When Instagram was purchased by Facebook for one billion dollars in 2012, the world's collective jaw dropped to the floor. Traditional business analysts couldn't imagine that a relatively young company with only 13 employees, who's sole product was a a picture sharing app, could be that valuable.
Fast forward ten years and Instagram is, for many in the 18 to 45 year old set, the undisputed champion of social media apps. Every day, people are posting millions and millions of pictures--carefully curated, of course--of their lives, their products, their work, etc.
In this episode, Abbie Fink and Dr. Adrian McIntyre talk about Instagram's place in business communication today and what the future might hold for the world's favorite photo sharing app.
Read Abbie Fink's blog post for this episode: "Grow Your Brand with Instagram"
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Copper State of Mind is a project of HMA Public Relations, a full-service public relations and marketing communications firm in Phoenix.
The show is recorded and produced in the studio of PHX.fm, the leading independent B2B podcast network in Arizona.
When Instagram was purchased by Facebook in 2012, for one billion dollars, the world's collective jaw dropped to the floor. They couldn't imagine that a company with only 13 employees, that was a picture sharing app, could be that valuable. Fast forward 10 years and Instagram is, for many in the 18 to 45 year old set, the undisputed champion of social media apps with people daily posting millions and millions of pictures, carefully curated, of their lives, their companies, their products, et cetera. So, Instagram. Does it have a place in business today? What's the future hold for our favorite photo sharing app? Here to talk about that is Abbie Fink, Vice President, and General Manager of HMA Public Relations. Abbie, what's on your mind?Abbie Fink:
Well, man, if I did know what the future hold we could be buying apps and sharing content on our own platforms. But yeah, Instagram, that's one of those that it's taken me a bit to feel comfortable with it, as in why am I bothering to share these pictures here when I've shared them on Facebook or put them in the Twitter feed. But as I look at it a little bit more, it's really, it is a very visual medium and if you are a business with a visual presence and you're trying to attract that elusive 18 to 34, 18 to 40 group, I'm thinking that's the place you need to be. And you know, there's really this, in my view, the term influencer, really is a result of what happened and is continuing to happen in that Instagram space.Adrian McIntyre:
At some fundamental level, what Instagram in its original DNA understood that not everyone understands—we've talked about it before on this podcast—was the power of the image and giving people an app with simple editing tools, filters, adjustments, things that you can do to in its initial idea, anyway, capture beautiful moments and not have a lot of words, certainly not a lot of links and other kinds of things. It entered the landscape as a unique contribution. Now, so many other apps have emerged that also have of primarily visual component. Video has been added; shorts, lives, the stories, the reels. I mean, the product has evolved in so many different ways. But at its core, the idea that you can capture moments and curate moments from your life and your world in a visual format, really was a game changer and for many, many people, although it has its downsides, we should talk about those, for many, many people, continues to be a creative, self-expression today.Abbie Fink:
Right. And inherent in its name, it's instant, right? It is an automatic upload with a handful of easy to use filters and you've got yourself a well-placed photo. I can think back, I was still perplexed when you said it started in 2012 or that Facebook bought it in 2012. I feel like it's just sort of entered the world but I can think back a handful of years at some of our restaurant openings, hotel openings, where very specific opportunities were created for Instagram. The photo op was intended to be used on Instagram. It was framed appropriately. It was going to work, in that more square, you know, visual that Instagram creates. And we've been actually ever since it's been, what's going to be our Instagram photo at that event? What's going to be the hashtag that we're going to use and ask the influencers that are going to attend to talk about it? So, it really has become maybe more so than any of the other channels, a part of the discussion when you're organizing things. Now, we've talked about many times about strategy and thinking about social media as a strategy, but to purposely say, this is our Instagram background, or this is our Instagram filter, is different than any of the other things that we have at our disposal when it comes to the social media platforms.Adrian McIntyre:
One of the things that I think Instagram really brought to the table was putting the creator in the center. If you think about earlier social media platforms, yes, there was music sharing on Myspace. And yes, you could write posts and upload pictures and things on Facebook, early Facebook. But it was really more of a, let me share with you some things I've found in the world. Share links to articles, share connections to other things and those platforms have struggled to try to keep people on the platform creating as opposed to going other places. Instagram started with this idea that you can make something in the app and share it from the app and then you can engage with the things other people make. And again, we need to talk about that the dark side of this. We will do that. But that simple creative power that was really democratized. I mean, as smartphone cameras became better and better and better as selfies became more and more a form of revealing aspects, carefully selected lighting angles, aspects of oneself to the world, Instagram was right there with tools to share those images and we know that images are powerful. Images are compelling and this is still to this day, I think the place where the making and sharing of images is most potent.Abbie Fink:
And capitalizing on our, in the moment opportunities. If the others are a more planned activity and we get the photos and then we come back and we Photoshop and we clean them up and we edit, and we do all those things and we write our content and hopefully we check for spelling and grammar and other things before we share it in a business environment predominantly, Instagram is in the now. It's right at that moment and in my thinking, those that engage in it as in content providers, creators, and those that look at it, are a bit more forgiving about what's there because of the instant nature of it. I was reading some, getting prepared for this conversation today and was looking at how it's evolved in terms of what we thought strategy was around engagement and using hashtags. And should we use hashtags? What hashtags should we use? And then the thought was maybe the hashtags aren't really what is driving the engagement. It's that visual component. If the photo is intriguing or the content that's written underneath it is intriguing, that's becoming a bit more, maybe a bit more, important. Now, where I'm seeing a lot of use for some of our, in particular some of our nonprofit clients, is using it to curate content that they would like to share and that they find interesting. It offers a different viewpoint on a topic and they're using the hashtag to seek out that particular line of content that's available. But I'm wondering, of all the new ones, if we want to put this in the new category, it's really lasted I think a lot longer than some others might have thought. I asked before we went on the air, does anybody use Pinterest anymore? And that was not all unlike the idea of Instagram. It's a very visual. You had things you posted on your board, on that scrapbook kind of feel, but are we still using that the same way? I always felt that Pinterest was something that was really meant for a visual business, that anyone that was creating something that had a visual component, that was a good place to be. Well, I feel like that's still there and we're still using it. It may have evolved into a little bit more personal use than professional use, but Instagram really is stood the test of time. It's really hung on a lot longer than I think I would've anticipated, maybe in part because of the machine that is Facebook, that's driving a lot of it, it now offers a lot of the same business elements, sponsored content and other things. So the business world has definitely been looking at it and adopting it more from a strategy perspective and it's forcing all of us that are thinking about it from a marketing strategy, to think visually if we have something relevant to put on there. And if not, how are we creating that? What it's also done I think is opened up some opportunities for other ways to create visual content. We're all becoming our own graphic designers and we're all using different platforms and services that are available to help us make our visual elements for what we're posting on there. So it really has. I will admit that as a consumer of it, I am still... It's still maybe third or fourth in my, oh, I need to post something category. But from a business perspective, it's neck-in-neck with Facebook, when it comes to posting content for the businesses that we work with.Adrian McIntyre:
For sure and I think this is also something that shows the limits of our personal habits because we, you and I, Abbie and Adrian, are not a good reflection of the complete user base of the platform. I mean, Instagram, I was relatively late to. As bullish as I have been on other social media platforms, Instagram is the one that I didn't even get to in time to get my own name as the handle. I have to have an underscore in the middle, which bugs me to this day. There's a guy in Australia with like 14 followers who ask my name there. But for some folks, it is still the undisputed queen of the business world and the integration with Facebook's ad product has given tremendous reach to micro audiences. Something that we've talked about is being very, very important in terms of creative ad targeting. I think something you mentioned earlier, we really should pull out and focus on, which is Instagram created really two. I mean there were many, but let's just talk about at least these two unique and powerful positions. So one is the influencer. The person who creates a following through her, often her also his content, and