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Instagram needs no introduction. According to one recent estimate, over 500 million people are active on Instagram every single day. For perspective, that’s almost double the population of the United States.
Success in Instagram marketing is based on two factors: one, identifying the kind of visuals that your audience likes to engage with, and two, how effectively you can produce such content on a regular basis. Thankfully, there is a ton of literature that can help you with understanding what works, and what doesn’t, on Instagram.
If you’re not sure where to begin, then we have some great ideas to get you started:
You can skim the visual summary of our Instagram marketing guide below or skip ahead to read a detailed description of each tip.
Images posted on Instagram tend to get scaled down to 640 X 640 pixels. That does not however stop you from posting larger images. A lot of Instagrammers view these visuals on high-resolution devices like tablets and laptops. Posting a 640 X 640 pixel photo is not “rich” enough.
The maximum size of a square image that you can upload on Instagram is 1080 X 1080 pixels while horizontal and vertical images are capped at 1080 X 566 pixels and 1080 X 1350 pixels, respectively. These higher resolution images tend to be richer, and thus more captivating, when they are scaled down to Instagram’s default 640 X 640 pixels dimension.
Bright photos tend to get more likes than dark ones. According to one study that analyzed over 1.5 million photos posted by close to a million users found that the brightest images tend to get nearly 592% more likes than the darkest ones.
Saturation can come in the way of user engagement too. The study found that photos with high saturation tend to get fewer likes. The difference between pictures that are heavily saturated and those that are heavily desaturated is almost 600%.
Another interesting fact from the study: Muted palettes are good for business. Grays, blues and greens tend to get more likes than “fiery” colors like red and yellow. Brands like McDonald’s thus do not have it easy when it comes to Instagram marketing.
Speaking of brands, one popular strategy that brands like Nike and Adidas use is "photo clustering." Essentially, what these brands do is to post a cluster of different images that adopt similar color themes. This helps them reinforce brand identity and messaging through their Instagram posts. Take a look at the following examples.
A similar strategy that is used successfully by many Instagrammers is "banner imaging." Here, one large image is split into nine or twelve different images and posted in sequence. The result looks something like this.
The objective here is to reinforce your communication with the help of similarly themed images. Banner images are usually used when making a large announcement. Overdoing this strategy can backfire.
Colors also play an important part in priming the audience. One of the best examples with respect to priming is Coca Cola. Almost every photo on their feed contains their signature red color. This could be in the form of the clothes that the models wear, a plate or even a popcorn bucket.
The idea is to prime the user to recall the Coca Cola brand even when they are merely viewer with the content. This way, even if the user does not physically engage with the posts, the brands get mileage out of the submission through brand reinforcement.
Ever heard a marketer say a video is worth a thousand images? They are not always right, at least in the case of Instagram. Studies show that although videos as a percentage of all Instagram submissions is growing, photos still elicit better engagement among followers. Engagement on videos is just about 60% of what images receive.
It is however worth pointing out that viewer engagement on Instagram videos has been surging over the past year or two. A study of the top media publishers on Instagram reported a 53% rise in engagement year over year. Among the many reasons, one reason is that Instagram videos are now 60 seconds long, up from 30 seconds. You may however post longer videos, of up to one hour long, if you are live streaming it.
A study of over 5.5 million Instagram posts showed that emojis can have a significant impact on viewer engagement. More precisely, Instagram posts with emojis saw 47.7% more average interactions per post compared to those without emojis. Not surprisingly, over a third of brands studied in a Simply Measured report were found to be using emojis in their Instagram submissions.
Not all emojis elicit the same level of interaction, however. The most commonly used emoji on Instagram is the "camera." But that does not make it the most engaging among emojis. The camera emoticon is mostly used to attribute the source of the photos. The heart on the other hand contributed to the highest level of engagement among Instagram followers.
The use of filters is a controversial topic on Instagram. While some studies ask users to avoid them, others encourage the use of filters as a strategy to increase engagement. One study showed that "Normal" photos that did not have any filters applied to them received a lot more engagement than photos with any type of filter. At the same time, another study published by Refinery29 found that using the right filter for your photos can enhance visibility by 21% while increasing comments by 45%.
But filters play a bigger role than just engagement. Filters are popular among businesses looking to forge a unique social marketing identity for their brands. The choice of filters are thus influenced by many factors like the kind of photos you share or the location of your followers.
For instance, Valencia is the most popular filter for nature photos garnering 121 likes per photo compared to the average of 91 photos received for ‘Normal’ photos. Skyline, on the other hand, is the most popular filter for food photos. Food photos with this filter got an average of 91 likes per photo; slightly higher than 86 likes garnered for unfiltered photos.
The angle of your photo, the background and the text over your images can all affect the engagement on your Instagram posts. One study found that visuals with a large amount of background space garnered 29% more likes than photos with minimal background space.
Food blogger Kate from Cookie+Kate offers the following four-point advice on photography.
One of the most popular studies on Instagram comes from Georgia Tech. Their famous 2014 report found that Instagram photos with faces on them had a significant advantage over others in terms of engagement. In their study of over 1.1 million photos, the researchers found that photos with faces had a 32% higher chance than other photos to receive comments.
Interestingly, this figure did not get affected by other related factors like the number of people (faces) in the photo, their age or gender. According to one of the researchers, the results underline the primitive instinct of humans to look at faces for non-verbal communications. Interestingly, the study does not specifically comment on whether selfies contributed to more or fewer comments than regular photos with faces of humans.
Ever since Instagram launched "Stories" back in late 2016, the use of this feature has exploded, and so has the engagement. A report from last year shows that the average time spent by users on Instagram has risen from 15-21 minutes to an average of between 25-32 minutes after Stories was introduced.
Polls are one of the best features on Stories to improve user engagement. Users posting an Instagram story can now choose to add a "poll sticker" that can ask followers simple "Yes/No" type questions. These questions act as a call-to-action for followers to respond with a comment which increases engagement on your posts.
Researchers have studied a lot of granular aspects about what makes a photo or video tick on platforms like Instagram. Truth be told, these are still theoretical and do not always guarantee success. Every brand is unique and so should their campaign. It is a good idea to try out different strategies, including the use of filters, photo angles and editing to see what works and what doesn’t for your brand. This helps you understand your audience better and is vital fodder for all your other marketing campaigns.
Do you have experience working on Instagram engagement? Share your ideas and results in the comments below.
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