How photogenic is your business?
Seriously. How image-friendly is your product or service?
The answer to this question will determine what your Instagram content should look like. The answer will force you to think about why you copy/paste your content from other social media platforms and use it for Instagram.
Do you assume that you are preparing the image for your other social media posts anyway and therefore, you can take the liberty to use it for Instagram too?
If you’ve been doing this unmindful pasting or uploading you are more likely to be doing it incorrectly. And that means not being able to make your point strongly, visually. You need an Instagram audit to find out what you should do about producing content for Instagram.
We have collected hypothetical examples to reveal the complex thought process that goes behind deciding content strategies specific to Instagram:
- how to draw out the visual elements of your product or service in the images you post
- how to create a visual theme that you can use consistently without having to expend a lot of time and money
The audit is most crucial for the products and services that do not most obviously lend themselves to good visuals.
But first, let’s look at what an audit of your Instagram account (posts as well as ads) covers.
01. Images (Quality, Composition, etc):
Most people are likely to see only your images. Depending on how engaging your visuals are, they will choose to read about them. Your images need to have a defining edge to them.
You may be using stock photos and modifying them. You may be showcasing only your products without giving any context. You may be pasting a quote or a DYK (Did You Know?) text on the image and uploading it. Or you may be creating images based on a template you have created.
At the level of content, you might be creating images only to sell or to announce your offers and discounts. This violates the principle that you should have only 10% of your content in the BOFU category. So, for every 1 image or post that you upload in order to sell something, you should have 9 images that do something else.
You might have great images but you may not be consistent enough to put them out there after regular intervals.
Or there may not be any relationship between the great images you post because you do not do enough to ensure that the images look like they are from the same family, or from the same brand.
Consistency in quality, type, and intervals of posting ensures that you make it easy for your audiences to recognize you. If they recognize you, they are more likely to place you in their mental maps of attention.
03. Reflection of the Product or Service
If you are a fashion brand, it might be fairly easy for you to translate your message into visuals not just through pictures of models wearing your clothes or the mannequins displaying them.
But it gets tougher when your service is a unique medicine for a unique illness. You don’t want to gross people out with any graphic images of visible disease. You may have nothing to show if the symptoms of a disease are not visible on the skin.
What if you are a motivational speaker? For how long would you use your pictures with a crowd or your pictures of delivering a talk as Instagram posts? After a point, they become monotonous.
And breaking this monotony is precisely the challenge that Instagram poses to you. You want to be consistent but not predictable.
04. Reflection of Your Brand Essence
Reflecting on your product or service is one thing and reflecting your uniqueness in the industry is another.
To give another perspective on the examples discussed in the previous point, you may be a fashion brand aspiring to become a leader in new designs. Or you may want to be the leading affordable apparel brand.
This idea of being pioneers in something — your mission, vision, purpose — is a thousand times more difficult to achieve in your Instagram posts. Because just as you put your “revolutionary” designs out there, there are many more brands trying to do the same.
As a pharmaceutical company, you may realize that your medicine might not make a great visual, but your happy customers might. Or your vision of empowering specific patients might lend itself beautifully to an image.
After all, an image is also an opportunity to start a conversation with users. And you do not want to take it very casually without having any specific routes in mind.
05. Identifying Influencers
Instagram has been quite a popular hub to claim that one is an influencer. But with the metrics like the number of followers being withdrawn from sight, it has become crucial for businesses to identify influencers correctly.
We worked with a client who had identified an influencer to collaborate with. We warned the client against it. The brand wanted to acquire iPhone-like status in their category. This collaboration would have worked seriously against that ambition.
Our warning had nothing to do with the followers the influencer had but with the personality and language of the influencer. The influencer did not seem to have a strong Instagram strategy of his own.
Many brands are investing in their own “virtual” influencers rather than investing in others. And the results are still the same, if not better.
The posts themselves are not the whole story. What makes your visual strategy complete is its discoverability.
Your Instagram account should participate in the trending topics or even the hashtags that get searched on Instagram frequently. Creating your own hashtag is just the first step but linking your content to the other hashtags increases your chances of being found.
Hashtags let you find points of convergence into the whole ecosystem on Instagram. Pick the ones that come closest to your product and your personality.
Let us now look at examples from different kinds of businesses to see what sort of benchmarks they can create for themselves and keep innovating further.
We worked with a cosmetics brand that had been using stock photos and typical before/after images to depict the effects of using their products. Our initial brand audit revealed that their posts were not doing as well as they could be expected to do because the space of cosmetics is saturated with such images.
This brand had to showcase the uniqueness of its products in a way that took the before/after paradigm to talk about effects that are not just skin deep but reflect on confidence and overall personality.
