5 guidelines for social media content design

Rishi Mailoorkar
6 min readAug 8, 2022

By Sourish Joshi Co-Founder at Rish Official

image source-freepik.com

Content is what social media is all about — it’s where you share media and engage with your followers on the day-to-day. While it is worthwhile to give your profile page design plenty of attention, all of that effort will be wasted if your content designs fail to impress.

The nature and design of content will vary depending on who your brand is, what your business does, and what your goals are, but the following are general guidelines to help you create social media graphics to earn your followers — and keep them.

1. Design content in a way that is useful for your followers

You would think that tailoring the content to your audience would be a no-brainer. But given that social media is designed for publishing your words and your pictures, it can be tempting to make it about you: consider the criticisms around selfies and projecting a curated life. Your audience chose to follow you for a reason. Whether it’s for information, entertainment or inspiration, your job is to give the people what they came for. Content design, likewise, must be more than visually appealing — it has to be useful.

Providing valuable information does help the visitor to understand more about the brand

Here’s an example: you know that most people are following your brand to be notified about sales and promotions. You decide to make a social media event out of a promotional campaign with a special logo, content, and ad designs, as Del Marva does with their blood drive. In their case, the bright orange and cascading pineapple pattern make it clear that this is a celebratory event (while also helping the content to stand out in the feed). But Del Marva also uses clear, bold typography supported by bright banners that contrast the background to highlight pertinent information such as the date and how to participate. This is a post that is designed to not only be eye-catching but to compel a viewer to save it or share it with a friend.

2. Incorporate different types of designs in your content

Content variety has to start with your strategy. Your posts should cover various topics (such as behind-the-scenes business content, customer highlights, promotional materials, etc.), but you should also look for and create opportunities to accommodate different design styles to keep your feed dynamic and engaging.

Even the first few Pinterest boards Rish shows design content that ranges from photography, flat illustration, infographics, and typography overlaid on imagery

It helps to know what different design styles excel at. Flat design characters and colors are useful for infographics (the vertical or swipeable variety) that convey information or tell a story. Hand-lettered typography can be great for inspirational words that people might be compelled to share or for questions that people might be compelled to comment on. Photography is a chance to showcase real people and real products — you want photos to look professional, but resist the urge to over-filter and lose that authenticity.

Photo collage design can be a great opportunity to liven up images without resorting to filters. Instagram content design by Rish

One of the best ways to create variety is to involve your followers in your social media strategy. Consider crowdsourcing methods, like hashtag contests or social media takeovers. This might result in content that is visually inconsistent, but it will be consistent with your brand because it stems from your customers, whom your brand ultimately serves.

3. Balance individual content with your overall profile page

Even as you vary your design content, keep in mind that for many platforms a chronological feed of your recent posts will appear on your profile page. As mentioned in the previous section, your profile page needs to be visually consistent in order to function effectively for branding purposes, and your posts shouldn’t detract from that consistency. It all comes down to a balancing act: your content must be individual, with its own goals and targeted segments of your audience, but it must also contribute to the collective whole of your social media design. The key is branding — design varied content but keep each piece in line with the core principles of your brand guidelines.

Although National Geographic’s Facebook feed (gathered in the Photos section) is largely photo and video related, a consistent look is achieved using a similar blue, green, and white color palette.

Some brands go as far as to plan their chronological content in a way that it connects to form a cohesive page layout. This works especially well with Instagram which reliably arranges content in a three-column square grid on the profile page. By publishing designs with similar styles every three posts, you can set up columns that create a cohesive aesthetic when people are viewing your profile page. On the downside, this method can restrict the types of content you are able to post, lest you break your overall page design. For the most part, you have more design options and opportunities for expanding your content by letting your feed be organic but visually on-brand.

4. Design themed content and templates

Although it might seem ideal to have all of your social media content be surprising and original, often this is not practical or even necessary. Designing templates for some of your posts not only allows you to create content in a speedy and scalable way, it also establishes easy visual cohesion. This convention can be especially helpful for recurring design images like YouTube’s video thumbnails. On the one hand, you want the thumbnails to be unexpected and to make viewers want to click on them. But because the meat of the content is the actual video, it doesn’t make sense to spend time and energy crafting unique thumbnails from scratch every time.

These Instagram templates by the Rish account create a cohesive and engaging design

’Template’ can sometimes be a dirty word in the design, synonymous with boring and generic. Think of these instead as design roadmaps that allow you to skip some of the brainstormings, sketching, and trial-and-error of the design process. And you can still vary the templates with each post by changing up the specific imagery or color. At the end of the day, there are times when templates are important for speeding up your design pipeline so that you can give more important content the attention it deserves.

5. Adjust your design based on analytics
Social media moves fast. The minute you post something, you are sending it into a stream to sink or swim with other content posted every other minute. The good news is that the speed with which social media moves gives you fast results. Most content has a lifespan of a few hours to a day or so at most (in which you get the bulk of your impressions, likes, and comments). With this in mind, you can test, quickly know which designs work and don’t work, and adjust your design strategy accordingly.

Analytics is an important consideration in social media design. Animation by Rish

From a numbers standpoint, what defines a successful post depends on your own particular following. It is helpful to create benchmarks based on your best and worst performing content to have a sense of metrics that indicate success or failure within the context of your other content. Keep in mind that there can also be other factors in poor content performance — such as the time of posting, the ever inscrutable algorithm, real-world events that might have your followers’ attention elsewhere, or plain bad luck. A/B testing is one useful tool that can help you rule out flukes or decide which design variants are the best option. In addition to the platform-specific analytics (that usually reveal things like impressions, views, and watch time in the case of video), tools like UTM codes added to your CTA links will let you know which specific posts earned traffic.



Rishi Mailoorkar

Co-Founder at Rish official | student | designer and editor | teenager | film-making enthusiast