Daniel Weissleder works as a Project Manager Online/Social Media at Oliver Schrott Kommunikation (OSK), Germany’s fourth-largest PR Agency, based in Cologne. At OSK Daniel Weissleder develops and realizes successful online and social media campaigns for the agency’s various clients in the automotive sector. The qualified journalist has a profound knowledge in Instagram as a marketing and communication platform. During his recent research for the company’s blog, he talked to five different Instagram influencers from five different continents.
Instagram announced at the end of last year that their network is visited by more than 300 million active users each month. A total of 100 million new users joined the network in the past nine months. Around 70 million photos get uploaded by the community day by day.
Instagram is not only growing strongly, it also has the highest interaction rates among the major social networks and is mainly used on mobile. Brands use the network intensely for their marketing activities – Nike, Netflix or Mercedes are only some brands which have already launched their campaigns on Instagram, put a lot of work into the maintenance of their own accounts and co-operated with well-known Instagrammers.
Pei Ketron, USA
Pei Ketron represents the very active Instagram community in the U.S. The photographer — who was born in Taiwan and grew up as part of a multicultural family in the Navajo Nation, Arizona — lives in San Francisco nowadays. She only posts photos taken by her smartphone on Instagram. Her regular DSLR photography is published on her website, her Tumblr and her Facebook. Nevertheless, Instagram is currently the most important platform for her to display her work. She has more than 800,000 followers.
Ketron does not see herself as an Instagrammer, though:
Instagram is where my audience is and it’s one of the hottest markets for brands these days, so I give it a lot of my attention. I love it because it has served as a great way to meet and network with other photographers and because it has pushed so many newbies to take up photography. In my opinion, one of the best things that has come out of Instagram is that it has pushed more people to get out and explore their surroundings. It’s made us all more aware of the things happening around us that are worth documenting.
For Ketron, it is very important to be present on other social media channels apart from Instagram – despite the fact that she can barely keep up with the maintenance of her various accounts. Ketron says that her strong social media presence is simultaneously an essential legitimation of her status. It is also important to her to constantly participate in the discourse concerning photography. Potential clients would, of course, google first to find out with whom they are dealing and opt for a photographer who contributes to the community and is locally known and well-respected.
Ketron has already co-operated with several brands:
To be involved in a large scale campaign for a global brand and to see the step-by-step process of what goes on before the shooting even happens is a fantastic learning experience. There’s also a sense of camaraderie that develops between other photographers who are shooting the same campaign, which is fun.
One of the Instagram profiles that she particularly liked lately is NYonAir who market their product “Aerial photographs from New York” via Instagram.
Another current favorite of hers is the Instagram campaign by General Electric:
They’ve given photographers access to some pretty incredible spaces and large-scale machinery as a way of sharing with the world what they do. The shots that have come out of those shoots have been total eye candy for me. For that reason, I’d love to work with GE, and for personal reasons, I’d love to continue to be involved in travel campaigns and campaigns for non-profits.
Gareth Pon, South Africa
Instagrammers outside the U.S. also reach an impressive number of followers: Gareth Pon from Johannesburg, South Africa, has around 220,000 followers on Instagram:
I’ve preferred to always call myself a filmmaker and photographer who has a large following on Instagram. Although the “title” of Instagrammer is becoming more and more recognized and people are starting to see it as a profession rather than just a social media platform. Instagram has definitely become my main channel for exposure of my work, I use it daily and get great feedback from fans of my work.
The platform mainly thrives on the socialization within the community – the interaction rates are considerably higher than those of other major social networks:
I love that Instagram is so community driven. I’ve met so many amazing photographers and people through the platform and also found a collective group of inspiring photographers who push photography on a daily basis. Because Instagram is so visually strong, it’s been the most appealing platform for me by far.
For him, the use of other social media is essential to keep in touch with the community:
I use Facebook to mainly ask questions, I use twitter to highlight articles and pose inspiring quotes or questions. I use my blog to post photo sets whenever I have time and I use my Vimeo to showcase my film work.
Pon is constantly looking for opportunities to take photos and tell stories with them. In addition to this, he also founded “Instagrammers South Africa” to unite South Africa’s Instagram community. He has already co-operated with several brands:
It’s always interesting because every campaign is different; it’s new and uncharted territory being in the Instagram space. Being part of campaigns is always fun because it’s never just shooting, it involves giving guidance and advice around the platform. Instagram really is a dynamic medium and a lot if brands and companies are still figuring the space out, so it’s great offering that extra service as a creative consultant.
Amongst others, Gareth Pon had the chance to collaborate with Nike. From his point of view, Nike offers the most convincing pictures and tells the best stories. One of the best US campaigns he has seen lately is #GLApacked by Mercedes.