After all, cosmetics are not important in themselves. They are context-specific too. People may have all the cosmetics they can afford but they may not know how to wear them at parties or in professional/formal situations.
The brand understood that it should go beyond #cosmetics or #lookgood but also find ways to get into # conferences or office or presentations.
We once worked with a brand that offered traditional medicinal care for a health problem. Depicting the ingredients of the medicine was one way to do it. Showing patients consuming such medicine was another.
We recommended making the entire medical tradition visual through the use of particular iconography. The message that would thus be out would be clear: nobody is selling medicines here and everybody is instead honoring the history and the wisdom of the tradition.
After all, this has been our spin on the Inbound philosophy as a whole — acknowledge the presence of something larger than you. You are nothing compared to the ecosystem around you. You can create your space in it if you understand it well.
09. Holiday Destination
Cool locations are the most popular selfie subjects (after fashion). The interest in vacations, new places to travel to, and new adventures tends to be very high. These pictures also let the friends on the network know where you have been and what you did there.
One business came to us with a unique problem. Their holiday destination was a kind of hybrid between a detox option and a vacation. While vacation looks exciting, detox looks boring. The challenge was to convey both so that the audiences were not misled or developed any wrong notions about the brand.
We recommended that the brand capture why such a hybrid option works instead of two separate ones. The holiday spot in itself was beautiful but it was not the whole product in itself.
A good way out was not just to show people enjoying being there but also people immersed in doing something. Such visuals attracted attention by standing out from the typical holiday pictures. They also showed the effects of detox.
The brand was no longer an entertainment option but a statement on how vacations should help people bounce back to life.
10. Financial Services
Money and investment are not very photo-friendly. The pictures of a piggy bank or a growing plant are also very clichéd.
One client faced very serious problems while reaching out to people on Instagram. While the blogs helped them convey their investment and planning advice to people, they couldn’t do much on Instagram to generate interest in what they were doing.
You may think that people do not actively seek financial advice on Instagram and you will be right. After all, even the topmost financial players in the world use quote to put together a decent post on Instagram.
But our intention behind investing in this client’s business was not to get them leads from Instagram. It was to find ways to crack ways to find something meaningful to say about money, planning, wisdom, and strategy.
We recommended that they refer to established books and theories about economics or politics or interpersonal relationships to illustrate moments in everyday life. It could be a carousel explaining Sun Tzu’s take on planning or it could be an illustration showing the consequences of being disorganized in any aspect of life.
11. Meditation School
People sitting with their knees folded, eyes closed, and palms on the knees — these are the ways in which meditation is usually translated into images.
While such visuals can do a great job at the hands of a good designer who pays attention to bringing the backdrop in sync with the subject, this can’t be all!
While we were working on fine-tuning the ways to convey the promise and the purpose of a meditation school, we suggested they use images to talk about stillness. And what better way to talk about stillness than iconic works of painting and sculpture?
A work of art comes across as frozen in a trance. And enjoying the same work of art is also about in a trance. Interpreting works of art requires a dedication that involves shifting (self-obsessed) attention from yourself to something that makes you wonder about existence itself.
In our view at least, looking at art was a good way to talk about awakening larger forces within you — which is what meditation tries to do.
So this was a glimpse of the minimum of deliberations that go into defining your Instagram account.
Do not fall prey to the idea that the camera in your cell phone and the world of free stock photos can give you whatever you want.
They might get you images but you won’t know what to do with them or even how to identify the ones that are most suited for your purposes.
Do not also fall prey to the notion that there are certain things that can never be visual. The most popular example that the skeptic's quote is: how do you show diabetes? It’s not visible on the skin!
We believe that nothing is untranslatable. Your product or its use might be “invisible” but you can always find ways to “show” your message. It’s a way of going beyond your product.
Any discussion of how to use Instagram intelligently to convey your message visually is incomplete without referring to an example that did the impossible.
It is common knowledge that Instagram is the very opposite of reading books. Yet, the New York Public Library (@nypl) did something incredible with books. As part of its content, it has #InstaNovels — classics of literature designed for reading purposes.
Yes, you read it right. NYPL has been using an image-based platform to encourage reading.
That makes it a leading example of digital transformation. Traditionally, digital transformation has been about transferring physical books into soft copies and considering it to be the greatest achievement ever. Books and book-loving have also been seen as resistant to the idea of ebooks. But NYPL’s initiative leaves everyone stunned.
What makes NYPL an inspiration is its intent, which in turn, drives it to challenge stereotypes about books and readers. It turns the so-called “boring” books (text-heavy) into aesthetically designed books — a sheer pleasure to enjoy on Instagram.
It took something “dry” and made it visual.
How difficult can your business be to be made this photogenic?
Insist on an audit today itself.