Instagram: how creative can brands get with this app?

Instagram: how creative can brands get with this app?

Instagram, the free mobile photo-sharing app already has 80 million users and counting. Are you thinking about putting your brand on Instagram? Here are some creativity-sparking concepts and content ideas from industry-watchers and from brands already sizzling on this ultra-popular mobile social platform.

What Is Instagram? For those as yet unfamiliar with it (and there aren’t too many people or brands like that anymore!), Instagram is both a photo editing tool and a social network … it is often described as a mobile photo-sharing app, but unlike many other photo-sharing spaces online, this one is different for two reasons. One, Instagram uses a square photo format which differs visually from the rectangular photo formats normally in use. Two, it uniquely allows filters to be applied to photos, which means that you can easily create stunning images with unpredictable and intriguing special effects.

In April 2012, Instagram was acquired by Facebook, and its popularity rose several notches higher than before. Although originally a mobile app, it is rumored that Facebook is helping Instagram develop a web presence using a new “Explore” tab that will allow users to see the photos online and not just via mobiles.

What makes Instagram particularly appealing to brands as an advertising platform is that it is all about “visual storytelling”. The way a lot of brands have learnt to use it to best advantage is to employ sequences of photos as a means of broadcasting “brand stories” with imagination and via visual cues.

Erica Ayotte writing in the Social Media Examiner further adds: “Instagram is the perfect storm of mobile and image-based technology … it combines two of the most powerful forces in the social technology market – mobile and photo sharing – to create a platform that truly offers a unique value proposition. Brands with an Instagram presence can take advantage of that intersection where users are focusing their attention.”

With so much ease of use and opportunity for creative expression, it is no wonder that the popularity of Instagram is impressive. According to Followgram, there are currently 7 million Instagram users worldwide, uploading 1.3m photos each day. Over 150 million photos have been uploaded in total (on average 15 per second). Instagram has enjoyed 78 million likes on pictures so far. 8 out of every 10 all photos uploaded have had a filter added.

Steve Olenski, writing in the Forbes Magazine attributes some of the popularity of Instagram to Pinterest: “Perhaps it’s the “Pinterest Effect” – the social media network that is all about the visual side of life, but more and more brands, especially the big boys on the brand block, are joining Instagram. If you’re not including Instagram as part of your social media strategies, which should be part of your overall integrated marketing campaigns, you are missing out on a golden opportunity to move that needle.”

Among brands that are using Instagram innovatively and extensively, Simply Measured, the monitoring site states that “…40% of the brands listed in Interbrand’s Top 100 have set up shop on Instagram. For brands that continue to hold out and watch as their competition is engaging users and measuring results, 80 million potential customers are being ignored.”

Top brands with the greatest fan following on Instagram, according to Simply Measured, are shown in the table below. MTV, Starbucks, Burberry and Nike lead the pack.

Instagram popularity

To add to Instagram’s already high usage by target audiences of brands, there are also now a number of gadgets entering the markets that seek to increase photo-viewing options for users. Instacube, for example, is a new 600×600 digital photo frame of sorts, which connects to the world via your wireless network, and is designed to constantly stream your Instagram feeds directly to the screen. It even has a button on the frame to ‘like’ your favorite photos. Another new gadget ‘Projecteo’ is a tiny Instagram Projector powered by a single LED that can project 6 Instagram photos from a single old-fashioned 35mm slide film, making all your digital photography tangible once again.

So what can brands do with Instagram to creatively exploit the medium? Ideas abound. Vanessa Au, a writer with the Social Media Examiner, has come up with at least ten great ways for brands to do their “storytelling through pictures”. Here are her suggestions, along with some great brand examples she has picked up …

  • Use Instagram to show your products … Rogue Ales is a brewery from Oregon, for instance, showcases its wide range of many varieties of ales, porters, lagers, stouts and spirits to eager fans.
  • Use Instagram to show how your products are made … Oliver Winery has created a collage of photos to demonstrate how exactly its wine goes into its bottles.
  • Use Instagram to take audiences “behind the scenes” … Nordstrom for example, lets its target audiences have a rare look at the steps that go into the production of its famous catalog.
  • Use Instagram to demonstrate what your products can do … Sephora, the make-up brand, uses Instagram to show viewers the before and after-effects of applying mascara correctly on women’s eyelashes.
  • Use Instagram to allow audiences a “sneak peek” … Keen, the shoes brand, has posted a picture of its future headquarters in various stages of construction to give audiences a feel of where their future shoes will be coming from.
  • Use Instagram to focus less on products and to show company culture … Zappos, another shoe brand, showcases its ultra-informal office cubicles to show fans its friendly brand personality.
  • Use Instagram to “take audiences on trips” … for example, the Seattle Sounders soccer team shows photos of its players at different airports en route to playing destinations.
  • Use Instagram to showcase memorable company employees … Keen, the shoes brand, uses a lot of photos of weird but warm moments at work, when employees are caught at their “less-than-best”.
  • Use Instagram to show off your brand’s celebrity power … Sony regularly shares celebrity sightings at its cinema events.
  • Use Instagram to appeal with cute “fuzziness” … the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art shows playful pictures of a puppy wearing its branded T-shirt.

All of the ideas above are eminently do-able for any brand, but here are some more utterly whacko ideas from brands that have done rarer things with Instagram. Here are four of my favorites, chosen for the uniqueness of their brainwaves. In all cases, instead of the brands showcasing themselves on Instagram, they have invited hordes of Instagram-crazy fans to do something rare and impactful for their brands …

Sony Music has decided to marry the power of Instagram with the concept of “crowdsourcing”. For their upcoming new single “Wetsuit”, in their video titled “The Vaccines”, Sony have called on Instagram users to submit their festival photos live (just by shooting new photos or uploading existing ones and tagging them as #vaccinesvideo). From their Sony Instagram Gallery, the director of the new single will source everything for the music video.

The very with-it glasses company Warby Parker hosted “Insta-Walks” in New York, where Instagram fans were invited to “visually chronicle” and post on Instagram their walk from the company’s headquarters in Soho to the rooftop of the Gansevoort in the Meatpacking District. The result: they had some awesome photo promotions and truckloads of happy fans drunk on of Warby Parker-themed drinks. Photo: Instagram, deluda

Warby Parker

Red Bull posts a “daily awesome” photo collection gathered from the galleries of other Instagram users. A spokesperson of the company says that Red Bull does more than just force its own content onto its followers. It more often “Likes” other users’ photos “that illustrate people’s ideas of getting wings.” Red Bull especially celebrates the concept it calls “Flying Fridays” on Instagram. Photo: instagram.heroku.com

Red Bull

Puma, the sports gear brand, has taken to sending “influential Instagrammers” (those with at least 100,000-plus followers) to some awesome brand events to take pictures. The company recently gave powerful Instagrammers all-inclusive trips to Abu Dhabi to photograph the Volvo Ocean Race. Puma doesn’t have a huge Instagram following itself, so this strategy ensured that a lot of people would see the pictures. Photo: web.stagram.com

Puma Sports

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