Pon has a clear vision for his future work:
I would love to get involved with brands who understand the power of storytelling and those who are pushing the boundaries of mobile photography and exploring unique spaces and places.”
Christoffer Collin, Sweden
Christoffer Collin from Karlskoga in Sweden – on Instagram better known as Wisslaren – has more than 800,000 followers on the photo network. He has worked hard for his current status. Collin joined Instagram in the early days and was a very active user from the beginning who put a great emphasis on networking, socializing and consequently using hashtags. Eventually he ended up on the so-called “Search & Explore” page on Instagram – a page that recommends certain users and photos based on a special algorithm.
The term “Instagrammer” is not a problem for him:
I would definitely call myself an Instagrammer, but that has nothing to do with the amount of followers you have, but more with how you use the platform. If you like taking pics, making friends and connecting with new people via the platform you are an Instagrammer.
Collin says the platform opened his eyes for the world of photography because prior to Instagram he neither had any experience nor a special connection to photography. Although Instagram is currently the main channel for him, Collin would like to grow out of the “bubble” and work on projects that aren’t related to Instagram.
While he is registered on other social media networks, he barely uses them – Instagram keeps him busy enough. Even when he isn’t on the road for campaigns, he checks the weather forecast every day. This way he won’t miss an opportunity to capture a beautiful sunrise or sunset or the chance to take photos in fog and rain. When traveling for campaigns, the day is often thoroughly planned and locations have to be visited and photographed at a certain time. Then it’s back to the computer to edit the images and post them on Instagram with reference to the client and the location. The less glamorous side of being an Instagrammer is having to spend a lot of time on planes, at airports as well as on buses and trains. But at the end of the day Collin gladly puts up with it.
As far as work with companies and brands goes, he is very selective:
To me it’s important to keep an authentic and true relationship to my followers and don’t come off as a “sell out.” If a brand approaches me and I feel that I can integrate them into my feed in a believable and beautiful way – then I’m up for it. I think in general when brands make campaigns that focus on ”less is more”, they are much more believable and appealing than if they want to ”throw their brand in your face.” Instagram is such a visual platform and the integrity of the artists is a major part. Once a campaign is taken too far and the posts are basically ads instead of collaborations, I think it leaves the followers with a pretty bad taste in their mouths.
Lauren Bath, Australia
Lauren Bath from Australia used to work as a chef before she quit her job two years ago to completely focus on the photo platform. She was one of the first professional Instagrammers worldwide and presumably the first one “Down Under.” Today she has over 350,000 followers:
I got there through being an early adopter of the platform and putting a lot of time and love into my community and my photography.
In her work she focuses on travel and the marketing of travel destinations – this is why she doesn’t really see herself as a pure Instagrammer but rather a travel photographer or a marketing expert.
Recently, Lauren Bath started her own Instagram campaign and organized a trip with 25 people to Dubai. She specializes in project management, consultation and training in areas like social media marketing and social media photography.
Instagram is definitely my most important platform because it is where my true influence is. I have an engaged community and I love to use Instagram above any other platform. I’m actually feeling incredibly guilty this week as I’ve had my longest “Insta-break” ever, nearly two weeks. I hate to be away for that long, it causes me to feel disconnected from the platform and I know I’m missing out on a lot. The most special thing about Instagram is the community; we all say it because it’s true.
Although Instagram is just an app, it has changed her life and she has met many great people via Instagram. Bath even thinks that Instagram helped her become a better person. A typical day in the of Lauren Bath looks like this: Depending on the season, she takes a photo of the sunset between 4 and 6 am. During breakfast she edits the first photos and uploads them. Afterwards, she takes photos of motives that are less dependent on the light of the morning sun. During lunch she edits her photos again and uploads them to Instagram. While doing so, she spends approximately 30 to 45 minutes interacting with other Instagram users and liking various photos on her stream. In the afternoon, Bath works on non-photography-related projects or relaxes before she takes photos of the sunset in the evening and sometimes goes for a walk after dinner. The last Instagram upload is done from bed before she goes to sleep.
If she is not on the road for travel campaigns, she spends a lot of time at her desk dealing with emails, customer exchanges, marketing reports and photo edits. And yet she doesn’t even work with brands that often:
I personally don’t work with many brands with notable exceptions being travel brands. It’s not that I don’t want to; it’s just that brands in Australia aren’t quite on the same page as me yet. My Instagram reach has been built out of trusting my gut and my photography. Any time I deviate from putting out a natural message or image I can feel a negative response from my followers. I’ve always tried to be very honest that I take part in sponsored travel and my followers know that I’m still shooting what I want and sharing my experiences naturally. That’s what travel and destinations work so well for me. It doesn’t hurt that I’m living my dream and my excitement and love for travel comes across so readily.
