I don't know about you, but I have a tendency to start to feel overwhelmed with all the information out there telling us how to do this and that constantly. I'm also a big believer in learning, sure, but also in developing your own way of doing things based on what works for you and your business. Because let's be honest, you're the only one who can really know that. That's why I'm pretty intent on building processes and actionable strategies to offset all of the dreamy, often-abstract creative work that I find myself consumed with. I also find that if I can come up with little linguistic tricks for myself, they help me remember certain things, and it creates a checklist of sorts. Which is how I came up with my 5 c's of creating content for Instagram, and though the way that you apply these guidelines to your own Instagram strategy may vary slightly (and they should), I think they'll help in providing a little bit of guidance as you plan and create your own content.
Clarity essentially ties back to your "why" for your business as a whole, but also more specifically for your Instagram content. Ask yourself what it is you're trying to do with your Instagram account and how your photographs can help you achieve that. In other words — what's your story? Maybe you're a photographer and you want to use your Instagram account to attract new clients and to find other local creatives to collaborate with. You might be a clothing designer and your intention with Instagram is to attract new customers to your online store to purchase the new collection, to find new boutiques to sell your collection in, and to get more inquiries about custom designs. Or maybe your intention is simply to connect with and inspire your followers and you're not necessarily using it to sell a product or service, in which case I'd say the general principle still applies, as it's just as important to have a sense of that driving purpose. The goal when we're defining a visual strategy for Instagram is to start posting with intention, to connect with your followers and to create engaging posts that will ultimately help you grow your brand or business. Getting a clear vision on your purpose is essential in order to do that.
To give you an example, let's take a look at Studio Bicyclette Instagram account. Now, if you're familiar with my story, you'll know that my brand actually began as a boutique and has more recently transitioned into a creative studio that help brands find their magic, style their brand and tell their story. So during my boutique days, we used Instagram as a tool to connect with our customers, showcasing new products and giving them a peek into the boutique and what the behind-the-scenes of running a boutique looked like. It ranged from buying appointments to photo shoots to merchandising the shop and everything in between. Since relaunching as a studio, the purpose of the Instagram account has changed slightly, even though the overall style — and, in a lot of ways, even the lifestyle-focused content — has remained the same. I still use it to connect with my community by providing inspirational and educational content that showcases the work I do and provides a peek behind the scene at what running my business looks like.
Color is one of the most effective ways to communicate the essence of your brand, as color has the power to evoke emotion and control how a brand is perceived. It's important to understand the psychology of color when choosing a palette for your brand, and also to use color to create a consistent Instagram brand presence through your use of color. Chances are your brand colors will be determined through the branding process, but if you haven't gone through something this formal, take a bit of time to take a look at the content you're creating and even pull together an inspiration board and see what colors repeatedly show up and feel right for your brand. For example, I have four brand colors for Studio Bicyclette that I use regularly, as well as lots of bright white and pops of graphic black to help offset the overall effect. It plays into the "pretty with an edge" style that has come to be associated with my brand and keeps my graphics and visuals consistent at every touchpoint, as well as when scrolling through my Instagram feed.
Backgrounds are one place where my colors play an important role, allowing me to curate a nice mix of colors and achieve that balance between content. Creating your own custom colored backdrops is easy (and cheap!), and they're great to have on hand for styling branded Instagram content on the fly. I have one in each of my brand colors, as well as a marble surface and of course lots of white. Once you've identified your own color palette for your Instagram feed, you'll start to notice that you become in-tuned with content opportunities that will fit into your feed, whether that's a wall in one of your brand colors, a prop or piece of clothing that ties in perfectly, or a specific setting that communicates your brand visually.
When it comes to creating a consistent Instagram brand presence, composition is a little more subtle than the role that color plays, however it's just as important. Simply put, composition refers to the placement or arrangement of visual elements as distinct from the subject of a work. It's where you choose to place the subject matter in your photo, and though there are certain "rules" or guidelines when it comes to composition. For the purpose of this post, I'm referring more to the fact that it's important to pay attention to the balance of various types of composition within your feed in order to,once again, maintain that consistent brand presence. If you have any background in photography, art or design, you're probably already familiar with the golden ratio and how it applies to the rule of thirds in photography to create more interesting and dynamic shots. The basic principle of the rule of thirds is to imagine that an image is broken down into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, leaving you with nine parts. With this in mind, the rule of thirds then suggests that those four points where the lines intersect create points of interest at which to place your subject matter, and also that these four lines are also important positions on which to place elements in your photos.
