Here's Why It's Getting Harder To Ignore Instagram For Marketing

Chris CrumBusiness

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Instagram unveiled some improvements to its mobile apps this week, which could help marketers increase their visibility on the popular social network, which is increasingly becoming the "go-to social network" for a younger generation. New trending content and search features could help businesses attract more eyeballs.

Do you think Instagram's new features can help you improve your marketing strategy? Share your thoughts in the comments.

New Marketing Opportunities

Despite its popularity, Instagram has never been great from a content discovery perspective, but that's changing with these new features. As content becomes easier to discover, marketers have some new opportunities on their hands with a network that has already shown to be great for user engagement with brands.

There’s a new Explore page with trending tags and places and a more powerful search experience making it easier for users to find people, places, and tags. The new Explore experience includes trending tags and places as they emerge in real time.

“Through trending Tags and trending Places, you can experience moments like #bonnaroo or #fathersday from every perspective,” Instagram says in a blog post. “Rich visual content captures everyone’s unique take — not just what the community is talking about, but also what they’re doing and seeing.”

The trends are frequently refreshed based on what’s popular at the moment. If you’ve enabled location services on your phone, it may show you places nearby.

There are collections at the top of the Explore page, which feature interesting accounts and places in various categories. The content in the collections is editorially chosen by Instagram. They choose new topics to feature twice a week that it thinks the larger Instagram community will like.

The company says it’s always working to update the types of photos and videos it shows in Search & Explore to better tailor it for users, and may show photos liked by people whose posts the user has liked or posts that are liked by a large number of people. Note that just because you see a post in Search & Explore doesn’t mean everyone else is seeing it.

The new search experience is where the real potential is though.

“For everyone on Instagram, we’ve dramatically improved the ability to find what you’re looking for,” the company says. “With the new Places Search, you can now peer in at just about any location on earth, allowing you to scout out your next vacation spot in the South Pacific, get a look inside that hot new restaurant or experience your favorite music festival — even if you couldn’t make it this year. The new Top Search also lets you search across people, places and tags all at once.”

If your'e a brick and mortar business, the place search feature can surface your business and photos from users showing it off. You might encourage customers to share pics from your establishment.

pizza instagram

The tag search feature can surface popular tags based on keywords, even displaying just how popular they are. Hashtags are already a major part of Instagram marketing, so there's obvious potential here.

tagsearch

tagsearch2

The new features are available in updates to the iOS and Android apps. It’s unclear if and when they’ll come to the web experience, which recently got its own revamp. The new Explore will only be available in the U.S. for now, but will launch in more countries eventually.

Big Engagement, Slow Adoption

A few months ago, we looked at a study from Yesmail, which found that while brands on Instagram experienced a 278% growth in followers in 2014, the number of brands adopting the platform was still quite low. The firm analyzed over 2,000 brands on social platforms and found that only 23% were on Instagram.

“Restaurants lead the Instagram-adoption rate, beating CPG, retail and hotel brands. However, only 31 percent of restaurants are on Instagram, compared to a whopping 86 percent of restaurants using Facebook and Twitter,” a spokesperson for Yesmail told WebProNews. “With 300 million users and 70 million photos and videos shared daily, Instagram’s high level of consumer engagement should motivate brands to adopt the platform.”

It found that hotel adoption of Instagram is about 30.8%, while retailer adoption and CPG adoption are at 23% and 16% respectively. Retailers included in the research saw an 8% increase in followers per month, on average. That’s double the rate of other social platforms, according to Yesmail. 80% of brands from the research have Facebook pages, while 82% are active on Twitter, 60% engage on YouTube, and over a third have a Google+ profile.

A newer study (from last week) from Yesmail found Instagram to be significantly better than Facebook for retailers when it comes o increasing follower counts.

“The report indicates that although Facebook is the status-quo, it is not the most effective social media platform,” a spokesperson for the firm tells WebProNews. “Retailers hoping to amplify their social media presence should explore new channels and invest in campaign metric tools.”

The study looked at the beauty, apparel, big box, electronics, and home goods categories across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Google+. Out of those analyzed, 91% have a presence on two or more social channels.

Apparel retailers in particular saw an average follower growth of 417% on Instagram last year. Apparel brands were also the most socially connected with 86% on four or more social channels and 60% present on all five channels tracked.

