Why Instagram and its Users Have a Lot of Growing-Up Left to Do

 


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THE INSTAGRAM EXPERIMENT

Instagram is owned by Facebook. In 2016 it started ramping up it’s online commercial marketing by adding a plethora of new features, including business profiles.  It also recognized that Snap (aka Snapchat) had to be taken seriously and especially it’s “live video” feature. Hence it’s no surprise Instagram launched their own version just before the end of the year.

This article is not about a how-to understand or how-to learn Instagram. There’s plenty of other websites and people offering online advice and tutorials.  No, this is true story of me, Mark Burke, who owns and runs a Design and Marketing Agency, taking an empty Instagram Account and absolutely hammering it for the last quarter of 2016 to see what wonderful “business” insights and metrics it would reveal.*

* Ongoing into 2017 – but the report here is for last three months of 2016.

Yes, I want to monitor it’s potential as an ad platform and compare it to what is already out in the market place. An independent review to see if it’s the pot of gold that everyone claims it is for “influencers” and businesses seeking a new audience to sell their products and services to.  Oh, that’s right “Sell” is a word we are shunned to even mention in the current market.  Well think about this. Instagram, Facebook, Snap and every other social media platform is out there selling paid ads, integrating commerce and more to target direct sales.

They are not writing long winded articles or having coffee and donuts as they talk about a hippy approach to sales, aka lets not mention sales but how we can add value.  That’s fine, but it doesn’t mean don’t ask for the sale. (Any good sales book will tell you to attempt to close three times if you’re pitching at a live meeting with a client).  No, they hit you every time you login or have subscribed to their emails with a direct and short sales pitch. “Make more sales, start a campaign.” or “Get more followers, run an ad campaign”. Or an ad similar to below which is the same message, different vocabulary.

So guess what.  You need to put #Sales, #Selling, #Closing and #DirectSales back in your hashtag vocabulary.

It’s an important part of any business marketing plan, as well as the 2,000 plus word free articles you frequently type out that illustrate you’re a professional in your own vertical.  Emojis to the side for a second puhh—lease…..

THE MARKETING APPROACH

Disclaimer:  Prior to starting this experiment, Instagram was not a place that appealed to me individually.  I would stereo-type it as a “millennial” selfie portal with everyone either sharing images of their daily lives and / or sharing “inspirational quotes” by mainly dead people.  I don’t like doing either.

So I decided to switch it up and make Browserweb’s instagram account @browserwebinc very unique.  It involved custom ads.  Creating square ads on a 1080 x 1080 pixel canvas that would resonate with the community and help show my agency in it’s true light.  A creative design studio with an edge and not shy to use trends to invite new users to like and comment.

THE STRATEGY AND GOAL(S)

The main strategy is to get consistent followers with paid promotion. I did use Facebook ads and services that allow a maturing Gen X like moi to upload his desktop art online (rather than by mobile) and also have the option to promote by buying additional likes.  The likes are not what I was interested in, it was to get those people to convert to followers and maintain interaction with @browserwebinc Instagram account over the following months.

In summary, people that stick around as they enjoy the story you’re providing on this social platform.

THE DEMOGRAPHICS

On a side note it’s quizzical that people are quick to shoot down “generational-profiling”, be it “Millennials” or “Baby Boomers” or “Gen X to Gen Y”.

It was on my favorite social media platform, Twitter that I read an article by a fellow X’er Michelle over at HR Watts (by all accounts – and from my distant perspective – a great company.  I love what they are doing).  However, with due respect, I think Michelle has her “mothering” defenses up in this post.

CATEGORIZING THE GENERATIONS

We all get a name at Birth. We’re immediately associated with a Zodiac. We all get a National Insurance Card or Social Security Number in the country we reside and every database has a search filter, by type, category and so on.

Without generational stereo-typing, then we cannot categorize and filter and provide meaningful data and results.  It’s an essential requirement.

