Mankind’s fascination with storytelling is as old as time. From the earliest depictions of hunting
conquests sprawled across cave walls, humans have been compelled to share their stories. Since
the existence of cameras, people have captured moments in time, telling stories in still, perfect
moments. Then, as technology evolved, the camera ended up in our phones, attached to us.
And the rest is … well, what this paper is about.
So why should brands care?
Because brands want loyal (i.e., profitable) customers. Because today, 79% of smartphone users’
main use of their phone is taking pictures. And because visual platforms like Instagram elicit
emotion, provide a window into their brand soul, and offer up a chance for brands to create
more intimate and engaged experiences with their audience. Customers who engage with
companies over social media spend 20-40% more money with those companies than customers
who do not. They also demonstrate a deeper emotional commitment, granting them an average
33 points higher Net Promoter Score (NPS), a common measure of customer loyalty.
That said, Instagram isn’t for everyone. The poor implementations we’ve seen serve as a
reminder that brands need to start with business objectives and strategies and determine which
tactics to use to support them, not the other way around.
Instagram is a mobile-only application that lets users share the visual moments of their days
to a community of like-minded people. Creators Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger envisioned
a photo-service that made pictures both “awesome looking” and easy to share and upload.
So they developed Instagram with a goal of changing how the world thinks about mobile
photography. In a little over a year, they did just that.
Released in October 2010, the app initially launched with support to share out to Facebook,
Twitter, Flickr and Tumblr, with Posterous and Foursquare joining their network peers just
three months later. The app also featured 11 one-click filters to instantly transform even the
most novice photographers into professionals. Today, Instagram boasts 18 filters, tilt-shift
focus capabilities and Lux (an auto-enhance tool to make photos more vibrant).
With a focus on positive user experience and community sharing, Instagram quickly grew to
one million users mere months after their initial launch. Add in the 2012 Android version of
the application and the fan base swelled to a massive 30 million eyeballs. Social networking
powerhouse Facebook couldn’t resist: on April 9, 2012, Instagram was purchased for a
staggering $1 billion.
October 2010
December 2010
January 2011
February 2011
March 2011
July 2011
1MM Registered Users
Instagram API
First Worldwide “Instameet”
Instagram Shares the Top 15 Photo Locations
Over 6MM people share over 100MM photos
September 2011
V2.0 is released, 10MM Registered Users
Live filters, tilt-shift, High res photos,
optional borders, rotation, new icon
New filters: amaro, rise, hudson, valencia
December 2011
January 2012
March 2012
April 3, 2012
2011 App Store iPhone App of the Year
Instagram Photos albums in FB, 15 MM Registered Users
Won Shorty for best app in social media
Instagram for Android launches
1MM downloads in first day
Instagram is acquired by Facebook for $1B
30MM users
What sets Instagram apart from all the other photo apps out there?
Beyond a robust suite of photo editing features, Instagram also
exploits the storyteller in all of us: that shared passion for capturing
our lives. They have done so with a simple, elegant user interface,
multiple channels of communication, features that make us all feel like
professionals, and a community of fellow enthusiasts. (A little buzzworthiness thrown in hasn’t hurt either.)
Their smart-growth model emphasizes a focus on user experience,
meaning less complaints and more photo uploads. This careful
approach to building a happy and engaged community of sharers took
Instagram from a micro-community to a daily habit for millions of users.
For brands, it’s an opportunity to tap into a community of millions of
people – and to provide a deeper understanding of who they are as a
brand and what they represent, beyond the products they sell every day.
With 1 billion photo uploads since their October 2010 launch, it’s obvious
Instagram has outgrown its role as a niche application for young hipsters.
Now it can easily be said it’s an app for anyone that wants to capture and
share the moments of their lives.
A few brands have already taken note. Early adopters run the gamut;
everyone, from Starbucks to Threadless to NBC, has taken advantage of
the Instagram platform to build their own communities around visually
compelling photos (without necessarily hawking their products).
And because other photo-filter and sharing apps have been less successful,
Instagram is the place to be – for both user and brand.
Life looks lovelier through a rose-colored photo filter – or at least, that’s what
30 million Instagram users believe. Instagram lets people create a distinct
mood in their pictures. It adds a visual dimension that simply can’t be captured
through text-based sharing.
