Time and time again, it's been shown that social media users love photographs. That's not to say that text is ineffective–just that photos are an eye-catching, effective way to get information across online.
Text and pictures both have their place in the social media world, and it's often up to individual users and businesses to find a good mix of both.
But despite the draw of photos, and the mind-boggling fact that requests for Instagram skills in jobs have gone up 644% since 2012, it can be hard to find a real place for Instagram as a business.
So really, who cares about Instagram, anyways?
The Top 50
A quick look through the most followed users on Instagram is pretty telling in that regard. Excluding Instagram itself (who we don't really count as a 'user'), you have to go 25 spots down the list to get past the individuals–Taylor Swift, Barack Obama, etc.–to get to a real, non-individual brand. First up is National Geographic at 26, then it's Victoria's Secret at 27.
Next up is Nike at 48, and it's all downhill from there.
Right now, then, the vast majority of the top accounts on Instagram are made for one purpose. You may be surprised, so get ready, but… That purpose is looking at pretty, interesting things.
As a culture, we love following celebrities–so it ought not to come as any sort of surprise that they take up a large portion of Instagram's top 50. In another category, we have National Geographic and Victoria's Secret (both of whom are both pretty and interesting), and then there are outliers like Nike. I'm not sure exactly where they fit into this whole equation, but their sheer popularity as a massive international brand may have something to do with it.
The reason that Instagram is comprised much more of personal brands than companies lies, I think, in Instagram's hesitation to actually "allow" advertising. I say "allow" because, although Mark Zuckerberg came out a few days ago and said that he's not planning on officially allowing advertising on Instagram (yet), there is still advertising happening.
And yes, even despite recently-clarified (yet still very vague) rules from the FTC about disclosures and mobile advertising, there's still advertising happening under-the-table.
Which brings us back to our original question. As a business, why should you care about Instagram?
Do You Fit the Mold?
In some cases, you should care about Instagram, and in other cases, you really shouldn't.
As a business, you need to make very clear what your intention is with a specific platform before even thinking about signing up. For Facebook, you may want to appeal to the emotional side of your customers, and for Twitter, you probably want to share your blogs and aggregate links. The problem with Instagram is that its purpose is less clear-cut.
Yes, on the surface it's all about sharing images. But for celebrities, the purpose is to keep fans updated, and really, to show off (I maintain that in many cases, Instagram is nothing more than a giant humble-brag fest). And unless your goals fall very clearly into one of those purposes, it's harder to find any immediate value.
There are still a few cases that Instagram is useful as a business. You can:
- Start conversations (yes, you can use pictures to do that)
- Show off pretty pictures (have a new cupcake you're starting to sell? Show it off!)
Monitor the conversation
The first one is pretty self-explanatory. But two and three require a little more explanation.
An important thing you need to learn about Instagram and marketing if you decide that you want to give it a shot is to be subtle. Though larger celebrities are getting away with advertising, we're not sure how much longer that will keep up, especially given the FTC and Zuckerberg's recent announcements. But that doesn't mean that you can't show pictures of your products and encourage people to come into your store. Just don't be in-your-face about it and you should be okay.
For most businesses, though, Instagram is most useful for monitoring the conversation. If you're not one of the few types of businesses for whom Instagram is directly conducive (Victoria's Secret, anyone?) it may make a lot more sense for you to just sit back and see what's going on. It's a lot harder for someone to trash talk you or your brand with a picture than it is on Facebook or Twitter, but still, it's good to know what your customers think.
No Clear Answer (Yet)
The most interesting thing about Instagram is that it's still evolving. It's not clear what type of role it will take on over time–Zuckerberg's decisions about advertising could change things very, very quickly–and while it does have value for certain types of businesses, at this point, it's by no means a necessity for a strong social media presence.
If you're on Instagram already, don't feel bad–it certainly does have its uses. But if you're not, we're not at a stage yet where we think that you should be up and running to start an account and get involved. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Instagram isn't quite a social media staple for businesses looking to be involved online. It can be a great supplement, but it's not a necessary standalone.
So don't worry. We like Instagram for personal use–and so should you. With that said, unless you can come up with a great answer for why you definitely should care about Instagram, you shouldn't worry too much about missing out on the picture-laden wonderland that many claim it to be.
At least, not yet.
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