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How to launch a winning Instagram strategy

How to launch a winning Instagram strategy Tom Edwards

From a strategy perspective, Instagram is one of the more misunderstood social platforms when it comes to outlining its role and business impact along the path to purchase. Below is a breakdown of three Instagram use cases that outline various levers that can influence user behavior and ultimately lead to awareness, advocacy, and offline conversion.

Instagram's numbers are impressive: 300 million active users, 30 billion photos shared per day, and 2.5 billion interactions per day make it an ideal consumer engagement channel. When crafting an Instagram brand strategy, I always start by mapping the objectives and goals of the brand against the various use cases and scenarios outlined below.

How to launch a winning Instagram strategy

Depending on the desire of the brand marketer, it is possible to execute each of these elements in isolation, but the greatest impact can be achieved by integrating multiple use cases. Typically, I map Instagram strategic initiatives into three primary use cases: brand channel, cooperative content, and direct response.

Brand channel

A robust branded Instagram presence helps round out a brand's social channel ecosystem. Here's what marketers need to know.

Why have an Instagram brand channel?
Over the past few years, Instagram marketing strategy has been approached in a very similar manner to other social platforms that came before it. This included extending the persona of the brand, fostering transparency, and extending visual storytelling efforts.

An Instragram brand channel can serve as a brand anchor on the platform, an engagement driver, and a point of personification for the brand to connect with the Instagram community. But it is important to understand there are limitations to this approach if a brand has any desire beyond awareness and engagement.

Can I extend organic reach through engagement?
I met with Instagram when I was at F8, and the team explained that the platform has a deterministic newsfeed. In other words, every piece of content you post will be seen by your followers. Unlike Facebook's previous algorithm that rewarded additional reach to your followers and beyond for interaction, Instagram engagement does not equal additional organic reach.

Instagram brand channels should not be treated as distribution platform for brands. Likes, follows, and comments will not necessarily drive additional visibility within the platform due to the deterministic feed and the lack of any type of "regram" (think retweet) functionality limits branded content sharing.

What does it do for my business?
It is important to understand the parameters and set client expectations accordingly about what to expect if a brand channel is the only use case that is realized. Understand that organic reach is limited to existing audience and a brand channel strategy alone simply garners awareness and engagement.

If your brand has a robust social strategy that includes visual storytelling and is primarily focused on awareness and engagement then a branded channel is right for you.

Cooperative content

In a recent meeting with Instagram, the team expressed that the true power of the platform is the creator community. For those marketers looking to move beyond awareness and engagement, it is possible to foster intent while maintaining the authenticity and connection with Instagram's community through curation-based use cases. For most product-based businesses, user-generated content (UGC) tied to hashtags can be used as cross-platform advocacy play.

Call for cooperation
The call for cooperation is the key element to maximize a UGC curation strategy. The key is to specify the expected behavior, provide a relevant hashtag, and actively deliver the call-to-action. The call-to-action can manifest itself in many forms. It can be tied to promotional activations that drive a specific behavior, such as the AT&T's #BeTheFan promotion, or it can come in the form of leveraging influencers to create content on behalf of the brand. Galvanizing Instagram's creator community is the first step in curating cooperative content.

App-centric approach
Many brands leverage Instagram primarily through the lens of the consumer and the native filters of the app. For marketers that are looking for more brand equity out of UGC, it is possible to create custom filters through the brand's native app and tie the share into the Instagram share stream via an API.

Choose the right moments
It is important to have an asset management system allowing for a flexible workflow to review submissions, facilitate rights management, and connect pathways to cross-platform publishing of content.

Display for impact
Once you have aligned with your community about a call-to-action, curated images or videos (natively or through a third-party application), and worked through rights and asset management, it is now time to display the cooperatively created content for impact.

What does this mean for my business?
Associating user generated content with products has shown a direct correlation to sales lift, according to a recent IPSOS study. For brands focused on leveraging earned media to create advocacy and impact "intent" (middle of the purchase funnel), a cooperative content curation strategy may be the right choice.

For certain brand marketers, the ideal approach is to curate against existing behaviors and create a relationship with passionate fans to showcase their view of the brand.

Direct response

What we have seen over the past six months is a fundamental shift in social platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, and now Instagram, toward better supporting offline conversion through direct response ad types.

From an investor perspective, awareness and engagement are not always seen as the most viable way to invest dollars that drive tangible business impact. This is one of the primary reasons Twitter's CEO stepped down. The company did not have a viable way to measure true impact of spend.

Why paid advertising on Instagram?
Instagram's paid advertising offerings have evolved significantly over the past year, and we as marketers are starting to see the influence the Facebook acquisition has had on the platform. Recent announcements highlighted advanced targeting will be coming soon to Instagram ad products. In partnership with parent company Facebook, Instagram's ad products will allow for greater specificity to deliver a contextually relevant message that may drive a direct response from the consumer.

What does it do for my business?
With improved targeting capabilities (thanks to Facebook) and a coming option to support direct response calls-to-action such as shop now, install now, sign up, and learn more, we see an increased emphasis on driving a user to action, an element that has been missing from Instagram.

Also, the news that Instagram's ads API will soon be available to support both small and large organizations is important news for those marketers that are not spending millions of dollars on the Facebook ad platform.

Instagram's ad products are continuing to evolve, and the addition of direct response units is very welcome. Initial signals are positive, but it will be important to note the impact of a more comprehensive ad product suite on a platform that has prided itself on simplicity and community.

As you can see, there are various strategic use cases that can drive different outcomes depending on your objectives. Understanding when to activate one vs. another or multiple elements simultaneously is key to fully maximizing the highly creative and engaged Instagram audience.

Tom Edwards is chief digital officer, agency services at Epsilon.

On Twitter? Follow Edwards at @BlackFin360. Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

"Businessman Success. A businessman launching upwards, paperwork flying everywhere!" image via Shutterstock.

Epsilon is a global leader in data, marketing and technology enablement. As the Chief Digital Officer for Epsilon’s agency business, Tom is guiding Epsilon agency clients as a trusted advisor to meet the business needs of today while...

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