Some brands are also finding that Instagram’s filters offer a new perspective
on logos that are, in some cases, hundreds of years old.
On December 31, 2010,
Instagram saw an average
of 259,200 uploads per
day. As of April 3, 2012
they are seeing 5 million+
uploads per day.
Photo Sharing
With the rise of popular photo-focused social networks from Flickr to Pinterest
and Polyvore, the emphasis on the visual has never been more apparent.
Instagram capitalized on this trend by not only building an in-app community
but also by allowing photographers to share photos outside of the application.
With over five million photo uploads per day, and countless shares out to
other networks, Instagram has secured their position as the central hub of
photo distribution.
If brands weren’t looking at Instagram before, Facebook’s acquisition of the service
has certainly turned some heads. But wait! As with any new social network, Instagram
needs to be approached with a strategic lens before jumping on the photo sharing
“brandwagon” (the next hot platform that every brand feels they need to jump on).
Instead, they should consider the story they want to tell, how it plays out in Instagram
as well as all other digital channels.
Taking advantage of the visual impact Instagram can make, brands can leverage the
growing community to convey their story through images. Brands that have a clear
story to tell and a creative way to share it will surely see success.
There are a number of ways to get involved, from listening to curating to owning. Each
level requires varying amounts of effort. Yet it all requires an active role.
Ideally, brands should identify their involvement on Instagram based both on
their available resources as well as their long-term brand or campaign strategies.
Remember, this is a community. To be successful means to be engaged.
At the most basic level of engagement, brands should regularly monitor both their keywords and their
larger brand category. Through proactive listening, they can measure the level of passion and sentiment.
Both passion for the brand and the category can be an indicator of whether or not marketers should take
a more active role on Instagram.
Zeroing in on Instagram listening can also uncover emerging trends and topics in a larger brand category.
Instagram lets brands tell a new kind of story, one that is about the brand – not just from the brand.
And who better to talk about a brand than its advocates?
Using brand-relevant hashtags to pull in content, companies can highlight photos from their fans –
whether it’s surfacing related photos, or featuring beautiful photos that convey the visual expression
of the brand.
Curating works especially well for brands looking to Instagram as a supporting extension of a
campaign. It is, perhaps, the best way to experiment on the platform. It requires less effort from
a community standpoint and can serve to enhance any campaign while exposing new users to the
brand on the platform.
And from an SEO standpoint, it gives a brand a new source of content for the search engines to crawl.
See our Levi’s example in the case study section.
Brands need to be more strategic in the way they
approach content creation. Larger photo, video and
link stories within timeline mean that brands who
want to continue to see engagement must place
greater focus on visuals.
Working with creative teams, marketers will now
need to identify which posts should include custom
Owning - Creating
visuals, and when posts should be highlighted within
timeline. Just as important – if not more, will be
Brands can carve out their own role with
a dedicated
telling sharability.
content to
their own unique story through photoSquare,
As theirfor
can on the
instance, look better
also engage with the Instagram community
and Milestones or
right or
side of relevant
the timeline,
liking and commenting on their photos.
starred posts should be rectangular images.
Still, owning an Instagram feed requires
a long-term
and the
a high
level of to choose
posts give
commitment to community management.
in when
post the
user pulling
sees first
arriving to
content from fans, brands should be prepared
a consistent
stream engaging
the page.toThese
should highlight
of content and to engage with users that
are both
and talking
or questions
that drive
the brand (or even competitors) in theinteraction
and exploration of the Page. Deciding
which posts to highlight each week will be an
See our Nat Geo example in the case
study section.
part of content strategy and how a brand
chooses to share their story.
As content evolves, so should measurement. New
engagement metrics such as Reach, Virality, PTAT,
60% of Facebook fans and 79% of Twitter followers
and Stories that launched late last year will help
are more likely to recommend those brands since
becoming a fan or follower. 51% of Facebookbrands
determine which posts resonate with fans
and 67% of Twitter followers are more likely to
buy posts do not. Negative feedback, such as
the brands they follow or are a fan of.
hidden stories and unsubscribes should also be
monitored to optimize content.
Have a Plan
There is no doubt Instagram will continue to be a powerhouse in the social space. Yet, as with every
social channel, success for brand accounts relies largely on having a plan, specifically one that roles
back up to business objectives. Whether Instagram is a supporting element of a larger campaign or
has a day-to-day presence for brands, it’s critical to have content strategies, established roles and success metrics determined before launching an account.
