I’ve been putting a lot more thought into Instagram of late. Until recently, I only shared posts every now and again and hadn’t considered too deeply how to use this platform for The Collative. While I know there are a lot of creative folk on Insta, I’m not the best photographer in the world and this has always been a bit of a barrier for me.
Now that I have a more concrete intention in mind, (to turn this site into more of an online magazine!) I’ve been thinking more seriously about how to get the word out, sure, but also how I can share the inspiring insights and work of the people I feature more widely. While my photography skills are somewhat lacking, something I’ve always been pretty good at is coming up with content ideas. So recently, I’ve been thinking about how to apply the content planning principles I’ve learned over the years to this platform.
With this in mind, I’ve put together a list of Instagram content ideas, which could be applied to pretty much any business, and I’m sharing them with you in the hope that they can offer some inspiration for you too. In part one of a two-part post, here are 12 creative content ideas for Instagram that you can plan and schedule in advance (part two will follow soon!).
You’ll also find lots of ideas you can use even if, like me, your photography skills could use some work! (For example, by working with mockups, templates or user-generated content).
Show your product in action
Whether it’s your artwork in a frame on the wall, your calligraphy on a mug, your e-book on an iPad on a desk or your jewellery on a human, photos of your products in action can help new visitors instantly understand what it is you create, as well as visualise themselves using your product.
If you’re not the best photographer or stylist, you may want to use a mockup for this. Mockups are made-for-you, styled images you can use to demonstrate how your work will look on a screen, product, signage etc. You start with the base image, then add your work digitally using a program such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.
For example, check out the post from Lark & Fable (@larkandfable) below:
Chaitra of Pinkpot Design Studio offers a gorgeous free desktop mockup on her blog, along with a tutorial on how to add your own work in Photoshop. There are also hundreds of affordable mockups available on Creative Market*, featuring mugs, t-shirts, magazines and pretty much anything you can think of!
2. Share a customer testimonial
Sharing our own work and products is one thing, but there’s little more powerful than a glowing review from another. Testimonials can help build trust, drive bookings and enquiries and influence buying decisions.
They’re also way more effective when you can show they’re from a real-life person (always with your customer’s blessing, of course). On Instagram, you can actually tag the person into your post to show that it’s genuine.
If you’re not the best designer, there are templates you can use to create and share testimonials and other text-based images in a visually pleasing way (crucial for Insta!), which you can adapt by adding your own brand colours or fonts.
Station Seven offers some gorgeous templates for Instagram and other social media graphics. Another option is Canva, a web-based, drag-and-drop image creator, which offers lots of customisable templates to play around with too.
3. Share your work in progress
Work in progress shots are a great opportunity to share a bit of insight into your process or the story behind a piece of work. They can help people get to know you and how you work, show the skill that goes into a piece, while also helping to build anticipation for the finished result!
For example, I love how Kate from Of Flight and Feathers mixes work in progress shots with finished pieces and more personal posts to give some insight into her process, story and inspiration.
Check out her feed here: @offlightandfeathers
4. Create a time lapse video
As well as pictures, don’t forget you can also share videos on Instagram and, more recently, Snapchat-style ‘Instagram Stories’ that disappear after 24 hours.
A time lapse is a video that gives the impression of time passing quickly, and can be an awesome way to capture your process in a short timeframe and show what goes into your work. They can also generate shedloads of engagement (likes, comments and shares).
If that all sounds a bit too complex, fear not. You may well be able to create a simple time lapse directly from your phone or camera (check the settings). iPhone users can check out Hyperlapse, Instagram’s own app for creating time lapses; this article features some alternatives for Android users.
Instagram videos can be anything from 3 to 60 seconds long, and you don’t have to squeeze in your entire creative process to make an impact.
For example, check out this awesome video from illustrator Maggie Sichter (@littlepatterns):
5. Create a stop motion video
Stop motion is a similar concept to time lapse, but instead of documenting the passage of time as it happens, you take a series of photos and ‘stop’ between each one to manually change the scene, then stitch the photos together using video editing software (like iMovie or similar) to create movement. This can often give the impression of objects moving by themselves. Make sense?
To demonstrate this concept, check out illustrator and animator Rachel Ryle’s incredible feed. She’s got stop motion down to a fine art, has more than 953k followers and has been named among the top Instagram accounts to follow by both MTV and Buzzfeed.
While her videos are now more complex, with overlays and more sophisticated video editing, her earlier videos use simple stop motion techniques.
>> Check out her feed here: @rachelryle
6. Share relevant inspiration or finds
I’m a bit of a typography nerd and recently began sharing my #typefinds – quirky and interesting characters within different typefaces – on Instagram.
I wanted to create a regular series or two for Insta, which would tie in with my mission and goals. I’m designing graphics for each one, which fulfils part of my mission to share creative work, and I hoped this content may appeal to designers (and creative types generally!), who are part of the audience I’m looking to serve.
If you’re an interior designer, you could share examples of decor that’s on point from different places you visit. You could even go a step further and share your insight on why it works – how that lamp creates an awesome focal point, etc. It shows potential customers you know your stuff and also provides some inspiration for your ideal audience.
Likewise, if you’re a calligrapher you could share examples of gorgeous hand-lettered signage you find when you’re out and about.