THE ANALYTICS

I had been sitting on this Instagram account for a while and shortly after starting the posts, my new found enthusiasm was recognized by Instagram who quickly offered to convert my account to a Business Account and I would enjoy better analytics.

Well sign me up Insta, I love data. It was an instant approval and so for this article, I use Instagram’s built-in analytics.

Now some influencers, like Jasmine Star below, refused to switch due to organic loss concerns and her point may be valid, but it didn’t affect this experiment as it was a shell of an account.  (As an aside, her Social Examiner article is really great and you should read it).

THE TOP 12 PHOTO IMAGES FROM OUR PROFILE ON INSTAGRAM ANALYZED

Let’s start by providing a breakdown of the insta video above, which is limited to under sixty seconds to comply with instagram upload restrictions and hence rather a quick overview.

The in-built analytics I rely upon for this Top 12 is the “Engagement” filter.  There are five main filters.

  • Impressions
  • Reach
  • Engagement
  • Comments
  • Likes

Engagement is the most important. However, there is a caveat.  When you post trending and perhaps edgy content, people will view it (impressions and reach) but it’s too controversial to comment or be seen to engage with it.  This will be discussed and explained later on.

For now let’s run with the “Photos only” and  “Engagement” filters and see the Top 12 countdown in detail.

No. 12 – Satire; People Focused Marketing

Coming in a #12 is the People Marketing Tip with a twist.  Using  satire, a couple of icons and a red, black and white design, this post got people revved up for the new year.

No. 11 – Special Forces; Brand Message

At #11 is a creative and powerful brand message that evokes our style. We get results. As leaders in the marketing world, we’re well respected, disciplined and an elite trained force. Clients can expect nothing less.

No. 10 – Brand; Top Ingredients to SEO

This fresh and organic call to action for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) comes in at #10.  Bright and vivid, everybody is a “foodie” on insta so it’s no surprise this made the list, and it’s a direct ad too.

No. 9 – Seasonal Message; It’s Bloody Halloween

One thing I have learned over the years is Halloween is a huge opportunity to get noticed by the community.  People love the dark nights and the scary graphics and on insta its a busy time as everyone is showing off the party outfits for Halloween. We did several “scary” ads during this period and all were well received, especially this black and bloody red message.

No. 8 – Trends, Politics, #WeinerGate and Email Marketing.

The first “trending” graphic to hit the list at #8 is the furore around Anthony Weiner and so we used this buzz to capture the imagination about email marketing.  Email Marketing is a massive conversion tool that works.  So our message focused on that with this Political ad.  Again, red, black and white is dominant in the color scheme.

No. 7 – Seasonal Promotion; Christmas for Non-Profits

Our first Promotional Seasonal Offer to make the list at lucky #7 is the Non-Profit Christmas Scene wrapped in a beautiful graphic.  It was jingle bells for this #Ad on Insta.

No. 6 – Let Your Brand Soar, Fly With Us

A vintage call to action with this Spitfire flying directly at you with a Brand message. It comes in at #6, with Java a condition, made hot and strong.

No. 5 – Free Speech

There was no selling here, it’s an ad about the recent events pertaining to online media and the rights of consumers to express reviews without punishment.  This stirred the instagram community.

No. 4 – Seasonal Promo; Black Friday

Black Friday Sale is not so black with this colorful ad.  We shirked the standard color schematics of most ads for this offer to stand out from the norm.  Clearly this was embraced as it comes in at no. 4.

No. 3 – Contest; Free Prize Competition

This was a contest to leave a comment on the image. The winner received a free graphic design.  Everyone loves competitions and freebies.  Contests and Prizes comes in at #3.

No. 2 – Seasonal Sales; Coupon Offer on Cyber Monday

A futuristic design with a lot of text providing a clear message “Get more leads”  with a great discounted offer ended up runner-up.  Promotions, Discounts, Coupons and Offers won on this list, if we look at the Top 12.