Build a Content Strategy
It’s fair to say unique, custom creative – something that is special and different from what a participant
usually has access to – is going to drive better participation.
In order to do this, it is important for brands to establish a content strategy that isn’t one-off or standalone. It needs to be part of a larger plan, integrate with an overarching effort and, of course, promote
appealing visuals pushed to a pre-determined audience. A strategy that includes Instagram should
evolve with the fan base and with key learnings generated along the way.
Use #Hashtags
Whether a brand is executing a short-term curation campaign or establishing a long-term presence,
using hashtags can increase viewership, drive thematic photo shares and contribute to SEO efforts.
And for Instragram, who doesn’t have a Web presence,
leveraging an existing platform or aggregating hashtags
into a page on a brand’s website is necessary. Both are
tactics that can be used to leverage Instagram content
on a search engine friendly website. This will allow the
brand the most likely way to control search engine results for promotions or brand tags.
A social community should be social – and that means
brands wanting to develop a true community will need
to focus on engaging their followers. Brands should
build a plan determining when to follow new or existing
followers, when to like or comment on photos, and when
to block inappropriate users.
Share and Distribute
While building a base of engaged followers is important, brands can also use Instagram to enhance
larger campaigns. Social is the connective tissue in marketing that brings everything together. The
ease of sharing with Instagram makes promoting strong visuals across other social channels a simple
way to build content and interaction.
Have a Schedule
Brands should post often – but not too often. Finding the right balance of posting frequency on
Instagram is important to cultivating followers. Much like any other social network, maintaining relevancy and standing out from the crowd is crucial. Conversely, it’s just as crucial to not be viewed as
spam in a user’s newsfeed.
Determine KPIs
Like all marketing initiatives, attributing success is important, and how it rolls up to business objectives is
critical. It should be determined in advance how success will be measured on Instagram. Brands should
be prepared to evolve their campaigns and strategies based on campaign learnings and results – and
even to correlate results to sales and/or a Net Promoter Score.
One-Click Filters
The heart of Instagram, these filters overlay an effect onto a user’s
photo, giving it an artistic look, setting a mood. An example of
a one-click filter is their new Lux filter, which makes photos more
vibrant, essentially an auto-enhance tool.
This adds a focus point, a line or circle, to the user’s image –
allowing for effects such as miniaturization and to bring an area
of focus to the image.
Hashtags work the same way as in Twitter, providing an easy way
for images to be found and a way to identify a photo with a larger
theme. They can also be used as a tool to easily curate images
around a campaign.
Similar to the Facebook feature, users can “like” photographs.
Social Sharing
Instagram makes sharing photos easy. They support Facebook,
Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, Posterous, and Flickr.
Open API
Instagram has an easy to use application programming interface
(API), allowing developers to build apps that communicate with,
and use information from, Instagram that is free and open for use
by all developers.
Third Party Integrations
Hipstamatic, another camera filter app, and Diptic, a photo-stitching
app, both allow users to share into Instagram. Using the Instagram
API, Hipstamatic users can share their photos directly into their
Instagram feed and the community. Diptic users can create mini
photo collages and then import them to Instagram and overlay filters
before sharing.
The Instagram for Android launch in April 2012 was met with mixed reviews.
Many long-time users of the iOS version cried foul, complaining that their
community was going to be overrun with Instagram amateurs, while other
iOS users were happy to see the community grow.
“Ew. I don’t want to see Android phones in my Instagram feed. I like it being an Apple club. #elitist” - @logaq
In response, a number of Android users mockingly posted photos asking if
they were doing it correctly.
“Hey #iPhone people, amidoinitrite? #android” - @evcon
Yet, for the most part, Instagram for Android matches the iOS version in almost
every way, though it is missing a couple of features. These missing elements
have been attributed to the fragmentation of the Android platform and are not
related to emphasizing one operating system over another.
One-Click Filters
Live Filters
Social Sharing
Double Tap
To like a post, simply double tap the image.
Share Old Posts
Tap the ellipsis icon under your photo and choose the “Share post” option.
Stealth Mode
Head over to settings and scroll to the bottom, from there you can make
your photos private, meaning that you must accept follower requests.
