Instagram and good aesthetics go hand in hand — after all, it’s what the platform was built for in the first place.
While Instagram has changed quite a bit and is far from the photos-first platform from the early 2010s, it’s still primarily visual-centric. It’s where you go to get your hit of painstakingly-choreographed food arrangements and the odd news article and funny cat.
And as the platform grew, small businesses have flocked to Instagram to get more eyeballs on their services. Because what better way to make a good first impression than going to the platform with the exact functionalities needed to make your handmade talismans look their best?
So, in this article, we’ll look at some top tips for creating an aesthetically pleasing Instagram feed that will help your small business look professional and stand out from the crowd. Buckle up.
Why have an aesthetic in the first place?
Small businesses have a lot on their plate, so why should you bother with Instagram beyond setting up a page and publishing the odd product post?
For starters, having a unique and consistent aesthetic helps to make your page look professional. It’s easier to keep followers engaged when there is an overall look and feel to your feed, as this gives viewers an idea of what to expect from you moving forward.
Secondly, a good Instagram aesthetic also helps to give off the right vibes about your brand. Think of it as a small internal content guide that gives your customers and followers visual cues about what your brand stands for, who it appeals to, and how you want it to be perceived.
Thirdly, a suitable Instagram aesthetic helps to make your page stand out from the crowd and can be a great way to draw attention to your posts. With 2 billion monthly active advertisers on Instagram, it’s essential to find ways to make sure that your posts – and, ultimately, your business – don’t get lost in the shuffle.
First things first — style guide
Before doing anything else, you should roll up your sleeves and set up a style guide for your Instagram page. This will help you create posts that are visually consistent and recognizable as part of your overall brand.
Your style guide could include colors, fonts, filter settings, or even specific hashtags you want to use in your posts. You should also decide on the general vibe and feel of the page; for example, are you aiming for a minimalist, bright or bold look?
Here are some things to consider when creating your style guide:
Your small business’ voice & tone
Small businesses have one significant advantage: they can show off their brand’s personality in more unique ways and experiment with different posts to see what works with their followers.
When creating your style guide, you should think about how you want to present your brand on Instagram – is it more light-hearted and fun or professional and refined? Take stock of your target audience, too – this will help inform the voice & tone you use in your posts and define your visual identity.
For example, a boutique coffee shop might go for a more light-hearted tone to appeal to its younger customers, while an accounting firm might opt for something more professional and serious. Well, actually, you don’t have to be that serious on social media, even if you’re operating in a more “established” field. It’s all about finding the right balance between being professional and having a fun voice.
➡️ Learb more about brand voice in our guide to building a brand from scratch.
Typography can significantly impact how aesthetically pleasing your Instagram grid is. Good font choices will help to create an overall look and feel for the page. Don’t overdo it – stick with one or two font types that are easy to read and suit the overall vibe of your brand.
For example, a small business specializing in organic beauty products could opt for a script-like font. Another example is a small clothing business focusing on bright, bold, and edgy designs. Further, they could choose a minimalistic sans-serif font to convey their vibe.
As always, experiment with different fonts until you find one that speaks to your small businesses’ brand and customers.
➡️ Learn how to marry copy with design in our value-packed article.
As for caption length, opinions are as varied as there are Instagram profiles out there. According to Influencer Marketing Hub: “You will perform best if you limit yourself to 138 to 150 characters.”
Since people will mostly scan through your captions, if they’re going to read them at all — it’s a visual platform, after all — you have to make that precious real estate count. Short, bite-sized chunks of text describing the general idea of the post work best. Include additional resources for people who want to investigate further.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that some Instagram pages can really make long captions work. It all depends on the theme of the page. This example is not necessarily a “small” business, but it’s worth highlighting anyway:
Takeaway: Embrace short captions as a basic rule, but don’t be afraid to experiment and try out different lengths. After all, it’s your page, and you can do whatever you want with it — just keep in mind how captions fit into the overall aesthetics of your page.
