How to Create a Stop and Stare Instagram Feed

Photo by Callie Morgan on Unsplash

Consider Instagram your brand’s visual storytelling engine. Your feed is your permanent collection that not only sells the story of your products or services, but it also celebrates your verve and vibe. People spend up to ten hours a week on the app in hopes of fueling their inspiration or simply seeking a visual escape — a reprieve from the stresses of the everyday.

As a result, you have the opportunity to be the architect of your story by creating a stop-and-stare Instagram feed.

There’s a science to growing your brand, followers, and engagement on Instagram, and the tactics you use should be purposeful and deliberate. You don’t want to post something for the sake of posting. People should know that every time they look at your feed, they immediately recognize your brand and aesthetic. Instagram is about aspiration, inspiration, storytelling, artistry, and cohesion. It’s not about posting random photos/day in hopes of driving followers.

Fan count doesn’t score you brownie points or earn you loyal customers. Fans and engagement can be purchased for pennies on the dollar. Loyalty in social media is about communicating with your customers and giving them a reason to stick around. It’s about proving your value by giving them access to ideas, tips, inspiration, deals, entertainment, education, and more. How you serve them is more important than selling to them.

I’m sharing 8 simple hacks (and bonuses and resources!) that will tell your brand story, capture and captivate followers with jaw-dropping content, and get them flocking to you.

Step 1. Create Story Pillars

Every brand has its own story waiting to be told. From lifting the veil on product design and manufacturing to the dreamy experience your customers feel when they become part of your tribe, you have a whole range of tales to tell and the tales should be unique to your business, vibe, and proposition. Your stories should feel like a genuine reflection of your brand and center on how customers think, feel, and act when they engage with your products or services.

Map out 3–5 themes or story pillars that celebrate and showcase your brand, which you can feature on social media. Pillars foster story continuity, create content guardrails and filters that reinforce the distinctive aspects of your brand and business. Consumers crave consistency so they want to be reminded of what you stand for and what makes you stand out. And don’t worry about being repetitive — every story has been told and the uniqueness is the re-telling.

Now that we have the larger strategy in play, let’s get down to the tactical feed details.

Step 2. Be Discerning

Your feed is a curated representation of your brand so choose the photos you want to share with care. Don’t post for the sake of posting and your customers want to be seduced and inspired. They want visual candy and practical tips and advice and your feed should deliver.

For photos that aren’t up to par, share them on Facebook or another platform to give followers unique content to see that they wouldn’t find on other platforms. This will help your feed look quality and clean.

Step 3. Define Your Style

What kinds of photos inspire you? There are so many types of feeds out there from minimal, colorful and bright or de-saturated/muted. Create mood boards that inspire you and align with your brand’s aesthetic. Start to conceive of the kind of visual mood you want to create and be consistent with every picture in terms of look, feel, and filter. Document your rules of the road in a style guide, which can be a natural extension of your brand book or visual identity.

Step 4. Consider The Background

A background can make or break a photo — especially when you’re composing shots. When it comes to backgrounds, I recommend using ones that have good contrast with the object you’re trying to capture. Good backgrounds highlight the subject of the photo without being overpowering.

Step 5. Taking the Photo

It’s show time! Consult your content or editorial calendar before shooting so you can plan your shoot. Create a shot list ahead of time so you have a clear idea of how you want each photo to look and any essentials you want to include. Consider batch shooting to save time on styling, resource, and photo editing costs, and add in “b” shots of your main photos, which can be used for Instagram Stories or for other social/owned platforms.

To keep the photos consistent, always take them the same way before filtering and editing them so that the end result has brand cohesion. For example, if you only post photos that are taken in natural light, you should never use flash. If you’re mixing composed shots with lifestyle images, make sure that you have a filter that will render a consistent look for all of your content.

While styling your photos, use objects with colors that coordinate and flow well together. Choose a rough color palette beforehand and make sure to stick with it Also, when it comes to composition, use props, backgrounds, frames and angles that are consistent with your brand colors

Give yourself a set of style rules for your photos and keep this in mind BEFORE taking your photo and this will instantly help your feed feel more cohesive.

