Instagram Guide For Startups | 5 Hard Lessons We Learned Running The Chapar'sInstagram

When I want to check out a brand or company, the first place I go is Instagram”

Not Twitter, not your expensive website, or a glowing press review, but a quick thumb swipe through some tiny images, to decide - in a few brutal milliseconds - whether your brand is any good or not.

Get it right and you could have a new super fan on board, get it wrong and they're gone - if we're being really gloomy - forever.

The quote above might be anecdotal (from a twenty-something MD on a style brand) but it's backed up by the stats. Instagram's user base has doubled over the last two years, to 800 million monthly actives. And, what's more, its growth rate is speeding up.

For startups, without mammoth budgets, the platform can be a tough cookie to crumble. But there are quick fixes to help build a loyal and engaged bunch of followers (and, yes, customers).

Our content agency, Uncanny Valley, have been running The Chapar's Instagram for the last twelve months: strategy, content, and management.

We've doubled the personal styling service's followers, recruited a significant number of customers (new orders up 35%), and created a strong visual brand. Here's how we did it, and the hard lessons we learned along the way (OK, not that hard, but it sounds so much better in the headline)...

1. Focus on the grid not on the daily churn of images

The grid - AKA the layout of the images on your profile - is more important than the individual photos you post, especially for startup brands.

Most potential new followers will give you a couple of thumb swipes up before they make a decision to click follow or not. You need to say who you are, what you do, in the prettiest of packages, and as quickly as possible.

Don't bother with a preview app, the easiest way to experiment with your grid is to upload your images into Google Photos, put them into an album, then and drag and drop till you're happy with the order - you can try out captions here too.

We also make a habit of regularly going through our images archiving ones that look out of place, or break the flow, because…

2. Consistency is key

It’s the golden rule of Instagram. Look at any mega-influencer, micro-influencer, or successful Insta brand, and it's clear that visually consistent imagery is your best bet for engagement (that and lots of Lycra).

This can be use of a high contrast images, a colour theme, always shooting your product the same way, alternating photos and graphics, and, as we’ve done with The Chapar, block colours and still life.

Even if your brand has a wide remit, it's best to pick three or so themes or franchises, and stick to them. For example, we've just started working with a nutrition app and we've locked down "eating out", "hero ingredients" and "takeaway facts."

Stick to one filter (ideally one that doesn't look like you've actually used one) - you'll find the best presets on VSCO.

And for quick graphic fixes look no further than Over app - but for the love of god resist the urge to logo up your imagery.

2. Describe your grid in a couple sentences

If you can’t do this easily, it suggests you haven’t nailed your Instagram strategy. Go back the mood board and decide what the purpose of your Instagram is.

We're presuming you have a Brand Book, because you're going need one to make sure every image delivers on your brand promise, and ultimately business goals. Without it it's like walking through the mountains without a map. Blindfolded. And your shoelaces tied together.

Once that's done, create your dream feed using reference images. What would your profile look like if money was no object? Then start to scale back and work out how you can do it for the number of peanuts you currently have.

3. Look for collaborators over influencers

A lot of brand's influencer strategies amount to nothing more than trying to get people with the largest amount of followers they can afford to pose awkwardly with some product, plus a clunky plug in the caption. It classless and quickly disappears into the daily churn.

Rise above the pay-per-post masses, and instead find like-minded individuals to collaborate with. And think long term creative projects.

We did this on The Chapar with the brilliant Matthew Pike (that's him above in his Chapar kit) - a project that was focused on delivering great imagery for all involved, over a number of months.

4. Make something. Do something

If you're sitting on your bum all day building a good Instagram profile, and any kind of brand with impact, is going to be tough. You're going to have to get out and about and create.

On The Chapar we've set up a still-life shoot and collaborate with one influencer every month.

This allows us to constantly refresh and refine the creative, and provide assets for paid-for social, learning month-on-month what best channels new business.

The more regular the project, the easier it is to find creatives to collaborate with at more sensible rates.

To make sure the imagery is consistent, we suggest a best practice guide. Essentially a fool-proof crib sheet with reference images for each of your themes i.e. this is how we shoot coffee, this is what team images look like, this is how we celebrate Fridays.

