If you have an Instagram account for promoting your online shop, then it’s essential that you know how to create the most engaging, authentic content for your Feed to increase your followers, advertise your Products and in return, increase your sales. In this post, I’ll be going through some basic tips which will help you to improve the quality of your Instagram posts, so even if you’re not a photography pro, you’ll learn enough to significantly improve the quality of images on your Profile.
Don’t just upload Product Images!
Although it is tempting to upload all of your Product Images as individual posts on Instagram, you really shouldn’t. Product images for an online shop are ideally the product against a plain background – usually white – which is ideal for your shop visitors to see; they need to be able to view all the finer details of a product before they part with their money to buy it. However, on Instagram, the image of the product needs to be different and should ideally show the product being used, worn or made into a nice display/flatlay post. This is because Instagram is a completely different platform, where aspirational style images are what encourage customers to consider purchasing your products; your followers want to see a product being used or placed within a luxury scenario or being worn, and not just the product artificially lit against a plain white background.
Another very important aspect to consider is the size and dimensions of the images that you are uploading onto your profile. Ultimately, Instagram requires you to use square images – any which are not this shape will create unwanted negative/black space – which should ideally be 1080 pixels square. When uploaded, Instagram resizes the images to 612 pixels square which then display for your followers in 510 pixels square. Obviously, these dimensions may change slightly according to what device is being used to view Instagram but ultimately, if you’re using photos taken with your mobile phone’s camera, you shouldn’t have any issues. If you’re also uploading images you’ve created, you need to ensure for the highest possible quality and resolution, these are at least 1080 pixels and are cut square. If you have images that are smaller or not square, it would be more beneficial for these to be used somewhere else other than your Instagram – try incorporating them into a blog post instead, as uploading them onto Instagram could see them cropped in such a way where text and fine details are not visible, making your profile unsightly.
‘Lifestyle’ or ‘Styled’?
The two main kinds of images you should be using on Instagram are often referred to as ‘Styled’ and ‘Lifestyle’. Styled images are static product photos that involve the use of props, background and settings to make the product look as appealing as possible. Good examples of this can be seen in cookbooks, where the finished dish is often styled with beautiful crockery and side dishes on the table of an equally stylish kitchen. Lifestyle and ‘in-use’ images are where a product is worn or used, and although it is a product image, the product is being used as it would be everyday life. Good examples of this can often be seen in magazine adverts for celebrity endorsed products, where the celebrity is depicted wearing the jewellery/posing with the protein shake/posing at the holiday destination. Minimally, you should aim to have a combination of both kinds of posts to begin with – as time passes, you’ll get a feel for what kind of images receive the most engagement from other Instagram users and be able to tailor your content accordingly.
Plain or limited backgrounds are not as popular or effective as images with a background, and those with more visual texture and interest are preferred over those which are more smooth and minimal. It’s also worth mentioning too that images with a single dominant colour to them have higher engagement than ‘busier’ images with multiple colours in the image composition, and lighter images are more popular than darker one, where less detail can be seen.
Light and Filters
The kind of light you use in your Instagram posts needs to be natural, which is very different from the often artificially lit images we recommend for product photos on your online shop. Where possible, use daylight in your Instagram posts, and ideally aim to capture images within what is known as the ‘golden’ or ‘magic’ hours when the sun is higher in the sky, making the daylight softer. These are magic hours are in the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset, although obviously, these hours will vary according to season and weather conditions. In terms of flash, avoid using this entirely – the same goes for filters that overexpose the image, meaning a lot of key details can easily be lost whilst other aspects are darkened and make a less appealing image. When using different filters on Instagram, ensure that you limit yourself to one or two filters maximum to give your posts some brand uniformity.
Framing your Images
Another aspect to bear in mind is how your images are framed. Being able to frame a photograph well is a skill that really does help your images stand out from the rest, whether you intend to post to Instagram or not. Thankfully though, in the era of smartphones, we have fantastic cameras built in with a whole host of features that can help us. One of the main features that’s worth taking a look at is an assistive grid – turn on this to provide yourself with a grid to help line up your subject to ensure that the content of the image is aligned correctly.
