Instagram is tricky. There aren’t loopholes you can take, there aren’t shortcuts to the top; you live or die on the site by the quality of the pictures you post. If you want comments, you need to post comment-worthy pictures. If you want shares, you need to post share-worthy pictures. You don’t have the luxury of languishing while your ads or your contests shoot you to the top. You have to actually work to get there.
With that in mind, here are some of the best types of images you can post for engagement. They tend to be naturally attractive on their own, but you do still need to post images of sufficient quality to actually get that engagement.
1. Pictures of your product in use
I’m not talking about a tech demo here. Your product images should ideally be pictures of your product spotted out in the Real World. Say you make hoodies; take pictures of people you see wearing your hoodies and post them.
Ask permission first, of course; you’ll get better, happier pictures that way. You can even stage interesting photos. An activewear brand can take pictures of people out hiking, or swimming, or riding bikes. A brand like Starbucks can do a “people of New York” style thing where they post pictures of people enjoying their drinks outside of the venue.
This can be combined with other top image types for additional value. It’s also very user-centric, which is always a good thing. Featuring actual, real users in real situations is a great way to draw in other real people who can empathize with the pictured users. People like to see their lifestyle represented, even if that lifestyle is hilariously mundane.
2. User submitted images
Riding on the above, ask your users to submit images of themselves using your products. This way the onus of finding and creating those pictures is not on you. You can just clean them up, add filters, or generally make sure the images are of sufficiently high quality to warrant posting on your page.
Ideally you will set up a process that begins with asking users to post pictures of themselves using your products. Ask them to use a specific hashtag, so you can track it. Respond to each of them with a comment thanking them and commenting on the picture in some unique way, to let people know you’re not a bot. Then pick the best ones and send the owner a message asking if you can feature their image on your page. Most people will be happy to let you do so.
3. Mash-up collages of less than stellar images
When you take a lot of pictures for use on Instagram, you’ll often find that some of them just don’t quite make the cut. A lot will be redundant or bad, and you’ll delete them right off the bat. Others will be decent, but not interesting enough to stand on their own. You file these aside for another time. Well, this is that other time.
The idea is to take 3-5 pictures from your “almost good enough” file and merge them into a collage. It doesn’t take much; just a simple box layout with images in a grid is fine. If you crop them down to show the most interesting bits, you turn a handful of mediocre images into one great image. This works very well for showcasing product images or scenery as well. The main purpose is to make use of images that don’t stand up well enough on their own.
4. Images of pets of any sort
One of the number one image subjects found on Instagram is the animal picture. Pictures of pets tend to get a lot of engagement, though they aren’t particularly deep. They also open you up to a lot of general hashtags, like #cute #pets #cats #dogs and the like. The context there doesn’t matter; people engage with cute animals one way or another.
You can start out by featuring the pets of the people who work for you, from the CEO to the night stocker. Have your employees take a few dozen photos of their pets for you to go through and pick a few to feature. You can fill a lot of queue time with a couple repeats for each pet.
Once you’ve established your brand’s love of animals, you can solicit animal pictures from your followers. People love to show off their pets, and you can even get some of the more exotic pets some screen time. Who doesn’t love a good exotic bird, lizard, or fish?
5. Proof your employees are treated well
These days, there’s a lot of general disagreement and anger towards brands that treat employees like disposable, replaceable cogs in a greater machine. Showing that you’re a brand that cares about your individual employees can be great for customer loyalty. You’ll also probably see an uptick in the submission of employment applications when you show you’re a great place to work.
This can be anything from showing off pictures from a company ice cream social, to showing happy employees hard at work. You can even showcase your benefits; a pregnant employee enjoying her maternity leave is excellent. You can also showcase positive employee-customer interactions here, which further enhances both the employee presentation and your customer base. Make sure to tag the people involved if they have Instagram accounts of their own!
6. Interesting takes on TBT
TBT is a trend primarily on Instagram, though it’s found on Facebook and to a lesser extent other networks. It’s called throwback Thursday, and the idea is to post retro images that showcase something from the past. It could be baby pictures or young pets, it could be old cars, it could be a downtown picture from decades past.