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No. 1 – Trends; Politics, Melania Trump and the USA Election

It’s no surprise that the Election and this Melania Trump ad is the winner.  The hashtags and timing of this ad, it soared above all others.  Focusing on trends with “relevant” ad campaigns will get you views and engagement. That’s #1 and wraps up the Top 12.

WHO WERE THE FOLLOWERS?

From zero to over 1,000 consistent followers in 3 months.  That was the final tally. The Millennials come out tops and I am sure that comes as no surprise. Males to females, there was a 70/30 percentage split.  The top locations are in keeping with the Art that is shown on @browserwebinc.  The geo-locations are matched with the larger and cultural cities as shown, namely NYC, LA and London.

IS IT EASY TO ATTAIN A FOLLOWING?

No, it’s hard work. It’s just like any marketing plan. It takes time, patience and a consistent strategy.  Using Instagram as a portfolio for a visual aid is a great idea from a design agency perspective.

The goal I set for this was to use a direct consumer channel rather than my industry channels like Behance.  Creating custom ads that show what value and offerings a design and marketing agency can bring to prospective clients.

Note; This strategy can be used by many businesses, and is geared towards those who offer visual tangible products.   However, even life insurance companies or similar are not restricted – as they can also paint a picture quite easily on Instagram with the right creatives.

This is not the norm on Instagram, so I was intrigued to see how people would interact.  I actually only embraced Instagram as we use Facebook ads heavily for clients as well as ourselves.  With FB ads promoting Instagram ads as an option, combined with the mobile first thinking strategy, it made sense to test it out over an extended period to analyze the results and share these openly with everyone.

THE INSTA FLAKES

There’s an epidemic on Instagram with people following your account and once you reciprocate, they immediately unfollow.  I have noticed others agree and have complained about this verbally and even in video format.  My approach was to create the name “Insta Flakes” and create slapstick image posts that did seem to stem the tide, but it requires repetition.

Normally on platforms like Twitter, you would just unfollow but due to the sheer numbers that do this I elected to make a statement and block everyone that does unfollow.  A bit radical some may say but ultimately I am only interested in genuine followers. The Insta Flakes should not have the benefit to sit in a dark corner on their phones watching.  It’s lights out on my accounts for sure, a security against spam and also the joy of having these individuals repeat the process in a few weeks time.

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NATIVE ADS & FACEBOOK CRITERIA

Facebook has this rather peculiar minimalistic ad restriction of limiting text content on images to ten percent of the image in a call to action on their advertising platform.

The argument is native ads, e.g. maintaining clean images on the Facebook website as adverts helps improve click rates and conversion.  (An admission that they don’t want you to realize its an advert and hence more clicks.)  This is attributed to the fact the ad blends seamlessly with the web page design.

However, with Instagram, I’ve been able to express creativity and these ads have been approved for display on Instagram via paid advertising on Facebook.

I am glad that is the case.  On review of the Top 12 you can see all my graphics are heavy on design and content.  Hence, they would fail the native test but  common sense has been applied when submitting for paid ad approval, which has been granted in any I have submitted.  That’s great news, bespoke Art design lives on.

The ten percenter rule is quite the contradiction. Web design predictions say that people want to move away from “stock images” to creative art and bespoke graphics.  However, it’s a staple for the biggest Advertising Platform that consumes 70% of the paid ad marketplace revenues.

THE SALES FUNNEL

Instagram feels very personal and the relationships that you have with your account and followers is probably so because so much personal data is readily shared.  As a Gen X, I like my privacy too much.  However, Millennials (my crowd on Insta) were brought up with an iPhone as a baby sucker.

That’s great news for businesses and data scientists. An opportunity to use this free data is never ignored in commerce today. Quite frankly, I’m not here to share my last meal or pair of shoes I purchased in a picture. You can get away with that if you sell shoes or run a restaurant.  This article is based on developing a commercial brand experience and monetization is the ultimate goal.

