The value proposition of Instagram, the iOS-exclusive photography app, is simple: Make photography fun, beautiful, and above all, easily shareable. Since launching last October, its viral growth (read: with no formal advertising) has been unprecedented, adding 12 million users in just as many months to reach a global download run-rate of one app per second. As a result, Instagram has become increasingly popular with brands across verticals for its inherent social networking capabilities and as a tool to forge more vivid, personal relationships with fans and consumers.


A recent article from Ad Age reported that, within the last year, major global brands like Puma and GE and even political figures like President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg have incorporated Instagram into their digital strategies. And while startups don’t officially partner with companies, there are roughly 200 brands, celebrities and organizations currently leveraging the platform’s reach.


Brands are using Instagram in a variety of ways. Denim mainstay Levi’s is currently looking to Instagram to find the face of their next campaign through encouraging users to tag their portraits with #iamlevis. Tiffany & Co.’s Instagram account highlights its recent advertising campaigns, holiday windows and craftsmanship. Even brands without an official account still find ways to take advantage of the channel. Clothing line 7 For All Mankind, for instance, scours the platform for photos tagged #7FAM to blog about how people are wearing their products.


Specialty retailers are finding Instagram to be an especially engaging and cost-effective way to strengthen their online presence. Without spending a single dollar, companies can reach thousands of interested consumers to showcase products, promote events, and offer a porthole into daily work culture.


L2 found swift adoption of Instagram in both the Digital IQ Index: Specialty Retail and Digital IQ Index: European Specialty Retail, as more than a quarter of brands in each Index had active accounts. Notably, the US-centric Specialty Retail report found more than double the average number of brand followers than European specialty retailers.


As Instagram gains even more momentum, brands should explore ways to maximize the ROI of integrating Instagram into their current marketing mix. Whether using it as an independent marketing vehicle to increase brand awareness or as a part of a larger social media effort, Instagram’s visually-inviting platform and intimate user experience will help smaller brands, in particular, punch above their weight class.

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