Gone are the days when Instagram’s competitive advantage was “to make it look vintage”. Having just celebrated its fourth birthday, Instagram has grown from a simple mobile photo-sharing service to one of the largest social networking platforms in the world.
With over 200 million monthly active users and 20 billion photos shared, it’s easy for brands to see the value in saying “cheese” and taking the IG plunge. But what’s the biggest challenge currently facing brands on Instagram and more importantly, how can you get around it?
To fully understand how some of the world’s top brands are harnessing their engaged audiences on the platform, we have to first understand the evolution of the service. What began as a simple tool for digitally adding filters to your photos and sharing the images has become so much more. In January 2011, they added hashtags to encourage users to find photos and each other.
In February 2012, the iOS-only app made its way onto Android phones and saw over one million downloads in its very first day. But, perhaps the biggest point of note in the platform’s history came in April of 2012 when Facebook acquired Instagram for approximately US $1 billion in cash and stock, with a plan to keep the company independently managed. It was clear: Facebook had big plans for the service when they completed their second largest acquisition deal ever.
Since then, the app has added direct messaging, location-tagging and video support. All of these additional features have worked to deepen the offering while maintaining the ‘cool’ feature that has attracted so many younger users who now post over 60 million photos every day.
What’s crystal clear to marketers now more than ever is that Instagram represents a captivated audience comprised of target customers. To go one step further, the best-in-class social brands have reaped the benefits of increased visibility on the platform already.
In fact, the top 50 brands on Instagram have 1.5 million followers on average. Nike, who tops that list of brands, has 23 million posts with the #Nike hashtag, and that number grows by roughly one-million every month.
But while on-platform placement is great, brands can’t exactly take a ‘like’ to the board of directors as a measure of success. Many argue that the platform is a mine field for businesses that will suck up time and resources and yield little more than “street cred” with tweens.
How ineffective can Instagram really be though, if teens are using it to find and buy drugs off the platform?
Clearly, where there is a will there is way.
For those looking to cash in on IG, there are some key details about the interface that you need to know.
1. The Absence of Clickable Links on Instagram
Post captions do not allow clickable links. That goes for comments too. Have a great picture of your company’s product that has garnered a ton of likes and comments asking about how to purchase? Looking forward to giving all of these soon-to-be customers a link to your online store so you can convert them?
It’s not as easy as you would think. Unlike a lot of the other major social platforms, Instagram does not support linking in post descriptions or the comment section at all. This doesn’t stop some brands from providing text versions of their hyperlinks in hopes that viewers will tediously transcribe the links if they want something bad enough, but that’s not measurable in the least.
2. Instagram is Mobile-Minded
It was developed as such and it maintains that position even today. Desktop browsers are now able to view profiles and browse pictures, but the functionality is severely limited for those who try to use the platform in this way. You can’t post your pictures, even if you’ve just taken the selfie to rule all selfies.
3. The One Place to Link
Just one. If you provide a hyperlink in your profile section, it will function from both desktop and mobile.
But knowing where you can and can’t link from is only part of the challenge. Many brands use Instagram in the conventional sense with mediocre results: post pictures of products, link to company website. Yawn. What some, like BangBangNYC, a tattoo parlour in New York city have opted to do, is use their feed to post artist portfolios, availability, job postings and snippets of their company values.
By using the platform for a different purpose, they stand out in the feed and carve unique positioning for Instagram in their social portfolio. They also use that precious profile real-estate to provide customers with their storefront address, phone number and email address as well as their (clickable) website address.
Now that you know exactly what to do, your social strategy may be put to the test when faced with failure. What if your hyperlink is failing to drive much traffic to your website?
One of the biggest pitfalls of brands on Instagram is promising one thing through their posts and providing something entirely different through their hyperlink. If you’re a men’s shoe store posting pictures of men’s fashion, and your hyperlink links to your company’s value page, I’m leaving. And probably unfollowing.
Ensure your post strategy is closely aligned to the actions you intend to drive from your profile page. If you’re looking for leads, link to the “Contact Us” page.
If you’re driving sales, linking to specific SKU pages may be a bit presumptuous, but a category landing page on your site is probably a good idea. Like with everything else in social media, it’s important to test different links out regularly and then measure the various levels of success to determine what your audience is enjoying most from you.
All in all, Instagram is an evolving platform with a captive audience and a growing base of users. Visually-representing your brand is the first challenge, but in order to capitalize on your great content, you need to ensure that your web presence delivers on the promises you pictures infer. Communicating exactly who you are, what your brand stands for, and the value you can bring to your customer’s life is a tall task for even the best in the business. It’s a good thing a picture is worth a thousand words.