5 design formulas to create stand out social media content

Nicola Appleton
Nicola Appleton

We all know that a strong social media presence is integral if you want to boost your brand’s reach, so we asked the experts to share their tricks for creating stand out social media content.

Studies suggest that it takes just two tenths of a second for someone to form a first impression of the material you post online, so creating content that’s going to attract (and hold) the right attention is imperative if you want to further your following.

“We’re spending more and more time on social media, so it’s important for your brand to be there and creating an enticing virtual shop window,” explains Chelsea Carter, the Head of Content at Whalar, a UK-based influencer marketing platform.

“Vanity metrics are a thing of the past, with the recent algorithm changes to Instagram and Facebook referencing engagement over any other factor,” adds Shelley Friesen, the Director of Melbourne Social Co. “Engagement is now the key to success on social media, with the easiest way to rate well being good quality content.”

Indeed, as visual content is 40 times more likely to be shared on social media than any other type of content, creating eye-catching visuals is the most effective way to encourage that all-important engagement on your social media channel of choice. But how do you even attempt to make an impact in an already crowded market?

“The first thing and the most important thing is to give your design strong visual appeal and that means unleashing your creativity,” says Chelsea.

“If you create the same old content that has been seen time and time again, then the engagement your posts have will be extremely limited. But worse than that, you won’t be developing that essential personality and character that draws others to your social identity.”

#1 Pick your palette

A lot of thought needs to go into cultivating your own distinctive style and a good place to start is with color. Think about what colors work well in relation to your brand and then settle upon a palette of approximately six different ones, advises Lucy Coxall from Roar Design, an Australian design solutions company.

“Will the imagery or grid be colorful, neutral, bright, earthy, pastel or monotone?” asks Lucy, noting that an effective way to develop your brand tone and grid aesthetic is to create a mood board. “There are beautiful examples of all sorts of palettes on Instagram. I don’t think one works better than the other – the key is to know your targeted audience. What do they love? What do they want to see?”

“What works really well on channels like Insta is when a creator uses a color palette that flows through their designs, like with visual artist @lefawnhawk,” adds Chelsea. “You could pluck one of their pieces of content from the page without any other identifier and instantly know that they were the creator. So whilst you shouldn’t let a color palette determine your creativity, you can use it to fuel your creativity and give style, cohesion and identity.”

As you can see below, adhering to a pastel color palette is a defining element of visual artist @lefawnhawk’s overall Instagram aesthetic. Think about what colors reflect the nature of your brand best and develop your palette from there – you can learn more about the psychology of color here.

Photos from Petecia Le Fawnhawk (@lefawnhawk) on Instagram

“When sharing one of my own designs, for instance a logo, or designing up a quote for Instagram, I love using contrasting colors to make it really pop,” says Lucy of her own palette of preference. “For example, I am loving blush pink and a deep forest green at the moment. However, it always needs to suit your grid, so contrasting colors might not work for you.”

#2 Consistency is key

Take a look at some of your favorite social media accounts and think about what it is that attracts you to their page. For example, @allthatisshe has nurtured her own unique aesthetic on Instagram by experimenting with perspective, getting creative with props and adhering to a color palette of muted tones—a running theme throughout her grid.

The images below from @allthatisshe's Instagram account shows her playfulness.

“It’s important to make sure your feeds have a consistent theme, something that makes your profile stand out from the crowd,” says Shelley. “Social media users follow accounts for a variety of reasons, one of them being an appreciation for a particular aesthetic. Once you choose a theme or aesthetic, such as a common color that's repeated throughout your posts or the use of a particular filter, the key is to be consistent.”

“Your grid aesthetic becomes an extension of your brand,” agrees Lucy. “It will become recognisable to your audience so you don’t want to be chopping and changing—inconsistency does not foster brand loyalty.”

“Create a roadmap for yourself to follow when creating your content,” adds Shelley. “I’d suggest putting together a social media style guide for your brand that outlines your key content pillars, color palette and fonts—that way, your feed will always be consistent and professional, regardless of who is creating or posting the content.” You can upload your brand’s style guide on Canva here.

#3 Typography

Just like color, picking the fonts you want to work with is a great opportunity to reflect and project your brand’s personality. Is it playful and fun or perhaps more edgy and contemporary? Head here if you need more of a steer on what fonts work well together.

“Play with typography, refine and adapt as you create and develop content that you feel represents you as a brand,” advises Chelsea. “Tools like Canva are brilliant for this process.” Push the boundaries by unleashing your creativity—just ensure any typography you opt for is legible.

Note the distinctive lowercase font (League Spartan) and placement of full stop in the examples below. As you can see, experimenting with typography—however subtle—is an effective way to cultivate your own brand identity.

#4 High quality imagery

Remember when you used to take and post an image on the go? Uploading a pic of your morning #coffeeart will only get you so far—brands with a successful online presence now schedule posts in advance to capitalize on peak social media traffic times (did you know that Instagram’s busiest period is between 11am and 1pm?). In order to boost their engagement even further, they also post content that has been proven to be popular with their audience.

“I have found that images with people tend to perform best, as well as designs with contrasting colors,” says Lucy. “I love working in duotone!” However, she adds, any imagery used needs to be high quality. “Gone are the days where Instagram was instant, where you could just snap a photo and chuck a filter over it,” she says. “If you are taking imagery on your phone, your audience shouldn’t be able to tell.”

If you’re not confident in working with your own images, Canva offers hundreds of free high quality images to help to get you started—here’s just a few of our favorites: Close-up of plant, Woman with hands raised, and Rippled water.

Get these photos from Canva's amazing stock photo library

Or, make like Lucy and experiment with duotone – you can browse some of Canva’s offerings here. You can also add graphics or typography to a high quality image to help make your post pop.

#5 Choose your aesthetic

While you might find a theme limiting, your aesthetic is, essentially, your brand’s ‘vibe.’ Your aesthetic could be the saturation of your images, the filters you use, the colors you opt for or the subject matter you choose to portray—the important thing is to opt for an aesthetic that lends itself to all types of content.

“You might hear people talking about picking a theme or pattern,” says Lucy. “I recommend choosing a common aesthetic that weaves through all of your photos instead. Choose an aesthetic will give you more freedom with your feed, because as long as your photo fits the ‘vibe’ of your Instagram, you can post pretty much anything.”

Florals and pastel hues is what underpins @cestmaria’s Instagram aesthetic.

Marioly Vazquez's (@cestmaria) Instagram profile

Although the subject matter varies wildly, @escapingyouth has cultivated a unique aesthetic on Instagram through a unique use of color and design.

Natalia Seth's (@escapingyouth) Instagram profile is full of color and life

“A tip to maximising the impact of your social media feeds is to view your profiles as a digital 'lookbook' or resume for your brand,” says Shelley. “When potential clients or customers visit your profile, they see your last 9-12 posts as a whole – those posts, therefore, need to be the best reflection of your brand.”

Settle upon an aesthetic that doesn’t limit your creativity – @drcuerda’s Instagram feed is sewn together through clean lines and bold colors, the potential to experiment with both being almost boundless.

Daniel Rueda (@drcuerda) explores all color combinations

“For me, a piece of content is like a conversation starter,” concludes Chelsea. “Think about what you’re trying to say and use that as your starting point. Look to some of your favorite influencers in your industry and get some inspiration, then experiment and play around with ideas until you achieve the look you want. There’s no denying that creating strong visual content is a skill, and requires a big investment of time. But it’s also incredibly fulfilling.”