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The Instagram Content Playbook

1 | Find your spot on the spectrum.

With Instagram content, there’s what we call a ‘content creation spectrum’, which looks like this…

Are you going to create all your content in-house? Are you going to curate and repost from other creators with appropriate attribution? Are you going to be somewhere in the middle by capturing a set amount of images per month and fill in the gaps with content from other sources? All have led to mass popularity and it’s up to you to determine where you will uniquely lie on the spectrum.

2 | If your account depends heavily on in-house content, invest in a camera.

The bottom line is that Instagram is highly saturated. It’s expected that by the end of 2017, 70.2% of all U.S Brands will be using Instagram as a marketing tool. This means that there are millions of other content producers competing for your followers’ attention. You need to make sure your posts have an edge over the competition. One of the best ways to differentiate your content is to invest in a camera that is capable of adding more granular texture, deeper colour and refined lighting.

Your phone is great for capturing candid moments, but many times you just need something more capable. If you’re looking to buy a camera, use our trial and errors to your advantage. We’ve bought, broke and bought again some of the most coveted cameras in the game – and we’ve found our winner. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Marks II is, without question, one of the best cameras for any brand owner, micro Influencer and macro Influencer. It’s a machine that’s complex, yet elegant in its simplicity. It is lightweight, compact and sleek. Most importantly, it’s insanely functional. The LED touch screen allows you to autofocus and shutter, in case you don’t feel like spending months learning the difference between aperture and f-stop on your overly complicated Nikon. Even better, it’s Wi-Fi-enabled. Download the app and you can populate pictures direct to your phone and engage the camera to take hands-free photos. It also has interchangeable lenses that you can attach for shoots that require a little more ‘umph. Overall, we’re a big fan and recommend the Olympus to all of our brand partners looking to upgrade their content tool kit.

3 | Apply more advanced edits than generic ‘filters’.

We’re extremely anti-filter. A post with a pre-set channel filter looks amateur and lazy and doesn’t work to spark the right psychological cues within the viewer’s mind. Remember, Instagrammers scroll at the speed of light. You have less than a second to impress them enough with your visuals to trigger engagement. A filter won’t hit the mark in these critical few milliseconds. At the same time, we also feel that expensive products, like Lightroom, are unnecessary. All you need is a phoeditingGng app that gives you more freedom than simply selecting between Valencia and X-Pro II. Some of our favourite apps that we recommend are 1) Snapseed 2) VSCO or 3) Facetune 2

4 | Curate your way to popularity.

On Instagram, ‘re-posting’ has become a popular trend; the act of taking an image from someone else’s account and sharing it on yours with your own community. In theory, re-posting should be frowned upon, as it infringes onmultiplee copy write laws. However, the Instagram community has created unsaid rules that regulate the use of reposted images. One of the rules says that you can share images that you don’t own if you include appropriate attribution to the original owner. This is commonly done using the photographer’s account handle (@username). By including the owner’s Instagram handle, you’re inherently creating free publicity for them in exchange for use of the image – a fair trade in almost every case. Of course, the final decision is up to the image owner.

Still, certain bloggers have capitalized on this trend in a big way and you can, too. Content creation is one of the most time-consuming items of being an Influencer or Brand Owner. Instead of capturing all of your content, you can curate instead. By exploring Instagram and discovering content that still fits within your brand or Influencer’s personality, you can add content to your roadmap and avoid the time and resources required to produce it. All you need to do instead is give the owner credit. Accounts like @thefatjewish and @fuckjerry have built social media empires based on this principle. These guys are simply mass curators. They find content and make it better with their unique delivery. In other words, they’re incredibly talented copywriters.

For you, think about how you can incorporate re-posting (while including proper attribution) to expand your content’s horizon. If you’re brave enough, you can even get to the point where you’re barely producing content in-house at all.

5 | Captions are everything. Become a better copywriter.

Content is a multiple piece equation. It includes the image and caption, along with vital add-ons, like hashtag lists, location tags and account tags. Captions, in parGcular, are a major part of the equation and they’re the only vehicle we have to give much-needed context to our vision. As we discussed above, there are mainstream Influencers that exist simply by pulling favourite images and amplifying the posts’ popularity by adding their acclaimed captions. These people aren’t experts at creating content. Give them a camera and they’ll feel like they’re holding a foreign object. Rather, these folks are experts at creating ‘context’. They see an image and can spin it in a unique way. They’re experts at combining imagery with text to create emotionally charged content, which is highly shareable.

Emotional Intensity

Captions are an incredible way of making people feel things. They can be long or short, but they need to drive feeling. Research shows that the types of emotions that are featured in your post have no correlation to average levels of engagement. Whether your post makes people sad, happy, amazed or enthused; it’s all the same. Emotional intensity, on the other hand, is highly correlated to average engagement. Posts that make us feel extremely happy or extremely sad will make us engage and share posts more when compared to an image that made us somewhat happy or sad. The same goes for 24 other recognized and categorized emotions. All you need is to hit a few, or even one, emotion in a big way to spur a massive response from your audience.

Use this emotional understanding as a guide when deciding what to post. Before posting a potential piece of content, identify the relevant emotions and the level of intensity that is felt of the emotion when viewing the image for the first time. If the post in question is lacklustre emotionally, you’re better off right clicking and throwing it the virtual garbage.