Lauren Bath criticizes that a lot of brands want to force influencers to take product photos and advertise them accordingly. This could hurt both the influencer and the brand itself. Whenever Bath uses Instagram for marketing purposes, she relies on natural brand awareness – for example by taking photos that only mention the brand in the caption but manage to capture the viewer nevertheless. She enjoys working with brands in the (adventure) travel and photography industry because these are the ones she can relate to the most. However, that doesn’t mean that she isn’t open-minded towards other co-operations as long as the brand is willing to listen to her and trust her.
Hiroaki Fukuda, Japan
Hiroaki Fukuda, aka Hirozzzz from Tokyo, Japan has around 335,000 followers on Instagram. He also considers the photo network an important channel to display his work. Fukuda had no photography experience whatsoever before he joined Instagram – the platform helped him to get his career as a photographer going. In his opinion, being an Instagrammer means to nearly post in real time. Nonetheless, he always chooses his content carefully. This helps him to stay true to his own style. Fukuda takes his inspiration from photographers who manage to push the boundaries of photography and constantly deliver high quality. At the same time he tries to stay close to the things that happen around him – even if it means that he sometimes uploads his content slightly delayed.
The photo network has great significance to him:
Instagram will always be special to me for many reasons. For one it’s helped me realize my passion for photography and it goes without saying that if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have been a part of this amazing Instagram community, developed the lifelong friendships with talented people from all over the world or had the opportunity to see and travel the world in the way that I have. The support you receive from the community is just amazing, it’s a big part of the reason why I was so motivated to keep posting and getting better. I never post for engagement, but I always want to make sure that I’m pushing myself to capture the very best moments for my community and I believe that’s allowed me to grow as a photographer. I love the fact that Instagram has made the world a smaller place, literally. To be able to reach and see content from anywhere in the world in real time is truly something remarkable.
Other social networks like Twitter or Facebook play a minor role for Fukuda and are hardly relevant to his work. Only Tumblr is important to him because it allows him to share his DSLR shots in a higher resolution. Therefore, he recommends his followers to check out his Tumblr, too. Whenever Fukuda is not on the road for a campaign, he takes a lot of time to take photos and edit them. For him, being able to combine his work with traveling is like a dream come true. Even though photography became his profession, he continues to regard it as a hobby to satisfy his curiosity. For this reason, he frequently travels through Japan to explore places he has never been to before.
He is very picky when it comes to working with brands:
I think brands started to hire Instagrammers as “digital influencers” but they’re also starting to see the merit in working with creatives/artists. As much influence as I or other Instagrammers have, I definitely think the creative/artist aspect of being an Instagrammer plays a big part with campaigns and who you work with these days. Personally, I’ve been very selective with the companies and campaigns that I have worked on through Instagram. I won’t bend my style to justify a campaign and I’ve been lucky enough to have been approached by companies who appreciate my style and don’t try to influence or change that in any way. I like to think of it as a collaborative effort and I believe that’s the way it should be because staying true to myself and my community is #1.
In the future, Fukuda would like to go on a road trip through Japan as part of an automotive campaign.
All of the five featured Instagrammers have their own story to tell and chose different priorities in their work.
However, it can be noted that:
- If you want to improve your reach as a photographer on Instagram, you must be fully involved with the community – only with their help photographers become real influencers. As a photographer it is also important to create your own style and stay true to this style. The continuous, close collaboration with the community is essential. You should always respond to any feedback to your photos. It takes perseverance; you must stay on the ball and show constant activity. The consequent use of hashtags improves the visibility of your pictures. With a little luck you might end up on Instagram’s “Search & Explore” page which will help you to achieve greater visibility – more visibility means more followers.
- Brands which want to work together with Instagrammers should always respect their artistic freedom. When influencers are forced to post promotional material and thereby lose credibility, no one benefits. In addition to this, companies should aim to co-operate only with Instagrammers who really fit the brand instead of just considering their reach. Poor images remain poor images even if they are seen by many. Nowadays, influential Instagrammers charge several thousand Euros for brand-sponsored posts – for brands, it is at least questionable if this investment really makes sense in the long term. In some cases it can be quite interesting to let an influencer take over the company account for a certain time in order to profit from the influencer’s creative input and knowledge regarding the platform. It may also be worthwhile to include Instagrammers at a very early stage in the planning process instead of integrating them into an already completely organized campaign. Creatives often know best what actually works on the platform and how a brand can be presented in a good light without being too much in the focus and thereby possibly putting off other users.
- Instagram mainly attracts a young target audience consisting of 14- to 29-year-olds while the 50+ generation is hardly interested in the network. Plus, the photo network is used by more women than men and mostly by people from urban environments. For this reason, it is up to each company to carefully consider whether Instagram is a suitable platform for upcoming campaigns.
Readers: How often do you use Instagram?