An Instagram post is deceptively simple because there’s a limit to what you can do. It consists of an image, a caption, and a few tags.

When used correctly, an Instagram post is an asset. When used incorrectly, it scares off your followers. In the post, we’ll walk you through the anatomy of an effective Instagram post and how to get an endless supply of imagery.

Elements of an Instagram post

Before focusing on induvidual posts, you should already have a strategy in place. You know the colors you want to use, the times you want to post, the aesthetic, and have a killer profile. Now it’s time to start uploading images to Instagram and watch the followers, email subscribers, and sales start rolling in.

Not exactly.

First, we need to look at the elements that make up a high performing Instagram post. There’s more to it than meets the eye of a casual observer.

That’s the secret of excellence; you don’t let them see how much you work. In short, you make it look effortless when it’s anything but.

Each post has a job. You’re not on Instagram to make pretty pictures alone. You’re on Instagram to increase the ROI of your business, create brand awareness, and find ambassadors that shout your praises from the heavens and create hashtags in your honor.

That’s not done by getting everything else right, but failing on the most important part – the post.

Let’s take a deep dive into what creates successful posts and how you can apply that to your strategy and reap the rewards.

The image

Instagram is an aspirational platform. People follow brands because they love what they stand for and the lives they portray. It’s one of the most powerful platforms to show rather than tell your audience what you can help them accomplish.

There are few things more compelling than an image.  We’ve spoken at length about what makes a great theme and if you’re creating your own images you have a head start. You’re also in a good position if you have user-generated content.

Since 2010, Instagram has changed in many ways. One of the most noticeable was the change from a brown logo and blue color palette to a colorful logo and a black color palette. Stories became a part of our lives and a slew of other neat features were introduced.

The type and quality of the images you could post also changed. At first, the highest quality was 612×612 pixels. Anything you uploaded would be scaled down to fit these dimensions. Later, the quality increased to 640×640 pixels. As of this writing, the image dimensions can be as high as 1080×1080.

The trend will continue as long as mobile phones continue to get more advanced.

Your audience has gradually grown accustomed to this change in quality and expects you to bring nothing but the best.

Not all images used on Instagram are created equally. I’m referring to the dimensions and quality of the picture. There are three ways you can format your picture before uploading it to Instagram.

Unlike a mobile webpage, the app doesn’t react to the orientation of your phone. It doesn’t matter whether your phone is tilted horizontally or vertically. Because of that, the three image formats create three different experiences for your followers.

The Three Instagram Image dimensions format


  1. Horizontal/landscape 566×1080

The landscape orientation is lacking for one major reason; it doesn’t take advantage of the screen real estate available on smartphones. Images below and above your post will be competing for your viewers’ attention.

horizontal landscape image

The entire image is shown when it’s seen in the Instagram feed. As soon as someone clicks over to the profile of the page, all they’re shown is a thumbnail. Instagram scales it down to fit into its ideal dimensions – a square. In fact, the only image that doesn’t get affected by this scaling effect are those uploaded as squares.

Use this orientation if you have a lot of detail to show. With a bit of editing, turn horizontal images into square or vertical images that produce the same effect.

  1. Vertical/portrait 1350×1080

The portrait orientation is the most effective one on Instagram. It allows you to take advantage of all the screen real estate of a smartphone. Since the app doesn’t change its orientation when you flip your phone, this is the best image to upload when you’re keen on giving the best perception of your content.

Unfortunately, you still can’t take advantage of the best thumbnail picture. Just like with the horizontal images, Instagram scales your post down to a square. You trade better experience in your users feed for a poorer one on your profile.

Vertical images are still a great choice if your aim is to get the most bang for your buck. Every high-quality picture uploaded as a portrait will get more engagement.

Intersperse these images with the next type of image we’re going to look at.

  1. Square 1080×1080

The square orientation is the ideal image type to upload. It lets you have almost all the detail of the landscape image. At the same time, you’re able to take up a good portion of the screen. You get high-quality images that show everything.

An added benefit is the ability to have a good representation of your images when someone clicks over to your profile. A good feed and a good profile increase the chances of people following you and clicking through to your website.

Use these images as the backbone of your posts in conjunction with vertical images. You’ll get the best effect.

What about if you don’t have the budget or skills to produce all your images in-house? Should you throw in the towel? Not at all, you’ll just need to get more creative.

Where to get an endless supply of images.

There are two major ways to get a hold of enough high-quality imagery for an aggressive Instagram strategy. These methods –fortunately – won’t break the bank.

  1. The first method is using creative commons photos.

There are a lot of high-quality images floating around the web. You can use them however you want. Though there are a lot of websites that compile these images like Pexels, Gratisography, and Unsplash – the largest repository is Google.

The mistake people tend to make when searching images in Google is how to they filter their results.

When you type your search term into Google and click on images there’s one more step.

Click on tools to the right. Click on usage rights then select the type of image that fits your needs. Usually, that’ll be reuse use with modification. Once you find suitable images, download and modify them as necessary.

  1. User-generated content (UGC)

User-generated content is any content created by a customer, fan, or user. That could be a video, image, graphic, or tweet someone created for or about your brand. It’s a bit more difficult to get started but yields an amazing supply of high-quality content.

