Most brands dream of reaching that market sweet spot of 18 to 24-year-old digitally-savvy male and female consumers. Guess where they are all hanging out? That’s right... the mobile centric, visual network Instagram is where the party’s at.
According to the PEW Research Internet Project, the percentage of young adults using Instagram grew by nine percent in 2014, which is the biggest growth recorded among the Big 5: Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter.
1) What makes Instagram so attractive?
Because it can only be accessed for content creation via mobile, making it the world’s biggest mobile-first social network. It has more than 400 million monthly active users, of which 20% are internet users. It’s visual, so creativity is paramount and well-rewarded. It supports images as well as 15-second videos. Apps that make picture collages or make slo-mo video effects help make the Instagram experience more immersive. There is no ranking mechanism on Instagram (unlike Facebook), so every user sees all the posts of the accounts they follow (provided they check often enough). It is notoriously difficult for spammers because users expect rich content. Instagram ads have just been launched in October 2015, giving brands options into sponsored pictures.
2) Pakistani brands on Instagram
Pakistani celebrities are using Instagram to build their personal brands and gain a massive following. Folks such as Ali Zafar, Atif Aslam and Mehreen Syed have hundreds of thousands of followers. Yet, when it comes to brands, there is a serious dearth of Pakistani brands. Where are the multinationals, the corporations, the non-profits, the startups, and yes, even the public sector organisations?
So, is it really worthwhile for local brands to use Instagram or is it just another social network to leverage precious resources against? Once on Instagram what do brands need to post and what kind of results can they expect? One sector that seems to have embraced Instagram is Pakistan’s fashion industry. Models, fashionistas, bloggers, stylists and designers are flocking to there and building massively engaged audiences.
3) Why Instagram?
I talked to two of Pakistan’s biggest independent fashion bloggers to see what they are doing and what the fashion world can teach other brands about using Instagram.
Salima Feerasta is the founder of Karachista.com, a digital fashion mag. Her Instagram account – @Karachista1 – has over 36,000 dedicated followers. She started her blog in 2013 and saw Instagram’s potential almost immediately, although it took her another year to incorporate it into her social media strategy. She says that “I have seen an exponential growth in Instagram over the last year, not just for myself but also for my peers and my clients.”
Sadaf Zarrar, founder of fashion blog, SiddySays.com has over 56,000 followers on her Instagram account @SiddySays. She views her Instagram presence as simply a matter of following the numbers: “While Facebook has not yet died, the formidable growth of Instagram just in the last one year has made us take it seriously as a social medium to reckon with.”
4) How long does it take to build a following on Instagram?
I’m not going to lie to you. It takes consistent effort and laser focus to build a dedicated and relevant following on Instagram.
According to Feerasta, Instagram was a learning curve for her. “It took me over a year to reach 10,000 followers; however in the last eight months, I have managed to more than treble that.” She started her Instagram journey in January 2014 and is proof that if you stay with it and reach the tipping point, then the momentum will carry you through to building a large following.
Zarrar started her blog in 2011 and brought her brand on Instagram a year later. Today it has been voted by Paperazzi Magazine as the Best Fashion Blog of 2014.
Your Instagram success formula? Jump in. Post authentically. Don’t be afraid to curate but give credit to the source. Don’t post too frequently – once or twice a day is fine. Mix up your posts – inspirational, product shots, questions, competitions, etc. Reply to comments. Understand the spirit of the medium.
5) What kind of content should brands post on Instagram?
Instagram is a fun medium. Users look at Instagram on their mobile phone, on-the-go and in small spurts. So content that catches the eye, makes them smile, inspires and motivates them, showcases a side of your business that surprises them, are all good options to explore. Your Instagram strategy can include the kind of brand image you want to convey and it can be different from how you use other social networks.
Feerasta likes to post her aesthetic sense on her account. “My phone is always with me and it takes a second to snap a picture. I post about fashion shows, restaurants, plays, bazaars and from just about everywhere I go. My account is an eclectic mix of ramp and red carpet images, news, fashion shoots, jokes, food, celebrity pictures and shopping inspiration.”
Zarrar’s Instagram has transitioned from a personal account into a media account. “It has grown over time to become a social pages equivalent, with curated content featuring celebrities, fashion, food and lifestyle.”
6) Create versus curate?
Don’t have time or resources to be artistic and create original content? Not a problem. You can curate content that your audience will enjoy.
Zarrar cannot stress the importance of curation enough. In her opinion, “to gain followers, you need to focus on one thing and one thing only – content curation. We have a strict framework for what we do and don’t feature on Instagram.”
Both Feerasta and Zarrar say that they source their images from a variety of mediums such as PR agencies, celebrities themselves, original shots, and digital agencies. Feerasta makes an excellent point about curation and reposting content. Give credit to the original source! “I have had respected magazines appropriate my own images without attribution and it never fails to annoy me!”
7) Incorporating an Instagram strategy into your marketing mix
Feerasta advises that brands “not simply hand over their Instagram or any social media platform to a third party. Develop an in-house team to handle your social media and give them the appropriate training. Social media campaigns should be conceived in conjunction with your overall advertising campaign. An in-house team can work in conjunction with your advertising agency but your internal team will ensure that your social media remains engaging between campaigns as well.”
Zarrar believes that Instagram is a great tool because everyone suffers from diminishing attention spans and lack of reading time. “Instagram is very helpful in making people take notice, so engage with your platform through visuals. Given how attractive images immediately engage audiences in Pakistan, it’s a great tool to get customer attention.”
8) The Instagram ROI
Feerasta and Zarrar use Instagram to drive traffic back to their blogs, which is a smart tactic because it further builds your brand, allowing followers to connect more deeply and subscribe to your updates. For Zarrar, Facebook and Instagram are her “two main sources of traffic” and they work beautifully because “it’s a classic case of how an attractive visual can make customers click your links.”
Because there is only one area to place links on Instagram (your static bio section), brands have to be clever in getting people to click on them. Feerasta and Zarrar use multiple tactics to get people, such as teaser photos, with read more calls-to-action, contests, announcements and more.
9) Using Instagram even if you don’t have a visual business
Whether you do or not will depend if Instagram makes sense for your brand. However, just because your content is not visual, it does not mean you can’t get creative with Instagram.
Feerasta advises that “building value is more important than just acquiring followers. It’s easy to spend some money on phantom followers or use like-for-like programmes to increase following, but these strategies are counterproductive. It’s important to focus on interesting, engaging content.”
She makes makes use of hashtags which are often the most effective way for new followers to discover your brand. “Hashtags help people find my images along with hashtags that make them smile.” Her other creative strategies? Posting jokes and running competitions. Feerasta claims that she would never post anything that she would not be interested in herself.
Zarrar brings up another creative use for Instagram: “Use Instagram as a mood board to share your perspective with the world. Curate your content to share a unique point of view. Don’t bombard with images – there’s Snapchat for that!”
10) The final verdict?
Although only you can make the decision about your brand, don’t discount Instagram completely from your marketing mix without giving it a shot. I have been experimenting by posting the same image on Facebook and Instagram and the latter draws in more engaged followers and the feedback is almost instantaneous. Your Instagram success formula? Jump in. Post authentically. Don’t be afraid to curate but give credit to the source. Don’t post too frequently – once or twice a day is fine. Mix up your posts – inspirational, product shots, questions, competitions, etc. Reply to comments. Understand the spirit of the medium.
Salma Jafri is the host of the weekly video show ‘Content Marketing Tips’ on salmajafri.com. firstname.lastname@example.org*