Introduction and demographics
Instagram is big. Over 300 million active users each month post 70 million photos per day, and collectively distribute 2.5 billion likes. Engagement on Instagram is seven times higher than on Twitter and Facebook, and also leaves Google+, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn and YouTube in the dust. Still think it’s just a platform for selfies?
The future of personalised marketing fits perfectly with Instagram, and since it’s owned by Facebook, it’s no wonder that Instagram is now on a drive to make money. The world’s marketeers are already busy Instgramming their brands. Can Instagram – currently enjoying 40% year-on-year growth – rule in the coming era of ‘social commerce’?
Is Instagram more than a photo-sharing platform?
Heck, yes. «Everything you could ever want, in terms of finding emerging ‘talent’ in every sector, being able to piggyback on hashtags, being able to create and share simple and effective content, is available via Instagram,» says Andy Barr, co-founder, co-owner at 10 Yetis Digital, who calls the platform an on-going conversation, and a great platform for brands.
«You can create a visual story on your Instagram page and that has an immediate effect on anyone that sees it,» says Jenny Bernard, digital marketing specialist at Bozboz. «Many companies host competitions or campaigns on Instagram using a hashtag and get their audiences involved, which has consistently shown huge returns on investment.»
Product placement is becoming big news on Instagram, which is no surprise given its visual structure.
«With individuals communicating more visually than ever before, it’s essentially a communication platform, and moreover, a discovery engine for its users interests and passions,» thinks Andy Pringle, Head of Performance Media at Performics, a strand of ZenithOptimedia.
Others think Instagram can be all about brands. «Instagram is offering a platform for curated glimpses into lives and brands,» says Stephanie Trunzo, CDO of PointSource. «This level of personalisation creates a better, more contextual mobile experience that leads to immediate purchases – and people naturally trust recommendations from people they align themselves with more than brands.»
What are Instagram’s user demographics?
There is evidence that Instagram is the dominant youth platform. SpoutSocial reports that 53% of 18-29 year olds use Instagram, compared to just 25% of 30-49 year olds. There’s also a kind of ‘youth test’ built-in. «You can only upload to Instagram using the mobile or tablet app, meaning only digitally savvy people can use it,» says Bernard. Instagram is mobile-centric like no other platform. «Unlike Twitter, Instagram has grown from and remains a mobile-first platform, where its browser page is rarely used, and even the tablet view is a phone-based design,» says Trunzo.
However, Instagram does have its own nuances and specialities. «Health and fitness is probably the most emerging sector of the last few years, but the standalone sectors for me are ‘food porn’, cats and dogs of Instagram, fashion and beauty, and then everything else,» says Barr, though he thinks a slightly older demographic is now using Instagram.
There is plenty of evidence of just that. «It’s dangerous to think of Instagram as purely a platform for millennials,» says Matthew Knight, Head of Strategic Innovation at global media agency Carat. «Capital One ran a campaign recently which saw a 25% lift in ad recall for 45+ year olds.»
Advertising and social commerce
How does Instagram’s new advertising capability work?
Instagram has three types of advertising formats: clicks to website ads, video ads and mobile app download ads. «Instagram ads are bought through Facebook’s advertising interface,» says James Mortimer, Senior Paid Social Analyst at iCrossing. «This means brands can seamlessly tap into existing Facebook targeting, which includes custom audiences like site visitor data, email lists and lookalikes.» All of this makes launching well-targeted, sophisticated Instagram campaigns quick, easy and rewarding.
«You can create a multi-product ad in Facebook and use it directly on Instagram,» says Bernard of the carousel ads on Instagram. «It all works through Facebook’s Power Editor, which means your ads can be integrated across both campaigns, and you can use the targeting you know works through Facebook.»
However, Instagram’s move into the advertising space is largely still an experiment. «Instagram ads are still a massively unknown beast for many small to medium-sized brands, because it is being slowly rolled out via the mothership advertising platform,» says Barr, referencing Facebook. «Instagram ads will be available to all from some point in October 2015, and you can bet that they will be as simple to deploy as Facebook’s wider advertising offerings.»
Can Instagram dominate the new ‘social commerce’?
«The immediacy and intimacy of Instagram, as well as the mobile-only optimisation, creates an authentic experience that makes Instagram ideal for social commerce,» says Trunzo, who thinks that for retailers and brands that have no comprehensive mobile strategy, Instagram is often a good first step to get into the mobile space and begin capturing mobile revenue.
«Of all brand effect surveys, 90% have shown a brand uplift of 16 points, 2.75 times higher than Nielsen norms,» says Pringle, who reports that an online/e-commerce brand recently showed a 13% uplift in post-view return on investment in comparison to other social media platforms. Most expect Pinterest-style click-through links for products to come to Instagram. «It is certainly an excellent driver to an e-commerce website,» says Pringle, «but it’s too early to really tell what any in-app buy function will look like and deliver.»
Key to its success is the fact that Instagram is supremely engaging. «Recent Forrester Research showed that Instagram users are 58 times more likely to like, comment, or share a brand’s post than Facebook users, and 120 times more likely than Twitter users,» says Knight. «The platform also allows interest targeting, based upon those brands you’re following, so advertising messaging is more likely to be appropriate to the end consumer.»
Is Instagram now more important than Twitter?
As well as having 100 million more users than Twitter, Instagram’s genius is that it’s built on the most successful social media advertising platform of all time – Facebook. «Instagram represents a giant opportunity for advertisers to reach more users and extend the performance of their existing Facebook campaigns,» says Mortimer. «With the brands that advertise on Facebook likely to now extend their campaigns onto Instagram this could seriously start to cut into Twitter budgets.»
It’s not just numbers that Twitter loses out on, but a lack of both community and integration with other social networks. «Instagram has more of a community feel, and all images can also be shared across Facebook for a wider reach,» says Bernard.
Last big hope
«It is very much the last big hope of everyone in social marketing land because of its natural, organic engagement, compared to the ever-rising cost to brands of using Facebook and Twitter to drive engagement and build communities,» says Barr, though he’s unsure whether Instagram can truly wrestle business away from rival social media platforms. «It is too early to call – if not done correctly, it could drive brands back over to Twitter,» says Barr.
With Twitter unable to escape its ‘breaking news’ focus (though it has partnered with Google for ad buying) and Facebook keen to follow suit (check out its new Facebook Signals concept for journalists), Instagram’s naturally visual approach sits somewhere in-between the 140 characters and serious social media, respectively, of its text-based rivals.
However, there is no going back for Instagram; poorly executed and irritating advertising campaigns could easily be its death. «Right now, Instagram is hotter than it has ever been,» says Barr. «Advertising will be the make or break of it as a platform.»