The theory is that if you place elements of interest on the intersection points or along the lines in your photo, it becomes more balanced and will enable the viewer to interact with it more naturally and create a more dynamic image. The same idea also applies when thinking of a horizon line — whether that's actually in a landscape image or a flatlay photo — ensuring that your subject matter is either above or below the center line, following the lines set in place by the rule of thirds instead.
As with all rules, there are definitely exceptions and they're there to be broken, but give it a try and play around with your images using the rule of thirds for your image composition. Of course, there are other ways to use composition in your Instagram images as well, such as paying attention to texture and pattern (try filling the frame for these) or lines, using them to lead your eye to the image, but the rule of thirds is a good place to start.
I see content as having two parts to it - there's the content category and then also the styling component to it. So whereas the category might be educational, inspirational, or promotional, for example, the styling piece of that might be a flatlay, or a lifestyle image. In determining your content mix, it will vary depending on the type of business or brand you have, and it's really about finding the right mix and balance of content that will allow your work to shine. When I'm working one-on-one with a client to develop a visual strategy for Instagram, I often build out a content mix that involves sharing behind the scenes details, sneak peeks at your process as well as final shots that showcase the end result and the work you do. We essentially want to showcase what it will look like for a potential customer or client to work with and build a relationship with your brand from start to finish. At the same time, we also want to create and showcase a beautiful, inspirational and consistent brand presence with a quintessential — or signature — brand style on Instagram. So that when one of your photos appears in your follower's feed, they'll instantly recognize it as one of yours right away. We'll do this through a mix of educational and inspirational content that includes both work and lifestyle focused posts, building trust with your audience and positioning you as an expert in the industry and an aspirational brand that people want to work with or be a part of. I usually break it down so that I'm actually identifying these categories and giving them names; for example, my broad categories might be: educational, inspirational, behind-the-scenes, lifestyle and promotional, and then I can use those to create my content while also aiming for a balance of content within my feed.
If you think of your Instagram feed in terms of the top 12 photos, you want to make sure you're both telling a story through those 12 photos, but also offering a variety of the type of content within them. Therefore, if a new viewer is looking at your feed for the very first time, they get a really good sense of what you offer from that quick glance at your feed. One of the reasons I love PLANOLY so much is the ability to lay out your photos visually prior to posting, ensuring that you're able to find that balance within your own feed and sticking to this guideline.
Consistency is definitely more of an overarching concept here as we are aiming for consistency throughout all of the previous guidelines that we've gone over — which is why I'm sure you've noticed me mention this a number of times throughout this post. It can also refer to the frequency of your posts, and though I'm always hesitant to say that there's a right or wrong number of times to post within a week, I do firmly stand behind setting up a consistent posting schedule for yourself, whether that's once a day or once a week. You want to set a standard for your followers, so if they're expecting daily posts from you, don't let that slip! When it comes to branding, the ultimate goal for your Instagram feed — or any touchpoint of your brand, really — is to create consistent imagery that is instantly recognizable, standing out in our followers' feed regardless of whether or not our profile pic or name is associated with it. That brand recognition is invaluable. So I urge you to go through these 5 C's and set yourself some Instagram guidelines based on what I've laid out in this post. Think about how they can apply to your Instagram profile and brand. My guess is that once you've spent some time defining more of a visual strategy for yourself, it'll actually become easier to create content and stick to it since there's more intention behind it.
To make it just a little bit easier for you, I've created a worksheet for you to download that leads you through each of the 5 C's and outlines the information that you'll need to fill out for yourself!
Paige is the owner and creative director of Studio Bicyclette, a lifestyle blog and creative studio that aims to inspire and help brands and businesses find their magic, style their brand and tell their story. Her wanderlust and ability to find and create beauty in the unlikeliest places comes from a belief in fairy tales that started at an early age, a place where imagination is a tool that can be used to tell a story, spark creativity and solve any problem. When she's not styling a photoshoot or helping clients implement a social media strategy, you can usually find her dreaming up fancy cocktail creations, planning her next adventure or hunting for the perfect shade of pink lipstick.