Another benefit of UGC is social proof. People are using your products and they’re happy enough with them to share with the world.

Millennials trust UGC 50% more than other types of media so it’s natural that a visual platform like Instagram thrives with UGC. Given the right prompts and incentives, your customers will generate more user-generated content than you know what to do with. Let’s look at how to make that a reality.

There are two types of Instagram accounts that benefit from UGC:

  1. Content hub accounts

These are accounts which only post content relating to a certain niche. The draw of these accounts is that they tend to drill down into sub-niches and dominate them. These accounts build large followings and have the benefit of not creating most (or any) of the content they use.

@thebalibible is an example of a content hub that’s super focused on Bali. They showcase photos and videos all about Bali. They don’t create any of the content. Rather, their users create and tag the page using #thebalibible. The best photos are chosen and showcased to their huge Instagram following.

  1. Brand accounts

Many of your Instagram followers are also your customers. Instead of spending all your waking moments taking, editing, and uploading photos, get your followers to do it. The fastest way to get the ball rolling is to create a branded hashtag.

How to Curate UGC

  1. Create a branded hashtag for your UGC

The first step is to create your branded hashtag. This will let your followers know how to get on your radar. Every time you post to Instagram, add a call to action with the hashtag to let people know about it. Eventually, your followers will catch on.

  1. Hashtag everywhere.

Once you’ve settled on a branded hashtag it’s time to get it in front of the right people. As I just mentioned, use it when you upload photos. Also, add your hashtag to your blog posts and physical packaging so it occupies a top of the mind position.

Another way to get your hashtag in front of your audience is to create a contest that encourages the use of the hashtag as criteria for entry.

  1. Look at what’s available – curate the best.

You’ve put in the hard work by coming up with the hashtag and promoting it. Now it’s time to reap the fruits of your labor. Simply find your hashtag with the Instagram search function and use the ones you like.

You can take a screenshot with your phone and schedule it for reposting or you can use a tool like 4k Stogram to download the entire feed of a specific user. It’s more of a shotgun approach. Whichever option you choose, keep your UGC in a safe place.

  1. Use it with your own content

At this point, you should have a growing library of UGC. Incorporate it into your posting schedule with photos you’ve created. There are many apps available to help you schedule your content which we’ll go over in chapter four.

Charbonnoir is a cosmetics brand that posts images and videos of their customers using their products.

  1. Give credit where it’s due.

The unique draw of UGC is the fact that it was produced by people interacting with your brand. The effect isn’t complete until you tag the user who owns the content. This lends credibility to your post and is an open display of appreciation for your customers.

Between creating your own photos, finding relevant creative commons photos, and encouraging user-generated content – you’ll never run out of Instagram content.


Tagging other users

Tagging users on Instagram serves two purposes.

  1. You can give credit if you’ve used their content
  2. You put yourself on their radar.

There are many types of pages on Instagram. Personal, brand, and content hubs. The kind of pages you’ll look for are content hubs. These pages curate the best content they come across. Their job is never done.

Brand pages are also a great draw. Retail pages work the best for this one. For example, you’re an interior designer and are using furniture from Ikea, there’s nothing stopping you from taking a picture of your projects and tagging Ikea.

To make it easier to find you, tag them regularly.  You can tag in two places.

  1. When uploading a photo.

This is arguably the best place to tag someone. That’s because it has a separate notification. Not only will it appear on the notifications page, it’ll also appear on the user’s actual profile. If you tag them this way, more than once, with relevant content–they’ll notice.

Eventually, the pages curating content will start to feature you to their audience regularly. The only thing you need to do is find the pages.

  1. In the caption section

If you tag someone in the caption/comments section, it’s usually to acknowledge their ownership of the work. It keeps you on the right side of Instagram’s terms of service and also builds goodwill with the owners of the page you tagged.

It doesn’t have to be the owner. You can also tag other accounts in the captions of content you’ve created yourself. You do it for the same reason you tagged them while uploading a photo. To get on their radar. This method isn’t quite as effective as the first.

Comment tags are easily drowned out in the notification section of larger pages. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Pair comment tags with image tags and the owners of the page will be sure to notice you.

They may even return the favor if they feel your content is in line with their brand.

Post Location

Adding a location to your posts is a great way to create foot traffic to a physical location. Some of your customers will want to come and see you, let them.

It’s also a way to appear in the Instagram search results. When users search locations, geotagged posts are given preference. It’s a great way for people who wouldn’t have found you otherwise to interact with your brand.

To get geotags on your photos, all you need to do is turn on your location services and add a location tag when you’re uploading an image. Posts with Geotags get about 75% more engagement than posts without them.

Once you’re done, hit share. You’ll be added to the database and people will be able to find you based on your location.  


We’ve walked through the intricacies of the types of images that work well on Instagram and how you should use each one.

In addition to that, we’ve looked at how to create (or find)a constant stream of high-quality content for your brand, how to use tags, and the importance of attaching a geofilter to your posts.

In the next post, we’ll continue with the anatomy of the perfect instagram post as well as how to skyrocket your engagement.

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