Instagram is well established as a self-branding tool for the social media-savvy, and businesses from clothing brands to hotels are jumping on board to promote their product, as recently shared in our Branding with Instagram story.
While Instagram does not sell advertising (of course much speculation has been made as to whether that will change since the app was bought by Facebook earlier this year), if a brand has an eye-catching feed, fans can follow its feed to get the latest updates.
Companies have many approaches to their Instagram feeds. Some use it almost like a catalog, posting photos from their professional product shoots. Others post photos that show a more personal side of the brand, fashion designers and celebrities often blur the line between personal and professional branding.
For those companies that need a little extra help getting “likes,” there are a number of options- -- including buying followers to increase your perceived popularity.
Fanns.net sells “real Instagram followers” on the claim that the more followers you get, the more that are likely to come. You can buy followers at an average of $0.11 each. The followers are all “real” users in that they are activated, but Fanns.net does not guarantee that they are active or will “like” any of your photos.
Other sites like Instagram Promotions allow clients to purchase likes and comments as well as followers. In early October, Instagram Promotions celebrated its 2,000th client with a press release, claiming “there is a snowball effect once a person gets a certain amount of likes or follows. This can add up over time.”
I was interested to learn exactly how this approach works. I wanted to know who these mysterious “followers” were and what they looked like. Were they spam bots similar to the countless “Free Starbucks Giftcard” accounts that started following me after I mistakenly used the hashtag #coffee? Unfortunately, none of the pay-to-follow companies returned my emails.
On the other end of the Instagram promotion spectrum are advertising companies like the Mobile Media Lab.
Brian DiFeo (@bridif), cofounder of Mobile Media Lab, spoke with me about his personal Instagram approach as well as what he and his colleagues at the Instagram-specific creative agency do to promote their clients.
Mobile Media Lab started when DiFeo along with colleagues Anthony Danielle (@takinyerphoto) and Liz Eswein (@newyorkcity) started using their own Instagram accounts to promote brands. More than the stereotypical fast-talking social media experts, the team at Mobile Media Lab are photographers first and are picky about what they choose to promote on their personal accounts.
Their efforts were met with mixed feelings from the Instagram community, labeled as “sell outs” by many Instagram purists. The blowback didn’t bother the Mobile Media Lab team, who proudly boast their ability to increase a brand’s social media presence as well as brand image.
“Nobody wants to be deemed a sellout, but everybody has to make a living,” Danielle told Ad Week in May of this year, a point that Brian DiFeo reiterated in our interview.
Mobile Media Lab’s work has been featured in Business Insider and the Huffington Post and the three founders combined have more than 800,000 followers between them. What makes their work so popular and what can businesses do to step up their Insta-game? I got Brian DiFeo to share a couple of tips with me.
When clients come to Mobile Media Lab, their Instagram feeds are often in complete shambles and DiFeo and the team first gets to work building up the brand. Often the person in charge of a company’s Instagram account is also tasked with other social media campaigns. They may be great with words, but not so good with photos.
“One of the biggest mistakes that businesses make is having an inactive account,” said DiFeo. Companies often scoop up usernames of their brand name as soon as a new social network comes out so they have full control of their product image, but then fail to act on it.
Companies also need to pay careful attention to the technical aspects of their photos.
“We all judge photography in our own way,” said DiFeo. “But I’ll put it like this, you may not be a music expert, but if some one is playing a guitar out of tune, you know it.”
“Another big mistake is posting photos for the sake of posting photos,” said Difeo. “Over-posting is a big no-no.”
When the Mobile Media Lab is working with a client, they try to stick to the brand’s message and speak to their audience while creating a dialog with their Instagram followers. They emphasize the interaction aspect of Instagram.
“Brands that do well on Instagram are engaging more,” said DiFeo. “ Brands that have competitions and ask questions are more successful.”
Often using a content calendar for posting, DiFeo chooses photos and copy in advance, but he likes to keep things interesting by posting photos on the fly—incorporating spontaneous observations with pre-approved shots.
As a photographer turned advertiser, DiFeo faces occasional challenges with branding when he is out on a shoot and posting directly to the client’s account.
“Copy can be tricky,” he said. “ My vision is that I am capturing my unique perspective, but the caption may have to have a different message.”
DiFeo is iPhone-only in his photographic approach on Instagram, though he says he doesn’t have a strong opinion against posting SLR photos to Instagram feeds. He shoots exclusively in the iOS native camera application and edits in Snapseed. He rarely uses the filters offered within Instagram, but he creates his own Instagram-eque looks in Snapseed.
While I had DiFeo’s attention, I wanted to see what brands he thought were exceptional at Instagramming.
“Red Bull (@redbull) is great example,” said DiFeo. “ When a brand is that big, it’s hard to have an intimate Instagram account. Their feed is gorgeous, though.”
When brands are driven by an individual, they can be much more personal.
“Fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff ‘s (@rebeccaminkoff) feed is very intimate,” said DiFeo. “One picture she’s having dinner and the next it’s the product.”
The best thing a brand can do to successfully promote itself on Instagram is to find someone who understands the brand’s message and will take good photos.
Mobile Media Lab’s next step will be to work on doing just that. DiFeo and his colleagues are going to use their connections in both the photography and advertising world to pair up brands with compatible photographers to provide content for each company’s Instagram feed.
Lauren Crabbe, @lcrabbe, is a freelance technology writer and photographer, specializing in photography applications for iOS and Mac. Her love of photography brought her to San Francisco to study photojournalism at San Francisco State University where she learned to combine her photographic skills with her passion for storytelling. She has traveled the world with her camera--studying journalism in Denmark, visiting in-laws in Ireland, and sourcing coffee in Guatemala. You can find her biking around San Francisco, drinking a lot of coffee, and capturing her daily observations with her iPhone on whatever app she is testing that day.