4. If you can’t create, curate

Most startups pockets are as deep as Little Mix love ballad (we're thinking Secret Love Song). A smart fix is to follow accounts that match your brand aesthetic and regram their imagery. With permission obviously.

You can usually do this by commenting on an particular image, and explaining how you'd like to use it, then waiting eagerly for a thumbs up.

On The Chapar - with our 'smart living made easy' mantra - this means architecture, feel-good travel, classic cars, and art - like @benjamincraven_'s work above.

You're still going to need to make your own content if you want to have a unique and strong visual brand. But borrowing a few images along the way will help you get there a little faster, and hopefully give other people a mutual leg up too.

Find out more about Uncanny Valley content agency - and our monthly social and content packages, drop me an email: Packages start at £2000.

How to make a branded magazine (that isn’t rubbish or breaks the bank)

We just made a branded magazine for The Chapar, it’s good in lots of ways. Here’s how to do it in six simple steps.

Pitch it right for amazing talent.

Print definitely isn’t dead - Wallpaper and Vogue just had their most profitable years - but it’s been through the equivalent of a serious accident, and come back changed but stronger.

Print must be premium, and for brands, it needs to be more than an advert in disguise. Get it right and you can attract amazing and hugely valuable individuals to your branded project.

Take our work on The Chapar Handbook - it’s high end, with a print run of 40,000, and sent a further 120,000 via email - a package that has enabled us to feature genuine influencers like Jack Morris, @DoYouTravel, and set-up an exclusive photo shoot with Arsenal keeper, Petr Cech. Big Pete going on the share the story with his 5 million followers on Facebook, and 1.5 million on Instagram. If you build it, they will come.

Bring them value.

Just selling your product or service to your audience isn’t going to work. You’re not making a magazine, you’re making a catalogue (and possibly a crappy one at that). A great branded mag should be a great read and beautiful to look at. The longer people spend with their head stuck in it, and the more positive the emotional response, the more they’ll love your brand. And the better the investment.

Sell your essence.

To make it valuable to your business, not just the reader, you need pinpoint what your brand purpose is, what you stand for, what you want your customers to think about you and associate you with - and that needs to shout from EVERY. SINGLE. PAGE. Or, if you're really smart, every sentence and image.

Spread the cost.

Great stories work on any channel - sure you’ll need to refine and restructure for each medium - but a great story in print, should provide you with great raw content for your social posts, for your blog, for SEO, for paid for social… and vice versa.

Invest in the best creatives.

That means writers, photographers and illustrators who contribute to the likes of The Guardian, Times, and Stylist. If what you’re doing is interesting, they’ll jump at it, and at a sensible price. If if it isn’t interesting enough for them, ask yourself what you’re doing making dull content.

It’s cheaper than you think.

Cover your costs, produce valuable cross-channel marketing assets, hell - even make a profit. A fifty-page mag on A4, with 20,000 print run (and on good paper) can come in as cheap as 2.5k. If you want to hand it out across London, or another city, it’s another 2-4k. And editorial starts as little as 12k for a fifty-pager. Sell advertising on top of that, and it can wipe its own face, or become a fresh revenue stream. Oh, and for some reason, you get sent a lot of cologne and perfume for free. So you'll smell nice.

If you don't fancy doing it all yourself, why not drop me a line, and see how The UV can help:

Read the Chapar Handbook, Issue 3, here.



The struggle is all too real. Read Dan's great feature on the Guardian now.



It was a true honour to have a "brand tuning" meeting with the man who defined some of the greatest brands on the planet, Sir John Hegarty.

For the uninitiated, Sir John was responsible for all the great Levi's adverts of the 80s and 90s (yes, the one with the bloke in his pants in the launderette) and came up with Vorsprung durch Technik for Audi.

Best bit: when Sir Jonn talked about the Looney Tunes "That's all folks" being the perfect, emotive, signature line.


We spent the day WITH Petr Cech in a 300-year-old barn

We chatted aliens (Deirdre Drogba is the man you need by your side during an invasion apparently), Foo Fighters (Everlong is his favourite song naturally), and a about an amorous couple in a Paris lift (they didn't realise he spoke French). 

Read the interview and see all the great pics, by Ben McDade, in the next Chapar Handbook, produced by The UV.