You also need to get used to how close you stand to the subject before you take the picture – resist the temptation to shoot from a distance to later zoom in and crop the image to put it on Instagram; this method can see your photo end up with grainy or below par resolution and ultimately, bad quality posts can damage the brand you’re trying to promote.
Photos, where the focal point sits in the middle of the image, are really effective:
If the background is as attractive as the foreground, then the ⅔ Rule should be employed here. This is where the subject is placed within the first or last third of the image (which is why the assistive grid on your mobile phone camera is so useful here!)
If you’re taking close-up photos where product details are key, keep the framing small to really draw your viewer’s eyes to the subject:
A flatlay is an image which has typically been shot from above, with an arrangement of a central subject and some accessories. These are an ideal example of a styled image, where products and accessories are dressed out within the frame to look as appealing as possible. In order to ensure that the overall style of your Instagram profile remains consistent, it’s recommended that you use the same kind of background in each post. Many professional Instagrammers purchase rolls of linoleum, vinyl covering and pieces of wood to create this effect on their own profiles:
A Boomerang is a looping gif image which can be made by swiping right from your Instagram feed and clicking Boomerang in the options at the bottom of the screen. Boomerangs are useful for depicting movement on your feed:
These are very effective at telling stories in the form of static images on your feed. When done well, these can take the viewer through a story of images which can provide more impact than a single image alone, and you also don’t risk flooding your own feed with images of all the same subject. For example, if you had a launch party for a new product line, you could use a multiple image post to display the best photos from the party, without filling your profile with the images individually and oversaturating it in a single subject:
Instagram post themes
Aside from the standard styled and lifestyle posts, you may want to experiment with different themes to give your followers some variation in the kind of content they see from you and your brand.
Behind the scenes
These posts typically depict the team behind the brand and the products. These ideally need to be ‘real’ and authentic, encouraging your followers to form a relationship with your brand
Customer generated content is very high value in terms of quality, as a post created by one of your customers featuring one or more of your products is what’s known as ‘social proof’ – where a customer ‘recommends’ your product to their own followers by including it in their own content. Perform regular searches to see if any of your customers have included your products in one of their Instagram posts, and if they have, be sure to comment and show your appreciation. If the image they have created is exceptionally high quality and ideally fits in with the aesthetic of your own Instagram feed, direct message them to request if you can repost it to your own followers.
Currently, these kind of posts are enjoying popularity on both Instagram and Pinterest, where followers can view the post to learn how to complete a certain task. From cooking a recipe to creating a make-up look or hairstyle or repurposing a room in your house, DIY posts are a video or a multi-image post with each step depicted and usually with a photo of the finished project listed first, which these are a fantastic way of encouraging followers to return to your Instagram profile time and time again to learn how to complete a specific task themselves.
Typically these can consist of motivational or inspirational quotes, where the text is overlaid over an image. Posts like this are good for providing a change from lifestyle and styled posts and when alternated in your feed, can look very good. Don’t forget to limit yourself to a maximum of two fonts when doing this, to encourage uniformity and continuity throughout your profile.
Theming your Profile
As well as considering what kind of content you want to post, a strong Instagram profile is one where uniformity and consistency play a strong role when the profile itself is viewed independently:
Many professional Instagrammers rely on a collection of props and backgrounds that ensure that all of their posts – regardless of the subject – fit within a theme specific to their own profile. Whilst the kind of products that you sell on your online shop will to a certain extent dictate this, it is worth considering the best way to theme your content for your future posts. If you wish to regularly incorporate videos, text images and Boomerangs into your feed as well as standard static images, aim to alternate them to create a pattern on your Instagram profile to add interest. You can also do this with similar kinds of photos too – for example, a close-up with a ‘busier’ distance photo alternating, or a styled image alternating with a lifestyle image:
Consistency breeds credibility and when you have decided on an Instagram filter that represents your brand, what fonts you wish to use in any text images and the colour palette you wish to rely on the most, aim to stick to these standards when you plan your Instagram content going forward. Ultimately, your Instagram posts need to appeal to your followers, entertaining them, inspiring them, or educating them. Over time, you’ll get to know what kind of content is the best received by your followers, garners the most engagement and increases the most sales, and in turn, be able to use this data to create the best strategies for your Instagram profile in the future.