Using emojis can be a great way to catch your followers’ attention. However, too much of anything is not good.
You should consider your page’s general vibe and feel when deciding how many and which emoji you want to use in each post.
If you run a business that provides informative content or professional services, emojis should be used sparingly and purposefully. In that case, emojis should serve a “summarization” role. For instance (and these are entirely hypothetical examples that I whipped up to make my point):
“✍🏻 ䷖ 50% of independent authors have reported experiencing writer’s block at least twice a year.”
“👨🏻⚖️ 📁 17% of small businesses have reported byzantine bureaucracies as the #1 growth impediment.”
On the other hand, if your brand is more playful and casual, then you could experiment with a broader variety of emojis to create fun and engaging posts.
As ridiculous as this may sound, putting together an “emoji master plan” is a great way to ensure your emoji usage is on point, consistent, and effective.
Keep an eye out for new emojis, too — they’re watching.
A great way to keep your followers engaged and interested in your page is to regularly post calls-to-action (CTAs). This can be anything from asking them to share a post, subscribing to a newsletter, or buying a product.
As always, the key here is not overdoing it. If you spam your followers with CTA after CTA, chances are they will lose interest and eventually unfollow you. A balanced social media post – CTA ratio is what Eternity Marketing calls “the two/three split”:
Two posts a week that are directly promotional (that include a CTA often asking a viewer to “click the link”) and three posts a week that are personal […].
In other words, establish a CTA policy that works for your brand. For example, if you’re just starting, one CTA post per week might be an effective way to consistently get the message across without annoying your followers. You can then scale up as your clout and community grow.
Content — CTA alignment is also essential. Make sure your CTA is relevant to the content you post. This will make it easier for people to consider taking action without feeling compelled or pressured.
Hashtags are a great way to reach new audiences. However, it’s important to remember that good hashtags don’t necessarily equate to popular hashtags. Using more specific and niche-related hashtags is a better approach for small businesses since they will target the exact type of people who might be interested in your content.
Also, keep in mind that Instagram allows a maximum of 30 hashtags per post. Don’t go overboard and fill your caption with hashtags — anywhere between 7-10 should do the job just fine.
As for the specifics, you should keep an eye on two types of hashtags: branded hashtags and campaign campaigns.
Branded hashtags are unique to your business and can be used for giveaways, promotions, or any other activities your company may undertake.
Campaign hashtags are more general and should fit in with the current theme of your content. Make sure you research them thoroughly before using them — you don’t want to end up getting lost in a sea of unrelated posts!
Define your (visual) brand personality
Your brand personality is very different from your voice and tone. It’s a set of defining characteristics related to how you want people to feel when interacting with your brand.
Now, as a small business, your brand personality might be harder to define because it involves looking at your core values and your mission. It’s easier for content creators and influencers because they are the brand and their content speaks for itself.
Some of my favorite examples in this sense are the independent artists I follow on Instagram:
@yourolddroog on Instagram
@sofieroyer on Instagram
@weyesblood on Instagram
But what if you sell air conditioning units? Or hand-made bracelets? Stickers? Do you paint clothes? Are you an up-and-coming startup? I don’t have an answer for that, but I do have an example.
The restaurant business is highly competitive, both on and offline. And this Indian restaurant from Australia managed to cut through the clutter by… posting some of the most absurd memes this side of the Internet:
Rajshahi Indian Restaurant on Instagram
And before you say, “where’s the aesthetic in that? It’s just a bunch of memes“, well, that is their aesthetic.
So, the main takeaway is: Take some time to brainstorm how you want people to feel when they look at your profile. Do you want people to feel inspired? Relaxed? Uplifted? Creative? Whatever it is, use visuals — like colors, textures, fonts, and content — to help communicate your brand personality.
Consider the nitty-gritty
Now that you have your brand personality and content strategy in check, it’s time to move on to the nitty-gritty of visual design.
