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Firms Should Embrace Instagram
The image- and video-sharing site now surpasses Twitter in users.
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Photo- and video-sharing Web site Instagram in early December surpassed 300 million registered users, placing it ahead of Twitter's 284 million users. Instagram, which officially launched in October 2010, is four years younger than Twitter.

Now Instagram is closing in on parent company Facebook, which bought the site in April 2012 for $1 billion. According to research from Shareablee, a social media analytics firm, there were 2.5 billion brand posts to Facebook in the second quarter of 2014, with year-over-year growth of 22 percent. During the same period, Instagram's brand posts numbered 493,000, representing a 49 percent year-over-year jump.

For brands looking to market themselves, Instagram presents "an enormous consumer audience" that not only looks at photos and videos, but also takes and shares photos of their experiences with brands and their products, says Apu Gupta, CEO and cofounder of Curalate, a visual marketing platform provider for various social media sites, including Instagram.

But size isn't all that Instagram has going for it. Not only does Instagram have immense scale, it also generates a lot of audience engagement.

In that regard, Twitter and Facebook just can't compete. Forrester Research in April 2014 found that Instagram delivered 58 times more engagement to brands per follower than Facebook and 120 times more engagement per follower than Twitter.

Shareablee's data shows that Facebook brand posts generated 6 billion actions, such as likes, comments, or shares, while Instagram's posts received 3.4 billion actions. On average, Facebook had 2,396 actions per post, while each Instagram post yielded an average of 6,932 actions.

"Audience engagement on Instagram grew by 131 percent in 2014, which is the highest growth rate of any social platform last year," says Tania Yuki, CEO and founder of Shareablee. "Across the board, brands increased their posting on the platform by 40 percent last year compared to 2013, and these posts drove more than 15 billion interactions in 2014."

And Yuki expects those numbers to grow as more firms embrace Instagram as a marketing platform. "Only 30 percent of all socially active brands have an Instagram profile, revealing a huge opportunity for brands to reach and activate their audiences through this platform," she says. "It's still very much a Wild West of opportunity, and experimentation is still very much in play."

Instagram is different from other social media sites in several ways. For one, Instagram users tend to be a little more selective in what they post. "People aren't posting nearly as often as on Facebook or Twitter, so you're not constantly getting bombarded with content," Gupta says. "The content is more deliberate."

And because it is entirely visual, Instagram allows brands to do a lot more. "Brands can really demo their products," Gupta says. "Marketers can use Instagram to publish their own photos and videos, but also to highlight what consumers are doing with their products."

The appeal is especially great in retail. Some of the biggest retailers, including Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, Nordstrom, and Target, have a big presence on Instagram.

The social site is making it easier for brands like these to participate. In addition to sponsored posts, which it first launched in September, Instagram will also roll out verified badges for celebrities, athletes, and brands to combat spam and other unwanted communications.

And while Instagram doesn't allow links on images the way Pinterest and some other sharing sites do, users can post links in the comment sections under photos and add clickable links within photo descriptions on profile pages.

Working with Like2Buy, Nordstrom, for example, adds links that take visitors to a separate landing page featuring all of its Instagram posts. Clicking on an image takes the visitor to that product's landing page on Nordstrom's e-commerce site.

Another service, called LiketoKnow.it, lets users tag Instagram content. If a user likes a post with the LiketoKnow.it tag, the retailer can send her an email with links to buy the items featured in that post.

The benefits of being on Instagram, though, extend far beyond retail. "Brands of all types are experimenting with Instagram and sites like it," Gupta says. "People increasingly are communicating visually, and brands need to give them that kind of content."

For marketers, Instagram can be "incredibly powerful," he adds. "There are lots of different things you can do; you just have to be creative."


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