We've all heard the phrase, "a picture is worth a thousand words." Like most clichés it is true in that there are some things that are difficult to capture in words - even a thousand of them. There are some things that can best be communicated visually. How many words would it take to describe the Mona Lisa, and could they even begin to capture the essence of that smile or those eyes?
So it is for that very reason that Instagram has emerged as one of the most popular social media platforms in the world, with 400 million monthly active users, more than double the number of users the platform had last year. Also, in 2014 Instagram surpassed Twitter to become the second-largest social network in the US, according to eMarketer," says Montse Guasch, Director of Sales Marketing at Adaptly, a media technology company which enables successful advertising on autonomous marketing platforms.
The platform is particularly popular with younger demographics that are coveted by brands but otherwise hard to reach. eMarketer calculates that 89.6% of 12 to 17 year-old American smartphone users will use the app monthly in 2015. Among smartphone users ages 18 to 24, 57.5% will use Instagram this year, which is up more than 50% from 2013.
Interestingly, advertisers have only recently begun adopting the platform. So given how highly engaged the Instagram community of users is, this presents huge opportunities for brands to make waves on the platform.
So why should your brand be investing in Instagram?
Communities develop organically around topics, interests, and even favorite users because users are so engaged and passionate about the platform and the images. The community posts 80 million every day. They "like" images 3.5 billion times per day. Among the younger group of users - 18 to 24 year olds - 60% visit Instagram every day and average 10 sessions.
"There's this very distinct sense of community [on Instagram] that just continues to get stronger and stronger as the years have gone by," Jim Squires, Instagram's director of market operations, told eMarketer.
"Organic engagement on a given Instagram post is leaps and bounds above its counterpart on [other social media platforms]," Victor Pineiro of Big Spaceship told eMarketer. "The reasons you'll get numbers that are so high is that you see every piece of content that you're subscribed to, and it's really easy to tap once to 'like' something."
"Where Facebook's algorithm reduces the likelihood of users seeing brand posts, Instagram doesn't filter out brands. This means that brands see higher engagement on the platform," adds Ms. Guasch.
Dot & Bo, for example, sees similar numbers of "likes" on its organic Instagram posts and Facebook posts, even though there is a wide disparity in followers on the platforms - they have 8,800 followers on Instagram and 620,000 on Facebook - according to eMarketer.
And a study by L2 Think Tank in Q2 of 2015 found that US fashion brands saw an engagement rate of 0.63% on Instagram, far higher than the 0.09% on Facebook or 0.02% on Twitter.
Seventy-five percent of Instagram's 400 million monthly active users are based outside of the US. As a result, the platform provides a rare opportunity to see what is happening around the world at any given moment.
The beauty of an image-based platform is not only that it can capture both simple and spectacular moments across the globe, but also those images speak for themselves without text or translation.
"Instagram is simple in terms of options: there are photos and there's video. Far from limiting brands, the platform's constructs encourage creative thinking, especially with its built-in tools such as filters," says Adaptly's Ms. Guasch.
Let's look at GoPro. Most electronics brands would use social media to show its products and list what it can do. On Instagram, GoPro uploads images taken with its cameras, showing what the product does, not what it is. As a result, the brand is a fan favorite on Instagram.
Discovery and Inspiration
Instagrammers are open to new perspectives and they want to discover them through images. It doesn't matter who or what brand is posting the images if they are inspiring. In fact, some of the users' favorite profiles are fueled by brands, like Target or Nike.
"People are looking for inspiration and discovery. And in many cases the entities or people that they follow are not people that they've met in the real world. These are passion points for them," Instagram's Squires told eMarketer.
New Advertising Opportunities
Extremely compelling for brands because of the high levels of engagement and awareness, Instagram is now opening up a number of new advertising opportunities that range from direct-response ads to branding ads.
"The advertising on Instagram is subtler than other platforms and there are fewer ads on the platform, for now" concludes Adaptly's Guasch. "Advertisers have a unique window of opportunity to stand-out with highly visual creative that delivers true value to the end-user. If that value comes in the form of entertaining, informing, or enlightening the Instagram user, these early brands will make strong and lasting connections."
images from Fox in the Snow's Instagram account