Instagram turns five years old today, boasts 400m active users and for brands is becoming an increasingly enticing platform, certainly if you were to ask JWT’s Toby Chishick and Carat’s Jerry Daykin.
M&M Global earlier wrote about how Instagram had listed its top 10 most-followed users. Here Chishick, J Walter Thompson’s social director, reflects on Instagram’s roots, its evolution and how it has helped “shape a more visually focused attitude towards branded social content”. But he warns that brands should respect the environment or risk jarring with Instagram members.
Meanwhile, Daykin, Carat’s global digital director, draws an analogy – if Facebook is the daily newspaper of digital social platforms, then Instagram is the Sunday magazine, glossier, more premium and more expensive to advertise in. He too issues a warning – while the roll-out of advertising was carefully monitored by Instagram’s founder, who personally approved each ad passed muster, he stressed that upon examining user comments on sponsored posts, many users felt uncomfortable with the invasion by commercial messages.
“Instagram has had an extraordinary growth and unprecedented popularity. When it launched it wasn’t the only ‘filter-photo’ app with others such as Hipstamatic offering very similar functionality. But it rose to dominance through its ease-of-use, simple, clean interface and importantly the fact that it was free and integrated well with existing social media giants like Facebook and Twitter allowing users’ images to spread across the social web, making it the fastest growing social network in the US*.
“Fast growth social platforms always attract advertisers who want to go where the audience is and who want to explore creative opportunities to get their attention. The rise of Instagram has in my opinion helped to shape a more visually focused attitude towards branded social content and most importantly one that is more authentic. Brands can’t just post a glossy, photoshopped picture of their product with a cake and write ‘Happy international cake day!’, as it looks embarrassingly out of place and doesn’t comply with the unwritten rules of the platform.
“However marketers who can capture the spirit of their brand in an authentic and engaging way and who understand the Instagram culture can really build a following and get huge amounts of engagement on their content.
“Instagram is mobile first (97% of time spent on Instagram is via mobile) making it the perfect social network for the growing ‘creator generation’ – a generation that doesn’t just consume content but regularly creates it.
“Engagement is also easier than any other social network with the ‘like’ action being simplified to just a double finger tap on the image. As it is with consumers, creation of content is extremely easy – adding a filter and tinkering with the image using the app’s settings means you can make an average product shot look great and you can do it quickly.
“Like all social media, Instagram can be used creatively; to tell a story, to keep fans or followers updated, to share exclusive news, or simply to provide an interesting or entertaining authentic perspective. Those that are getting the most benefit using it are respecting the culture of Instagram and treating it differently to their other social channels by creating bespoke content, and they are making sure to monitor for mentions of their brand and engaging with their consumers.
“People don’t want glossy, shiny ads on Instagram telling them to buy things. Brands should respect the environment and if they want to get the most out of the platform they create content that makes users smile or feel inspired and it gets those thumbs and index fingers tapping the screen in appreciation. (With our KitKat account we aim to do just that and get between 1000-2000 likes per image and with only 40,000 followers this is a pretty high level of organic engagement compared to other platforms!)
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Instagram added functionality to facilitate richer content adaptation – GIF-making, more video editing tools, tools for annotating and decorating images etc. And the brands that invest in the creative resources to capitalise on the creator generation will ultimately come out on top.”
“As Instagram celebrates its 5th birthday, things are looking very good for the photo sharing app, which Facebook bought for $1 billion. The platform recently hit 400m users (overtaking Twitter in the process), has rolled out a series of recent advertising innovations and looks set to hit $600m in revenue in 2015, despite only fully opening up to advertisers in September. Facebook’s acquisition, which was seen as expensive by some at the time, is already looking like quite the bargain.
“This doesn’t mean the road ahead is easy for Instagram. For starters, Facebook has redefined social media advertising to focus on reach and frequency – not engagement – and by direct comparison, Instagram is simply more expensive. The best analogy is perhaps to think about Facebook as the daily newspaper of the Internet and Instagram the Sunday magazine supplements; but the list of brands willing to pay for that premium stature is far shorter than the long tail that has built Facebook’s wider business. One redeeming selling point is that the audience is skewing slightly younger: the much hyped ‘millennial’ that is so targeted of late.
“The roll out of advertising at all was handled very carefully with all ads personally approved by Instagram’s founder. Looking at the comments on any sponsored post you can see that many users are still not comfortable with the interruption to their native experience. This will no doubt die down in time but Instagram will need to tread carefully, and in serving only a handful of ads to any user will accordingly have a far more limited total inventory to offer. Shareholders hoping Instagram will match its parent company’s revenues anytime soon should pay attention to both constraints.
“Having said that, the app is well-positioned to tackle some of the current challenges of online advertising – from within its walled garden Instagram is protected from ad blockers and potentially most questions around viewability, plus it’s born for the mobile switch which actively threatens some services. Its image-led approach is an easy sell for brands now used to producing photo and video content for other channels, and it’s beginning to offer the direct click-through rates that many advertisers have demanded.
“Major brands have led the charge onto Instagram as extensions of their Facebook partnerships, keen to be seen to try the next new thing first. For those serious investments to continue, they’ll need to show the true impact of their work. Again, Facebook has dispelled the myth that engagement directly links to sales, so early advertisers have been using ‘brand lift’ surveys to identify impacts, which have been strong. The Philadelphia brand in Australia reported strong brand impact but also impressive sales growth year on year. Elsewhere, brands that had been organically exploring the platform have continued to do well, notably including Oreo, Ben & Jerry’s and Michael Kors.
“In time, Instagram will need to go further in proving actual results, and the pressure to build out closer integration with the targeting capabilities we’ve grown to rely on in Facebook will follow swiftly too. However, combine that with their wider efforts to develop universal ‘People Based Marketing’ through the Atlas platform, and you see the beginnings of a hugely powerful ecosystem that marketers can use right through the purchase funnel.”