Partnering with social media influencers who have large followings is one way companies use Instagram as a marketing tool.
By posting photos of products they received for free, or creating content in exchange for cash, these influencers can be very effective at spreading a brand’s message, and they can make some good money that way.
But as more and more people become “Instagram famous” for their beautiful lives, the facade of perfection has started to crack.
- Socality Barbie - a parody account that poked fun at certain Instagram tropes - went from zero to a million followers almost overnight.
- The “finstagram” - or fake Instagram - account is a thing now. They are private accounts people only share with trusted friends where they post photos of their “real” selves vs. their accounts with large followings where every photo has to look perfect.
- Self-styled Australian model Essena O’Neill recently “quit” social media because the pressure and work she put into the photos on her Instagram account became unsustainable.
- A Miami ‘grammer’s confession went viral after she revealed that her Instagram life drove her into debt.
Okay, so people fake their perfect lives on Instagram. Does that mean you should give up on it as a marketing tool?
The answer is no.
For one thing, Instagram’s growth isn’t exactly slowing down - the platform reached 400 million active monthly users in September of 2015. Don’t cut your nose off to spite your face.
And as publicity and marketing professionals would tell you, any social media strategy is a combination of art and science, especially when working with influencers. Data and numbers are key - you want to reach the most people with your posts and get sales, right? - but knowing your target audience is just as important.
Targeting Your Audience
“We want to work with influencers who create compelling content for their networks and who will clearly disclose their partnership with brands,” says says Michelle L. LeBlanc, Executive Director of Consumer Engagement for Pacific Communications Group. “We have two goals: to spread the brand's message to the influencer's network, and to protect the brand from legal liability by adhering to FTC regulations. When selecting influencers to work with, we look at the size and composition of their networks, along with the type of content they create. If it's a fit for the brand, we explore a relationship.”
Austin LaRoche, CMO of ATAK Interactive, says that the success of the content requires experimentation and tracking the data. “Smart brands will test different approaches to their audience to understand what will get the best result,” he says. "If a fashion company has an influential blogger post a staged photo that looks ‘perfect’ and it increases their followers and sells the pair of jeans they’re promoting more than an authentic photo by the same person, they’re going to do what works for the bottom line. What they have to ensure is that they continually test these variables with their audience and let the data carve the right path.”
The Challenge With Instagram: Tracking ROI
Instagram presents a special challenge because tracking the conversion of a sponsored post is harder. “Whereas Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn allow links in individual posts, the link opportunities on Instagram are limited,” says LaRoche. “The only clickable link is in a user’s bio, so brands will change that link when they create a promotional post and say ‘link in profile’ in their caption. Where applicable, brands will also run specific coupon codes in posts to measure conversions specifically from Instagram. While they can simplify the process and say ‘X influencer posted today about us and we made Y amount of sales,’ the data is not as precise as what marketers get with other social media platforms.”
But that’s where Instagram marketing is more of an art than a science. “The influencer's expertise in cultivating a large, engaged network is what attracted the brand in the first place,” reminds LeBlanc. “The influencer knows best what content works and doesn't work within that network, and can use the opportunity to educate the brand.”
And that means control over how a post looks is mostly left up to the influencer himself. LeBlanc says, “The influencers who feel such pressure for perfection are putting that pressure on themselves. They have full control over the content they create and the brands with which they work. When we work with influencers, we give broad guidelines and ask for final approval before any content is published. That's it.”
Look to the Customer for Clues of Success
LaRoche looks to consumers’ reaction for clues to the success of this approach. “I think inspiration is always going to be the emotion that most resonates with users on Instagram or any social media platform for that matter,” he says. “If the public is more inspired by celebrities and influencers that take an anti-photoshopping approach, then marketers will adjust as well.”
So take heart, marketers. It’s not all about the perfectly staged airbrushed photo. The right fit between brand and influencer is key, as well as continuous monitoring of their networks’ reactions. “Most brands we work with are interested in an authentic representation of their products,” says LeBlanc. “Influencers are creating content in their voices, not the brand's. As long as the influencers adhere to the brand message, and disclose the brand relationship, their authentic voices and experiences are what we want to see.”
Or you could just take it from a Kardashian. Model Kendall Jenner, who has almost 42 million followers on Instagram, shrugs off the pressure of looking perfect as “stupid” because “It’s kind of my job, but it’s not real life.”