The only financial winners in the selfies stakes are the celebrities and influencers, and they earn vast sums of revenue for sharing their lives, I don’t.  So I came here to learn how brands can create and generate business leads from marketing strategies that will be embraced by Instagram followers.  I believe that sales and marketing is what we call it in any generational tongue.

THE OPINION

If I go back in time to dial-up tones, AOL and Compuserve, I see Instagram (as well as Snap and WhatsApp) as the MIRC and Yahoo! Chat Rooms of old.  It’s the same style of community with “rooms” for everyone to find their space. The only difference in this instance is your selection of followers are what the “room” theme becomes.

As a business solution, it’s early doors.

It’s no doubt the potential due to the freedom of information.  It’s like heaven for data miners worldwide.  The commerce channels that are into fitness, leisure and clothing will benefit wildly from being able to target Instagram accounts directly.

This differs from Twitter which is more of a news aggregator in my opinion. If I want to find out the “real news” then I can hop onto twitter instantly and find out what’s happening in Russia or the UK in an instant and it’s pretty much live.

Instagram is more of a personal diary for Millennials who either share their daily lives or post image quotes and pictures of “success” and that includes luxury lifestyles in the form of expensive cars and homes. They are at the dreamer stage. The Baby Boomers hold the disposable cash, the Millennials are trying to get there but are drowning in a poor economy and debt.

It’s understandable they are a bit lost.  They don’t know what to post but they want to join in so the platform is overloaded with this theme.  I am sure if you analyzed the percentage of quotes posted per day it would be substantial.

So yes, lifestyle brands will continue to find growth on Instagram and Pinterest image focused platforms.  As for the rest of business, right now I think your ad spend and investment is best redirected to other advertising channels unless you have a niche and a product that will fit the Millennials “essentials” budget.  What do I mean by essentials? Smoothies, Lululemom, Apple accessories and a print version book of quotes by the famously dead.

This was my first Lotus purchase and I paid the charming salesman (Patrick from memory, but it's been a while!) two grand UK Sterling over asking for a cancelled order. At the time this car was on a waiting list and rightly so. The test drive I can remember like yesterday and that sealed the deal. It's the most fun you can have on four wheels and I've tracked my share of cars, including Lotus Caterhams and Esprits as well as BMW M3's and other performance cars like the Evo etc. It's a car with a feeling of go-kart height from the track. Just add to that the incredible handling which equals brilliant fun. Probably the most amusing part to the morning was seeing the Hibernian Football Team in an Edinburgh hotel foyer while I was waiting for my salesman to arrive and I spotted Bryan Gunn. Bryan went to the same High school (Invergordon Academy). Bryan went onto play professional football with Norwich City and of course Lotus is based in Norwich so these coincidences were quite funny. Also the fact that I happened to meet Bryan before his game day with Hibs, where he was on season loan as he was based in Norwich. We had a great chat and then I went on to collect my new car from Murray Motors. I kept the car for a couple of years and then traded it for a Lotus Esprit For value and ride, the iconic Lotus Elise is still my favorite track day vehicle. #lotus #elise #lotuscars #murraymotors #norwichcity #norwich #hibernian #edinburgh #caterhams #lotus7 #lotusesprit #esprit #GT3 #exige #performancecars #racing #britishracing #titanium #sayhello #lotusclub #clublotus #evora #hillclimb #knockhill #silverstone #1996 #20thanniversary #fastandfurious

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Remember, if you need assistance feel free to #sayhello (@browserweb on twitter) or email me personally if you have any questions or comments.

Cheers

Mark Burke
Browserweb.com, a Digital Media Company

ps. Yes, I promised to let you know what I meant by people not commenting and engaging but views go through the roof.  I’ll leave you a final visual. The top video views post goes to…..

2017-10-29T16:19:14-05:00