When Instagram was bought by Facebook last year, it signalled that the social network had graduated from indie to the big leagues—and it definitely has. Since being bought, Instagram has grown by more than 600 percent, adding over 120 million monthly active users to its network. Its 150 million monthly active users may be a drop in the ocean compared to Facebook’s 1.19 billion monthly active users, but it’s substantial nevertheless.
Like Facebook, its maturity means that more and more brands have jumped on board. These days, it seems every brand, band and brat (here’s looking at ya, @justinbieber with your 11.8 million followers) is trying to tap into the Instagram gold mine.
A key reason is that more than any other major social network (barring Pinterest), Instagram functions as an image-based discovery network. Like those shoes? Discover more just like them by browsing hashtags. Love that image? Find similar ones by browsing/stalking the account holder’s follow list. As a consumer, the ability to find and curate based on a quick glance and snap judgement of a few pictures is enticing and exciting.
Secondly, following brands and people is a far less involved and committed process: no long newsfeeds and updates to follow, just a single picture and on to the next one. Because you can easily unfollow an account that no longer meets your needs, there’s no hesitation when it comes to adding new ones on your list.
Instagram has always been a mobile first network. Unlike other social networks that have adopted mobile, Instagram was born in it and moulded by it. The entire Instagram experience has been optimized for mobiles; those little square photos make the most sense on a mobile screen. With adoption and time spent on smartphones on the up and up, Instagram and other applications and networks which have come from mobile will increasingly become the norm.
Learn from the best
Of course, knowing why Instagram has been successful is only half of the picture. The key piece of the puzzle is really understanding how to leverage the platform, and no one does that better than the Internet influencer. The online blogger’s priority is to maintain their brand and voice in a cluttered space, consistently produce great content and showcase products when they need to. So here’s what you can learn from some of Instagram’s top influencers:
1. Make an impression: Instagram is clearly all about imagery. There’s space for spontaneous photos, but Instagram influencers know that spur-of-the-moment photos need to be mixed in with planned, stylized images. @khiesti (129,000 followers) produces whimsical paper drawings, which average more than 12,000 likes. @mattfrench (190,000 followers) shares muted landscapes. Aimee Song of @SongofStyle (1.13 million followers) mixes everyday photos with stylized photoshoots. It’s not always about behind-the-scenes or the spontaneous and blurry shot. Take time to create your Instagram and you’ll reap the rewards.
2. Have a consistent voice: @garypeppergirl (over 700,000 followers) has always used her blog to showcase her outfits amongst exotic and picturesque backdrops. Her brand revolves around fashion styling and her Instagram is no different. She uses it to effectively drive traffic to her blog because blog posts and Instagram photos work in conjunction. @kimkardashian, no surprises here, shares photos of herself with her 11.3million followers. @joythebaker (86,400 followers) complements her blog posts with Instagrams of rustic food shots and scenes. A quick scan of your profile should tell a consistent story about you and the content users can expect in their newsfeed.
3. Personality first: Did you know there are more than 35 million selfies on Instagram? That’s over 87 million pictures associated with #me. Clearly, this is a social network based on personality (or one’s self if we’re being cynical). In fact 9 out of the top 10 Instagram accounts are owned by people, and the lone brand account is Instagram. There’s a reason why Oscar de la Renta’s Instagram account, @oscarprgirl (240, 800 followers) is run by their PR girl who instils the brand with her personality. Successful Instagrammers ensure the pictures they take, even if promotional, are true to their voice. @theglamourai (79,000 followers) is a master at promoting brands whilst making you feel like they are part of her day-to-day life.
4. The art of revenue: Another skill that Instagram influencers master is product promotion and new ways of retailing. Besides editorial content and tagging brands, @songdani (202,800 followers) uses Instagram to effectively drive purchases. Because Instagram does not yet allow for linking off the app, other than in the profile, she works with a mobile partner that uses SMS to provide links to products. See it in action: http://instagram.com/p/gXJC2fGG-K/ . She also consistently tags brands she wears and uses the ability to tag a friend in a photo to highlight where her items come from.
Other clever tactics I’ve seen have been to include the SKU (stock keeping unit) of the product, so consumers can quickly search for it on e-commerce sites, making the link in your profile link directly to the shop, or creating Instagram only vouchers.
5. Optimize to appear on the Explore Page: The holy grail of every Instagram is the Explore Page, get on there and you can guarantee a boost to your followers. Arriving there is the challenge. Like Google’s algorithm, Instagram has a “special formula” that determines which pictures are featured on the Explore page. Here are a few factors which drive it: how many likes you get in the first 30 minutes to 1 hour of your picture being posted (the more followers you have the more likes you’ll need), how many likes you gain from other influencers, and the topic of your photo. Test to see which photos and topics garner likes and comments. You might be tempted to #hashtageverything but resist the temptation to over hashtag, as it reduces your chances of it appearing on the Explore Page. And when in doubt think cats, food, fashion and children, all favorites of the Instagram community.
Ultimately, Instagram is about sharing photos about yourself or your brand to capture the imaginations of others. The power of an image to move, connect, and persuade us cannot be denied—after all a picture is worth a thousand words.
By Jeanette Phang, insights director, Isobar Australia.