Humans are visual beings by nature. Brighten bland text using an emoji in your caption that further intensifies the emotion you’re trying to elicit. Apple and Android are making significant advances to their emoji keyboards every few months, making it easier for you to make your captions more visual. 

6 | Treat content like a conversation. Maintain a personality.

With every conversation you’ve ever had, whether online or not, you’ve always kept the different pieces of your personality consistent, like your vocal intonation, body language, opinions, visual appearance and other subtle cues. More importantly, your unique way of seeing and reacting to the world have drawn in the people that like you for what you are, like your friends and family. Your personality has given them something to come to expect and learn to enjoy when they communicate with you.

The same logic should be applied to your brand or Influencer accounts’ personalities. Don’t stray away from the way you deliver your messages to fit with a trending topic or talking point. Try exploring consistent colour palettes, image formats and overall views and values that you convey via your captions. This will give your followers something to fall in love with over time and, more importantly, it will also help to build what we like to call ‘habitual engagement’; habitual engagement is when your followers don’t even need to read the name of the account when they see a new post in their feed to recognize your brand or account. They just know it from the ‘feel’ of the post. The easily recognized post creates less friction in the viewers’ mind when their impulses are deciding whether to like the image or not.

As a caveat, consistency doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t attempt to ‘wow’ your audience or pepper in some genuinely exciting news or a differing opinion. Rather, the overarching delivery of your messages should follow a distinguishable pattern that will make it easy for potential followers to understand whether they vibe with your style or not.

7 | Plan your month’s content in advance using a roadmap

To be effective on Instagram, you need to be ‘always on’. You need to be posting your very best content every day of the week. Assuming you don’t have the budget to hire a Social Media Management team, you’ll need to figure out how to reduce the time needed to organize and share at least 30 posts each month. The best way to do this is to build a monthly content roadmap. Roadmaps aholisticsGc views of your month’s posts that are generated at the beginning of each month. You pre-write captions and tie them to the appropriate image. If you’re using an automation or scheduling tool, you can then plug your images into the dashboard, set the time and day to post and move on. The service will then pull the images at the set time and do all the work for you.

8 | Archive, don’t delete.

Instagram now lets you archive posts. Archiving posts lets you remove images that you don’t want public anymore, but also don’t quite want to delete. This is a great way to keep your content library active while controlling your engagement numbers.

Always keep tabs on your posts’ engagement numbers after 5 to 7 days of posting. If a post isn’t quite performing as well as you hoped, archive the image and consider republishing at a later date. Perhaps it was the day or time that affected the image’s traction. The ability to flex your content as an Influencer or brand owner is particularly important. Potential sponsorship and brand partners actively filter and grade Influencers based on things like the Influencer’s content quality, average engagement numbers, total reach and overall personality. With the archive feature, Influencers can instantly remove low performing posts, boost their key metrics and increase the likeliness of a partnership.

9 | Stop worrying about the ‘best time of day’ to post.

The executives that lead Instagram have done a great job of keeping the platform relevant over the course of several years. Instagram user growth is still steady, while existing users are exploring the app actively every day. One of the ways they’ve been able to maintain this growth was by changing how the app decides to display content on your feed from the accounts you follow.

Before the big update (pre-2017) the feed was reverse chronological, which meant that the most recent posts from the people you follow showed up at the top of your feed and descended from most- to least- recent. Now, the feed is algorithmic, which means Instagram’s algorithms automatically sifts through all the posts from the community of accounts you follow and selects the posts that they think you’ll like best. The results of their search are what they populate on your feed every day. The theory is therefore that the change makes Instagram less ‘noisy’, as you now only see posts suited to your tastes and don’t see posts from people that you follow, but may not like as much. How does Instagram decide the posts to show you? By analyzing the different types of posts you’ve liked and commented in the past. All of your actions on the app are data points and they use these data points to better understand your internal state of mind to tailor your Instagram experience specifically for you.

More importantly, though, this drastic change has major implications for content producers, like Brands and Influencers. First, you no longer need to worry about the best time of day to post. It simply doesn’t matter or, at the very least, it’s not largely incremental anymore. For example, if you post at 3am the image can still be shown to your followers on their feed 12 hours later thanks to Instagram’s algorithmic decisions. Second, there is now much more pressure to produce and publish your best content. Instagram’s algorithm treats higher quality content more favourably and therefore displays higher quality content to a larger portion of your audience. If you continue to post low quality content and receive little to no engagement from your audience, Instagram will begin to show your content to fewer and fewer people.

Brilliant, right?

10 | Post often without sacrificing quality. Frequency is highly positively correlated with discoverability.

You don’t need to worry about timing, but you still need to worry about volume. The top brands and Influencers post one to three times, sometimes more, every single day. Posting content is like throwing a net into the ocean to fish. You want the net to be as wide as possible or else you and your family won’t have enough to eat. The same goes for social media marketing.

By posting multiple times a day, you’re widening the net and creating many small, yet meaningful, instances that allow people to find your account via hashtag feeds and the discover page. You can also worry less about overwhelming your audience with an abundance of posts thanks to the algorithmic feed change discussed above. You can post three times each day and the same follower may not even see all three posts. If they do, it’s because Instagram identified the user as someone who highly enjoys your posts, which means the viewer is someone who should be seeing all three posts.

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