Who is this new kid on the social media block?


By now, making money with Instagram is almost old hat in marketing circles, and everyone had something to say. Why is it then that so many people haven’t yet caught this train? If you have already, then you would be looking for more sophisticated ways to use Instagram. Not the topic of this article. If you have just heard, realise Instagram is important, but don’t know why exactly, and want to know more, read on.

Instagram first caught my attention when the highly respected and successful blogger and publicity guru, Neil Patel, wrote a blog post entitled:

How I Generated $332,640 in 3 Months From Instagram – Quick Sprout   Sept 2015

Another marketer I respect for always having his nose to the ground for the upcoming best opportunities, Jon Shugart, had hosted a webinar a few months before, in which a comment was made that Instagram at that moment was like the “Wild West” days of Facebook. The people who threw themselves into the possibilities, no matter how disorganised they might have seemed, earned a fortune overnight.

I did a little research, opened a few Instagram accounts, as a hobby, which I dedicated relatively very little time to, and was really surprised at how fast (and free) the results were. Almost instant, in fact.

Here are some comments and facts to consider about social media in general, and Instagram in particular:

  • Instagram now has 400 million active users
  • 75% of Instagram users are outside the US
  • Over 60% of users log in daily, making it the second most engaged network after Facebook
  • 30% of internet users are now on Instagram

How does this affect your branding power?

  • 48.8 % of brands are on Instagram. By 2017, this is predicted to rise to 70.7%
  • If we only look at the top 100 brands in the world, 90% have an Instagram account
  • 96% of US fashion brands are on Instagram
  • Outside China, almost 50% of Instagram users conduct product research on social media
  • Engagement with brands on Instagram is 10 times higher than Facebook, 54 times higher than Pinterest, and 84 times higher than Twitter
  • Over a third of Instagram users have used their mobile to purchase a product online– making them 70% more likely to do so than non-users

Source: https://www.brandwatch.com/blog/37-instagram-stats-2016/

In the beginning of social media days, it is the kids who climb on first. They did so with Facebook, and they did so with Instagram; simply because youth like doing the social thing. I remember a comment by Ryan Deiss at the beginning of the first social media days. At the time, he believed it was fairly irrelevant, for kids, and not a valid marketing channel. He has subsequently adopted a social media marketing strategy wholeheartedly, both in his course material and in his own business.

There two defining comments you could make about social media today:

  • Kids love it.
  • Anyone serious about making money can’t afford to ignore it.

Instagram is no different.


Much like anything else on social media –  a fairly mixed crowd. Young people, without a doubt. But a quick look at Instagrammer profiles tells me this. Some people just use it to keep in touch with family and friends with a quick photo. There’s also a dark aspect, or people just selling themselves in delicate or indelicate ways, no real business motive attached – people who appear to like to be stalked online (that’s just my opinion); or, on the bright side, mothers who share heart-warming gallery blogs about their family lifestyle and philosophies, adventurers about their travels, or “fashionista”women with a “penchant” for original personal  expressions of style.  Only some of these “personal” reasons have an attachment potential /hook for “branding”, and would, therefore, be relevant to the topic.

My personal opinion about social media is that it is the perfect advertising channel for any business, and that is my real interest. I would even say that, putting all the channels together, it is an advertising channel which is unrivalled for effectiveness if used correctly, because it makes it possible for “the little man/woman” to reach a currently very eager audience in a way which was unimaginable before. It would seem to be an advertising/branding revolution.

The thing that really strikes me in the time period in which I am submitting this guest article, is how rapidly Instagram accounts, for the same companies, have grown; even when compared with their other social media presence, like Facebook. This would be compared to less than a year ago. It’s worth an article in itself; which is in the pipeline.

However, if you don’t want your private life to go viral, never share anything private, or personal, on social media. Why would you want the whole world to have access to what jam you buttered your toast with at 8.00 o’clock this morning on 10 Dec 2016? It makes no sense to me. This is my policy since I prefer to know, and be known, by face to face encounters, and not virtually.

