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Is Instagram the next challenge for brand marketers?

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Is Instagram the next challenge for brand marketers?
I talk to social marketers every day. And here’s a consistent message I hear: “Yes we work with Facebook and Twitter”. Or they might throw in Google+ or YouTube.

But almost uniformly I hear, “and this year we’re going to try and introduce Instagram into the mix”.

What’s happening out there in the social arena that image oriented social networks are getting this type of attention? Is it the pictures? Or because these networks are newer and younger audiences are seemingly migrating to Instagram and Pinterest?

Is it just the visual nature of the medium presenting itself as a challenge worth pursuing (as well as worth a thousand words)?

Images Count
We know images are important. The first things most people look at when they see a profile on Facebook or Google+ or LinkedIn is the profile picture.

Facebook is making it clear that brand postings need to be more content rich in the future. No more posting just text… a link or an image must be associated with the post if there’s going to be a chance it will show up in someone’s newsfeed.

Most social users are drawn to images both to look at and to share.

Some Statistics
In fact studies have shown photo uploads are the most popular activity on both Facebook and on Google+. Posting photos is the number one activity on Facebook whether you’re logging in from your computer, your tablet or your phone.

This visual web is driving the rise of Pinterest with a growth rate of 88% over the last 12 months. Instagram is the fastest growing social network with 150 million users and 40 million photos being uploaded each day .

How Do We Collect Information From Images?
All these photos can represent a data mining challenge. It is much easier to perform data analysis on text. Only if the photos have text associated with them can the images be counted, categorized and accorded value.

But the good news is that users are using hashtags with the images. Hashtags are widely used by brands. 83% of posts submitted by brands include a hashtag, and almost all of the brands now use them.

So analysis might be fruitful and fuel marketing decisions. For instance, it may be possible to generate keywords from images people have posted and use those keywords to direct relevant advertisements to that individual, in much the same way sponsored search now does with text queries.

Eric Xing, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, looked at images associated with 48 brands in four categories—sports, luxury, beer, and fast food. The images came from popular photo-sharing sites such as Pinterest. He was able to produce cogent statistics based on the images.

Pictures Are Powerful
And images can reach consumers in ways text just can’t. You can participate in social media with understandable images without putting out very much mental effort. In fact you don’t even have to read. The illiterate can easily communicate on social networks by enjoying images, liking them (by clicking on that thumbs up image) and sharing them (by clicking on an arrow).

A study done at the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University showed that over-exposure to food imagery increased people's satiation. (Satiation was defined as the drop in enjoyment with repeated consumption, or the fifth bite of cake was less enjoyable than the first.)

Best Practices
And leaders in social media communication, such as Target, are creatively using image oriented social networks to engage their audience. Items in a Target store might have a tag that says, “As seen on Pinterest.” And you can browse the latest Pinterest postings at the Target web site.

Wrap Up
We know social networks constantly evolve, and the tastes and interests of users evolve right alongside. It makes sense that brand marketers are planning to evolve their approach to engage with their consumers. And that means many are going to follow through on that promise and start using Instagram this year.

Ron Shulkin blogs researches and writes about enterprise technology focused on innovation and social media. You can follow him Twitter. You can follow his blogs at this Facebook group. You can connect with Ron on LinkedIn.

Ron Shulkin is the Chicago area Director for Spredfast. Spredfast provides a social relationship platform that allows organizations to manage, monitor, and measure their social media programs at scale. Spredfast enables more people, in more places, to engage in more conversations from a single platform on supported social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ YouTube and popular blogging platforms. You can learn more about Spredfast here.

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