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Four years ago, L2 predicted Instagram would be the most powerful platform in the world and the prediction stands. As consumers gravitate toward images over text, Instagram’s visual platform functions as a connective tissue between consumers, products and brands.

Brands often ask about how they can leverage the platform to a digital community of potential customers. Here are some do’s and don’ts that emerged from L2’s recent study, which evaluates the approach and performance of 250 brands across nine categories on Instagram.

DO: Test and Learn, Natively. Unlike the pay-to-play ethos of Facebook, pure sweat (namely content testing and optimization) still drives meaningful results on Instagram. During this era of unwalled access to their Instagram followers, savvy marketers are focusing resources
on experimenting with high-quality content types versus acquiring followers. Enamored by 100 percent organic reach, brands have dialed up efforts on Instagram, and post frequency has grown 23 percent over the last five quarters.

Given that brands are incentivized to cut through the noise with as much content as possible, how much is too much? There is a negative correlation between post frequency and engagement rate, but it’s a weak one. One-third of brands posting over 20 times per week maintain above-average engagement.

instagram-2015-average-post-frequency-per-week-by-category

DON’T: Wait. For brands, these are the salad days. Motivated to both preserve user experience and create scarcity value, Instagram has kept advertising on the platform to a minimum, subsidizing organic reach. Given Facebook’s demonstrated willingness to erect a paywall between brands and their communities overnight, brands should assume the worst—that organic reach will be supplanted by pay-to-play on Instagram—and ensure the assets and skills being built up will stand when muscle (money) replaces sweat.

DO: Put Product Front and Center. With brands feverishly testing out content on Instagram, what’s connecting with consumers? Product imagery—and product stories told in the context of lifestyle—garners the greatest engagement, according to an analysis of the top 200 Instagram posts by engagement 
rate throughout Q1-Q3 2014. Some 65
 percent of these posts prominently 
feature product, and 43 percent include general lifestyle. (Content classifications are non-exclusive, so posts may combine two or more elements.)

DON’T: Get Overly Promotional. Least likely to engage consumers are posts promoting contests, CSR initiatives or sales. There are a few exceptions: socially conscious Patagonia’s CSR posts and teen brand Aéropostale’s frequent promo codes and contests.

DO: Leverage Celebrity Communities. New brand ambassadors should increasingly be vetted through the lens of their Instagram prowess. Anyone wondering why Estée 
Lauder’s signed Kendall Jenner over the multitude of other rising stars need only have taken note of her Instagram following (currently up to 23.4 million) and ranking as one of the platform’s most-followed accounts (No. 8 as of March 10). In the 24 hours after the Kardashian sibling announced her brand ambassadorship in an Instagram post last November, @esteelauder’s Instagram following jumped 18 percent.

instagram-2015-estee-lauder-growth-in-instagram-followers

When Estée Lauder and Jenner coordinated to post a video in January, Jenner’s post collected over 444,000 total likes, greater than the entirety of @esteelauder’s following. The brand is getting the kind of exposure it could only otherwise have achieved through advertising. Engagement metrics suggest that the real power of celebrity comes from the brand being featured on the celebrity’s account and not the other way around.

DON’T: Risk Consumer Backlash. It should be noted that Jenner’s Estée Lauder video was actually her least-popular post in 2015 as of mid-March, suggesting that consumers are wary of inauthenticity when it comes to celebrity brand endorsements. Brands will need to draft off ambassadors’ rabid communities with caution, given that many Instagram users favor the platform precisely because it’s not overpopulated with unwanted marketing messages.

DO: Capitalize on UGC. Better than brands, consumers thread the needle between aspirational and authentic imagery. Consider that the #MyShinola campaign generates 1.7x the engagement of Shinola’s other posts on Instagram and Twitter (the brand deftly uses high-quality user images to augment product collateral on site). Making use of consumers’ Instagram content at scale also gives brands an additional means by which to connect with and recognize advocates. But by and large, user-generated content remains especially underleveraged relative to its power to drive sales.

Enabled by rights management platforms that connect brands to Instagram content creators, the most digitally savvy brands are incorporating consumer Instagram images into not just product pages but display ads, emails, and other digital marketing vehicles. Benefit Cosmetics, for instance, has leveraged its #realsies UGC campaign by integrating social imagery in product pages and using consumers’ Instagram photos in retargeted display units.

DON’T: Discriminate in Favor of Super-Users. Brands needn’t seek out content exclusively from Instagrammers with large follower bases. Data suggests there’s virtually no relationship between follower count and the ability of a consumer’s Instagram photos to drive revenue (discovered by tracking photos clicked during defined consumer browsing sessions).

The potential of Instagram’s platform for brands is still unfolding. Brands can now tell richer, sequenced stories in the form of swipeable galleries of up to four images thanks to the carousel ads that Instagram launched last month. More important, marketers can embed a post-level call-to-action in the units—a first for Instagram—but it doesn’t link off-platform. Most intriguing, however, is the idea of ad packages across both Facebook and Instagram, leveraging previously eschewed data-sharing practices. A Mercedes-Benz campaign in 2014 beta-tested the ability to retarget Facebook users who had already seen Mercedes’ ads on Instagram, leading to a 54 percent increase in site visits. This month, Stuart Weitzman sent product posts on Facebook to consumers who saw its video ads on Instagram. The pairing of Facebook and Instagram creates an atomic force, the marketing world’s nuclear fusion.

For more on how brands are leveraging Instagram, download an excerpt of L2’s Intelligence Report: Instagram.

 

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