7. Use your whole grid to tell a story
As well as thinking about each post individually, you could also create a series of posts where you only see the full picture when you look at your grid as a whole. For example, calligraphers could create a letter a day to spell out a word (backwards, so that it reads forwards), or create a word every few days to create a phrase that speaks to your ethos or values.
Got an exciting launch coming up? Get creative and use your whole grid to unveil it piece by piece. Just be mindful to make sure each post works on a standalone basis too.
To use this idea effectively, you might want to check out one of the Instagram planning tools that let you preview how your feed will look as you schedule posts. I use Later, which lets you schedule up to 30 posts per month for free. You could also check out Planoly or Grum.
8. Create a signature shot, composition or posting pattern
If you have a look at the Insta accounts that attract a big following, many of them have a cohesive look and feel. They don’t just think about the posts they share individually, but also how to create a grid that looks on point as a whole.
There are many options to explore to create more consistency in your feed. For example, you could use the same filter / Photoshop actions for each post, stick to a similar colour palette or use the same levels of brightness or saturation to create a mood that fits in with your brand identity.
You could also explore creating a signature composition or design for certain types of posts or a series to help your content stand out and build brand recognition.
For example, Just a Card (@justacard) created a collage each day to celebrate #thinkingofyouweek, using these posts to showcase cards and small items from independent businesses (that would be perfect to send to someone “just because”), after calling for retailers to share their images using its #justacard hashtag.
Or check out how Blogger Boss (@beabloggerboss) alternates between tips and photos (which stick to a similar colour palette) below. Again, the planning tools mentioned above can help you create a cohesive grid / posting pattern to stand out from the crowd.
9. Trail your blog or newsletter content
I’m trying to get into the habit of sharing a post on Instagram whenever I publish a new blog post.
However, something else I want to explore is trailing content that’s coming soon, especially bigger pieces and projects. Not only can this help to build excitement for what’s to come, it can also be a nice way to prompt people to follow or sign up so they don’t miss it.
Elise and Scott of Hey, Sweet Pea do a great job of this, whether it’s giving a sneak peek of what’s coming up in their newsletter or letting people know about an upcoming webinar.
>> Check out their feed here: @heysweetpea
10. Share your archive content
For content creators, your archive of content is an awesome source of inspiration and ideas for social media posts. There’s no reason to only ever share your latest posts; there’s likely still loads of value in your older ‘evergreen’ content, and finding creative ways to share this can help bring new readers and potential customers to your site long after you publish.
With that said, when it comes to directing people back to a specific post on your website, this is slightly more challenging on Instagram. You’re only allowed to add one link to your profile, in your bio (which I actually like because it makes it less spammy on the whole). So, when talking about a particular post or product, you have a few options to help people find this on your website:
- You can link to your homepage in your bio and trust that people will find the article via your website’s navigation or search function.
- You can manually update the link in your bio each time you post on Insta.
- You can highlight the relevant area of your website within your Instagram post itself to make life easier (eg, head to the ‘interviews’ section to read the full conversation).
- You can use a tool such as linkin.bio or linkinprofile.com, which allow you to assign a specific url to each post while sticking to Instagram’s rules. They do this by giving you one unique link to add to your bio, which goes off to a separate landing page. On this page, you’ll then find your Insta images presented as clickable links. It’s a bit fiddly and an extra click for readers, but if you’re someone who creates a lot of blog posts or products, it’s worth checking out.
To see this in action, check out Bloguettes’ Instagram feed here: @bloguettes
11. Ask a question
Gone are the days when your Instagram feed simply displayed posts from people you followed in chronological order. Alas, like it or not, an algorithm now dictates what we see and in what order.
As often happens, accounts with good levels of engagement are more likely to appear more prominently in people’s feeds. But it can sometimes feel like a bit of a catch 22. You need to show up to get good engagement; you need good engagement to show up.
When it comes to planning your Instagram strategy, it’s worth remembering that engagement doesn’t just mean likes, but comments too. One way to encourage comments is to ask a question, either through a graphic or within your post caption. This can also help you get to know your followers better and build a stronger community.
While some questions call for a longer, more heartfelt answer, you might also want to experiment with questions that give people cues on how to respond and makes this quick and simple.
- What’s one thing you wish you’d known when…
- What’s your favourite book for X?
Or you could take a leaf out of Blogger Boss’ book and use it as an opportunity to give a bit more exposure to your followers.
12. Ask for feedback
There are a couple of ways you could use Instagram as a way to gain feedback:
- By directly asking people what they think in one of your posts.
- By testing out different types of photos, designs or content to see what gets the best response.
On any forum, it’s important to make sure the people you ask for feedback represent your target audience. And on Instagram, one way to start attracting potential customers is to add relevant hashtags to your posts. I usually add hashtags in the first comment after each post so the caption itself doesn’t get too cluttered, but whatever works for you!
As always, think about the hashtags your customers would be using and searching for, rather than others in your own field. There may well be some crossover, but it’s worth keeping this in mind.
A few helpful hashtag resources:
- Hashtags for illustrators
- Hashtags to promote your blog on Instagram
- The Rising Tide Society hashtag glossary
And that’s it for part one! I hope you’ve found some Insta inspiration, and stay tuned for more content ideas for Instagram coming your way soon.