The Golden Age of Instagram

Have we been taking a certain social media platform Instaforgranted?

Last week, a study released by Forrester analyst Nate Elliott showed brand posts on Instagram generated 58 times higher engagement per follower, on average, than brands’ Facebook posts, and 120 times more engagement than Tweets.

Although we marketers have begun to recognize the brand-friendly benefits of Instagram -- such as a less cluttered feed and a young, click-happy user base -- I confess these statistics were a bit jaw-dropping.

The obvious moral of the story is that brands should be active on Instagram. Like, now.  But maybe not for the reason you think.

First, let’s try to put into context this period in Instagram’s relatively short life span. For me, it harkens back to the social media halcyon days of free love and likes on Facebook and Twitter. It was a gold rush mentality, and we hit the Oregon Trail to stake our “owned media” claim and pan for “earned media” gold.

These were golden days indeed, but a scourge was about to hit marketers and the pundits who follow our industry: the plague of “paid.” As if overnight, the industry let out a collective gasp of disbelief, marketers felt duped and headlines like this one  (“Facebook Slightly Tweaked How The Site Works — And It Screwed An Entire Profession”) captured the mood as the new reality of social media marketing set in: You’ve got to pay to play.  

Before we get too nostalgic about the “golden years” of social media, how about a little dose of reality? Because it was free, nobody really knew if social media was actually working. It was an experimental bet with low risk and dubious returns. Even the biggest of brands relegated social media to interns and newbies.  If we are now in the “pay to play” era, then this was the “you get what you pay for” era.  

Instagram is coming of age in a completely different environment than its predecessors.  Facebook will monetize this incredible asset, and my guess is that it will be done carefully and thoughtfully. You don’t kill the golden goose. We’re already witnessing the beginnings of this evolution, with advertisers like Ben & Jerry’s finding sweet success. Social media has grown up, bets are much bigger, and therefore returns must match these investments. Paid, earned, and owned media will continue to be the three-legged stool of social media, with each category critical for brand marketers who need real scale and real results.  

So yes, marketers should be staking their claim on Instagram. Now is the time to make small bets, experiment, learn, and build infrastructure for the real gold rush. The stakes are getting big and the pot of gold is at the end of the rainbow. #nofilter #metaphoroverkill #sorrynotsorry

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1 comment about "The Golden Age of Instagram".
  1. Marc Fischman from Hyperactivate , May 6, 2014 at 7:23 p.m.
    Hi Jamie, Great article! Instagram may show great results for brands that understand it, but it has many challenges when it comes to brand marketing. Both Facebook and Twitter and even LinkedIn allow for third party publishing tools. Instagram restricts publishing to the iPhone application. This creates a challenge for brand marketers that use publishing platforms to schedule and push their content. Secondly, Instagram restrains the consumer to the Instagram platform. Starting an Instagram campaign to get users to post UGC about a brand is very clunky and difficult to manage. The platform doesn't even allow something as simple linking out to a landing page. Instagram should really nail down these two shortfalls if they want to see brand marketers embrace the platform the way they should be.