Brands on Instagram and the rise of photo sharing

Instagram has hit the headlines again this morning with a new feature; Instagram Photo Maps. Designed to make it easier to access older photos and make better use of geo-tagging, the update has been received positively already by tech bloggers and users alike. So, what is it about photo sharing that makes it so popular? When did we become fanatical about it?

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Some may say that it all started with Facebook, circa 2005. At least, that’s when I was first introduced to the fact I could share recent photos effectively with my friends who had been at the same events. Hard to believe that I’ve now been using Facebook for over ten years – bet many can’t imagine life without it!

Others may say it was Flickr and Myspace that heralded the start of the photo-sharing revolution, or even that it all goes back to emails and attachments, or saving photos onto a disc and giving or sending that to someone – clunky as that method may now seem.

The fact is that however it started online – or whichever service came first – documenting your life through imagery is proving to be a pretty popular pastime! I resisted the Instagram bandwagon for a while, thinking “I’m fine with Twitpic, cheers”, until I started to get a bit of a green-eyed-monstery sickness when everyone else’s photos kept popping into my Twitter stream, looking effortlessly cool and arty-farty.

As this is an app that is proving to be both irresistible and unstoppable, I thought it would be a good time to conduct a quick audit of its worth.

Plus Points

What I love about Instagram is the fact that it’s jazzed up the images I’m bombarded with on a daily basis – before Instagram, being subjected to poor quality or sub-amateur standard photography was the norm.

It has also encouraged everyone to calm down on the oversharing a bit. “Rubbish!” I hear you say; “People are still telling me what they had for lunch!” This is true, though what Instagram has achieved is lessening the ridiculous number of photos per album people previously uploaded and spread across every social network they were part of. By reminding people that photos should be a pleasure for the eye to behold, Instagram has discouraged the sheer quantity of average shots – to be replaced with key moments and beautiful memory-enhancing photos.

A picture speaks louder than words indeed; a photo diary/timeline/blog/album/ tells a story, and stories are easier and more fun to digest in photo format.  Here are some of my favourite Instagram snaps taken at Bloom Agency recently:

Bloom's week in pictures Bloom’s week in pictures

Minus Points

While Instagram has improved how photos look, it has resulted in a lot of photos looking very similar. It also gives people the excuse that even if it is a picture of their lunch, it is a jazzy filtered version therefore they’ll carry on posting it, perhaps with a different filter each day.

I think sharing all of your photo-diary shots within Instagram is cool; it is when people connect it up and share every single Instagram post to Facebook and/or Twitter as well that it moves into overkill territory. Granted, Facebook’s roots are in photo sharing, but sharing photos from another network sends the message: “I’m pushing my content from this other community, where I’m currently hanging out, to you over there where I’m not hanging out.” This is an issue as they are both different audiences. Facebook users don’t like to see lots of posts from the same person or brand clogging up their timeline – whether Facebook owns Instagram or not – and the same applies for oversharing from Instagram to Twitter. The important point to make here is that you’ve always got to consider your audience, and be extra careful when cross sharing your updates from one social network to another.

Using Instagram for Business

Inevitably, as social media carves itself a larger slice of the marketing pie every day, brands get interested in how to maximize new networking opportunities. This is already happening with the big players, and it is the usual big, brave names leaping onto tomorrow’s telephones; MTV, Starbucks, Burberry are leading the way among others. The real question is what are they doing there, and what can you learn from their approach?

  • Starbucks UK is encouraging users tag their Starbucks photos with #starbucks_ig to get them featured on the Starbucks page on Instagram
  • Starbucks Coffee (Seattle) just ask users to tag with #Starbucks to be featured
  • Burberry are currently featuring photos of London, working to connect their brand with Britishness around the Olympics, they also use backstage shots of fashion shows
  • Nike lead with ‘if you have a body you’re an athlete’ and are sharing lots of training focussed images centered on inspiring people to get fit
  • Tiffany & Co are simply sharing product images with pretty descriptions encouraging people to buy

The Next Web highlighted some early adopters – they are worth looking at if you are thinking of getting on Instagram.

  • Jamie Oliver shares images of his family life, food, celebs he meets and places he visits. An insight into the man who makes the Naked Chef
  • Red Bull: all about photos from their events around the world, as TNW rightly say ‘the worlds coolest brand’
  • Gucci share shots from their factories, how their products are made, catwalk glamour

Laura Stampler says “Instagram has provided brands with a creative new medium, which they can harness to reach as many as 50 million users – turned amateur photographers – in an artistic and engaging way.” Ms Stampler also underlines the fact that Red Bull use Instagram to network and comment on other users’ photos, which really is the point of social media. Brands need to use these platforms to be sociable and not push one-way comms, something brands can all too easily slip into.

Handy further reading on Instagram for brands:

I think Instagram is only going to get more popular, and the rumours of a desktop site will increase its chances of survival and even dominance in the social space. The brands who do well are the ones who see and use Instagram as an opportunity to show their human side, share insights, creativity and generally entertain their followers. This is a place to be an honest brand.

Is your brand (or yourself) on Instagram? Are you really impressed with any UK brands in particular on Instagram?

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