What is Instagram?
Instagram is an image-based, photo-sharing social media platform. The platform allows users to upload photos and short videos, which can be altered with filters, annotations and emojiis.
Launched in October 2010, Instagram rapidly rose in popularity and it is now the third biggest social media platform in the world. The platform was acquired by Facebook in 2012, which has cemented this position.
Instagram has two primary ways of distributing content:
Similar to a Facebook page or Twitter, an Instagram wall offers a ‘virtual album’ for your images. When someone views your account, they can see all the images you have posted to your wall and interact with these by liking it or commenting. If a person is following you, they will see any updates you post on their Feed.
Similarly, if you use a particular hashtag on a post, the post will show up when this hashtag is searched for, increasing your reach.
(This applies only when the privacy setting on the company’s wall is set to ‘public’. Very few companies will want their walls to be ‘private’, in which mode the company needs to approve people before they can follow or view the feed.)
This function works similarly to Snapchat Stories and has similar benefits and attributes. Instagram Stories allow you to add a ‘showreel’ of video and images to your account, which are played one after another. Followers can opt to watch your story by clicking your account icon. Like Snapchat, Stories last 24 hours before disappearing from the platform forever (although these can be exported as video files if you wish to keep them). To see a more in-depth analysis of the general benefits and downsides of Story functions, we recommend reading our Snapchat blog.
Instagram is unique in that it is often seen, culturally, as a ‘lifestyle’ social media platform. Many users work hard to display aesthetically pleasing imagery (both of themselves and things around them) to present an idealised version of themselves. This is why Instagram tends to be the platform of choice for vloggers and lifestyle celebrities, alongside Youtube and Instagram.
Instagram is most often used as a recreational platform. Many users post photos to show off their daily lives and passions. Some repost content they have seen elsewhere (such as inspirational quotes, memes or cute photos and video). Consequently, many users use the platform to keep up with their friends lives or to see images around topics that appeal to them (e.g. landscapes, guitars, movies, their favourite celebrity etc.) for fun. This fun element is always important to keep in mind when creating content for the platform.
Instagram has 800 million users overall, with approximately 17.2 million users in the United Kingdom as of March 2017. (Source)
In the UK, the gender ratio is fairly evenly split (44% for males, 56% for females). The platform is currently used mostly by a younger demographic, with the majority of users being in the 18-24 and 25-34 age band (31% and 30% respectively). Older demographics still use the platform but in far fewer numbers (15% are 35-44, 9% are 45-54 and 6% are over 55). (Source)
Consequently, Instagram is best used when targeting a younger audience.
What it does well
- Image-based content – Particularly if it is aesthetically pleasing or enhanced using the platform’s filters and other tools. Check out a fab guide here.
- Short video or gif content – Likewise, Instagram is fantastic place for moving image. In addition to posting video and gifs, the platform also allows you to create ‘Boomerangs’, which take a section of a video and play it repeatedly backwards and forwards to create gif-style content. However, it is worth noting that videos are limited to 60 seconds long for both the Instagram wall and stories.
- Reaching a wider audience organically (at the moment at least) – Similar to Twitter, Instagram’s natural reach can be widened through the use of hashtags. Hashtags are a huge part of the culture at Instagram. Far from being discouraged, using huge numbers of very basic hashtags (such as #flowers, #nature, #trees for a landscape photo) is expected and encouraged. This can significantly widen a post’s reach. However, there is some evidence that Instagram is experimenting with the use of algorithms to filter what shows up on a user’s feed, so it remains to be seen whether wide organic reach will be the case in future.
- Hashtag campaigns – Hashtag campaigns work well on the platform. This involves asking followers to use your tailored hashtag on a specific type of image they upload, and can be a fun way to create interaction or collect competition entries.
- Content marketing– Instagram Stories are a fantastic tool for creating a narrative. A series of linked images or videos, such as play-by-play accounts of events or ‘a day in the life of’, can be very effective. Likewise, step-by-step guides, Q&As or takeovers (where the company allows a customer or staff member to take over its account for a defined period and upload images which interest them) offer great creative potential. Likewise, there’s lots of different ways you can use the Instagram Wall to create engaging content.
- Analytics – Compared to other platforms, analytic tools on Instagram are fairly basic. Instagram Business Profiles allow you to see statistics like reach, engagement and saves from within the platform. The inbuilt analytics can also show you key information about your audience including the gender ratio, age ranges, top locations and when your followers is online. This can help you work out whether your content is working well for you and what audience you are attracting. However, these analytics are only available to Business Profiles (which must be connected to a Facebook profile).
What it does less well
- Text-heavy or complex content – While Instagram does have a good character count for the descriptions for each post, images are placed centre stage on the platform. The image should be the most important thing in the content you upload.
- Text-heavy image content – While images featuring a few sentences of text tend to do well, such as inspirational quotes, infographics tend to perform poorly on Instagram.
- Content sharing – A unique quirk of the Instagram platform is that there is no way to share other people’s content within the user interface: no ‘retweet’ equivalent. This is unusual as sharing is considered a standard aspect of social media platforms. That said, while officially it is frowned upon, content sharing is still common on the platform and many external apps exist to help ‘regram’ other people’s content to your own feed. However, you will have to ensure you attain permission from the user and credit them in your post manually, rather than taking this as read.
- Calls to action – Unlike most platforms, it is not possible to include a ‘clickable’ url in your posts. While this isn’t necessarily a huge hurdle (users can simply copy and paste the link), it can make call to actions less effective and more difficult. Common practice is to direct users to the link in their profile (the one clickable URL available) and to change this regularly. For stories, the situation is slightly different. While it is possible to include a URL in your Instagram Story, this feature is limited to business Instagram accounts with over 10,000 followers.
- Long video content – Videos on the platform are limited to 60 seconds. If you are looking for a place to host or store longer videos, Youtube is your best bet.
- Re-using older content on Stories – You can only upload images, Boomerangs or videos to your Story if they have been filmed or created in the past 24 hours.
- Promotional image-based content – Since Instagram is primarily used as a recreational tool, explicitly promotional images (such as ads) don’t tend to do well. You are better off creating an aesthetically pleasing image and placing any promotional content in the description, if this is necessary. Alternatively, consider some Instagram ads.
- Categorising your content – While Instagram does work a little like an online photo gallery, it is limited when it comes to customisation. You cannot categorise your content by theme, popularity or location. It can only be viewed backwards chronologically, with the most recent post first. If you are looking to group or categorise your content, consider Pinterest.
- Customer service – While Instagram does have a flexible direct messaging system, this is primarily designed to share images, hashtags, and profiles. While it could be used as a conversational tool, this is one of the less used tools on the platform so the benefits are more difficult to quantify. Find out more about this tool here.
- Networking – Instagram is content-focused rather than discussion-focused. Consequently, in depth interaction or discussion is more difficult and unlikely to be worthwhile on the platform. Consider using Twitter instead.
An Instagram account might work for you if:
- You want to target young people
- You are a lifestyle brand or you sell a personal product
- You encounter a lot of interesting imagery on a day to day basis
- You want to give a behind-the-scenes view of your company using the Stories feature
- You are excited by the idea of using visual content for marketing strategies
It probably won’t work for you if:
- You have no desirable imagery associated with your business
- Your messages are complex or require a lot of accompanying text
- You only want to put out explicitly promotional content – Purchase some Instagram ads instead
Are you considering Instagram or another social media channel for your business? Don’t know where to start? 360 integrated PR offer a range of social media services for businesses who are established or complete novices in the social media scene. Find out more here or call us for a complimentary chat!