Everything You Need To Know About What Makes (or Breaks) an Instagram Image

Not every instagram image is created equal

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Not Every Image Is Created Equal

Over the course of my 10+ years  working exclusively within social media marketing, I have gained a lot (read: A LOT) of experience.  Experience, however, doesn’t mean all good outcomes, all the time; it means I had to go through many iterations, many losses and just as many misbeliefs to finally reach a true understanding of what causes an image to be a winner versus a flop.  But I was on a mission to win.

Experience [verb] : to learn by experience - "I have experienced that a landscape and the sky unfold the deepest beauty>"

— Nathaniel Hawthorne

You see, in 2016, when I led the social media team of ten marketers at realtor.com, the then CEO, Ryan O’Hara, approached me and informed me that the CEO of Newscorp (Robert Thomson) wanted me to take our Instagram account and absolutely dominate it in the real estate industry.  At the time, we had approximately 60,000 followers, while our number one competitor, Zillow, had over 150,000.  We had some work to do, but I was willing to do what it took to crush it.

From 2016 through 2019 we learned everything we could about Instagram, testing, tweaking, studying our results, refining and perfecting, studying some more.., with the support and help of my amazing team and CMO, we didn’t just surpass our competitors, we obliterated them!  When I left realtor.com, in September 2019, we had not only surpassed Zillow’s follower count, but we were now beating theirs by over 150,000 followers – the numbers had reversed – and we had 470,000 followers and counting!

beating your competition on instagram

Remember: Follower Count isn't Everything

When it came to real estate images, through all of this experience, we discovered what consumers were really attracted to and honed in on this to keep growing our followers, and also our engagement rates. Which brings me to a really important point.  

It was important to not just be obsessed with our follower growth.

Ensuring that our increased number of followers were not just lookers, but also engagers was (and still is) critical to the health of our (and any) Instagram account. We knew we needed to consider not only our image but also the descriptions that accompanied them.

In fact, for most social media platforms (I think Snapchat and TikTok are the exceptions here) it’s the context of the post and not the image that will attract engagement.  So we also focused on working diligently on how we constructed the context of our feed posts too – and, again, through many iterations and testing, we discovered how to best interact with our audience and get them to engage with our content.  And through this discovery, we were able to take our engagement rate to under 1% to consistently over 5%.  When the average brand has an engagement rate of less than 1%, that’s a pretty big deal!

What to look for in a winning Instagram image

Example 1

(Slide finger or mouse on arrow button to see both images)

what to look for in a good instagram imagewhat to look for in a good instagram image

Top Image:  4,033 likes | Bottom Image:  1,925 likes

Images courtesy of @GrandfatherHomes
  1. Ok, first of all… What a house!
    This first image was taken at a fairly good time of day at a great elevation, to capture each level of the property plus the home in its entirety.  I would say, however, that it may have been a touch better if the sun was shining at the time the image was taken. As you can see in the second image, the image was taken at a sub-optimal time of day which produced strange lighting effects and was not shot head on or at a high resolution.
  2. When taking images of the front elevation of a home, you want to ensure that you get the entire home in the picture when the image is cropped down to 1:1 ratio.  Images that are either vertical (or portrait) or square are always best on Instagram – horizontal (or landscape) images take up less ‘real estate’ on the Instagram feed, and are harder to see in general.  
  3.  Because the first image was taken with a drone, it allows your eyes to go straight ahead and you take in the entire picture from the center and then out.  This is what you want your audience to do – have a definitive focal point (in this case the front door) and then look around.  Kind of like a heat map on a webpage – visitors normally focus their attention to the top 1/3 of the page and then travel down on the left hand side.  
what to look for in a good instagram image
Click image to view on Instagram
what to look for in a good instagram image
Click image to view on Instagram

Example 2

(Slide finger or mouse on arrow button to see both images)

what to look for in a good instagram imagewhat to look for in a good instagram image

Top Image:  3,541 likes | Bottom Image:  2,105 likes

Images courtesy of @McCleanDesign
  1.  Can I live here – right in that pool?!
    The essence of these images are extremely simple – luxury life.  There’s no denying what they convey or what they invoke – a sense of awe and desire.  Knowing what your audience is attracted to is probably your number one goal.  Delivering it is number two.  The sun is shining, the pool is gleaming…  
  2. If you are reading this on your desktop, you probably are noticing how the first image is much larger and easier to digest than the second.  This brings us back to the orientation of the image again.  The first is a square image while the second is horizontal (landscape).  I believe these two examples shows the magnitude of how orientation can really affect the viewers enjoyment.
  3.  While the first image is a close up and has a definitive focal point (the chairs in the pool is where my eyes lead me), the second image is another drone shot, but this time has no focal point and your eyes travel all over the place.  While it’s a gorgeous view, it’s hard to really decipher anything in particular other than it has a pool.
what to look for in a good instagram image
Click image to view on Instagram
what to look for in a good instagram image
Click image to view on Instagram

So, to break these examples down, the three things we would take into consideration in choosing which image to use are as follows:

  • Optimal Lighting 
  • Orientation of image
  • Focal Point

Here’s some more examples of excellent images that meet all the requirements to make a great Instagram post:

Likes: 23k

Beautiful sunset

Great angle showcasing the entire home within the image. Image courtesy of @groveparkconstruction

View on Instagram
Likes: 26k

Excellent Lighting

Dream kitchen with interesting features, lit perfectly to embrace all the beauty.
Image courtesy of @stallonemedia

View on Instagram
Likes: 24k

Playfully Alluring

Perfect lighting within the room capture an emotional reaction. Image courtesy of @decor_for_kids

View on Instagram
Likes: 27k

Great Focal Point

Very unique image of a fireplace within a shower, draws your eyes in. Image credit unknown.

View on. Instagram
Likes: 27k

Exceptional Detail

This shower has it all, with the dramatic skylight to the wood and planters. Image courtesy of @mantisdesignbuild

View on Instagram
Likes: 14k

The Essence of the Holidays

Dusk lighting, Christmas lights adorned, this image captures your attention. Image courtesy of @atlanta_photographer

View on Insatagram

Have additional questions about how to dominate Instagram with the most captivating images for your specific audiences?  Send us a message below, or click the yellow chat button on the bottom right of this page to contact us right now.

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