With Instagram becoming one of the most popular social channels for users to share content, it’s no wonder brands have looked to the photo sharing app to increase brand visibility and awareness.

But there’s more to it than that, with millions of users engaging with visual content every single day. Taking a closer look at why Instagram is proving to be one of the leading social channels for brands to use as a strategic marketing tool, there are a few key insights worth noting.

Instagram

Looking at Instagram’s early days, the app originally encouraged users to share photos with friends by allowing them to follow one another and “Like” each other’s content, similar features to Twitter and Facebook. However; rather than accentuate status updates and post text, Instagram was created to encourage amateur photographers to post personal updates by means of photo sharing. With key features such as filters, photo manipulation tools (LUX, highlight, contrast, shadow effects etc) users can achieve professional quality photos at the touch of a button.

Not only are these features easily accessible (let’s not forget that Instagram is free) it created a way for users to see details of their lives through a lens, creating a fan base culture relying on picture perfect moments without the need for professional photography equipment. Users who become savvy with its tools could generate thousands of followers – which brands and marketers quickly caught on to, at which point Instagram grew to be a network - a platform to encourage people to see an exclusive sneak peak into the lives of not only their friends but also, celebrities and their favourite brands.

Now, with the additional capability for users to share video content, brands have looked to Instagram to continue the “highlight reel” culture giving users a preview not only at their products, but at how to build a lifestyle built around them. Marketing with Instagram is no longer solely about trying to encourage users to buy their products, it’s about encouraging users to buy into their lifestyle. In the same way that Facebook and Twitter encourages users to develop a personal, intimate attachment to our favourite brands, celebrities and accounts; Instagram does this, but on a higher emotional level since visual marketing has a further capacity to tap into users’ emotions. This feeling of intimacy is not mutually exclusive across social channels since Instagram encourages users and brands to share their moments across all social channels, linking hashtags to their Twitter and Facebook feeds and consequently to their blog. No longer are we in an age where we see one ad followed by another, we are in an age where social media advertising must adhere to a platform trifecta to fully get brand messages across.

Interconnectivity is one of the leading top trends that Instagram marketers use to tap into their audience, since not only are messages communicated across effectively, brand strategies are developed to properly position Instagram photos to users in a way that makes it feel organic. We only see what we like, quite literally. If for example, I like a brand on Facebook, there is a strong likelihood that I will then see branded content from them on my Instagram feed. Consciously, I’ve liked their products and services on social media; therefore, being exposed to their content is much less tedious than if a sponsored post unrelated to my Likes popped up on my Instagram feed. From an analytical perspective, this strategy increases conversion rates and brand awareness.

Simply put: while some may look down their noses at sponsored posts, it truly has become one of the most effective ways to market products since brands are strategically placed on users’ timelines/feeds to cater towards individual user interests Collecting user data, in this case, is extremely powerful and has lasting effects, where brands are literally encouraged to get to know users on a very intimate level. In the same way your best friend would post a photo of their dog, sponsored posts incorporate themselves in a way that often feels organic since they cater towards our interests and likes.

Another common trend with Instagram is the ability to communicate contest and user engagement, visually. Rather than tweeting about a contest, a simple graphic, a 10 second video or a photo with the proper filter can catch our eye and lure us in. By using photos with corresponding hashtags, users feel they are being targeted individually creating a larger sense of connectivity and increasing the likelihood of the ever so popular double-tap (Like). This has been demonstrated on numerous occasions with large retail brands like Cadbury, Whistles and TopShop. We are not only engaging with content on Instagram, we’re engaging with a lifestyle and the feeling of inclusion.

Celebrities have done the same with their Instagram followers whereby they use the app as a means to connect their users with one another and build an image, a lifestyle and a sense of connection between them and their fans. We see a small window into their otherwise highly exclusive lives and feel included and captivated. This is commonly demonstrated by the likes of Taylor Swift who consistently posts fan photos on her Instagram. In doing so, the “Re-grammed” user generates a large following and extensive amount of Instagram popularity perpetuating the idea that we too, can be famous in our own way .

Using Instagram to market brands is one of the most effective ways to provoke emotion. When our option to respond to those photos is by commenting, connecting people and putting our likes on platform; Instagram is no longer a simple social networking tool, it is an app that visually captures word of mouth. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what then can we say about a brand who has posted over 500 times in a single year?

In my next blog I’ll give you the ins and outs of Instagram ads.