The Instagram Dilemma: To Click or To Not Click-Through?

Clickable images on Instagram should have brands jumping for joy. In contrast to much of social media, a single post can produce thousands of likes.

Whether you bemoan the advent of clickable ads on Instagram — and it is truly a polarizing topic — it should come as no shock. Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook have led the way. However, the fact that it has not received much media attention is quite surprising.

Clickable images on Instagram should have brands jumping for joy. In contrast to much of social media, a single post can produce thousands of likes. Now with clickable images, you can post a picture of a new product and send people directly to a place where they can buy it. Sound too good to be true?

It just might be. Instagram’s reach (400 million users) and engagement (4X above other platforms) are the highest they’ve ever been—second only to Facebook. But while these are impressive numbers for brand marketers looking to engage with audiences—especially Millennials—expecting click-through performance to follow suit is simply a marketing fail.

Why? Because Instagram is a romancing tool.

It’s the mobile app where brands are new to the party and have been forced to hold to strict Instagram rules: create visual narratives, connect through beauty and style—and forget the hard sell.

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It’s worth pointing out that this behavior pattern may be changing — like we see on Facebook and Pinterest. Platforms do evolve, and for a while, we’ve been seeing brands and power users hack posts to enable clicking through to other content. Recently, Hyundai took this to a new level with its Instagram Quiz that allowed users to tap through an assortment of options to find the right SUV. Kudos to the Hyundai team who mastered the medium in such an compelling way. That said, clickable images may struggle for some time.

Sequential targeting isn’t new, and industry-wide, it’s becoming a core aspect of every marketer’s tool belt. In a typical sequence, you hit people with different messages at different times, depending on what content they’ve seen before and where they are in the purchase funnel. For example, if you go to many retail websites and click on a few items, you’ll find those items prominently displayed (often with discount) when you return. Because you have expressed some intention to buy on one visit, the retailer delivers a bottom funnel message on your next.

The Instagram/Facebook sequence is slightly different. And arguably, more interesting for brands looking to make their content work harder in pivoting from romance to transaction. We can still use Instagram to post lifestyle content that drives affinity and awareness.

Meanwhile, Facebook is a much more raucous and freeform place, where people are used to seeing native promotions in their feeds. As a result, we can take the data we gather on customers on Instagram and use it to target them on Facebook. If someone is drooling over a beautiful image of a watch resting on a well-dressed model, why not hit them with a promo on the other? That way, you can take advantage of all the data, while using both platforms for what they do best.

Instagram is a rare success story in our attempts to make friends and influence people online. Merely adding clickable commerce on the app because you can is a bad idea. If you pursue that angle too aggressively, you could end up diluting your brand and damaging the personal relationships you’ve built. Let’s promote creativity on Instagram and not let it get diluted by direct response. Its parent platform — Facebook — can do the heavy lifting to drive transaction by connecting with people where they’re more open to buying.

SEA_justin_marshall_08.14As vp of emerging media partnerships, Justin Marshall is responsible for building POSSIBLE’s relationships with key emerging media platforms and technologies for our clients. With an eclectic background in user-centered design and brand strategy, he injects fresh perspectives on new media into the creative process, and works closely with our key clients to out-smart, not just outspend, the competition. Connect with Justin at Linkedin and @justinmarshall.