Be Searchable
Use common hashtags to make photos easier to find in search results.
While users can type URLs into their photo descriptions and comments, Instagram lacks click-through support for URLs. And without the ability to copy/
paste from comments, users are forced to scratch down or memorize these
links and type them into their browsers manually.
Multiple Sign-Ons
Instagram lacks the ability for multiple sign-ons, meaning users can only
handle one account at a time. To use multiple accounts, they must log out
of and back into the app, which flies in the face of the real-time nature of
the application.
Web Presence
Instagram also lacks a full-featured Web presence. For the time being, the
website serves as a home for the blog and FAQ sections as well as a way to
direct users to download the app.
Finding Accounts
There is currently no system for promoted accounts and, as such, the only
way to find users and brands is to actively search for their presences.
There is currently no opportunity for backlinks or traffic creation to exterior URLs. Within the platform
and API-accessible platforms, discovery is limited to account following or searching via keyword. And
since the photo source is usually a mobile device or tablet, there is no Web-based source to use for a
backlink destination.
Because Instagram isn’t search engine friendly, it’s outperformed by many of the API partners that are
more “crawlable.” For example, searching #iamlevis in Google shows the API partner
iamlevis as the first position in the search results, outperforming even Levis’ own site. Instagram had
only one appearance (and outside of the top 10) in an explicit search: #iamlevis site:instagram.
See our Moby example in the case study section.
Engauge conducted a Social Listening project to better understand the sentiment around Instagram
during and around key moments, such as the Android app launch and the Facebook buyout. These are
the results:
Volume of “Instagram” mentions (all weeks Sunday – Saturday)
Week prior to Android launch: 629,625
Week of Android launch: 2,969,034 (increased by 4.7x; 56% of all Instagram chatter was
about Android)
Week of Facebook announcement: 2,917,360 (65% of all Instagram chatter was about
Android and Facebook)
Almost entirely from Twitter (99%+)
When the Android app launched (April 3-8):
22% of chatter was positive
42% of chatter was neutral
36% of chatter was negative
When Facebook buyout was announced (April 9-14):
Positive 22%
- Facebook had no positive chatter (less than 1%)
- 22% of positive chatter around Android
Neutral 51%
- Android (news/announcements mostly) 19%
- Facebook (news/announcements mostly) 32%
Negative 27%
- Android 12%
- Facebook 15%
“Studying the user reaction
with over 200K tweets Crimson
Hexagon found that over 18%
of users were in a dilemma,
other 35% were mad at both
Facebook and Instagram, and
the rest had mixed feelings
with only 12% of users actually
appreciating it.”
* Engauge Social Listening using Crimson Hexagon, April 2012.
B R A N DS & C A S E S
Overview: #iamlevis casting call
Levi’s is a great example of a brand that is using Instagram to drive campaigns. The #iamlevis casting
call promotion asked users to Instagram photos of themselves, tagging them with #iamlevis – with
the goal of finding the next Levi’s model. The campaign also takes a different direction than most in
that, according to the team at GQ Magazine, it has no end date and is not being described by Levi’s
as a contest.
Providing a low barrier to entry in order to win such a coveted reward is what made this campaign so
great. The campaign took advantage of an already engaged audience and drove rapid fan growth
over a four-month time span and it is still going on.
Since the campaign’s launch at the end of 2012, the Levi’s Instagram account has grown the follower
base from just 645 to close to 6,000 and the campaign has received over 3,000 entries – impressive
for a brand with less than 6,000 followers. The concept was interesting in that users were not asked
to take a photo of anything Levi’s branded in order to enter, following suit with Levi’s most recent
advertising campaign focusing on culture rather than products.
Overview: Storytelling through Instagram
National Geographic, a company that has thrived in what could be described as a volatile industry,
chose Instagram to extend the way they tell and share their stories.
With the real-time element of Instagram, National Geographic can share its stories with users as they
unfold and provide a look at the story from a completely different perspective. For instance, users can
now see photos from National Geographic in their Instagram feeds just as they would from a friend,
which adds a personal and more authentic element to the stories they profile.
Their most recent Instagram “episode” was #oneverest, a documentary about a Mount Everest climb
told through the eyes of the climbers themselves – all on Instagram.