these folks then are able to approach brands with a unique proposition. I have an audience that loves everything I post. You have sneakers, or tea, or whatever. You know, beard oil. Whatever. And brand deals began to emerge and the influencer marketing space was born. We saw that with blogging, but not quite to the same extent as a direct relationship between... The blogging world was much more driven by affiliate commissions and ad clicks. Whereas this is more companies now have influencer departments that are responsible for their outreach and maintenance of their influencer program. Okay, so influencers. The other side of it though, is that user generated content. Recognizing that people are wanting to post things on Instagram, you know, you mentioned the nonprofit or the corporation who will create an Instagramable scene at a live in-person event or a store. There's that store in Los Angeles, for example, that has half of a private jet inside the store where you can Instagram. You can take pictures and post them on Instagram from that location, looking like you're inside a private jet. Well, it's a retail boutique, but they set up the set, if you will, for that. So recognizing the power of user generated content around your brand, and then also the power of influencers to create partnerships with your brand, still, despite all the ups and downs and ins and outs and new features copied, borrowed, stolen, whatever, this still is a viable way to drive awareness of your product, your cause, what have you well,Abbie Fink:
What it does in that playing off that influencer discussion a little bit, one of the things that we always talk about in these discussions is about who are you trying to reach and with what content do you want to reach them? And an influencer by whatever definition they have determined they are an influence about, allows you to target so specifically what you're talking about. And again, it's not about the number so much, right? I mean, if I've got 500 followers on my Instagram account and those 500 people are men growing beards that are looking for new beard oil, then that's 100% the group I want to be talking to. And as the individual with those 500 followers, you are a valuable asset and these are contractual agreements. They come with an expectation of what you will do and when you will do it and how long you will do it. We will compensate you accordingly. They obviously have to feel like they can endorse the product. So there's some of that goes on in there as well. But if you're trying to reach men that use beard oil and you're going to put an ad on television, well, we already know 50% of the population isn't going to care and of the remaining 50%, maybe another five percent is actually who you're trying to target.Adrian McIntyre:
And of that five percent, 99% of them are going to skip the commercial …Abbie Fink:
Altogether. So here we have this opportunity to do it and this whole idea of meeting me where I'm at. If I have these influencers and you want those people, then you need to be talking to them where they are and where they are, then is scrolling through and finding this content. It's really become, it's been professionalized over the last handful of years and the expectations that come them from that and the responsibility that those influencers assume when they do because that's their brand and their equity is what they can bring to the table, but they have a responsibility to their followers as well and to feel comfortable and confident in the endorsement, if that's what the value is and what they're bringing. And so, these contracts can be pages long. I mean, they're no different than what we might have called a celebrity endorsement at some time. Thinking about the direct link between those individuals and the people you're trying to reach, it's a pretty powerful tool if you're trying to be that targeted, different than what we've had before.Adrian McIntyre:
Also, I think we have to acknowledge, and there's a growing conversation around this, that the drive for followers in order to be the kind of person who could have that business model, has also brought with it some negative consequences, not only on Instagram, of course, but in many places. The research is very clear that for many people, especially younger folks, this has had a detrimental effect on their mental health. There have been university based research studies documenting the rise in eating disorders among young women, linking directly to Instagram, because the perception of reality and reality are as we all know with a few more years under our belt, not the same thing. And the highly selective nature of what is being shown has also led to a toxic positivity is the new buzzword, to talk about the fact that everyone is happy and amazing and life is wonderful and we're just one more sunrise away from the perfect day. And of course the reality is life is messy and complex and lots of bad things happen including to good people. And there's a lot of struggle in the world, both at a macro and a micro scale. So whether it's anxiety, depression, eating disorders, harassment, et cetera, they're real problems that we have to deal with. I personally don't think demonizing the technology itself is the way to go here. I often hear people saying what we need to do is get rid of social media. We need to... I don't know we had these problems before. This exposes something in the way we as humans, need to do better. Just getting rid of the phone or the app is not the be-all, end-all solution here. We need to find out what's underneath all of that. But we're not here to be your therapist. We're here to be your marketing and PR strategist and from that perspective, I think having a healthy appreciation for what a campaign can do on these platforms, coupled with a real respect for the power of words and images, as you would in any thoughtful campaign. Doesn't mean any of this needs to stop you from doing something. It just means you need to be thoughtful about it.Abbie Fink:
Right? Well and you know that some of you may remember the partnership for Drug Free America and their, “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.” Their whole philosophy, it was an advertising philosophy, which said, if we could sell you a product, we could un-sell you a product. back to your point here about the sort of the mental health component of what we're talking about, but I think what we can do here is really talk about how any one of these platforms and maybe Instagram in particular because of the target to the younger demographic, has a pretty amazing opportunity to address those types of mental health issues and concerns that are out in the community and can do so with influencers or others that have a different sense of self-esteem and body image and puts forth the type of information that might alter the way people are thinking and the way that people are addressing certain things. So I don't think we as marketers should ignore the difficulty that's there. But I do think we have just as much of an opportunity to use these platforms for good and for changing and advocating and influencing, to use that word, a different kind of outcome and a change in behavior, much the same way as those early advertising strategies were trying to do when it was addressing the drug issues in our communities.Adrian McIntyre:
Yeah. I couldn't agree more. I actually think that the awareness that is starting to emerge about the power of these channels is leading to some brave and courageous folks being more open, using their leverage, using their influence, to be more real and authentic. I mean, we have seen this, whether it's Charli D'Amelio on TikTok, or you were telling me earlier about the 90 something year old Holocaust surviving grandma on TikTok. So, we can talk about hard things. We can talk about important topics. We can share ourselves, our work and the reality of it. I think the thing that needs to fade is the idea that we can only show the perfect. And when we do that, we'll all be living better lives because we'll be more connected with each other. I mean, everyone's going through something and pretending we're not, hasn't served us. We ought to have figure this out by now, but it's a lesson we still are learning, slowly as a species. And yes, the reach and the power of these platforms does give us as much of a chance to share positive, helpful, thoughtful messages that can help us grow in our own humanity, not just sell more sneakers or wine or whatever.Abbie Fink:
Right. So we've spent the last four episodes really addressing the platforms in particular. We talked about LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter and today we're talking about Instagram and I think the common theme amongst all of them is, as a strategy or as a tool within a strategy, there is responsibility that's involved with it and that we all need to look at these things and what messaging are we putting forth and how are we using it to enhance our business and to enhance the marketplace that we're putting it in and they all come with a lot of positives and they all come with a lot of things to be concerned about and how we manage that and how we do that from a business perspective is critically and important because we know what can happen when we don't. And so to kind of wrap up that series, if you will, of things that we've been talking about, for me and you mentioned it, there's nothing wrong with any one of these platforms as a platform. What we do and the responsibility we take when we interact with them and we use them to our businesses benefit, is all on us and we have to assume that responsibility and do it and manage it correctly and think about it the right way. And recognizing that there is somebody on the other end of those messages that is going to see it and react to it and respond to it, hopefully in the way that we've intended it to be and what our responsibility is when we do that. We're going to have a guest speaker on with us in a couple weeks, that's going to really talk about your online reputation and how you manage that and what it means to be a responsible user of the platforms, but also a responsible content creator when you're using them. So, I think it's been a real interesting look at how these things can be used for our businesses, our nonprofits, the public sector, and they're not going away. These four, at least I think, are here for the long haul. We are going to see others that are going to come and go but whatever the platform is, there is opportunity and with opportunity comes responsibility.