Instagram Direct Remains Uncharted Territory for Brands

To capitalize upon World Cup fervor, casual dining restaurant and sports bar franchise Buffalo Wild Wings is trying to cement its image among soccer fans as the best place to watch games while also providing rewards through Instagram Direct. Despite this move, few other brands have utilized the Direct feature, which was launched in December.

Instagram Direct is a feature that allows image sharing on Facebook-owned Instagram to a select user or users. For Buffalo Wild Wings, Instagram Direct has been the means for rewarding participants in its #Fannerisms campaign, an effort that uses caricatures of World Cup fan types – like “Goal Guy” and “Ref’s Ref” – to inspire fans to share their own hashtagged images.

(#Fannerisms also marks the brand’s launch on Instagram, driving about 2,200 followers in the first week.)

Bob Ruhland, vice president of North American marketing at Buffalo Wild Wings, says the brand has used Instagram Direct because it wanted to be “as cutting-edge as possible” and wanted to go “from zero to 60” in a short amount of time. 

With Instagram alone, Buffalo Wild Wings fans uploaded nearly 1 million photos to the platform prior to the brand’s launch on the photo sharing service. That figure is derived from user-uploaded photos with hashtags like #BuffaloWildWings, which had more than 435,000 mentions, and #BDubs, which had more than 248,000, notes Evan Carpenter, senior community strategist at creative agency Periscope.

While Buffalo Wild Wings is certainly attempting to make the most out of Instagram’s Direct feature, few other brands have utilized the product. In fact, since its launch there appears to be only a small handful who have used Direct for marketing purposes. These include Gap, where followers were asked to submit photos in its “What I Wore Today” contest; Kardashian Kollection, which offered a behind-the-scenes photo to followers who reposted an image with #KKDirect, driving 4,600 submissions; Michael Kors, which asked fans to post images with #MKDirect for a special message, generating 900 posts; and GoEnnounce, which asked high-schoolers to send images of their college acceptance letters with the hashtag #GoEccepted in exchange for a welcome to college gift, driving 179 posts.

According to Ian Chee, chief strategy officer at creative and technology agency MRY, Instagram Direct is a one-to-one mechanism that brands tend to use for stunts that will then create buzz. He calls this direct messaging another form of CRM and says brands that use it lose some reach, but can potentially drive buzz and organic reach if consumers actually talk about it.

He says Buffalo Wild Wings’ #Fannerisms campaign didn’t seem to warrant one-to-one messaging, but notes there is still value in being a first mover.

“I think when new technology comes along, brands jump on the bandwagon without understanding their strategic imperatives. It’s to get PR value – ‘I can’t believe they jumped on so early. They’re really forward-thinking,’ and that in and itself has its own intrinsic value,” Chee says. “I’m not really sure how many people they are going to reach…but trial and error is powerful in this day and age and I commend them for trying, but I’m not sure what success they are going to achieve and I’m not sure what their goals are.”

One-on-one communication is also more expensive, but it makes fans feel special because a brand is engaging with them in a more personal way. In the end, Chee says it depends on a brand’s priorities and objectives as to whether it is worth sacrificing cost-effectiveness in a gamble to create potentially more powerful and engaging campaigns.

“[Instagram Direct is] not a platform that I delve heavily in with clients,” Chee says. “I haven’t found a specific reason to recommend it other than being a first mover and getting organic reach out of it. But, as with all new things, they always find new ways to use it.”

In addition to photo contests, former media strategist Tessa Wegert says additional branded applications for Instagram Direct include soliciting consumer feedback on brand assets like a new logo or product packaging, as well as conducting surveys or gleaning customer insight on market trends.

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