Thumbs Down: Why Brands Should Care Less About the ‘Like’

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Social media is the ultimate popularity contest. Each day, new platforms emerge and attract early adopters, eager to become the best big thing for brands and consumers alike.

From mobile apps to desktop sites, the game of numbers rages on across social mediums, placing a monumental amount of pressure on “the like,” a feature predominantly linked to Facebook. However, a recent survey suggests Facebook’s golden reign may be beginning to falter.

According to a new report, brands are now posting more to Instagram than Facebook, suggesting that marketers are beginning to value quality of content over quantity of followers. Brands now post an average of 9.3 times a week to Instagram, up from 7.5 posts a year ago and topping Facebook’s decreased 8.8 rate. Meanwhile, an estimated 3 million U.S. teens abandoned Facebook between 2011 and 2014 and cite Instagram as “the most important” social network.

So why has Instagram risen through the ranks and what can we expect from the network as it continues to grow?

Transparency

Such a shift ties to brands’ distrust of Facebook. When it boils down to it, brands know everything they post on Instagram will appear in followers’ feeds, whereas much of their Facebook content can remain unseen, even though many use paid media to engage with their followers.

To increase Facebook visibility, brands now need to promote posts, which is detrimental to the organic reach of content. According to Facebook’s algorithm, consumers who have previously engaged with brand content have a higher chance of seeing posts in their News Feed, but even that’s not certain.

While Facebook’s algorithm complicates engagement, Instagram offers a wave of transparency and a platform for organic content sharing. Back in December, the photo-sharing app made the news for purging bogus accounts, shearing the number of followers for brands and celebrities alike.

But such tactics speak to Instagram’s authenticity. Ultimately, consumers follow brands because they expect to see posts and benefit from timely updates. Having certain posts (particularly those offering a discount or special offer) appear to some audiences and not to others creates a poor user experience. Posting content on Instagram allows brands stability that cannot be guaranteed on Facebook, regardless of a consumer’s previous engagement.

Creative Leeway

Creativity comes with a price. To innovate captivating content, brands often invest in the tools needed to succeed – whether it’s using creative agencies, photographers or video teams. There’s been an explosion of creativity across Instagram. Gap recently announced the premiere of a mini soap opera series while apparel retailer Ted Baker launched its “All is Not as it Seams” campaign, which encourages consumers to repost Instagram content and adjust filters to unlock secret messages. In both a literal and figurative sense, brands can afford to be more innovative on Instagram where their work is guaranteed to be seen.

But will brands ever have to pay for playing on Instagram? Because Instagram is owned by Facebook – the original monetizer of the social space – monetization will always be the elephant in the room, especially considering the negative feedback tied to Facebook’s own ad strategy. It’s clear Instagram is proceeding with caution to avoid inundating fans with ads, and it’s unlikely that the app is going to stop here. That said, Instagram seems to understand that the simple interface is one of its biggest strengths, and will likely take its time unrolling additional paid measures.

Usability

Time and time again, Instagram has demonstrated a deep understanding of its audiences’ preferences by introducing companion apps that allow users to enhance content. Hyperlapse, which launched in fall 2014, invited users to create time-lapse videos and was quickly adopted by Taco Bell, Chips Ahoy and Sonic, among others.

Recently, Instagram debuted its Layout app, which allows users to post photo collages, create mirror effects and flip images. Like Hyperlapse, well-known brands like Victoria’s Secret and Sephora were quick to adopt the app, creating collages its first day. This speaks to the amount of trust brands have in Instagram’s platform and their confidence that such features will heighten engagement.

In creating such apps, it’s clear Instagram pays attention to trends within its platform. Even before the launch of Layout, many users embraced external apps of a similar nature. Layout demonstrates that Instagram effectively recognized a need and worked to streamline its functionality to delight its users.

While Instagram pays special mind to its usability, there are other features it should look toward to further streamline efforts. Ecommerce in particular is a missing piece of Instagram’s model. Many brands have maneuvered their way around this by leveraging third party apps with like-to-buy functionalities, but an internal feature would be a revenue driver for brands and Instagram alike, simplifying the user experience. Similarly, another obstacle remains the inability to hyperlink within posts.