The bottom line is this: there is no privacy on Facebook or any other social media channel. If this is important to you, choose social media to serve your interests in a more dynamic, positive and useful way. This is the way it should be used; not in a manner which is invasive and compromises your private life. Possibly also the reason why so many serious-minded people avoid it all together.

There are a lot of things you could say about social media: that it encourages shallow, dishonest, and distracted social interaction. Much of this is true. but…

The truth is this, that people are as tied to the hip to social media as they are to their smartphone. That’s where they have a moment of time in a hurried world to catch up, look for the latest, and check in on the world – this is where the world and its consumers are hanging out.

Aside from the very obvious indication that Instagram must be important if Facebook owns it; why exactly IS Instagram important, and how can it help you in a practical way? Why is it the social media  “Person of the Moment”?

From my personal experience, I have some opinions about this.

My first impression is that it is so popular because it perfectly suits the millennial lifestyle – smartphone, in hand, always distracted and in a hurry. Instagram is the most smartphone-friendly form of social media: it’s simple, easy to take in, and can communicate so much, in such a short space of time. It is a way to touch down, connect, and fly off without feeling much strain against the wind. Images (especially videos) are very emotional, for better or worse; and Instagram is a quick emotional fix and eye candy with a particular type of appeal.

The topic of how eye candy and power branding reconnected brings me to the very next point about Instagram. All social media platforms have their unwritten or written, etiquette and rules about sharing information. The rate of repins on Pinterest is higher than original pins. The unwritten etiquette, in this case, is: share freely, as long as the source is fairly credited. People go to Pinterest more to look for inspiration, get new ideas, and share them with friends; than to make original statements about their own creativity – though they use it for this reason as well. On Pinterest, the message is:”sure, share my idea – it’s great free publicity.”

Instagram is different; it is a social media channel which offers powerful, instant branding, free and with an unlimited targeted reach to any business. All you need us a creative bent, or to hire someone with this kind of talent. Branding yourself has never been so easy, or so  cost-effective. We all know how logos fix a company reference in the public mind. Instagram is a combination of both of these, but in a much more interesting, creative, dynamic, and entertaining way. It is like a visual branding agency –a slide show/gallery that keeps your audience captive every day of every year, even if just for a few minutes, or seconds. Of course, people look for ideas on Instagram, but there is also an unwritten understanding that the originality of ideas on Instagram is very “copyright”. This is where artists, or aspiring artists/ creatives hang out to admire each other, follow each other (in those few spare minute they have in the process of their busy artistic vision),  but never copy (directly, that is – because being inspired the ethical way is acceptable).

It is very soft advertising, not in your face at all, and that is why people love it – they see it as pure entertainment.

That is why the most effective business accounts on Instagram are business which deal in visual merchandising – clothing, jewellery, events, luxury items, real estate etc. If it has any potential to catch the the eye, and create a personal branding concept over the long- term which is dynamic and changing every day, Instagram will work for you.

The key to Instagram has been expressed this way by one expert: “be a page worth following”. If I were to express the power of Instagram, in a nutshell, it would be this: “ visual concept branding which holds the consumers attention over the long term by being extremely dynamic, creative and original; yet also non-invasive, and requiring minimum commitment, time and attention, without necessarily divulging of any personal details”.

This is perfect fit for a minimalist generation, who are tired of the whole world looking into their private closet, yet on the look out for inspiration. Instagram is an  undeclared contest to see how creatively, and originally, you can catch, and hold, the imagination of the public eye.

The most important thing about Instagram, and Instagrammers, is that the audience loves originality. Tiffany’s and co for example, have one of the largest and most devoted audiences. This is partially due to the fact that they already had a very established social media presence, but also because they very carefully curate their content. They understand their audience. But the great news is that you don’t have to be Tiffany and co to succeed, and succeed very well, on Instagram. Instagrammers are more fussy and discerning. They follow the leader, of course, because the advertising and visuals are often stunning, and proportionate to the ad dollars they spend.

