What Does The Perfect Instagram Post Look Like?
There’s no question that social media marketing is one of the most popular and profitable strategies around today—why else would 84 percent of marketers be keeping or increasing their social media budgets moving forward?
Among these platforms, the ones that tend to get the most attention are the giant pillars of our age: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Why? Partly because they carry some of the biggest user bases of any social media platform, and partly because they’ve been around long enough to reassure skeptical marketers that they’re going to be a good investment.
When you look past the initial learning curve, Instagram posts aren’t as intimidating or intensive as they might seem on the surface. In fact, I can teach you all the ingredients of a “perfect” Instagram post in the body of one guide—or at least I’m going to try. Are you ready?
Why you should care about Instagram
Since it does get less attention than some of its contemporaries, you might first ask yourself why you’d bother with Instagram in the first place. Well, let’s look at the numbers: Instagram has over 400 million monthly active users, and that number is growing consistently, month over month. It’s become an incredibly popular platform in a relatively short amount of time, and its growth trajectory doesn’t indicate any signs of that momentum coming to a halt.
Moreover, much of the Instagram population skews toward younger demographics, making it an even more powerful social force (especially if younger demographics are your target market):
(Image Source: Sprout Social)
If you’re targeting older generations, or rural users, Instagram probably isn’t the best platform for you, but then again, social media in general may prove an obstacle for these markets.
I’m going to assume that Instagram is a good platform for your business or organization in general, because this is the case for the vast majority of businesses. With that in mind, we need to take a look at how your business can be successful.
Perfect posts are a good way to start
There are a lot of ingredients that go into a successful Instagram campaign, but at the center, there must be high-quality, effective posts. Drilling down to uncover what makes an individual Instagram post effective is a good first step to building a solid strategy. Here, we’re looking to accomplish a few goals:
- Attractive. An ideal post is one that will attract new people to your brand, helping you build and retain a massive following, which you will then hold influence over.
- Engaging. The more you engage with others, in some meaningful, connective way, the more influence your brand will hold and the more actions your users will take.
- Valuable. Your posts should also carry some direct value for your brand, such as generating more traffic or sales, without disrupting the relationships you hold with your followers.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the factors you’ll need to consider when creating and posting your brand’s images and videos.
Before we get too deep in the types of content and specific details you’ll need to consider for your strategy, we need to cover the basics. These are fundamental principles you’ll need to keep close to your campaign—some of them are rules of etiquette, some of them are best practices, but all of them are necessary if you want any of your posts to make an impact.
Take lots of pictures, but choose only the best
Instagram revolves around images. Yes, you’re able to post videos these days, too, but first and foremost, Instagram is an image-based platform. Accordingly, you need to pick the best and most impressive photos you can to fill your profiles. It helps if you have some kind of photography experience, or are at least familiar with the basic principles of what makes a good photo, but even if you don’t, you can make up for it with one basic approach. Take lots and lots of photos, experimenting with different angles and lighting, and only choose the best ones to fill your account. Even if only 1 in 20 of your photos is worth posting, if you take 20 photos, you’ll get that 1 important take (on average). The perfect Instagram post is the best of a group.
As an example, thousands of people a day take photos of the Eiffel Tower, mostly from this angle. But how many do you think turn out like this:
(Image Source: BGR)
Edit and crop appropriately
Once you take your photo, your job isn’t exactly done. Instagram offers some awesome editing and cropping tools, but you need to use those tools effectively if you want your image to have the right type of impact. Instagram has a great guide on how to use these tools in general (if you’re unfamiliar), but you’ll need to trust your artistic and creative instincts if you want to get the framing correct.
This is a great example:
(Image Source: BGR)
Imagine if the photo was zoomed out any further—you’d miss the person swinging as a bit detail. Zoom in any further and you lose your sense of scale. There’s a delicate balance here, and it’s important to know where it is.
Add the right filter
Instagram offers a number of filters you can use to modify the final appearance of your photos, each one with different effects. Some alter the coloration of your image and others alter the lighting. You’ll find that several of these filters will directly affect your engagement rates, so choosing the right one is vital:
(Image Source: TrackMaven)
Unfortunately, there’s no convenient guide to let you know which one is the most appropriate for your specific image. You’ll have to experiment and trust your visual sensibilities to find the one that best enhances your source material.
Of course, if you don’t feel like using filters at all, or if your photo will have more impact if it’s unedited, you can take advantage of this with the #nofilter hashtag.
Make your message short
Instagram allows you to include a message with your photo, which is an excellent opportunity to further engage your audience. However, it’s in your best interest to keep this message as concise as possible. Remember, this is an image board. A message can enhance or clarify the meaning behind your post, but don’t use this as a platform for verbal expression; there are several dozen other platforms available if that’s your main goal.
