Over 70 percent of American companies now use Instagram as of 2017, (sproutsocial.com/insights/instagram-stats/) and it’s no surprise. Instagram is one of the best places to get more clicks and find new customers, with much higher engagement rates than Facebook or Twitter (webstrategiesinc.com/blog/which-social-media-sites-get-the-most-engagement). However, marketers must understand the culture and aesthetic of Instagram to take full advantage of those extra views and likes. If you get it right, potential customers will look forward to seeing your business’s posts, creating organic engagement and growth.
The Instagram Aesthetic
Instagram started in 2010 by bringing nostalgia and vintage appeal to social picture sharing, with its filters and square format photos letting users create beautiful pictures from their terrible smartphone cameras. As smartphone cameras improved, many users stopped using the premade filters, but the focus on beauty remains. Aesthetically-minded users take advantage of photo editing tools to tinker with saturation, contrast, color, and cropping well beyond the capabilities of pre-made filters.
Lev Manovich, a new media researcher, refers to the peculiar aesthetic of Instagram as Instragrammism, (books.google.com/books?id=E_8nDwAAQBAJ&dq) which he defines as distinct from previous styles in art and photography. The Instagram aesthetic is subtle and atmospheric, never confronting with harsh emotions. Users create a comforting style with washed out, often minimalist design.
Instagram is aspirational. Instagram users curate a public version of their lives, including many trappings of success, such as good food, travel, luxury clothing, and beautiful people. But this is an aspirational culture that is much more subtle than just a display of conspicuous consumption. The atmospheric aesthetic favored on Instagram implies not an abundance of money, but an abundance of time. In such a fast-moving world, people aspire not to just to own stuff, but to have the time to luxuriate in it.
Matching the Instagram Aesthetic
Businesses that want their brand to gather aesthetically-minded followers on Instagram need to form a cohesive brand aesthetic in line with Instagram’s culture. Both regular posts and paid ads should follow this brand aesthetic to avoid content that stands out like a sore thumb, causing customer resentment rather than engagement.
The surface quality of the Instagram aesthetic is not hard to match. Keep photographs relatively mono-color, and keep the composition flat and square, centering subjects or cropping them. Think partially Wes Anderson, but less whimsical.
Instagram users often favor washed-out, desaturated photos. On some accounts, almost every image is close to white. Use bright colors sparingly and carefully, and if used, one color should dominate the image to avoid too much contrast.
What Images Should Say to Potential Customers
Think more about atmosphere than story. Try to create a feeling of aspirational leisure. Instead of images that say, “these are the amazing things you can do with this product,” aim for, “this brand will help you create a beautifully relaxed lifestyle.”
Avoid product-only posts and text. Instead, show products in their natural environment. A soft drink company might show a woman holding their product while lounging in a quiet beachfront property. A car company might show a car artfully cropped against a quietly idyllic, but not overwhelming, country landscape.
Find the form that matches your brand and stick with it across your posts. Create a total atmospheric environment on your business’s Instagram page, with no post standing out compared to the whole. Potential customers will trust a brand that they can see their aspirational lifestyle in, and matching the Instagram aesthetic can engage followers organically, without relying on paid ads.