By: Kendra Heaslip and Leandra Piercy
Instagram has a variety of features, and that has contributed to its rapid success. The app, which allows users to edit and upload photos and short videos, has gained more than 400 million subscribers since its launch in December of 2010. Any given Instagram user’s news feed consists of the accounts that they may follow, whether it be friends, family, companies, celebrities, and more. Users are also able to geotag their images, which basically consists of showing where the photo was taken. If a user were to click on that location, they would be able to see other posts which were taken at that specific place from a variety of users, regardless of whether you followed them or not. Another aspect that is fairly new for the platform is Instagram Direct, which allows users to share posts to others through a messaging-like system. As of now, users can connect their accounts to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Flickr.
Getting down to the more logistical aspect of the app, Instagram’s allows users to work with 22 visual filters. Any user is also able to adjust the brightness, contrast, structure, warmth, saturation, color, fade, highlights, or shadows, or add a vignette or a tilt shift, as well as sharpen the image. Users are able to turn their average photos into something that looks like it could’ve been taken by a professional, or at least to a point where the user seems to think so.
The explore feed is where Instagram shows a range of photos; it bases those photos on the users you follow and what they actually follow or like. This helps users find people that they may know. It also shows a range of photos from accounts that are popular in your area. For example, someone in Boston may see a post in their explore feed from the New England Patriots.
As for the culture, norms, and structure of the community, it seems that almost everyone you know has an Instagram. It has become much of a daily custom for many. Users average around 21 minutes a day on Instagram. 64% of these users are women, and the remaining 36% are men. Instagram has continued to skyrocket as a great way for brands to market their products. In fact, 70% of users have already looked for a brand on Instagram, and 32% of these users have followed more than five brand accounts.
Instagram has also created a new way for consumers and marketers to interact. Some of these interactions include a consumer tagging a company in a post that might feature the company’s brand. This is good for a company because it raises brand awareness and potentially increases page traffic, if another user were to click on the tag. A consumer might also use a company hashtag. This enables more people to see products from a company by searching for that particular hashtag. Consumers are also able to like or comment on a company’s photos. This really helps with the popularity of a company’s account. Many companies also have direct interactions with their customers by responding to specific questions that they may post on a certain picture, or through Instagram Direct as well.
Marketers engage in a variety of activities using Instagram. The first, and probably most important, for many brands is promotion. Promotion is a big aspect for companies, since it helps get their products noticed. In promotion, it is important for a marketer to set up an “editorial calendar.” This basically consists of making a plan for when they will post and how many posts they will have per week. This enables a level of consistency that is fairly important in the portraying a positive brand image. Another important aspect is making sure to define the initial content strategy. Whether it be solely posting photos of products, or doing a mix of products along with shots of brand ambassadors and representatives, or posting behind the scene shots. Additionally, marketers can determine of promotional ad they would like to execute. They are able to choose from three options: photo ads, video ads, and carousel ads. Carousel ads consist of an ad that shows multiple photos in one post; however, the viewer is able to flip through multiple photos while still remaining on that one page.
There are a variety of objectives that a marketer may want to achieve on Instagram. Two very common objectives for marketers are gaining more brand awareness and engagement. Brand awareness is something almost every marketer wants for their company. However, not only do companies want people to follow their page, but they also want them to be active on it as well. This comes from users simply liking or commenting on posts. Although users are not able to directly purchase products from an Instagram page, many brand accounts contain links to their web pages, which can ultimately lead to the purchase of their products.
The metrics marketers and companies may want to focus on pertain to their target users. To measure a campaign’s success marketers may want to focus on add recall and awareness, as well as likes, comments and follower counts.
Earned media is made up of user generated content, such as shared photos from followers of a brand. Owned media is when companies use their own photos to advertise their own products. Paid media is when companies pay influencers to post photos with their products. They use celebrities such as Kylie Jenner to promote their products. Sponsored media looks like normal posts, other than the fact that they have the blue sponsored tag. Sponsored media are the ads companies pay Instagram to post. This content shows up in relevant users’ feeds whether they follow the company or not. The user just has to have some relation to the ad on Instagram, Facebook or even third party sites and apps. Users can even tap on the sponsored label to hide ads they do not find relevant.
Some specific tactics many successful marketers use on Instagram are Instagram influencers, branded hashtags and lifestyle content. Instagram influencers are given specific instructions by marketers about how to post their products. They give them instructions such as where to position the product, what time to post and even what to caption the image. Branded hashtags are when companies create hashtag campaigns to get followers more involved and engaged with the brand. Lifestyle content is content that represents the persona of the brand. Lifestyle content is more about being artsy, than promoting the actual product.
When it comes to the cost to engage or have sponsored ads on Instagram it’s fuzzy. Nigel Mountford writes, “Instagram is very secretive about the cost of advertising, but figures of between $350,000 and US $1 million per month have been mentioned by executives.”
There are a variety of risks associated with marketing on Instagram. The main risk is damaging a brand’s image. This can be done in a variety of ways. One way that could really make a significant change on a brand’s image is the lack of a goal-driven strategy. Defining a goal-driven strategy in the early stages of an Instagram account is especially important for a company’s success. If a company doesn’t set goals, along with a specific strategy to reach those goals, it can become especially difficult for those goals to be met. Another risk factor may include a company posting in a less than sophisticated way. Some companies feel that a focus on quantity will be more successful at getting their brand noticed; however, if quality is compromised that can be problematic. Along with quality posts, quantity is also an important factor. In the initial start-up phase, it is important for a company to set up an editorial calendar. If a company doesn’t post frequently enough, their brand may be seen as inconsistent. On the other hand, if a brand posts too much, and doesn’t have the quality to match their quantity, the brand image may also be harmed in the eyes of the consumer. There must be a good balance between quality and quantity of a brand’s images.
Next is the use of hashtags. Hashtags have almost become a staple for Instagram. They are used in a variety of ways; however, it is very important for a company to ensure they are using them in the right way. Some simple mistakes include using: too few hashtags, using hashtags that are irrelevant, or using no hashtags at all. Hashtags are a great way for a company to gain brand awareness. Simply searching a hashtag will bring a variety of posts from multiple users. This is especially helpful for brands that have fewer followers and that are less popular. Another risk associated with marketing on Instagram is if a brand purchases its followers. From a marketing perspective, if a brand isn’t willing to start their account and gain their followers naturally, they might as well not have an Instagram account at all.
The Ben & Jerry’s campaign is a great example of a success story for marketers! Ben & Jerry’s wanted to build brand “awareness for flavors and fun” and promote their new flavor Scotchy Scotch Scotch. And that is exactly what the campaign did! The company created and posted 4 different images as sponsored ads. These ads were geared towards viewers age 18-35 in the US. Since Instagram has 400 million users, ads reach millions of people. During the campaign 9.8 million US Instagram users were reached in over 8 days. The campaign also generated a 33 point increase in ad recall and 17% of users learned about the new flavor Scotchy Scotch Scotch and associated it with Ben & Jerry’s. Ben & Jerry’s may have been one of the first companies to use sponsored Instagram ads, but they motivated many other companies to engage in this great form of marketing!