For example, take this post from forever21, which simply says: “wakeup, run, repeat” with some emoticons, hashtags, and a call-to-action (these other ingredients are significant too, but I’ll dig into those in a bit).
(Image Source: Curalate)
The nature of this message should be directly related to your image, and relevant to your audience, hitting a few main points I’ll explain in my section on content.
Yes, hashtags. They’re a polarizing strategy because it’s easy to cross a line here, but the fact is, they’re the best way to get your content discovered by new audiences, hands-down. People search for and follow hashtags for their favorite topics, and if they search for yours, your post will get in front of them. Your existing followers will see your posts in their newsfeeds, but your ideal post should include hashtags to attract the people who don’t follow you.
There are only two lines you need to be wary not to cross:
- Relevance. Whatever hashtags you use, make sure you’re using them appropriately. If you try to exploit a hashtag that you don’t fully understand, you could wind up alienating your audience or seeming ignorant. If you’re in doubt, do your research. If you’re still in doubt, drop it.
- Volume. Don’t stuff your post full of hashtags for the sake of stuffing it full of hashtags. This turns users off almost immediately. Instead, select only a handful that you feel are most appropriate for your post.
(Image Source: ShortStack)
This is more common for individual users than it is for brands, but tagging specific people can be a good way to increase your visibility, so I’m counting it as part of the “perfect” Instagram post. For example, you could feature a contribution or a member of your audience specifically and call them out as a way to bond with them. It’ll also make it likely they’ll share it with their own audience:
(Image Source: WishPond)
If that doesn’t work, you can select specific people in your audience you feel the post would be relevant for, or if you’re really strapped, you could simply call out the individual accounts of your employees and team members. The key is to include some form of engagement that makes your post more accessible.
In addition to the best practices I listed above, there are a handful of other, less obvious quirks about Instagram that could help you craft the ideal post:
- Blue images get more likes. According to a recent study, images with blue tones tend to get more likes than those with red or other color tones. If you can, try to post more images with a sense of “blue” about them, with the color dominating the majority of the image’s area.
(Image Source: DailyMail)
- Images with lots of background space get more attention. Cropping in your photo too closely will lead to a drop in engagement. The idea here is to preserve a level of minimalism.
- Images with low saturation and block colors are popular. Walden and Rise are two filters that can help you lower your saturation, so use them to desaturate your photo.
(Image Source: DailyMail)
- Forget the hyperlinks (or go simple). You can’t hyperlink on Instagram, so you’re going to have to get creative here. You can use a short or instantly recognizable link, or refer people to general names like “the [your brand] blog.”
With the basics out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the content elements you’ll have to keep in mind when crafting your ideal Instagram posts.
Brand voice and significance
First, your post needs to “fit” your brand. Your brand is your company’s identity, reduced to one concept, so it’s important to keep your brand present in every post you make. What do I mean by that?
- It should be in your voice. When it comes to your messaging, your tone, subject matter, and direction should all fall into the “personality” you’ve ascribed to your brand. Formal or informal, direct or playful, your posts need to match your brand.
- It should be in your niche. Though it’s possible to deviate on an occasional basis and earn significant engagement, for the most part, your posts should fall within your niche. Are you an auto manufacturer? Keep your posts related to the automotive industry.
- It should show off what makes you unique. For example, do you have a signature product line? Show it off!
(Image Source: Curalate)
You’ll also need to consider what your audience would want to see—keep in mind that the demographics for Instagram skew younger, so if you’re targeting multiple demographics, aim for the younger ones here. Are your customers currently in college? Try to relate your posts to the college experience. Are your customers parents? Relate to the challenges of raising a young child. This should be a modifier to your posts, not a direct influence, so try to keep this in mind without getting carried away.
All of your posts should be of some value to your users; otherwise, they won’t engage with them and your content approach will fall flat.
- Practicality/utility. One straightforward angle to value is one of utility or practicality. Here, your images will give users ideas or instructions—they serve as tutorials or inspiration that people can use in their daily lives.
- Entertainment. Your posts could also be pure entertainment in some way—they might be funny, or they might be aesthetically pleasing (if you have a strong enough eye for photography).
- Thought. Thought-provoking posts can work too, but be careful here; these tend to be more text-oriented than visually-oriented on an image-based platform. Still, they can spark discussion, and discussion is good.
- Emotion. You can also capitalize on some emotional reaction from your users, which should lead to more sharing and engagement.
(Image Source: Curalate)
- Compensation. Finally, you can add a monetary benefit to your post, such as offering a discount, promotion, or contest.
