It’s no surprise that brands are turning away from traditional advertising and shifting to branding platforms such as Instagram—the place where millennials are spending a majority of their time—in order to reach consumers. The big takeaway here is that content is still king. It’s not solely about how often you post either (even though this matters); it’s about the quality of your posts and how every image works together to form your visual content strategy. It’s the anatomy of an Instagram post and the consistency across your Instagram presence that matters.

You’d be surprised at how many brands still use Instagram as a dumping ground for any and all content they have available. Stop that. Take a step back, and start to put a channel-centric strategy in place, one post at a time.

Where can you start? Right here – with these five steps to building a successful Instagram post and presence.

list1-C

1. “Don’t You Ever For A Second Get To Thinking You’re Irreplaceable”

Okay, so maybe that’s a Beyonce lyric – but it’s true! The social media landscape is oversaturated with branded and sponsored posts. To not only acquire but also maintain your followers’ loyalty and attention, you have to cut through the clutter and create content that stands out.

So, ask yourself before you post: Is this something that my followers would appreciate and engage with? Will people unfollow my brand if they saw this post?

You have to set content boundaries based on your own tastes and preferences before anything else. After all, would you follow a cluttered feed that serves up just a handful of images you’re interested in? Probably not. And, to Beyonce’s point, there are plenty of other Instagram feeds in the sea. Make sure yours is worth the follow.

2. Vary Your Content Buckets

Through my experience as a Global Social Media Manager, I’ve seen a ton of different content strategies. One thing I’ve consistently noticed across the best brand feeds is that variety will serve you well.

I’ve always found the right blend of content to be the following:

  1. Product laydowns
  2. Influencer/blogger content
  3. User-generated content (UGC)
  4. Branded lifestyle content
  5. Non-branded lifestyle content

Let’s break down each type of image here.

1. Product Laydowns

Make sure that your products are the main focus of your laydown photo – they should at least account for two-thirds of your image.

product laydowns

And, while this might go without saying, never include a competitor’s product. The goal is to show your merchandise offering to your audience.

Pro Tip: Product laydowns with three to five products tend to drive higher engagement. Optimize for action!

2. Influencer/Blogger Content

It’s always helpful to see what products look like on real people. That’s why consumers look at bloggers for styling or #ootd inspiration. This type of content makes your products (whether clothing or anything else for that matter) more relatable – especially when it’s seen on trendsetters.

3. User-Generated Content (UGC)

Take it from me: Everyone wants to be #Instafamous. If you allow your customers to be a part of your storytelling, they will become more engaged and active in creating content for you.

4. Branded Lifestyle Content

instagram post - lifestyle content

People like to see products in real scenarios. So, whether your merchandise is depicted next to a steaming mug of coffee or laid neatly in the palm of your hand, lifestyle images of your products help people to understand how they can incorporate your stuff into their lives.

5. Non-Branded Lifestyle Content

instagram post - non-branded content

Remember, it can’t always be about you. By sharing content without any trace of your products, you can continue to tell your story and convey a lifestyle associated with your brand, without being pushy or selfish. Overall, this type of content also helps make your feed look cohesive.

3. Building Your Post Pt 1: Visual Merchandising

Okay, so by now you understand the content buckets you need to fill and the brand filter you need to apply. But what about the actual content creation?

Whether working with influencers or shooting content yourself, I’ve always found that visual merchandising is key to creating successful content. Here are some of the visual elements I like to shoot for when building different types of images.

Product Laydowns

instagram post - product laydown

Product laydowns are a visually appealing way to share product details with your customers. To create an impactful product laydown, keep the following in mind:

  • Space your products within a square format (I’ve noticed this drives a higher engagement).
  • Limit yourself to between three and five products so as not to overwhelm the eye.
  • Use a background with texture, but that doesn’t overpower your product.

Outfit Detailing

instagram post - outfit detailing

When creating content with a model or influencer, it’s important to remember that your goal is to convey a lifestyle that your fans can aspire to. People like to envision themselves as the person featured, so work with the influencer or model to create “caught off guard” moments. A few other tidbits:

  • Add movement. Ask your model to walk across the street, check her phone, etc.
  • Capture moments that are realistic to your customer. Posed and overly contrived photos may come off as inauthentic.

Branded Lifestyle Content

instagram post - branded lifestyle content

When building lifestyle content, embrace POV-style photography in order to pull your customer into the story. Try to:

  • Highlight your product subtly.
  • Incorporate everyday or attainable objects that everyone loves.
  • Angle your product so that they cover 60% of the frame. This adds depth and focus to an image.

4. Building Your Post Pt 2: Caption Writing 101

While images are the first thing a fan notices in their feed, your captions play an important role too. How can you write captions that spark interest and drive action?

Instagram Caption Writing 101

  • Keep it short. The average social media post holds a person’s gaze for a mere eight seconds, so you have a limited amount of time to capture someone’s attention. Keep your captions to between 90 and 120 characters.
  • Don’t use more than two hashtags.
  • Have fun. Be playful. From a branding perspective, remember that on Instagram, you’re speaking to millennials (for the most part).
  • Include a CTA. Solutions like Curalate Like2Buy are great because they allow you to link photos to products without having to call out item codes directly in your caption (a major no-no if you’re a brand). With Like2Buy, you can casually include a call-to-action, such as “shop link in bio.”
  • Add emojis. If it’s right for your brand and audience, emojis are entirely appropriate to use within captions.
  • Experiment! Incorporate different elements into your captions, and see when you get better engagement (though, chances are, you’ll see better performance the shorter you go – so don’t get too wordy).

5. Tie It All Together

I have this nine-square grid rule:

Any content that falls into the nine-square grid of Instagram needs to tell a story.

Why? Because Instagram is how people are discovering with and forming opinions about your brand, so it’s essential that every post works individually and as part of a larger story. I actually lay out all of my images in an app called VSCO Cam, because it formats my images much like Instagram does, while also allowing me to see whether certain images look good together. Tools like VSCO are especially useful when working with a variety of photography styles (lifestyle content, user-generated images, product laydowns and so on).

And that’s that! To quickly recap:

  • Vary your visual assets. Try out a mix of content buckets, and build your posts with an open mind to truly see what works for your brand.
  • Enlist evangelists. If you don’t have the creative resources to build content internally, communicate with bloggers and content creators to produce imagery that’s merchandised with your brand in mind.
  • Add context. Use your captions to communicate with your customers, but choose your words wisely.

I guarantee you will start to see increased follower growth and feedback about how great your content has become – and how great your feed looks!