In less than a decade since its launch in 2010, Instagram has enjoyed exponential growth, with the platform recently reaching 1bn active monthly users. In doing so, it has become an attractive platform for brands eager to learn if Instagram marketing can help them forge a closer connection with their consumers.
However, the last year has not been all positivity for the image and video-based social network. Like many major social media players in 2018, its algorithm was enabling, and in some cases promoting, harmful material.
In response, Instagram readjusted its guidelines to head off further criticisms. Where it had previously given content toeing the line of acceptability the benefit of the doubt, the platform quickly revoked these privileges and took posts down. This action positioned Instagram in a favorable, responsible light – unlike its parent company Facebook, which is still dealing with an onslaught of criticism for its response to various data and safety scandals.
But while Instagram might not be as besieged in controversy as its owner, there are still things you should know before marketing on the platform. Here The Drum lists the latest trends in Instagram marketing that brands should be aware of when devising their social strategy for 2019.
Influencers dominate Instagram, but scandals around purchased or fake followers has brought into question the viability of influencer marketing on the platform. The network has stepped up security measures to purge both. Additionally, influencers are now required to better signpost brand-sponsored content in order to improve transparency.
Despite these concerns, research has shown that the popularity of influencer marketing has not been negatively impacted. Rather, the direction has simply changed, with brands increasingly turning to networks of micro-influencers. Their belief is that influencers with a smaller, yet more niche following and can better forge engagement than celebrities with a massive following but a hollow connection.
However, not everyone is as convinced about the potency of micro-influencers. Dominic Smales, chief executive and founder of influencer talent agency Gleam Futures dismisses their usefulness, insisting: “I’d be pretty confident in saying that you’d probably get better value from spending lots of money on Zoe [Zoella] than a little money on a micro-influencer.”
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Snapchat must be feeling pretty flattered by the resounding success of Instagram’s 2016 launch of Stories, signaling the platform’s foray into video territory. After a slow start, it is now of the most popular aspects of the platform and recently hit the 400 million daily users mark. The success of Stories sparked the launch of a copycat function on Facebook’s platform, but this effort have been widely panned.
Beloved by the Tinder generation, Stories’ accessible interface exposes viewers to a wide range of content before they choose to settle on one that catches their eye. This is prime digital real estate for brands to insert ads between stories and snare viewer attention. Moreover, with specialized features like polls and contests and the ability to see the number of views your story has received, Stories are an excellent means of measuring community engagement and gaining consumer insight.
Instagram allows third parties to create branded stickers which can be attached to consumer Stories. This tactic was used most effectively by Aperol to complement its most famous, Instagrammable drink – the Aperol Spritz. As the summer months rolled in, so did the images of people enjoying their Aperol Spritz al fresco, and the alcohol brand jumped at the chance to create its own digital stickers.
By default, Stories only last for 24 hours on an account’s feed, however users now have the option to save specific stories to their Highlights tab. Highlights are located at the top of your feed and are pinned there indefinitely, where they can be easily categorized by content.
Brands are discovering a new lease of life by moving their content onto social media and have found the Stories function particularly helpful through this transition. One such brand is Glamour UK: once a monthly glossy magazine, in 2017 the publication decided to decrease its physical output to just two issues a year and reinvent itself as a fully digitized online beauty and fashion platform. A radical change, but she who dares wins in this case: the magazine’s following has grown steadily since this shift.
Glamour has successfully established a number of story shows, including Wellness Wednesdays and the Glam Drop every Friday, which has drawn the attention of brands. New to the helm editor-in-chief Deborah Joseph had this to say about the brand’s digital transition: “To say it’s been a success story would be an understatement”. Joseph explained that the popularity of the brand’s Stories lies in the content not being too polished (“some of it is filmed in a cupboard”) creating a more authentic experience for the viewers.
IGTV is Instagram’s latest video product, this time taking on the biggest such platform, YouTube. While most accounts will only be able to upload 10-minute long videos, others will have the opportunity to upload content lasting up to an hour. Further to this, the vertical video format touted by this function is similarly useful for brands looking to increase their engagement. Not only does this format optimize the viewer’s experience of viewing video content on mobile, but because the video takes up the entire screen it evades distractions and forces the viewer’s complete attention.
Another way in which brands are able to benefit from the Instagram social network is through the use of filters. Instagram comes complete with its own inbuilt camera and filter selection, which similarly to stickers, can be purchased and created by brands. We’ve seen these filters be used by celebrities to promote their work including Arianna Grande for her 2018 ‘Sweetener’ album, Rihanna for her Clara Lionel Foundation and Kylie Jenner for her Kylie Cosmetics line.
Seeing the success of these filters has prompted brands like Adidas and Gucci to take notice, and for them to follow suit in launching their own. These are accessed in the camera function of Instagram, are free to use and innately promote both your brand and your work in a non-ostentatious way.
Against other platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, Instagram’s visual edge lends itself readily to the world of online shopping. With high street brands like Weekday and Asos seeing their engagement on Instagram steadily increase, it was only a matter of time before they started actively advertising their products via the platform. This is currently achieved by promoting products on the brand’s feed, as well as across Stories. These stories showcase the products and include the call to action, ‘Swipe up’, which then redirects the viewer to the product for sale on their online shop.
In the US, however, Instagram has gone one step further down the retail road by piloting a Checkout feature for many brands which allows users to actually purchase products via the Instagram app, as opposed to being redirected to the brand’s website. This feature streamlines the purchasing experience for users while appealing to brands as it looks to capture more impulsive buyers. We see that brands are changing how consumers are shopping now, by bringing their products to them on the channels they use most frequently. The checkout feature is yet to be piloted in the UK and Europe, but watch this space.