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Instagram - the next big social network?

10/04/2015

Marketers are well aware of the potential benefits of social media, although the reality is that very few businesses have proven capable of harnessing this power. Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook offer organisations a chance to engage directly with consumers, which is a massive opportunity - however, the irreverent nature of the medium means that many people eschew branded content.

The best brands on social media have been able to embrace its intricacies and eccentricities, avoiding the ‘hard sell’ in favour of a quirky or engaging approach that connects with other users.

But what is the best platform available to marketers keen to link up with potential buyers?

According to new research from Forrester, Instagram is getting the best results for global companies.

This online photo and video-sharing service is popular with young people and boasts more than 200 million users worldwide.

From Dalston hipsters taking specially-filtered pictures of grotty alleyways to foodies sharing their latest Byron Burger with the world, the app has clearly struck a chord with users.

Are marketers able to turn this to their advantage?

Decluttered advertising

Forrester’s new study was based on three million user interactions with more than 2,500 brands. It found that although six out of seven regularly used social networks, engagement rates were less than one per cent.

For every one million Facebook fans those brands had collected, each of their posts received only about 700 likes, comments and shares. On Twitter, the ratio was about 300 interactions per one million followers, reports Market Watch.

Of course, ‘likes’ or retweets are not the sine qua non of social marketing. Brand engagement is an increasingly important metric and it is entirely possible that consumers can be influenced by a tweet or post without feeling the need to leave a comment underneath it or spread it across their own social network.

Furthermore, given the huge number of users recorded by both Facebook and Twitter, even a small percentage of engagement represents an impressive performance, especially if a brand can achieve the much-coveted position of ‘going viral’.

But according to Forrester, Instagram is outperforming its rival networks by far when it comes to engagement and manual interaction.

One factor in this is that it is a relatively decluttered platform.

Brand ads posted on Instagram delivered 58 times more engagement per follower than Facebook and 120 times more engagement per follower than Twitter, the research experts found.

“While Instagram has more than 200 million monthly active users, it attracts fewer people than Facebook and Twitter do. Plus fewer marketers use Instagram, and those that do post less frequently. The result? Brands’ Instagram posts don’t have to fight through as much clutter to reach their followers,” said the study.

How can marketers leverage these possibilities?

Each type of social media platform has its own tone and style, in the same way that certain companies have a reputation or image that needs to be safeguarded when engaging in social marketing.

Twitter lends itself well to pithy comments and instantaneous engagement with consumers; Facebook is arguably a better home for branded content or longer-form pieces of writing that marketers hope will gain shares.

So what is Instagram good for?

Interestingly, the site published a list of best practice guidelines earlier this year for marketers hoping to use it, citing examples by brands such as Nike and Ben & Jerry’s.

This encouraged companies to stay true to their brand, share experiences, inspire action and find beauty in the unexpected or mundane. Of course, actually following this advice could prove difficult depending on the product or service an organisation provides, but it does highlight what tends to work on the popular platform.

Ultimately, as with Twitter and Facebook, the personal and engaging will always trump the stuffy and corporate.

Time is running out

Forrester suggested that the sweet spot currently being enjoyed by marketers on Instagram will not last forever.

“As users and marketers flock to Instagram, clutter will increase and Instagram will likely begin filtering out brands’ posts in the name of relevance. Marketers must use Instagram now, before it changes the rules - and they must be ready to move on to another social site when Instagram’s phenomenal engagement rates disappear,” the study said.

Strategic thinking

Hopefully, the lesson marketers take from Forrester’s study will not be that they should migrate all their social media to Instagram. Instead, the research highlights the importance of strategic thinking around these functions.

Businesses need to work out which platform offers the best levels of engagement for them before beginning to create content, as simply posting tweet after tweet out into the wilderness will ultimately deliver nothing in terms of return on investment or brand awareness.