As the platform continues to grow, many marketers are looking to Instagram as the next big opportunity. Now with more than 400 million monthly active users - beating Twitter on that stat - Instagram is making moves towards increased monetization, with new 'Shop Now' buttons and an expanded ad platform, giving all businesses access to Sponsored Posts. But beyond the basics of buying ad space, the true key to social media marketing effectiveness is in understanding what people use the platforms for, and what audiences will best respond to in each space.
To help with this, Facebook has published new research examining what resonates most with Instagram users, providing a range of valuable insights into how and why people engage with content on the visual platform. Partnering with research group Sparkler, the team surveyed more than 2,000 people aged 18-34 across France, Germany and the UK to get their views on all aspects of Instagram content - and their findings may just change the way you approach content on the visual platform.
Here's what they discovered.
'Instagram is changing the way people see the world'
This seems like a somewhat grandiose statement, but based on the data, researchers found that 1 in 4 Instagram users surveyed agreed that the platform has altered their perspective on how they see things. How?
"30% of Instagrammers who post daily actually plan their Instagram posts before taking a picture. As Instagrammers assess what they see based on its potential to be posted on Instagram, they are re-engineering the photo-taking process (and we're not even talking about selfie sticks here)."
So, maybe it's more about how they capture their experience and share, rather than how they see the world itself - although further data does support a wider change in mindset, with Instagram content 'inspiring people to see and seize opportunities that make their lives richer and more fulfilled'.
Engaging the Imagination
The most interesting insights gleaned from this new research come when looking at how users actually view and respond to content on the platform.
"Across France, Germany and the UK, on average, 58% of Instagrammers in our study say that Instagram can make them laugh, dream or think. 23% say that Instagram has empowered them to do and see more in life (28% among those who post daily). And 18% of those who post daily would go so far as to say that Instagram has "opened up new possibilities" in their life."
This is getting down to more of the why of Instagram, and the real insights into how people use the platform and what they expect to see. In regards to opening up new possibilities, one respondent noted that seeing travel moments on Instagram put into perspective that they too could experience the same thing - "...it makes you dream and actually think about how you're going to it".
This is what people come to Instagram for, for an escape, to be swept up in the imagination and creativity and to be shown a whole new perspective on the world. That, of course, goes back to the original note, that Instagram is changing the way people see things, and it's not so much that Instagram has some huge, supernatural influence that can transform one's perspective. It's that Instagram offers new perspectives for people to see the world from. In this sense, it's important that those looking to maximize their engagement on the platform consider how they can provide such new angles and visions in order to provide their viewers with a new window on the world.
From this perspective, the data presented opens up new avenues for consideration for Instagram content - for example, the researchers found that 62% of respondents indicated that they visit Instagram to 'stimulate their imagination, see new and inspiring things or explore new perspectives or ideas'.
"For these Instagrammers, the experience is not about escapism - it's about engaging more deeply as they discover positive things that inspire them to see and do new things. As one person we spoke with in the UK says, Instagram is "a mirror to the positive things in my life."
The researchers went on to validate these findings from an Instagram-specific perspective, to further underline what people come to Instagram for. For this element, they showed the same image to people on five different digital platforms in order to get an idea of how people respond to the content on Instagram as opposed to when presented on other sources.
As you can see, when the images were viewed on Instagram, they were more likely to be described as 'imaginative', 'distinctive' and 'creative'. These descriptors, as noted in the report, "reveal how people see content on Instagram and hint at what people expect to see".
In terms of hashtags, you can also see how viewers utilize more creative, imaginative tags on Instagram as opposed to other platforms, reinforcing why users come to the site. It's providing people with inspiration, a way to see things in a new, creative light - and an opportunity for brands to facilitate such emotional responses through their own Instagram content.
In summary of their findings, Facebook provides three insights for marketers to help them better utilize Instagram and deliver more relevant, resonant content to their Instagram audiences.
Challenge conventions: Instagrammers love to see new and inspiring posts and rediscover familiar things in a new light. This gives marketers a unique opportunity to shift how Instagrammers view and engage with their brands - by revealing what the world looks like from their brand's perspective, showcasing unexpected formats (like cinematic landscape videos or call-to-action buttons that cater to Instagrammers' curiosity) or both.
Entice through experiences: To connect most meaningfully with Instagrammers, brands will want to leave them feeling inspired and enriched. Having defined their objectives, brands should consider what types of experiences will best deliver on those objectives and make their message most relevant-whether it is the view #fromwhereIstand, a #picoftheday or just pure #instagood.
Connect in context: While well-targeted, high-quality creative has the potential to succeed in many places, the unique attributes associated with viewing on Instagram highlight an opportunity for marketers. Brands may want to explore whether playing to Instagrammers' "imaginative" instincts - by tailoring creative to Instagram - sparks additional synergy and inspires more beautiful connections.
The report provides some of the best insights into Instagram's audience and their expectations I've seen, which, as noted, might just change the way you consider the platform and how to use Instagram content to best effect.