Instagram is thriving as one of the most popular social media channels. For individuals, it’s a way to connect and share photos. For brands, it’s a great advertising platform.
To bridge the gap between individuals and brands, some enterprising individuals have found was to cultivate their personal brand through high-quality photos and product placement within those photos. By featuring brands, they are able to leverage the often-large brand following, increasing their own individual following.
A lot has been said about the different types of Instagram content that works, but the fact remains that there isn’t one tried-and-true formula that works to catch the attention of Instagram users, let alone inspire them to like the content and follow the creator’s account.
For example, there are has been a lot of uproar about video content, and while video does perform well, the posts can be costly to make and time-consuming to edit. Populating an Instagram account purely with videos isn’t sustainable in the long run if you plan to spend time refining them, especially since frequent posts are a must-have for growing a following.
Spending every minute recording, editing, and posting doesn’t make for a sustainable approach to Instagram, especially for new accounts.
Posting still photos is still Instagram’s bread-and-butter and the cornerstone of success on the platform—68.2% of posts are single images. Because photos are easier to take and edit, they are often a more sustainable approach for new accounts or those that are seeking to grow.
However, with more than 40 billion photos posted to the platform so far, the ongoing question is how you can create content that stands out and attracts followers.
The great news is we have a few tips that can not only help you take better photos, but post them in a way that can both attract attention and increase your following.
Here is our 5-step process for planning out your account style and your Instagram posts.
STEP 1: Establish Your Brand Image
Whether you’re using Instagram to promote a business or simply using it to express yourself, the ‘why’ behind the presentation matters. That why is your “brand”.
A brand isn’t just a trademarked or copyrighted design to use for logos and collateral, it’s the reputation and character associated with you or your organization. For instance, Nike is more than just a swoosh. It’s a lifestyle…an athletic mindset…a community of people (both employees of the company and users of their products) who appreciate a lifestyle focused on fitness.
Their brand isn’t just about products. It’s about people. It’s about “doing it”…whatever “it” is for each of us.
Nike’s Instagram account features people…not products.
By identifying and maintaining a consistent brand image on Instagram, potential followers will immediately find something that resonates with your potential following. Hopefully, they’ll see a little bit of them in your brand.
By making that connection, it will become easier to inspire them to follow your account and build an ongoing, long-term relationship.
Creating that brand image isn’t easy, though. To get started, you need to clearly identify your values and purpose. Some simple questions that can help you establish those might include:
- Why are you on Instagram?
- Who is your potential audience?
- What is important to them and how does it align with your brand?
- What content do you have that you can show to your followers?
- What do you have to offer them they can’t find anywhere else?
- Will the content your share actually enhance their feed?
After this, settle on the emotions associated with your answers and let that decide the picture you’re going to take.
Want to be a casual, friendly face? Reflect that.
If you want to be seen in a purely professional light, add a little more polish. That goes for interests, too—aim to be associated with what you love.
STEP 2: Plan Out An Aesthetic
Now that you know the style of messaging you want to convey with your Instagram profile, it’s time to translate that into a cohesive look and feel…also known as your aesthetic.
This is where tips from visual branding come in, specifically for recall. Having a signature color, for example, improves recognition by up to 80% (and consistent presentation across platforms in terms of tone, messaging, and visuals can increase revenue for brands by 23%).
This means you need to understand what colors should best represent your brand. Those colors can then be consistently used in your images and in posts on other social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Including your selected color scheme into your Instagram aesthetic is a good way to help users recognize your imagery. Not only will it drive recall every time one of your posts comes up in someone’s feed, but it can make the grid view on your profile look great, too.
Using color theory for your Instagram aesthetic with photo subjects or applying filters is one way to do this. Understanding the different relationships that colors can have with each other can help you develop a color scheme for your Instagram photos.
Some of these relationships include:
- Analogous – Three colors beside each other on a color wheel, great for low contrast and focusing on one key point in each image.