Instagram is a relatively fast-paced platform, even though its new content sorting algorithm is not strictly based on posting time. That means you need some sort of immediate appeal; the content of your post should be obviously and instantly available. That might mean a standout feature of your image, or a concise headline to grab attention—either way, you need to get your followers’ attentions fast.
Calls to action
This is more about the value of your post to you as an organization, rather than the value to your followers. The majority of your posts should include a call-to-action of sorts, prompting users to visit your site, share your content, participate in a discussion, or otherwise engage with your brand in some meaningful way that adds to your bottom line. Just be careful here; if you come across as too overly self-promotional, you may alienate your followers. The key to success is moderation. When you can, aim for calls-to-action without a direct cost attached to them, such as advertising your blog rather than a specific product you’re selling.
(Image Source: ShortStack)
Okay, so you’ve got the “perfect” Instagram post at this point, and you’ve published it. If you want to nurture your post’s success, your work isn’t over. How you treat your post after it’s been submitted is just as likely to influence that post’s overall success as its content.
Responders and discussions
If someone comments on your post, respond to them! It doesn’t take much, and it does a number of things for your brand:
- It cements follower loyalty. The follower who comments and gets acknowledge will think highly of your brand, and will be more likely to post again in the future.
- It shows you care about your followers. This is a major boon for your brand reputation, and will encourage more people to engage with you.
- It increases the visibility of your post. The more conversations and comments you attract, the more visible your post will become on the platform.
- It encourages discussion. Discussions and debates help you foster a social community, which can only help your brand in the long run.
The more followers you have engaging with your material, the better.
Cross-pollination with other apps
Instagram can be integrated with a number of other apps, so don’t take this functionality for granted. Make use of your different platforms, for all their advantages and disadvantages, both specific to your post and as general networking opportunities. Get your Instagram followers to connect with you on other platforms, and vice versa, and get your Instagram post as much visibility as possible by featuring it on other platforms and mediums.
Revisiting a popular theme
If one of your posts is particularly popular, use it as fuel for future posts. For example, you could use it as a jumping-off point for similar sequel-like posts in the near future, or you could simply re-post your image at a much later date to recall its initial publication.
More Than Just a Post
I mentioned this briefly before, but it bears repeating; a successful Instagram strategy demands more than just a string of “perfect” posts. The content will certainly help you, but just as having a bunch of delicious ingredients doesn’t mean you’ll make a delicious pizza, you’ll need to plan, organize, and balance your ingredients if you want to reap the full rewards of your Instagram strategy.
(Image Source: HuffingtonPost/Latergramme)
On average, 2 am and 5 pm are the best times to post. In addition, you’ll have to make sure your account remains consistently active—that means you’re posting at least once a day, every day (at least through the week) to keep your users engaged.
- Diversity and consistency. While consistency is absolutely necessary if you want your brand to be developed on Instagram, you also need to have a degree of diversity. Imagine you have a formula for a perfect Instagram post: a shot of your product in a natural environment. You do this, once a day, every day, for months. You change your product and your environment, but the formula remains consistent—don’t you think your users will get bored? Even if it deviates from the “perfect” Instagram post, strive to shake up your strategy every once in a while with something new.
- Outward engagement. Instagram is a social media platform, so don’t forget the importance of being social. Don’t just post content and hope for the best—go out of your way to engage with others’ content posts. Comment on images you think are noteworthy, and reach out to new individuals. This is the only way to build up your social community and show that you care about your users as much as they care about you.
- Ties to value. I mentioned this briefly in my section on calls to action, but it’s important to tie your posts to some kind of value for your business. Yes, it’s nice to build up a huge following for your brand, and there are always hard-to-measure, intangible benefits like brand visibility and brand reputation to consider, but eventually, you’ll have to get your users on your site, looking at your products and services, if you want your Instagram account to yield a positive ROI.
- Analysis and adjustment. You aren’t going to have a perfect Instagram strategy at first, even if all your posts meet all the criteria I’ve outlined in this guide and then some. User behavior is too unpredictable, brands are too unique, and trends change too quickly for any one strategy to be universally and predictably effective. Accordingly, you have to spend time measuring, scrutinizing, analyzing, and evaluating your efforts to find out what pieces of your strategy work and which ones don’t. From there, you have to update your strategy and refine it to better suit your needs.
Instagram is the social platform with the highest propensity for growth, and it’s one of the most valuable new platforms to emerge from brands. If you know what makes an Instagram post successful (as you do now), you can build and maintain a strategy that will earn you tons of followers, and of course, more bottom-line revenue. Get started early, stay flexible, and keep building until you get to the level you want.
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