The Instagram That You Hardly Know

Mitch JoelPosted by

**There are a lot of people sharing pictures on [Instagram](http://instagram.com/mitchjoel/ “Instagram”).**
It’s a trap to think that Instagram is an amazing marketing channel, simply because there are a lot of people on it taking photos and sharing photos. There are many more dynamic factors at play, and Instagram is so much more than just another photo-sharing app. There’s a reason (actually, there are many reasons) why [Facebook](https://www.facebook.com/mitchjoel “Facebook”) was so aggressive in their [acquisition of Instagram](http://techcrunch.com/2012/04/09/facebook-to-acquire-instagram-for-1-billion/) for about a billion dollars back in 2012. At the time, Instagram was quickly defining a very different way that consumers wanted to connect. The photos became a gateway to not only sharing, but to create and connect through conversation. Another form of communication. The photos also became a simple and creative way (don’t forget about the filters) for people to feel good about their pictures. With that, Instagram brought in video capabilities to snip at the heels of [Vine](https://vine.co/ “Vine”).
**What Instagram taught us.**
While it may be nothing new, Instagram re-highlighted something that we have always known: people are visual. They would rather look at something than read something. We are a visual species. When you add in photos and as a simple and easy way to share on the mobile/smartphone platform, it creates a combustion of usage (especially when mixed with some luck, good timing and proper relationships in Silicon Valley). Instagram ushered in a new era of *”winners”* in digital marketing. The *”winners”* are the ones who are image-based, mobile and social. With that, it was announced this week that Instagram is now bigger than [Twitter](https://twitter.com/mitchjoel “Twitter”), which is something that I’m still astonished by, and trying to reconcile. [Instagram being bigger than Twitter](http://www.businessinsider.com/chart-of-the-day-instagram-is-now-bigger-than-twitter-2014-12) is something. Instagram being owned by Facebook and still, independently, being bigger than Twitter is something even more fascinating (and, maybe, worrisome to others).
**Instagram is building an economy.**
It is about so much more than pictures. Small and medium-sized businesses are using Instagram as a storefront. The next great e-commerce platform? Some bigger brands are testing and selling new products in Instagram before launching them in a more formal, e-commerce platform. That’s right, Instagram as a platform for buying and selling of products and services. It’s a topic that I have covered many times in the past couple of years, and it’s an area of growth for Instagram, that is now starting to see some traction. More on that here: [Are Brands Ready For The Instagram Economy?](http://sixpixels.com/blog/archives/are-brands-ready-for-the-instagram-economy-1/). Instagram can (and should) be used by brands as a new marketplace of commerce with a built-in audience, culture and desire to see an ever-evolving merchandising. Plus, it allows brands to experiment with new products to sell, without the risk of significant investment and infrastructure.
**Instagram as a primary gateway to connect with fans.**
A contentious issue for sure. Some (including me) might argue that making any platform or channel that a brand doesn’t own/control a primary gateway for fans and consumers to connect with is a dangerous proposition. Brands should never find themselves in a place where a channel or platform loses audience credibility and suddenly, all of that goodwill, data and connection is suddenly lost (think about [MySpace](http://www.myspace.com “MySpace”). Still, using a place, like Instagram, to try new things, or push a brand narrative is another way to do something more that the standard “image and copy,” which can become boring (and, is still commonplace for most brands). [Ikea](http://www.ikea.com “Ikea”) got some attention earlier this year for launching an [Instagram account that was much more like a website](http://mashable.com/2014/06/30/ikea-instagram-website/) than a place to post pictures. With that, if your brand is already highly visual, Instagram can become another way to share, but take the narrative into different perspectives. [Chanel](http://www.chanel.com “Chanel”) got a lot of attention this past October after joining Instagram and growing their account [by close to two million users](http://www.adweek.com/news/technology/chanel-got-18-million-instagram-followers-virtually-out-nowhere-160768), out of nowhere. The lesson for marketers is clear: don’t just post photos as an afterthought. How can your brand leverage what Instagram has become to build something new and exciting for your consumers?
**Instagram as the go-to destination for breaking news.**
It’s one thing to be impressed with Instagram’s rapidly-rising user base, but it’s another thing to see it emerging as the place we go to get our breaking news – from local to global – at a rapidly increasing pace. I thought that was what we had Twitter for? Photos are a great way for us to communicate – over text. It’s not hard to imagine a world where Instagram starts snagging more and more of Twitter’s intent. It’s already happening. Just this week, [Wired](http://www.wired.com “Wired”) ran an article titled, [Instagram Is Getting So Good at News, It Should Scare Twitter](http://www.wired.com/2014/12/instagram-getting-good-news-scare-twitter/). From the piece: *”‘I think we’re at the stage right now where exchanging simple text-based messages on a social platform seems antiquated,’ says [Debra Aho Williamson](https://twitter.com/debrawilliamson “Debra Aho Williamson”), an analyst with [eMarketer](https://www.emarketer.com “eMarketer”) who has been covering social media and realtime marketing for more than a decade. Twitter of course carries photos, too, but, she says, ‘The platform is still very heavily text.'”* How does this evolution of the platform change what your brand puts into it?
**Instagram has its own celebrities and influencers.**
While some might argue that stars of Instagram, [Vine](http://www.vine.com “Vine”), YouTube, etc… are as morbidly scripted as bad reality TV (for a perspective on this, please check this recently published feature in [The Guardian](http://www.theguardian.com “The Guardian”) titled, [Do the Instagram stars show we’re now all living in scripted reality?](http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/27/life-instagram-pedlars-no-allure-marketers-aspirational), there is treasure trove of interesting people on Instagram that have significant followers and the credibility to connect the right products and brands to that audience. The keyword in that last sentence? **Right**. Instagram has its own culture. If I haven’t reiterated this thought enough: *don’t try to sell to the culture of Instagram. Try to become a relevant part of that culture.* Many discount Instagram as a nascent social media platform. It has evolved. It continues to evolve. With that, comes a new slew of individuals who have done a great job of building their own brands, so new opportunities to leverage influencers – or even create your own – is viable.
**Size isn’t everything.**
Sadly, the focus for most marketers is still the news that Instagram is now bigger than Twitter. That’s not the really big news that marketers need to be paying attention to.
**Is it?**