But, personally, I have found unknown photographers more interesting, and proportionately as highly appreciated by the broader Instagram audience, as well. If you look at the number of followers on strange accounts, like” fresh macaroons in Paris”(an invention), they are often much more visually interesting. This opinion seems to be reflected in the amount of people who love their feeds and follow them. Many people (myself included ), in fact, actively seek out these little gems, because they are such a delightful and unexpected surprise.  This succinctly expresses the hold Instagram has on people and the key to success- “ Be surprising, be inspiring. Who doesn’t love to be inspired by a surprise?”

And this is the most critical aspect to realise about Instagram for any business wanting to brand themselves – even out of nowhere – Instagrammers don’t really care who you are, they just want to see how great your pictures and concepts are. That’s what drives their interest. They also feel that they have easy access to a kind of virtual club, without the expensive fees, and the picky membership details. Luxury people like following luxury accounts – cars, watches, jewellery, whatever their interest is.

They will search those accounts out, and practice limited engagement with people they believe have similar interests. They might not even ever have heard of you before, but the fact that they are impressed by your visual branding means that they will probably be curious to find out more about you, and click through to your site.

The point about this is not only that (for the moment) it’s free, but its’ very easy to reach your target audience, and grow it very rapidly: the organic reach power is incredible – like Facebook in the “old “ days (virtually speaking). Your job is just to keep them interested, and to be surprising with the visuals. Consistent and original posts, just an occasional comment and complementary “like back” – and that satisfies the Instagrammers level of involvement and interest. That’s why people find it relaxing and unstressful. It’s a very low dose social media intake (or addiction, if you like, for some ). It can be very distracting – but it doesn’t have to be. This is what those busy people, who want the inspiration, but don’t want to spend hours hanging out in discussions on Facebook, like it.

The catch is this, as it was originally expressed by an expert who got in first in the race: creating an account worth following, growing your followers, keeping the necessary contact with them to be sociable within the authentic boundaries of etiquette, take time. I spend very little time, all things considered, on Instagram. In fact, recently I don’t even grow my accounts very much, because I am busy with other things, and intend to follow up later, as soon as I have a more time. For me, the experiment has worked for the moment, to be taken up again in a more serious moment of strategy. At the moment, it’s just a relaxing, fun hobby – like an adult coloring book.


I love using the way Instagram offers a possibility for soft advertising, since I really don’t like in your face, “sell, sell, sell” ads, which are aimed at quick turnover, and nothing else. Advertising is an art which requires originality, creativity and, in my opinion, integrity – you need to really believe in the need for, and worth of, your product.

However, if you don’t have the ideas, or time, to grow your audience, it is still worth hiring a professional to do so for you.

The guideline for this is that you should hire someone who has a good graphic sense, a real flair for creating original images, and can think outside the box about your concept. Don’t ever even think about doing Instagram without this. You have a couple of seconds to attract the attention of the curious. After that, they will just move onto something more engaging.

The other thing is that you need someone who knows how to intelligently grow a targeted audience. This is not a random thing. You might have a great account displaying your wedding photography, but if you are not targeting an audience of aspiring brides in your local area (ie, if you are not an international photographer), people might love your images, but it probably will never convert into an interest which takes them to your website link at the top of your Instagram page in order to seek your services.

Finally, any business can brand themselves visually and in a dynamic way – it doesn’t have to be inherently visual. If you are unknown, and want immediate and exponential branding reach, and you don’t want to annoy your target audience, but rather to be chosen by them for what they perceive as your merits, you should not ignore Instagram. It’s so much easier to market to a willing, converted audience, than one which has been coerced. If you can’t do it yourself, think about hiring someone else to do it for you.

About the Author:

19 years in Italy as a TEFL teacher and translator, during which time I taught myself IM. Recently moved all work online and collaborating through virtual platforms in anticipation of a move abroad to pursue a nomadic work style. Passion for research, creative content (especially original visuals) and learning new skills.  Get in touch with Luciano…

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