95 million photos are shared on Instagram each day. So the images in your Instagram ads need to stand out, or miss out.

But how do you know what works, and what doesn’t?

As part of the Talkwalker social media engagement series, I’m looking at what images engage consumers on Instagram. To inspire you on what to include in your content to get maximum success.

Why engagement matters

Some people believe engagement is a vanity metric (numbers that look nice, but don’t add any real business benefit to your brand). According to Daniel Hochuli they’re actually optimization metrics.

You can use engagement to see which part of your content your audience is reacting to, and then replicate that style in future posts to create more engagement, and more impact.

To know what works best on Instagram, don’t just look at your content. Look at all content. By using a social media analytics, you can measure the engagement of all images across Instagram. And see which ones consumers liked more.

If there’s an element the audience loves, you need to include that aspect in more of your images

Let’s look at an example.

Case study: What images engage the most in the travel industry?

With around 100,000 mentions of travel on Instagram every day, it’s a popular industry.

And it should be, with pictures of tropical locations, exotic cuisine, and crazy transportation.

But what type of image engages the most?

Using our clever image recognition software, we analyzed the elements in posts that include the keyword travel. I narrowed it down to 3 categories:

Images focused on scenery

Photographed by @StephenWilkes. Even with underwater mics to help us anticipate seeing any orcas in the area, there's never any guarantee wildlife will make an appearance.  Orcas were breaching the surface all throughout our shoot at Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, in what transpired into being a truly magical day. After 26 hrs of shooting, and over 2000 images shot , I edit the best moments of the day & night, using time as a guide, we merge these moments seamlessly into a single photograph.  To see more of my work, including my upcoming exhibition in NYC please follow me on Instagram @StephenWilkes. #stephenwilkesphotography #stephenwilkes #travel #daytonight #gallery #galleryshow #brycewolkowitz #fineart #fineartphotography #nyc #iconiclocations #world #magicallocations #wildlife #orca #robsonbight #sealife #landscape #baldeagle #cetus

A post shared by National Geographic (@natgeo) on

Images focused on transport

Images focused on food

When we compare the three categories, we can see that images focused on scenery gain the most mentions.

Compare cat. engagement

And with over 212 million engagements, scenery mentions gained twice as much engagement than the other two categories combined.

If you want to get engagement for your ad, you need to make it scenic.

But can we be more specific than that?

Of course.

We can dig deeper into what works in the images, by looking at the mentions from the most typical holiday scenes (cityscapes, forests, beaches, ski resorts and historical buildings). There’s a clear winner.

Scene engagement rates

With over 1.7 million mentions, you might think including a beach scene would be best. But so many mentions also means so much competition. You’d be swimming in a sea of similar content.

Instead, looking at the number of engagements per mention, pictures focused on skiing are racing ahead.

Not only do they get more engagement per post than any other category of images, but they also have a lower number of mentions. So less competition to go up against.

That is why Instagram posts such as this from Explore Canada, are so successful.

Whitehorse is the Yukon's capital and travel hub for the rest of the territory. Those travelling by car can head less than an hour away to enjoy the refreshing Takhini Hot Springs, the Yukon Wilderness Preserve, vibrant Emerald Lake, and other numerous wilderness adventures. Fun fact: In 2011, Whitehorse was voted as having the cleanest air in the world by the World Health Organization. : @klondikesue : @travelyukon #ExploreCanada . Whitehorse est la capitale du Yukon et la plaque tournante des voyages vers les autres régions de ce territoire. À moins d’une heure de route de là, les visiteurs peuvent se détendre dans les sources d’eaux thermales de Takhini, parcourir la Réserve faunique du Yukon, admirer l’éclatant lac Emerald et vivre quantité d’autres aventures dans la nature. Fait intéressant : en 2011, Whitehorse a été désignée la ville qui a l’air le plus pur du monde par l’Organisation mondiale de la Santé. : @klondikesue : @travelyukon #ExploreYukon

A post shared by Explore Canada (@explorecanada) on

Still want to dig further?

You can do.

I looked at the winter aspects found in ski-related pictures, such as winter, igloos, chalets, mountains, and skiing.

And on average, pictures with chalets in did best, with 67 engagements per mention. That’s why this influencer campaign for Visit Montana was so liked.

Why do you travel with kids? We have lots of reasons, but probably our biggest motivation in traveling with kids is building stronger connections and bonds as a family. Going somewhere away from home—free of distractions and the daily grind while experiencing new things in a new place together—there’s just nothing like it! . One of the things we loved most about our recent winter getaway in Montana was hanging out at our home away from home at @lonemountainranch. At first the boys were bummed to not have a TV to watch movies, but all it took was 10 minutes to figure out that they didn’t need a TV. Instead, we played outside in the snow, made a fire in our wood-burning stove, read a book, explored the beautiful trails around the ranch, and visited the horses at the barn. The staff was so helpful and friendly and even let us take a private sleigh ride one day! This place was a little slice of heaven for us as we shared some unforgettable memories together. We can’t wait to come back! @visitmontana #montanamoment #sponsored . . . . . . . . . #bigsky #skimontana #visitmontana #montanagram #montanalife #lastbestplace #exploremontana #bestofmontana #bigskycountry #montanalove #bigskymontana #familytravel #takethekids #travelkids #familyvacation #holidayswithkids #familyholiday #kidstravel #travelawesome #travelstoke #travelbug #travelmore #amazingplaces #goexplore #theglobewanderer #bestvacations #traveldreams

A post shared by McEvoys | Adventure Family (@macs_explore) on

It looks like you should be including chalets in your travel posts.

This method can be repeated for any industry and any topic. By looking at what engages people online, you can optimize your content to engage your audience better, and get more success from your campaigns. Just don’t forget one thing…

Relevance still counts

Ok. You do need to bear this in mind.

The examples we’ve included are from accounts that have spent time building an audience and have an understanding of what that audience expects from their content.

Although chalet images were popular here, if you’re promoting a beach company, your audience won’t find them relevant. And probably won’t engage.

Before you look at the competition, look at your audience too. See what content they engage with, look at their demographics, and see what’s trending in their conversations. This can all be done with social listening.

And there’s more…

These techniques aren’t exclusive to Instagram. Or even image creation. You can echo them to create engaging content for Facebook posts, Tweets, blog articles, and more.

It’s just part of what we’ve covered in the free Talkwalker 2018 Campaign Playbook, which offers advice on how to:-

  • Build engagement for a negative brand?
  • Find an engaging niche for your product?
  • Source and compare influencers to see which engages best?
  • Engage with your consumers’ aspirations?
  • See which long-term trends impact your marketing?
  • Discover engaging images for your campaign?
  • Analyze your competitors for marketing inspiration?

That’s a lot of topics. But to build maximum engagement for your marketing, these are things you need to know.

Go out and optimize

Now you know how to gain more engagement, go out there and do it. I don’t want to see campaigns you’ve spent weeks (months?) on, falling flat with a handful of likes. And neither do you.

Get to know your audience, analyze what they like, and echo those elements in your posts.

You’re sure to engage!

This post is based on content previously published in my company’s Campaign Playbook, and in our How to get more social media engagement with kick-ass content blog post.

Featured Image by toddwmac – used under creative commons license.