06.01.2012 Should your brand be using Instagram?

Instagram, named Apple’s app of the year, has quickly become the biggest thing in photograph-based social networking. The photo sharing app, which has been exclusive to the iPhone since October 2010, has succeeded in becoming a social network and community in its own right, with 15 million users and 1 million new users a fortnight.

But what does this mean for online brand building? The rise of Instagram is a clear reflection of where the market is heading – towards visual data-focused social media. The successes of social networking sites like Pinterest and the growing use of infographics across all media are firm indicators that as social media technology evolves and multiplies, people are increasingly voting with their clicking fingers for image-based platforms. It makes sense when you think about it.

When you’re Facebook stalking, do you pay more attention to the text on people’s profiles or to pictures, which provide a more immediate insight into people’s lives? When you consider that 65% of the population are classified as ‘visual learners’ – that is, people who learn most effectively with images and diagrams – it’s easy to see why image-based social media is in the ascendancy.

Instagram allows the user to take a new photo or use one from their existing phone gallery, enhance it with 11 different filters (we like Nashville and Toaster best) and then share it across various social networks and on Instagram itself. So, what makes it so app-ealing?  First of all, Instagram integrates easily with Facebook, Twitter and other photo sharing apps. Secondly, it is incredibly straight-forward to use.

New users can spend just 2 minutes setting up and will quickly realise how easy it is to start posting, browsing, sharing, liking and even commenting on pictures. The retro photo filters are a real treat for the snap happy. To give images a more ‘arty’ look, you just click through the filters to see which suits your image best and click on the one you would like to use.

This was very handy when I was appointed the family photographer over Christmas. We finally have a Christmas album to be proud of. Gone are the days of taking 10 different pictures on my iPhone and constantly fiddling with the lighting to make everyone look decent.It’s incredibly simple to achieve more flattering lighting in a few swipes of your finger. What’s not to love?

Instagram goes beyond just being a handy photo-enhancing app, however. Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s developer and former Google bod, describes it as a new form of communication that is a convenient fit with the ‘always with you’ iPhone.

He summarised the key differentiator between Instagram and original photo sharing apps thus: “You can build a filter app to get people really excited, but the way to keep them is to provide long term value. Long term value is in fact being its own network. We think of ourselves as a social network and we’re building products and tools to produce the best content in the world…We’re building a place for the world’s visual data.”

Crucially for marketing and brand communication professionals, Instagram is becoming an increasingly effective commercial communication tool. Starbucks and Burberry are already using Instagram to build their brands.  Burberry regularly shares pictures of photo shoots and new designs and Starbucks ask its fans to tag them in their daily coffee snaps. Impressively, both have surpassed the 100,000 follower mark. Both companies have really capitalised on the opportunity Instagram offers to provide users with behind-the-scenes insights into their brand

Travel brand bmibaby is also jumping on the bandwagon and using Instagram to run campaigns encouraging users to share destination pictures. One of their initiatives is ‘#mycountry’, a campaign to crowd source visual destination guides for bmibaby’s key European destinations. Those who submit pictures with the destination hashtag have a chance to win flights.

As a result of this Instagram campaign, an impressive 10,200 entries were tagged which was an all-round success for bmibaby and the lucky winner. ‘Instagrammers’ were still using the hashtags after the official campaign had finished which is a great testament to the power of Instagram. Instagram is soon to be launched on Android, which has the potential of doubling its users overnight. It is concentrating on acquiring users and growing the app so over the next 12 months there will be no pressure on revenue and users can continue to enjoy a very pure social experience with no interference from adverts. It’s clear that when it comes to using visual-based tools to build your brand, this is definitely one to watch.