You might be forgiven for thinking Instagram is a space for selfies, travel snaps and brunch pictures but with more than 800 million users, including 25 million business accounts, and two million advertisers it is becoming an increasingly important part of brands’ marketing strategies.
Arguably, it’s a space where big brands, small businesses and consumers are all in the same position, with the same opportunity to create a page, gain followers and connect.
Amy Cole, Instagram’s head of business development, tells Marketing Week: “Brands tell their story in the same way an individual person does so it creates a direct relationship and levels the playing field for small and big businesses.”
The majority of companies use Instagram as a brand building exercise to increase loyalty. There are three key ways brands can use Instagram: to create a connection and showcase a product through their own page, through the use of influencers and via paid advertising.
Brand accounts work in a similar way to an individual’s, so a brand’s post will go into the daily feed of its followers. This is largely a brand building exercise but with 60% of UK Instagrammers saying they learn about products and services on the platform it is also a key advertising tool.
Instagram allows us to tap into communities and create very specific activations that other platforms really wouldn’t offer us.
Sille Opstrup, Pernod Ricard
“I wake up in the morning and it’s probably one of the first things I check,” says Sarah Doyle, vice-president for Bacardi Rum Europe. “I follow so many brands but it’s about finding a way into a consumer’s feed and doing that authentically.”
Bacardi does this by creating cocktail-making videos. Doyle explains: “It’s a combination of education and lifestyle. With Instagram you only have a limited amount of time to gather someone’s attention so you have to do that in a clever way that makes it easy and fun.”
Cole claims people are relatively receptive to brands on Instagram as they tend to connect around interests, but they have to believe they’re getting something from the content.
“Brands have been part of the community from day one and 80% of people follow a business or a brand so that’s a natural and native behaviour,” she adds.
Jewellery brand Missoma, which is worn by the likes of Kylie Minogue and model Karlie Kloss, has boosted its awareness via Instagram. Despite being around for 10 years, founder and creative director Marisa Hordern says consumers “often think they’ve discovered us because they’ve found us on Instagram”.
“Instagram allows us to get our message out there. Before we had to rely on publications and editors to get the message out for us, but now we control not only the narrative but the visual.”
I follow so many brands but it’s about finding a way into a consumer’s feed and doing that authentically.
Sarah Doyle, Bacardi Rum Europe
The brand attributes 59% of its sales to Instagram, but Hordern admits not all are a result of click-throughs from the site; some are simply down to people discovering the brand.
Instagram looked to offer users a more “seamless experience” with the launch of shoppable posts in March, which allows retailers to include product information and price, as well as the option to click through to buy.
It enables brands and businesses to tag up to five products in organic posts, which consumers can then tap on to find out more information and make a purchase.
Despite being in some stores such as John Lewis and Selfridges, Missoma is primarily sold online, so Hordern says sites like Instagram have helped it to hone its message. She explains: “Instagram helped us find out exactly who our target audience is and how to speak to them — what they want to see, what they like about our brand and what they don’t.”
Sille Opstrup, head of digital marketing at Pernod Ricard, agrees: “Instagram is a key channel for us and is integrated into our overall strategy. It allows us to tap into communities and create very specific activations that other platforms really wouldn’t offer us.”
When it comes to hashtags it’s a case of the fewer the better, according to Hordern. Missoma opts for only two hashtags; when advertising an influencer collaboration and a monthly user competition.
This strategy is supported by a study of 115 million Instagram posts by media agency Menion, which shows hashtags and tagging other users does not increase engagement rates and video posts have the highest engagement.
To get specific analytics, brands need to set up a business profile so they can understand both how individual posts are performing as well as their audience’s behaviour on Instagram.
Instagram’s business site – business.instagram.com – is designed to help brands looking to advertise or set up profiles. Instagram also holds webinars and posts case studies and articles with additional information.
Making the most of Stories
While profile pages give brands the opportunity to curate content, the Stories function is more about connection. The short videos or pictures are not part of a user’s feed and disappear after 24 hours, so they allow for more personal moments without disrupting the brand page.
Cole suggests Stories are “more snappable” behind-the-scenes content. She says 30% of the most viewed Stories are from brands.
Missoma has increased its use of Stories over the past six months as Hordern says “it’s like you’re giving people that inside access” which helps them relate to the brand in a more personal way.
Stories also helped the company diffuse angry consumers on Black Friday. The website received 70,000 new visitors in one day causing it to crash, and Hordern’s team struggled to cope with the unanticipated influx of orders.
“People started to get really angry on social media so we decided to use Stories to show how hard we were working. Our followers saw us all in the office with no make-up on and we told them, ‘this is a disaster we’ve been working for three days non-stop [to try and fix it]’,” she explains.
“After seeing our story people rallied around us and realised we were doing everything we could to get the orders out. Consumers even created a hashtag to support us. It was great for us to get in front of the story and change the whole narrative.”
In order to improve communication between brands and consumers, Instagram launched a series of new tools yesterday (9 May) designed to help businesses curate messages and enquiries.
As part of the upgrade, the social network has introduced call-to-action buttons on selected business profiles, as well as new ways for businesses to filter their Instagram direct messages.
Currently more than 150 million people have a conversation with businesses through Instagram Direct each month and a third of those messages begin with an Instagram Story.
The role of influencers
In a world where consumers are demanding more and more content, influencers are key to keeping production levels up. according to Pernod’s Opstrup. She explains: “Social media is so content hungry which means it’s hard [to create enough] content while also keeping it high quality. A way around this is by tapping into that influencer community.”
On St Patrick’s Day, Pernod sent out micro-influencers to local bars to drink a Chivas whisky sour, which Opstrup says reached 2 million people and “was very successful with engagement online but also allowed us to connect with bars”.
Cole points out that branded content can gain more visibility compared to normal posts so Instagram has been developing new tools “so when brands are working with creators they can mark those posts as a partnership with the brand to give a lot more visibility”.
Tougher ad rules needed?
However, brands’ use of influencers on Instagram hasn’t been without its issues, with the Advertising Standards Authority raising concerns about the site allowing brands to post “hidden ads”.
Influencers are meant to declare when a post is paid-for (normally by writing #ad) but many fail to do so. The UK ad watchdog banned a post from beauty blogger Sheikhbeauty promoting Flat Tummy Tea from appearing again in its current form last year as it did not make clear she was being paid by the drinks company.
Apart from the ethics around the issue the negative publicity that arises from the interventions can erode consumers’ trust in the brand and followers’ trust in the influencer.
Pernod Ricard’s Opstrup also makes sure to note that Instagram is no substitute for digital marketing as a whole. “We obviously use it as a part of a bigger strategy and would never just focus on Instagram in terms of digital advertising.”
While many brands focus solely on working with influencers and building their profile page, Carl Carter of market research company IRI says it’s important to combine this with paid advertising.
He says: “How you use Instagram very much depends on what your goal is. If it’s about creating a connection then you should opt for working on your brand page but if it’s awareness you should focus on advertising. However, in reality you should be using both together to create a relationship with the consumer.”
There are four different types of adverts: photo ads, carousel ads (which allow multiple pictures), video ads and Stories ads. Alongside the ad, brands can choose the audience they would like to target and schedule the time.
Instagram may seem like a simple brand building tool but it also gives brands the opportunity to build loyalty and increase customers.
In a world where consumers are increasingly looking for originality and connection, the picture-sharing platform give brands the opportunity to be part of the conversation. Small businesses like Missoma can shape their narrative while bypassing more expensive traditional advertising and for larger brands such as Pernod Ricard it provides dedicated communities to tap into.