same search for “accident” in “Phoenix,” the week before, on Instagram has better and more results now. Google Images is clearly the winner in this date search.

Both methods — searching on dates via Google and Google Images — can complement each other and be used together to enhance your search experience. It ultimately depends on what you’re looking for and what approach works best for you.

Location Search via Mobile App

It can be easier to find breaking news stories on Instagram, but investigative journalists may need to dig deeper. Using Instagram can be challenging, especially when trying to find evidence of activity across a wide area. The lack of specific search criteria, such as date ranges and advanced filters, can make the process slower and less effective.

social search bar Allepo Syria

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

Instagram’s Map Search feature saves the day. It’s an excellent way to find photos in a broader area.

Use the mobile app for Instagram for this. Tap the looking glass, search for “Aleppo” and tap “Places.” Tab on “Aleppo, Syria.”

Instagram social search Aleppo places

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

Now you get a hit based on those keywords. Tap twice on the map now, click on the divider to see the full screen. There it is: your area map of Instagram, with the photos shown on a map.

You will now get a bigger map and more accounts, based on geolocation. You can search for specific keywords in that area if you want.

location search Instagram Aleppo Syria

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

Location Search via Desktop

The drawback of the “Location search via mobile app” is that it’s labor intensive. It is possible to do the same on your desktop. For that we need a tool, called

1. Choose an area

location search via app Instagram social search

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

Click on the map of or search for a specific location.

Find place location search Instagram

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

2. Activate tool

Click “Find Places.”

This will prepare a set of coordinates you need later.

Instagram Places social search

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess

3. Get Instagram data

Now click on “Get Instagram Place Data” – be sure you already have your Instagram account open.

4. Copy the code

You will see all kinds of location codes around the place you picked. Just copy those.

5. Paste it into the tool

Instagram Place tool social search

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess


It’s now up to you to decide which accounts would be interesting to study. Facebook photos will also be displayed if there are any.

Instagram map search results social

Image: Screenshot, Henk van Ess


GIJN welcomes reposts of this article for non-commercial use, but we ask that you follow our Creative Commons license agreement

Additional Resources

Social Search Techniques Using Facebook, from Henk van Ess

Social Search Techniques Using LinkedIn, from Henk van Ess

Social Search Techniques Using Twitter, from Henk van Ess

Dutch-born Henk van Ess teaches, talks, and writes about open source intelligence with the help of the web and AI.  The veteran guest lecturer and trainer travels around the world doing internet research workshops. His projects include Digital Digging (AI & research), Fact-Checking the Web, Handbook Datajournalism (free download), and speaking as a social media and web research specialist.

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Republish this article

Material from GIJN’s website is generally available for republication under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license. Images usually are published under a different license, so we advise you to use alternatives or contact us regarding permission. Here are our full terms for republication. You must credit the author, link to the original story, and name GIJN as the first publisher. For any queries or to send us a courtesy republication note, write to

Read Next

Satellite imagery of the Amazon forest

Investigative Techniques Reporting Tools & Tips

Journalists’ Guide to Using AI and Satellite Imagery for Storytelling

Satellite imagery provides information that can enhance the ability to write compelling narratives about the state of our planet, cutting across multiple beats. But such a tool tends to be complex and out of the reach for many journalists, so this guide offers a process that reporters interested in covering the climate crisis can use for story projects.