Shooting Tips

Notice the use of spacing and consistent colors, composition, and layouts. You make an impression with the first 9 images consumers see when they land on your profile. They want to feel your presence is thoughtful and architected and tells a clear brand story.

Easy Tips:

  • Shoot multiple angles
  • Try simplifying the shot
  • Tap for exposure
  • Locate the light source
  • Consider the time of day

Step 6. Have Fun With Filters

Now that you’ve taken your photos in the same style with your own style rules it’s time to make them look amazing. There are so many filters and apps out there, it’s best to just play around until you find some that you like. VSCO is a favorite of the Instagram community. Other terrific options include Afterlight, Pixlr, and Airbrush. If a photo doesn’t fit your feed but you really want to post it, opt for a black and white version so that aesthetically it will fit.

You don’t have to use the same filter for every photo but switch between 4 that are really similar and edit each photo until it matches with the ones around it.

Step 7. Plan Your Feed

Save time with smart apps like Tailwind and Planoly to plan your feed and schedule posts. You could also use Instagram’s scheduling feature for Business accounts. Import the photos you want to post and play around with the order of them and plan at least a few posts ahead so that you know how pictures will look next to each other. Place images with negative space next to a busy photo and photos of products spaced out. Planning your photos in a layout format also ensures that when two photos are next two each other, the colors match. So that if a cool-tone photo is next to a warmer photo, you can edit one of them to look cohesive next to each other.

When to publish:

  • Think about when your prospective customer might be checking their phone. You want to get them during their downtime so you have their attention.
  • Refer to your analytics to determine post performance and trends.

Step 8. Use UGC

UGC (user-generated content) is one of the most powerful forms of social proof today. Social proof guides much of consumer purchasing behavior on the web these days — 85% of consumers said that they find UGC more influential than brand-created content. Whether it’s in deference to experts or the wisdom of the crowd, we tend to ascribe correctness to what we see other people doing and buying and saying. And user-generated content, or UGC — the kind you see when you look at Amazon reviews or fan photos on Instagram — is one of the most powerful forms of social proof today. With the wide use of social media, it’s easier than ever for people to share what they think about products through statuses, photos, and videos. Brands can then easily repost the UGC on their social accounts to show their customer base how much others love their products.

From influencer-created content to sourced images from consumers, you can review the images to ensure they’re up to snuff and post with attribution. You can also offer a standing invitation for your fans and followers to share their experiences with your products on the ‘gram for special offers, discounts, and prizes.

BONUS ROUND. Here’s a round-up of essential IG Tips (and some that are beyond the feed):

  • Tell a story: Create an experience with a beginning, middle, end.
  • Be real: Authentic content is honest, both in message and execution. It’s imperfect, real. People trust real.
  • Deliver value: Give fans information, motivation, or entertainment. Value is telling your followers how to do something that makes life easier or better (i.e., information). Value is making your followers feel something (i.e., entertainment).
  • Get creative: Use the plethora of features — stickers, gifs, polls, questions, etc., to add flavor to your posts.
  • Use cool free (or cheap) tools like Canva, Unfold, and Wordswag to make your photos and Stories extra special.
  • Plan ahead: Include Stories as part of your content calendar so the posts are deliberate and strategic. You will absolutely have ephemeral content, but don’t post random Stories for the sake of putting something up. Create what you would want to consume.
  • Promote good Stories: You can use the ad features to promote Stories that are powerful. I would use this specifically for product posts.
  • Use Live and Stories together when appropriate: If you go on Instagram Live while an existing story is up, it will boost you to the first circle on the Instagram news feed. It’s a quick way to get extra views out of your followers.
  • Use polls: Polls are an excellent ad-hoc focus group. You can great qualitative data and feedback through polls.
  • Close with CTAs: Have no dead ends. Always invite your fan to take another action. Tell your customer what to do next — whether it’s share, comment, swipe up.

Quick + Dirty Resource Guide:

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