The stream is filled with photos taken by the climbers and offers a different take on the typical magazine-style story; one where followers can fill in the gaps between photos instead of being told what’s
happening by the writer.
Musician and DJ Moby figured out how to tackle both Instagram and SEO in one fell swoop – with a
microsite created to support his May 2011 “Destroyed” album release (
As the site instructs:
What does your city look like at 2 a.m.? Add your own “Destroyed” images to the map using Instagram:
Download Instagram free from the iPhone App Store here.
Press the Share button.
Take a picture of your city at 2 a.m.
Make sure you include #destroyed in the What? field and set your location in the Where? field.
The site then pulls the photos from Instagram via API that match the hashtag and incorporates them
into a world map UI for browsing by location.
This is a push-pull approach – asking users to place content inside Instagram and then curating the
content externally.
By focusing all the content tagging to a single keyword (#destroyed), Moby’s site is number one on
Google for the word “destroyed” – a dictionary word not associated with Moby prior to the promotion.
The future is bright for Instagram. It’s a platform that has the foundational elements to exploit
the behaviors that foster great communities – a beautiful and easy to use interface, tools that
bring out the artist in its users, a sense of exclusivity and intimacy, and simple ways to share
inside and outside of the platform.
All of this is said knowing that Facebook’s recent acquisition of Instagram means that the
future direction for the app could go cold in any number of ways.
Photo Integration
The Facebook acquisition opens up tremendous possibilities for photo integration, both
from a brand-owned and campaign-correlated perspective. Easier integration could mean an
in-wall upload or share experience, streams dedicated to Instagram hashtags, or Facebookenhanced photo filters.
This could also speak to the evolution of brand pages. Depending on the direction Facebook
takes with Instagram, it could give brands on Facebook a new, visually compelling way to
convey their stories.
More Targeted Advertising
Instagram brings a treasure trove of data. What’s collected within the app is a marketer’s dream
– location, time of day, and much more. It’s data that can improve experiences for the user
community, but, more importantly, for the brands that might advertise in the future.
Considering the buyout, Facebook has tried for years to integrate location, most notably with
Facebook Places, which was less than a hit. So they took a step back, and over the last year and
a half, worked on making location tagging universal. This has led to a tidy bump in use of geolocation in user posts. Their Instagram move reinforces their investment in geo-location.
With Facebook already prepared to invest heavily in their mobile offerings, we can imagine
that both platforms will place an even stronger emphasis on their mobile platforms. With the
Instagram team likely to join the previously purchased Gowalla team, Facebook is on its
way again.
Also, with the Android app behind them, expansion to other mobile platforms, namely Windows
Phone, seems to be inevitable.
Instagram has always been about creation. It’s a platform designed to share, yet distribution was
never built in – there is no Web-based community. Instead, users create and then share to larger
networks like Twitter and Facebook. With the buyout, Facebook and Instagram are tied together,
bringing Facebook into the creation space, allowing for native distribution with Instagram.
So, what does this all mean for the future of other photo sharing apps? Perhaps some Instagram
loyalists will flock to other platforms – if even temporarily – giving a bump to other platforms.
Only time will tell.
Instagram holds a lot of promise for brands. And the Facebook acquisition has only made the
future more interesting. To be successful, brands need to have a plan for how they will use the
platform. Most importantly, they have to be ready to bare their souls, and to react quickly to fine
tune as they go in order to make their presence right and relevant for the audience.
Engauge is a full-service agency for the digital and social age. We help grow
our clients’ business by leveraging creativity and technology to connect
brands and consumers through the most relevant content and channels.
The proliferation of content and channel opportunities for both consumers
and brands has forever changed the communications landscape. What
hasn’t changed are the core fundamentals of marketing: The ability to richly
understand a consumer; to derive a thoughtful insight; and to create a big
idea. For the past several years, Engauge has helped lead its clients by
staying true to these fundamentals, while focusing on talent, technology,
innovation and building a dynamic range of capabilities – from the tried and
true, to social, mobile and whatever’s next.
Today’s marketing is assuredly more complex, but to us the premiseis still
quite simple. Listen to the client. Listen to the consumer. And deliver big
ideas at the right time and place.
BY: Cristin Jordan, Lee Newton
IMAGE CREDITS: Instagram, Katie Melick
1230 Peachtree St NE
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Joe Koufman
[email protected]