- Complementary – Colors on the opposing side of the color wheel, for high contrast.
- Monochromatic – Multiple shades of one color, looks very put-together and is a common choice for Instagram grid aesthetics.
A really cool tool that can be used to identify potential colors in your aesthetic is the Color Calculator utility created by Sessions College for Professional Design. Using the tool, you can create a scheme that fits with your brand.
STEP 3: Think about Composition
While a great aesthetic can help your followers recognize your posts, what really matters is the content of the images you post. You need to give followers a reason for coming back to your content and then clicking the like or comment buttons.
Varying how you take your photos or layout your graphics keeps content fresh without each photo looking disjointed. Pay attention to how your subjects look in your frame and seize the opportunity for a great shot whenever you can.
Here are some photo composition techniques to level up your Instagram game:
- Centered symmetry – Place subjects in the very center of your photo if they appear symmetrical.
- Foreground interest – Take photos at an angle or fiddle with your camera’s depth of field settings to highlight a subject at the front of the shot.
- Leading lines – Find patterns, roads, or other elements in the shot that “lead” the viewer’s eye towards the focus of your picture.
- Patterns and textures – Repeating elements can create pleasant composition if harmonious with their surroundings.
Many more than these exist (like the classic rule of thirds). Find which works best with the subjects you photograph the most and play around! When you find a composition technique that your followers respond to (with lots of likes and comments), stick with it for a while and see how it impacts your account growth.
Over time, though, keep in mind that your users might tire of photos that follow the same formula each time. If your Instagram engagement starts to drop, here are a few techniques that can help spark new engagement.
STEP 4: Edit Your Photos
While raw photos have their appeal, most of what gets posted to Instagram are put through post-processing (also known as filters). Yours shouldn’t be any different. Editing can change the look of a photo completely or enhance it to more accurately reflect what you saw in real life.
However, if you don’t want to think too hard (especially things like brightness, shadows, saturation), downloading a photo editing app with a variety of filter options saves time while maintaining quality.
Using your chosen app, test out a few different filters to see what resonates best with your audience. Try to find a consistent set of filters that help lend some consistency to your photos and also align with your chosen aesthetic.
STEP 5: Give Photos the Right Caption
Use your caption space to tie your photo in with your original messaging. You can start by giving context to the photo, talking about what’s in it, where you took it, and why. You can also go the opposite route by providing minimal information. Test each approach to see what piques your audience’s interest more.
What you should include are hashtags for discoverability. This is how potential followers get to discover you in the first place, so include a mix of general hashtags and ones more specific to your interests or industry. Images with hashtags generally receive more engagement than posts without, but don’t overdo it. Nine is the optimal number of hashtags on Instagram, which isn’t as many as it might sound!
NOTE: Pay very close attention to what you are posting via your Instagram account. The community guidelines are very clear about what content is and isn’t allowed on Instagram. Pushing the boundaries of these guidelines can result in a shadow ban, temporary suspension of your activities, or even an outright ban on your Instagram account.
And getting a ban removed from your account can be a tough haul. You’re better off understanding where the limitations are and staying within them.
It may seem a bit much to plan through every Instagram post, but in truth this process won’t take as long as it seems. Plus, once you take care to establish your brand approach and aesthetic in the first couple of steps, you can focus purely on taking and editing photos next time.
Remember social media success doesn’t come immediately. Growing a following on any platform is a process.
Keep trying out different ways to take, compose, and edit your Instagram photos to find out what your audience prefers. You’ll thank yourself in the long run!
Natasha Ponomaroff is the Senior Marketing Director of Instasize – a content creating tool kit for anyone editing photos and online content on mobile. A weekly contributor on the site’s blog, Natasha tracks social media trends and updates the millions of “creatives” who are currently using Instasize to curate awesome online content.
When she isn’t writing up the latest trend, Natasha is overseeing a team of 10 over at the Instasize HQ – ensuring that the marketing content on the apps various social platforms is ready to go.