Depending on your brand, you might have some unique resources when it comes to TBT pictures. You may be based in a building that has a rich history. You might be a company with a centuries-long history. You might have some interesting people in your past, and may be able to find some compelling pictures of your eventual CEO in their youth. There are all sorts of perspectives you can take on this one.
You can even take things one step further and showcase products from years ago, and ask users to see if they have any pictures of themselves or their parents using your products from times long past. These are excellent because they cover both the TBT concept and user engagement directly.
7. Contest-related images
Running image-based contests on Instagram is great. You can also run contests across all of your social media accounts, and just promote them on Instagram with images. The choice is yours.
The ideal sort of image here is something interesting and scenery-related, rather than something more subject focused. The goal is to plaster text over top of it without destroying the image or distracting from the text. Create several of these images throughout the duration of whatever contest you’re using, and share them at different times throughout the duration of said contest.
The one thing you should avoid is the pure text image. Instagram users aren’t on the site to read, and they aren’t going to want to read a contest image if it has more than a couple of words. Keep the details to the description or the off-site page. Just post an image of the prize with a contest header and you’re good to go.
8. Contest-winning images
Sometimes when you run a contest, the means of submission is an image. You want users to submit their own images, so you encourage it with a contest. You need to make sure that the images submitted are usable on your feed, so make sure part of the terms of submission allow you to do so.
Whether you’re doing internal judging or external, or even just a random or “random” selection, you can feature the winning images on your feed later. People like to see their content on a larger stage than it would normally reach. By sharing the winners, you get to surprise those winners, and you get to fill your feed with engaging content created by your users.
9. High profile celebrity or blogger pictures
This one is a more organic way to showcase your product, but it does mean that you need to be the kind of product that can be “spotted in the wild” so to speak. The idea is to keep an eye out on popular top-tier blogs or on the feeds of various celebrities. Look for times when a high profile user is making use of your products. This is most frequently done with shopping bags or with apparel, but it can also be done with vehicles, accessories, sports equipment, or food.
When you find a celebrity posting something involving themselves and one of your products, share and tag the post with your branded tags. The idea is to point out that high profile people use your products, which fits them in with your regular users in your feed, showing they’re no different than the people you normally serve. Everyone’s a celebrity to your brand, right?
10. Images that work for influencer outreach
There are influential people on Instagram, and chances are some of them are more popular than you and your account. Don’t treat them as competition; treat them as possible roads to the top.
The goal here is to get someone who is very popular to feature your content or interact with you in some way. In order to do that, you need to post content you think they would be interested in, and you need to tag them in that content. Even if they don’t see it in the crush of notifications, their users will, and their users will probably help push your post into visibility.
Ideally, these influencers will engage with you. Most of the time, it will be a simple, singular piece of engagement, and it won’t do much more than give you a transient boost of engagement rates and traffic. Some, however, will turn out to be big fans of yours and will form a partnership of long-term mutual benefit. Even hugely popular celebrities like being acknowledged in a personal way.
11. An image of the great debate
Humanity is a species filled with pride; pride in nations, pride in cities, pride in sports teams, pride in individuals. Where there’s pride, there’s competition, as the people rooting for one option clash against the people rooting for the other.
Take advantage of this clash. People who have a side to take will often take it, verbally and sometimes aggressively. Posting a picture with representations of each side of the competition – for example, the logos of two sports teams about to face off next weekend – draws in a ton of debate.
The trick to doing this successfully is aggressive moderation. You can’t allow your comments section to go out of control, you need to make sure it stays civil or people won’t want to get involved. Remember, you’re trying to attract the right kind of people, and that tends to not be the rowdy, riot-causing sports fans.
12. An instructable or tutorial
People like few things better than value. While there’s some value to be seen in every picture you post, it’s generally transient value; a “huh” or a “that’s neat” and a share, but nothing that lasts throughout the day. How often do you remember the pet picture you saw over breakfast this morning?
Tutorials are different. Tutorials offer some kind of lasting value. They give you a position of authority – which you should have, since your tutorials probably involve your brand – and they give lingering value to your audience. This can be anything from a recipe to a guide to identifying wild berries. Just don’t do anything that can end up backfiring and hurting someone, or you’re going to be in hot water.