A.K.A What is good content
Let’s start with a myth: “You have to post all the time to be relevant.”
Let’s start with another myth: “You can’t lose followers.”
Following these two standard myths will cause you to create large amounts of boring content (out of fear.) You may succeed in gaining followers, but you might be missing out on a lot of opportunities to create really interesting content.
Here are two rules I like to use, which contradict each other: “Less good content is better than more bad content,” and “experiment with new ideas. Try to measure if possible.”
Here’s a secret about me. I’m not really a social media marketer. I’m an artist. I think social media is boring. I’d rather make art.
What is good content
Good content is really simple. There’s a (moderately interchangeable,) heirarchy of requirements.
- Proper Tagging (hashtags and mentions)
- Engaging Image (looks interesting)
- Beautiful image (looks pretty)
- Story (something to think about)
Note: The goal of these 4 pillars is the result of inspiring emotion in the viewer (joy, fear, laughter, excitement, inspiration, anger, etc.) Remember, not all emotions are equal, and different demographics respond emotionally to different things and respond to different emotions differently. There is no one size fits all. You will see that I have a particular set of tastes visually, and also emotionally.
Why would I say that interesting content is the most important thing you can do, but then put hashtags and mentions at the top of the list?
Your interesting content will never be seen if people can’t find it. I’ll talk about building an audience in another post.
Hashtags are essentially a # symbol with a word in front of it, like #this. Computers love hashtags because they don’t really understand language. They don’t differentiate between what letters you are using in the same way humans do. To a computer “#this” is a completely different word from “this.” For a human, it’s almost exactly the same.
Instagram (and most other programs,) use #hashtags as a way of uniquely identifying the post they are attached to. When you create a post, it actually has a bunch of information in it: your username, the time and date you posted, the image, your location, and all of the text underneath. Hashtags fit in the “all of the text underneath” section.
Instagram also has this problem of actually finding relevant content. How do you get a computer to find all of the best posts on pizza? Trick question. The answer is that you get all of the humans to write #pizza on their posts, and then you make the computer search for #pizza instead of “pizza.” It seems like that little # wouldn’t matter, but it totally does. Trust me.
Hashtags make the world go round.
The other fun thing about hashtags, at least on most social media platforms, is that you can tap (click on) them, and they will show you all of the other posts about that hashtag.
Exploring some of these hashtags can be really interesting. You’ll find things you never expected to find. There was an industry study done that showed that Instagram posts with 14+ hashtags tended to greatly outperform posts with less. This is absolutely not true for Twitter or Facebook, stick to 0–2 for Facebook and a combination of 1–3 mentions and/or hashtags for Twitter. Hashtags are a must for Instagram and Twitter. Facebook has its own rules for getting new fans, which is a completely different article. I will not talk about it here.
In short, this is a really great way to start popping up in people’s feeds. You want to find hashtags that are a combination of a) being relevant to the thing you are posting and b) have enough people watching them so that you get eyes on your posts, but not so many that you are drowned out by all of the other content being posted every second. So… don’t use #asdjkhvkjahs and don’t use #instagood. They are both garbage for the reasons stated above.
I will go into more detail about hashtags in another post.
“Engaging image” is very different from “beautiful image.” An engaging image is an image of something people care about or react quickly to.
I wouldn’t call this post artistic, but it is engaging. If you browse through the rest of the account you will see a trend. Images focused on the emotions of pugs and the emotions pugs bring to us. Cute dog accounts, in general, do well. There are dog accounts with lower quality images and even more followers than this one.
I don’t want to go overkill on this one, but you should start to think about the “information” that is contained in your picture. This includes cropping your images well and making sure that something interesting is happening, or is contained within the picture. All of the pictures of pugs on that previous account, pretty much have the pug front and center with as little other things (or information as I call it,) around the pug. A pug surrounded by grass is a pug at a park (or backyard.) If you zoom out more, there is probably also dog shit, litter, and trashcans, but we’ll be fine if we just zoom in on the pug for maximum effect, with just enough grass to know we’re at a park.
Kanye West has recently been posting grainy images of clothing that look like cellphone snapshots of magazine images. That breaks quality control rule number 1 (take good pictures.) He’s a marketing genius (or has hired one.) He hasn’t explained why he’s doing what he’s doing, which is exactly why everyone is so interested in his bad images.
