If you're using Instagram to further your business working to create the most cohesive feed possible to represent your brand is imperative for your business.
Instagram has been around for 6 years, and its the fastest growing social media platform; with over 400 million monthly users, 80 million photos uploaded daily, and over 40 billion photos posted. It's a tough nut to crack for many people who have used Facebook and Twitter to share content, because it truly is a different beast. When I work with clients it is often the one that stumps people the most due to its visual nature.
I've come to refer to Instagram as a bit precious. Don't get me wrong. I absolutely love Instagram. (You can follow me here.) But there's a lot of truth in it being called precious. People are much less forgiving there than they are on other platforms. People follow accounts to be truly inspired, to connect with people and brands that they admire, and to really get a peek behind the scenes that they don't get anywhere else.
I've gathered some of my suggestions and tips that I offer to my clients to help you create a cohesive feed that represents your business, feels good, and is easy to follow. Remember, these are guidelines. Every feed is different. Decide what specifically works for you and your business, tweak as you go, and leave the rest.
Fill out your bio
So often I see bios completely blank. This is the only text people see when they encounter your profile -- take advantage of it! It is literally your calling card to new and prospective followers and customers. Be clear about who you are and what your business does and is. Let people know what they can expect from your feed! Latergramme offers excellent tips on formatting and creating your bio.
Use your Notes app on your phone to format and break up lines to create a formatted look for your bio:
Below are examples of clear and concise bios that not only tell you who they are but what you can expect, and what their mission is:
Pay Attention to Engagement
One of the best ways to figure out what content is working for you on Instagram is to pay attention to what your followers are engaging with. What is it that they specifically respond with? Is it the image, the copy, the overall mood (combination of look, feel, and copy)? There's a lot to look at!
Use tools like PeopleMap (my personal favorite), Iconosquare (this is a paid platform at $4.99 a month, but they do offer a free trial), and Ink361 to find out what your "best" (most engaged) content is and try and replicate that. Go through your older images and analyze the ones that did the best (and worst).
Define Your Look
Having a look and style on Instagram is important, followers gravitate to visually cohesive feeds. It might take some time to figure out what your look is. (It took me a very long time, and I do this for a living!) But it's really important to develop a branded look for your images. This can be as simple as always using the same filters and settings. Or it can be produced and polished by using the same colors, accents and props. It's up to you!
Start by paying attention to what does best visually within your feed and start to replicate that. Also take into consideration your voice and tone, and your brand's look and feel. Do your images represent these factors?
As I mentioned above, defining your look will take some time. You may need to go through a trial and error period to really figure things out, but the more you practice and pay attention to what works and feels like you you, the quicker you'll define your specific look and feel.
One way to gauge how your feed is looking is to open up your Instagram account often and look at the top 6 -12 images on your account. Do they tell a story? Do your images look like they are all from the same account? Is there a feel and look that matches? This is a great way to see how your feed looks to new followers.
Use similar filters and settings within your images (brightness, highlights, etc), as well as an overall palette. Stay away from filters that blur or darken your products. Stick to consistent backgrounds and layouts to keep everything on brand. Research shows that using bright light (daylight if possible)in images does better than darker images.
There are lots of blog posts out there that offer tips on visual branding, there are also super helpful workshops like Dear Handmade Life's Photostyling 101. Invest in your business in this area! It will save time and money in the long run.
Edit, Edit, Edit
Use apps like VSCO, Snapseed, Afterlight, and A Color Story to edit your photos and create sharp images. Using the same filter can go a long way in giving your feed a consistent look. As I mentioned above, stay away from filters that obfuscate your image - especially if you're sharing your art or a product that you sell. We were all a little too filter happy from 2010-2012, but all of the above apps offer filters that can make an image look better, brighter, and crisper, unlike some of Instagram's native filters.
Cropping is also a game changer. Look at your images objectively, can you crop and zero in on your image giving it a better, tighter look? Sometimes you can crop twice, creating two images from one!
Here are two stock images I cropped. Obviously there's nothing wrong with the original images, but sometimes cropping especially on Instagram can give a tighter, cozier look.
Stay on Brand
Once you define what your look is, be sure to stay on brand. If you're using Instagram for business don't post images that don't make sense for your brand. This is hard, but be as controlled and deliberate as possible here. Look at the accounts that do the best, do you notice a trend? They're incredibly focused on their look and mood. Resist posting images that are too personal in nature often. Every now and then it's fine, it's important to give your followers a look into your life and share about who you are as an individual. That adds a personal touch that's important. However, if you're posting selfies, pictures of you and your friends, or images that really have nothing to do with your business often (like a few times a month) consider creating 2 accounts. Now that Instagram offers dual login, it's a cinch!
Followers look to social media, and especially Instagram as an aspirational platform - they want to be inspired and relate to images. They follow you because of who you are as an image, so they want to see those images. Too many images that do not relate to your brand hurt your hard work on social media. This is a reality. If you don't believe me test it out.
Consistency is key on Instagram (are you noticing a trend here? 😉). Make sure you're posting enough. Four to five times a week is a good place to start, and then move to once a day if you have the content to support it. As you post more pay attention to your engagement and growth and loss of followers. Instagram's feed is quite different than Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, so if you post too close together you may flood the feed. If you decide to post more than once a day, break it up by a handful of hours: 3-5 hours a part.
Hashtags are one of the best ways to increase your following and engagement. Here are 12 ways to use them to improve your engagement and build your following. They're also a great tool to do a little visual research. Search through your industry hashtags to see how other accounts are posting. Pay attention to their look and the content they share. Because Instagram is so visual it's a great way to be inspired to breathe a little creative life into your own feed. Search other images, pay attention to trends, pay attention to what you gravitate towards and what you don't like. All of these things can help inform you to create a consistent and beautiful feed.
Use Tools to Help
As I mentioned above there are tools liked PeopleMap, Iconosquare, and Ink361 to help you track your engagement, and understand your best and worst photos. PeopleMap aids in tracking competitors, brands that inspire you, and creating lists to keep track of accounts within your industry. There's also a whole host of scheduling tools for Instagram: Hootsuite, Latergramme, OnlyPult, and many more. (Scheduling should be a big part of your social media strategy, learn why scheduling is important here.)
Lastly, it used to be that Instagram images should be posted within the moment, but that's no longer the case, especially if you are a business. Set aside time to do a photo shoot and batch your photos. Batching simply means doing a bunch of the same thing at once. By batching images, editing them, and then scheduling them, you not only have saved yourself a ton of time, but you've made it easier to stay on brand and focus on your business, and focus solely on engagement.
Take What Works, Leave the Rest
Everyone's social media feed and audience is different. And it goes with out saying, every business is different as well. Personal brands like bloggers or artists may get away with posting more personally oriented photos where a small boutique might not. You need to figure out what is right for you and your audience. Everything I say here are suggestions based on my own research with clients and industry standards. They may not work for everyone. Take what works for you, and leave the rest. But most importantly create a feed that you can feel proud of and enjoy spending time on.