While brands have been strategic about changing their bio link, such a process doesn’t lend itself to the long term — consumers can only purchase featured products in a timely fashion, when the links correspond. While Instagram values its inclusive UX, it wouldn’t be a stretch to expect an in-app browser similar to Facebook’s down the line.

Embracing the Unknown

As new networks continue to emerge, brands have lost the luxury of hanging back. While it’s true that one site doesn’t fit all, brands should keep a close eye on how others in their vertical are leveraging new media. Brands shouldn’t be afraid to pivot quickly; in fact, there are a number of advantages for being an early adopter. Pioneers have the chance to play around and test new features before specific guidelines are formed, granting them creative flexibility and the opportunity to stand out.

However, despite the steady stream of newcomers, Instagram is here to stay. While other networks have emphasized photo sharing down the line, Instagram has offered audiences a seamless means to share photos from the very beginning, serving as proof that sometimes, simplicity and accessibility is the best way to foster loyalty.

Jessica Kessler is the Senior Product Marketing Manager of Social at HelloWorld. She joined HelloWorld in 2011 as a strategic services manager working with brands such as AT&T, Travelocity, Newell-Rubbermaid, and Canadian Tire. As a thought leader on the social media team, Jessica brings fresh, authentic insight to world class brands who are looking to engage their fans within the social landscape.

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Gap Uses Instagram Videos to Remind Users that ‘Spring Is Weird’

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GapInstagramSpringSpring has sprung, and Gap marked the occasion with a “micro-series” of one-dozen 15-second Instagram videos.

The apparel retailer developed the “Spring Is Weird” campaign with creative agency Wieden+Kennedy New York, and the micro-series chronicles the “love story between comedian Jenny Slate and actor Paul Dano as they navigate chance encounters, first dates and spring weather.”

Some of the minds behind the campaign offered a behind-the-scenes look into their thought processes in a post on the Instagram for Business blog.

Wieden+Kennedy New York art director Cory Everett wrote:

When brainstorming around how to bring #SpringIsWeird to life with Gap, we knew it was a great opportunity to tell an integrated story, released as a series, and Instagram seemed like a perfect fit. Each episode would be able to focus on a little spring moment, like the unpredictable weather or relationships in flux, and bring it to life in a human and hopefully funny way. The challenge would be to make it so if you only saw one, it would still work as a cute standalone moment, but if you watched a string of them, you would see the whole arc of a story about a couple whose relationship blooms over the course of spring.

Gap global consumer engagement and partnerships executive Tricia Nichols added:

We love that Instagram is a place where people want to share what is happening, how they are feeling and the objects of their affection at a particular moment in time, and in the most visually appealing way. The nature of the platform lends itself well to fashion, but also to sharing things people do, discover and love.

Our goal with every initiative is to bring the brand to customers in innovative ways that bring Gap to life and highlight our latest styles. Instagram gives us the opportunity to follow each episode with a more straightforward fashion laydown, a format we know our customers and social followers love. We just wanted to draw the connection between the spots and the clothes so it would be really easy for people to get those looks.

The videos have outperformed any other video content we’ve launched on Instagram, in terms of engagement, and our paid media performance is outperforming our expectations. Some of the more interesting things we are seeing are people predicting what will happen next, asking where they can buy the products featured or just generally expressing their love for the series and the talent.

And Wieden+Kennedy New York copywriter Mike Vitiello chimed in:

It was definitely a challenge, but in a way a helpful guideline — we knew we’d only ever have time for one plot point and one joke per episode, so how you want to use that precious resource becomes the guiding thought.

Like any serial, we started with a single story line and broke it down into parts. So the development of this romance becomes a series of steps, in a way — which is kind of how it works in real life. To make sure it feels like a unified whole, we used details like callbacks and Easter eggs to help connect one episode to another, and an original score by Alessandro Tabora, as opposed to a range of songs.

Readers: What did you think of Gap’s “Spring Is Weird” Instagram video campaign?

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