Find accounts that matter to you. Pick apart what is and isn’t interesting to get a better feel for what I’m talking about.
There is a lot of theory that explains what makes a good image, which I won’t go deeply into on this post.
Each social platform also has image size guidelines.
Facebook and Twitter share a standard image size, Instagram uses a square (but allows for landscape and semi-portrait images,) and other social media platforms have different optimal sizes.
Why do you want an optimally sized image over whatever you already have on your camera? Because you want your image to be as big as possible when someone is looking at it on their computer. Each social media platform displays images the largest when it is created to the standard size they prefer.
Short note on Instagram: Square images fare better than landscape, counterintuitively. The width of a cellphone screen stays the same no matter what size picture you are posting. Instagram tries to fill the width of the screen with the whole image, so even though there are more pixels in a landscape image, Instagram shrinks it to fit the screen width and it becomes smaller (height wise) than a square image. On the other hand, portrait images do not have this problem. Instagram limits portrait height a bit, which can be problematic. But, if you’re willing to lose the top and bottom edges of the photo, portrait images take up more space for the same reason. Instagram doesn’t have to shrink the width of a portrait image to fit a phone screen, so the height doesn’t change either, and thus the image will display larger than a square. If this is complicated, just browse around your feed and pay a bit of attention to image size.
Here are some examples of beautiful images
There are many types of beauty. So don’t limit yourself. But I can say that beauty that is large and centered performs pretty well on Instagram. So it’s a nice default to use if you don’t know what to do.
Find things that are beautiful to you, not things you think will be beautiful to others, follow them, and let them inform your work. Alternatively, follow your competitors and quickly learn how to be exactly like them 🤢
I will speak no further of beauty.
Why is story at the bottom. It’s actually pretty interchangeable with beauty. And realistically if you’re getting two or three of four, you’re off to a good start.
Instagram can be very thing or idea oriented. We are human, so we use context to judge everything. We even piece little pieces of information together into tiny stories to understand the world around us. The pug with a bit of grass analogy I used earlier. That’s a story you’re telling yourself and a story the person behind the camera is helping you tell. Realistically, we have no idea where that patch of grass is, how fabricated the scene was, etc.
When I say story, I’m talking about a story at large. Not the little things our brain automatically tells us about anything we see.
Leave it to Disney to tell a great story. There are tons of things about this snippet: amazing costumes, a fan and his idol, a celebrity, well polished props, a prank, surprise, an inspiring reason for why the fan idolizes the celebrity, the woman behind the camera who’s playing it straight, a heartwarming encounter, and a happy ending. Oh yeah and Star Wars.
That’s a story. An expensive one too.
You can also tell a story with one picture and two sentences
Am I glossing over the 8 years of presidency and years of senatorial experience that created this picture, sure. It does, however, illustrate that if the content in the image is good, you don’t have to make a film about it just to tell a story. The Obama White House had a short series where they took pictures of American citizens, and then told their story in the context of related government programs. It was shortlived, but it provides another example of story based content.
You do all of this influence mongering so that once in a blue moon, you can make a hard sell:
If you don’t want to use one sentence, you can use a full paragraph, just like Humans of New York does:
And finally, I can’t finish this section without something from National Geographic
Let me break down why this image is successful
- National Geographic is already a nationally famous magazine, so they have a ton of inertia
- The photo is colorful, well cropped, and visually appealing
- The photo is interesting, there is action and if you are not from this area of the world, almost everything contained in this image is novel
- The photographer is tagged @photographername so that national geographic instantly gets his attention. Because NatGeo is large, he may regram this (share this post on his own Instagram,) and give a shoutout to NatGeo, meaning that some of his followers may start to look at and follow NatGeo.
- The location is tagged.
- There is a story. It’s his story, not NatGeo’s. It’s not just a bland description. It’s a story about the situation that puts you right in the moment.
- There are hashtags, and if the person managing this account is smart, they’ve put all of the hashtags in a comment somewhere that will allow this post to get seen, but will immediately get buried by the torrent of comments to follow.
National Geographic hits all of these bases every single time they post and so does The Obama White House. If you need a social media gold standard, use them.
I hope this has helped.
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