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Instagram: The Balance Between Creativity and Commerce

Posted by Torben Neilsen on Dec 10, 2014 4:56:00 PM

Instagram: The Balance Between Creativity and Commerce

This past week I attended my first official Instagram Marketing seminar. Hosted in the MaRS Discovery Building in Toronto, it was a great opportunity to take a more focused look at the social network which has only recently opened up its feed officially to advertisers. Here are some takeaways and thoughts on the future of the platform and where it fits in the digital landscape.

First of all, if you are not familiar with Instagram you need to wake up and smell the Hefe (that’s an Instagram filter joke if you didn’t know). The social network is arguably one of the most popular mobile applications in existence today. Since its launch in 2010 the application has gained roughly 200 million monthly active users; outpacing Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest with over 900% year over year growth from 2012-2013. In total, there’s been 20 Billion photos shared on the platform, with an average of 1.6 Billion photo “likes” each day! Interestingly, 65% of all the accounts that exist are outside of the United States.

From a marketing sense, some brands have adopted the platform with relative ease. However, the same story seems to ring true as it did with Facebook and Twitter: interesting and creative brands reign supreme. A look at the top 10 most followed brands is a clear indication of just what type of brands see success. Creativity is at Instagram’s core. One of the speakers at Instacamp described Instagram photography as a more accessible (and mostly legal) iteration of the street art of the late 70s and 80s. That being said, in order to engage the community, your content must be visually appealing, consistent, and tell your brand’s visual story at the same time – no pressure!

If you think that Instagram might be something you want to get started with or you’re trying to improve your presence on it, check out these three tips for building a better feed.  

  1. Work with Influencers

There are a lot of great photographers out there on Instagram that have built up massive followings from sheer talent and creativity in their work. As a result, publications and brands have taken notice and created deals to pay these users to promote their products. Tread cautiously though, as with any endorsement the collaboration needs to make sense for the artist to support it or there is a risk that they may alienate their following with overly promotional feeling content.

If you do find common ground with a photographer and feel their following is relevant to market to, it is in your best interest to allow creative control to rest with the photographer. This way, they can incorporate your product within their feed in a way that makes sense and appeals to their following. Here’s an example of @13thwitness (479,000 followers strong) working with Leica Camera for the re-launch of their brand in North America, a very fitting endorsement.

If you’re on the hunt for influencers but aren’t sure how to connect with the right people, an agency called Instabrand might be able to help link your brand with endorsees that match your vision and style.  

Instagram best practices

  1. Find your Niche

What do you do and why do you do it? If you search deep enough, you can find the visual story for your brand. Think about the human or environmental impact your brand can have and curate that into a visual feed.

Vancouver’s Herschel Supply, one of Strategy Online’s brands of the year has their Instagram niche sorted out. As a bag and luggage company, they’ve leveraged the immense popularity of travel and visual landscape photography on Instagram by incorporating their product (which happens to be synonymous with travel) into a creatively curated feed. As an added bonus, they have integrated their #WellTravelled hashtag which has allowed their customers to post their own photos and have the opportunity to be featured in the Herschel Feed – a mutually exclusive relationship.

Vancouver’s Herschel Supply, Instagram

  1. Paid Content Curation (NEW)

Building a following takes creativity, consistency, and most importantly, time. For many brands, time is not always something that is readily available and neither is the budget for an on-staff photographer. Fortunately, services like Totems, Olapic, and Flashstock help brands by providing curated photography services.

One of the main sponsors at Instacamp was Flashstock, a Toronto-based start-up that allows brands to upload a creative brief for their visual photography needs and have multiple photographers provide brand specific photos. In their own words, “FlashStock fills an important void between two market categories with large established revenue streams. Stock photography services offer a large base of photo content, but are missing robust catalogues of brand-specific and customized photos at a reasonable cost. This issue requires companies to engage high cost advertising agency services to produce and source this type of content.” With Paid Content curation, brands can get the stunning visuals they’re looking for to add to their feeds. If done properly and targeted to the right people, these visuals can help grow followers in a more organic way than paid endorsements.

Instagram best practicesInstagram best practices

Instagram is a highly engaging platform that has provided brands the opportunity to tell their visual story to a potential audience of 200 million and counting. With backing from Facebook, it will undoubtedly be launching some serious advertising products in 2015 that will hopefully help marketers reach their target audiences with more ease. However, marketers should be cognisant of valuing the creative core of Instagram and the artists who have made the platform such a success. Using these tips above should help steer you in the right direction as you build out your plan.

Get snapping!

Topics: Instagram, Social Media

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