The color scheme is one of the most critical factors in Instagram feed design. You want to use colors consistent with your brand, which will help create a cohesive look for your page. Again, consistency is key here.
If you have a lot of photos in your feed, try to pick two or three primary colors (plus black and white) and stick to those. This is important because it will create a visual continuity from one post to the next and make your profile look more professional.
➡️ Learn which colors perform best on Instagram in our article.
Another factor to consider when creating a visually appealing feed is how your photos are laid out. If you choose to post multiple images at once, be sure to arrange them in an aesthetically pleasing manner. One popular layout is the “checkerboard” pattern, which alternates between landscape and portrait images.
For example, I am a big fan of vinyl (it comes with the territory as a music buff), so I follow a lot of vinyl-related social media pages. The simple concept of “vinyl” evokes warmth and coziness, so pages from this niche try to replicate it, both aesthetically and from a layout perspective. Here are two of my favorite examples:
Negative space, also known as white space, is the area around and between your photos. This is a great way to bring balance and harmony to your feed.
When it comes to negative space, less is more. Try not to overstuff your posts with too many images or text blocks; this will make it harder for people to process your content and decrease the overall quality of your design.
Filters are another way to create a distinctive look for your feed. They can help bring out colors, adjust lighting, or give photos a specific tone that complements your brand’s aesthetic. However, it is important to use filters in moderation — too many filters can make your photos look unnatural and distracting.
User-generated content (UGC) is a great way to engage with your audience and showcase their creativity. It can also add an element of authenticity to your profile, which is something many people appreciate.
If you plan on incorporating UGC into your feed, be sure to set some guidelines for what kind of content you would like to receive and how you would like it to be presented. This will keep your page looking consistent and professional.
For example, if you have a photography page, you may want to include UGC that follows a certain theme — like nature or cityscapes. Or perhaps you’d prefer to showcase content from a particular location or season. Whatever it is, make sure it fits your brand’s identity and aesthetic.
What about Instagram stories?
This article may not focus on Instagram stories, but they are essential to Instagram marketing. Stories can help you engage with your audience in a more informal, direct way — and make your page feel more “human.”
When it comes to stories, all the advice above applies: use colors and fonts that match those used in your feed, and post and schedule content that follows a specific theme. You can also use stories to share behind-the-scenes moments or sneak peeks of upcoming products or launches.
Take inspiration from other small businesses
Finally, it can be helpful to take a look at other profiles for inspiration. Pay attention to what makes them stand out and how they engage with their audiences.
Here’s what to look out for when taking visual inspiration from other Instagram pages:
- Colors: Identify the primary colors used throughout their posts and aim to use similar tones in your own content.
- Fonts: Note the fonts they use for captions, headlines, and other text elements – this will help create a cohesive look.
- Layout: Think about how they arrange their images and what kind of patterns they’re using. Internalize their patterns and break them down. Maybe there’s something they’re doing wrong that you could do better?
Remember: the goal is not to copy someone else’s work but to use it as a source of inspiration and create something uniquely your own. Put your own spin on it. Think about what you can add to what’s already out there.
Rinse and repeat beyond your Instagram feed
As you create and design your Instagram feed, remember that these same principles can be applied to other social media marketing materials. Whether it’s an email newsletter, a website banner, or even a print ad, the same strategies for creating a cohesive page will still apply.
Creating a visually appealing Instagram feed is about being mindful of the colors, layout, negative space, filters, and UGC you use. By following these tips and sticking to a consistent visual language, you’ll be able to create a stunning page that reflects your brand identity and boost your small business’ internet presence. Good luck!
Make sure to engage users beyond that, and turn them into repeaters who will look forward to your email newsletters as well as your offers and overall marketing content.
About the author
Marco Giuliani is a content marketer and aspiring YouTuber, in no particular order. Expertise in content writing, social media, copywriting, and neo-noir graphic novels. Used to run a music webzine in the 2 seconds in the early 2010s when blogs were hot. I tweet very badly on Twitter.