91% of brands were on Twitter, while 79% used YouTube, and just 43% were using Instagram despite its potential for follower growth.

According to the new study, the average follower growth rate for brands on Instagram is 237%.

“The focus on Facebook made sense years ago, but Yesmail Market Intelligence illustrated how follower growth for that channel has plateaued for most retail categories,” said Michael Fisher, president of Yes Lifecycle Marketing. “The answer isn’t necessarily to shift resources, but rather turn a serious eye to audience preferences and return on social investment. Social media has moved past the experimental phase, and retailers must know their audience and know the ROI of their efforts.”

It’s not just Facebook that has seen follower growth stall. It’s a similar story on Twitter. In terms of follower counts, Faceobook still had the highest by far with an average of 2.8 million fans per page. Instagram came in second with 300,000.

"Instagrammers are passionate about the platform and their love for amazing imagery. You'll reach people who are open to new perspectives," Instagram says on its business site. "Instagram's simple design allows captivating visuals to take center stage. Each image or video fills the screen with nothing to clutter the experience. On Instagram your brand's story will be surrounded by other beautiful content in a creative and inspiring environment."

They have over 300 million monthly active users and see 2.5 billion likes and 70 million photos every day. According to a new report from BI Intelligence (citing data from Piper Jaffray), U.S. teens consider Instagram to be the most important social network - more than Twitter, Facecbook, Snapchat, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest, etc.

Screen shot 2015-06-25 at 10.25.04 AM

What does Instagram itself say about how businesses should be using it?

It just so happens that Instagram has its own content strategy tips and other tips for getting started. These are right from the corporate site:

Instagram business tips

Instagram business tips

This video from the company is a year old, but it gives marketers an idea about how to show off their brands on Instagram and engage with the community:

Instagram for Business from Instagram on Vimeo.

Instagram has a page for marketers to "find inspiration" here. It shows off the company's "favorite examples" of brands using Instagram to "reflect their unique identifies". it should at least give you a good idea about the type of stuff that works well. You can also check out case studies from brands like McDonald's, Maybelline, Qantas, Chobani, Ben & Jerry's, Mercedes-Benz, etc. here.

Is There a Science to Instagram Marketing?

Marketing on Instagram may not be a science, but this recent infographic from KISSmetrics treats it as such, and may give you a hand with your efforts:

++ Click Image to Enlarge ++

Source: The Science of Brands on Instagram (Infographic)

Advertising

While we've mostly been talking about unpaid marketing efforts here, Instagram is really just getting started with its paid options, and you'll want to keep an eye out for more and more improvements and features in that area.

Earlier this month, the company announced it would start letting businesses of all sizes buy ads. Instagram first launched ads a year and a half ago on a limited basis, and has since expanded formats most recently to include carousel ads.

A New Way for Brands to Tell Stories on Instagram from Instagram on Vimeo.

Here's a look at how early-adopting brands have used those.

The company says that across over 475 campaigns measured globally, ad recall from sponsored posts was 2.9x higher than Nielsen norms for online advertising.

Instagram will begin testing direct response ads in the coming months. These will enable users to buy products or download apps from the ads.

“People come to Instagram to follow their passions, from travel and fashion to cars and entertainment,” the company said in a blog post. “They want to see ads that reflect the things they care about. Advertisers also want to target their messages in more effective ways and reach people not just because of their age, location and gender, but because of the people, places and things they love.”

“Later this year, we will continue to connect businesses to the right people through expanded targeting options,” it added. “Working with Facebook, we will enable advertisers to reach people on Instagram based on demographics and interests, as well as information businesses have about their own customers. We will also improve the feedback mechanisms within Instagram to give people greater control and improve the relevance of the ads they see.”

The company is working to make advertising available through an Ads API and Facebook ad buying interfaces over the coming months in an effort to open op ads to businesses of all sizes. It says it will leverage the best of Facebook’s infrastructure for buying, managing, and measuring ads.

They’ll be opening the API to a select group of Facebook Marketing Partners and agencies at first, and will expand globally throughout the year.

A lot of the news in the social media advertising industry of late has been related to ecommerce, buy buttons and the like. Instagram is reportedly working on some features that could make the service a better marketing platform for ecommerce businesses hoping to attract buyers.

In which Instagram features do you see the greatest potential for marketing? Discuss.

Images via Instagram, KISSmetrics

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.