By Judy Mottl, contributing writer
Every social network tool requires its own strategic approach and the ever-increasingly popular Instagram platform is no different. As it becomes more prevalent among consumers and shoppers, retailers need to shore up understanding of the visual-based app to avoid potential pitfalls that can hurt a retailer as much as it could help.
The first tip experts offer up is simple: Put a strategy in place and incorporate Instagram into the overall marketing strategy.
“The Instagram community is interested in beautiful and captivating images,” said Reinhardt Schuhmann, product manager at Tracx, a global social business management platform. “Incorporating branded images into this space that clearly represent retailers to the consumer can often feel forced and inauthentic,” he adds.
To avoid that scenario retailers should focus more on posting engaging images that represent a brand’s voice, not necessarily the newest product or latest deal.
“Instagram is a venue for building your image through visuals. This is as true for brands as it is for individuals,” said Schuhmann.
One of the biggest retailer missteps is trying to force a ‘voice’ or an image on social networks such as Instagram. There’s greate potential for marketing to misfire on Instagram as it doesn’t offer the same content or text-based opportunity that other social tools, such as Facebook, shares another expert.
“Today’s consumer is gravitating toward a style of imagery that’s far more editorial and authentic than the traditional product photo of yesterday,” explains Apu Gupta, CEO and co-founder of Curalate, a marketing and analytics suite for visual social medium platforms. “That’s truer than ever on Instagram, where images don’t just depict products – they represent emotions and experiences,” Gupta explains.
Collect your fans' photos
The good news, said Gupta, is while Instagram is a heavy visual marketing medium, retailers don’t have to spend thousands on elaborate photo shoots to create compelling Instagram content.
“Some of the most compelling photos come from fans, employees, and the influencers who love your products and your brand,” he said. “By adding UGC [user generated content] to your marketing mix, you can celebrate your fans and also inspire new ones. Just remember, this is as much an investment in customer loyalty as it is a tactic for immediate ROI so, have fun with it!”
Gupta also advised retailers to make it easy for consumers to access any products they features on their account.
“Instagram’s unique ability to evoke desire among its users has made it a powerful driver of intent for retailers. To turn that intent into action, you need to make it easy for your followers to buy what they love,” Gupta said.
Yet in doing just that — promoting a product — retailers have to avoid posting a product ad, advises Andrew Van Noy, CEO, Warp 9, as the ‘ad’ aspect can easily turnoff customers. Warp 9 creates complete custom e-commerce solutions for online merchants.
“It takes a lot of initiative for customers to actually follow a brand or retailer in the first place on social media, so with that level of allegiance, the customer expects to see more than just ads,” Van Noy said. “This makes the real challenge to portray a sense of excitement, make posts fun, and prompt the followers to engage in contests or events.”
When should I post on Instagram?
But that potential pitfall shouldn’t deter retailers from using Instagram or putting Instagram at the top of the marketing to-do list.
“Instagram should be a top priority on the level of Facebook and Twitter, but the frequency of posting should be arguably less, because Instagram posts typically should be the best of the best — the gems you only show once per day,” said Van Noy. “Instagram also taps into a slightly younger index of users. Grandma is on Facebook now, but Grandma is not necessarily on Instagram yet, so if retailers are targeting age-specific customers, then it's just another factor to take into account.”
Paige O’Neill, chief marketing officer at SDL, which provides services for managing a brand’s digital footprint, offers up another important best practice — don’t use Instagram in a vacuum environment. By this she means retailers can’t just put the Instagram strategy out on its own. It needs to be part and parcel of the overall promotion, engagement and consumer-focused marketing program. It may be very tempting to go the other route, she explained, given the social network is being primarily embraced by a specific customer segment — the millennial.
“They [millennials] have begun to engage with brands more via social channels, brands are recognizing this preference and are building a presence on social media, including Instagram,” she said, and oftentimes that means the social channel becomes a separate medium not integrated with other communications channels where brands and consumers are already engaging.
“After all, consumers perceive companies, as ‘channel-less;’ they want to engage with one brand, whether the interaction is done via email, in a brick and mortar store or on Instagram. As a result, retailers using Instagram don’t just exist on this channel. They must incorporate a strategy so they can maintain the same customer experience and brand image.”
Is Instagram even the right channel for my business?
Another best practice, advised O’Neill, is to understand social media isn’t a marketing panacea for all retailers, just as it isn’t a good fit for all business.
“For some industries, where the audience is not engaging on social channels, such as B2B industries or those with an older customer base, Instagram is not the most appropriate channel for customer engagement. However, for retailers, this is becoming a more prevalent platform and they need to create a sound strategy for this channel,” she said.
SDL research reveals 58 percent of millennials expect to engage with a company whenever they choose and via whichever channel they elect. While Instagram may not be the channel of choice for all consumers, a good number expect they can connect on Instagram, notes O’Neill. That means retailers need to be prepared to meet this expectation.
“Instagram is becoming an increasingly savvy and essential medium for marketers in order to meet consumers where they are and stay ahead of their competition,” said O’Neill.
The big no-no, she advised, is spamming. She gives the example of a sponsored post for a female clothing line that shouldn’t show in the feed of male Instagram users.
“Brands need to know their audience as individuals. For example, brands shouldn’t respond with a generic message to a user posing a question when the brand actually has data on who this customer is,” said O’Neill. Instead, brands should use data to make a personalized response, keeping in mind the user who has been a loyal customer.
“Personalization can go a long way when it comes to customer engagement, but retailers who ignore this on any channel, Instagram included, can expect lots of ‘unfollows.’”