Thumbs Down: Why Brands Should Care Less About the ‘Like’

By Guest Comment

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Social media is the ultimate popularity contest. Each day, new platforms emerge and attract early adopters, eager to become the best big thing for brands and consumers alike.

From mobile apps to desktop sites, the game of numbers rages on across social mediums, placing a monumental amount of pressure on “the like,” a feature predominantly linked to Facebook. However, a recent survey suggests Facebook’s golden reign may be beginning to falter.

According to a new report, brands are now posting more to Instagram than Facebook, suggesting that marketers are beginning to value quality of content over quantity of followers. Brands now post an average of 9.3 times a week to Instagram, up from 7.5 posts a year ago and topping Facebook’s decreased 8.8 rate. Meanwhile, an estimated 3 million U.S. teens abandoned Facebook between 2011 and 2014 and cite Instagram as “the most important” social network.

So why has Instagram risen through the ranks and what can we expect from the network as it continues to grow?

Transparency

Such a shift ties to brands’ distrust of Facebook. When it boils down to it, brands know everything they post on Instagram will appear in followers’ feeds, whereas much of their Facebook content can remain unseen, even though many use paid media to engage with their followers.

To increase Facebook visibility, brands now need to promote posts, which is detrimental to the organic reach of content. According to Facebook’s algorithm, consumers who have previously engaged with brand content have a higher chance of seeing posts in their News Feed, but even that’s not certain.

While Facebook’s algorithm complicates engagement, Instagram offers a wave of transparency and a platform for organic content sharing. Back in December, the photo-sharing app made the news for purging bogus accounts, shearing the number of followers for brands and celebrities alike.

But such tactics speak to Instagram’s authenticity. Ultimately, consumers follow brands because they expect to see posts and benefit from timely updates. Having certain posts (particularly those offering a discount or special offer) appear to some audiences and not to others creates a poor user experience. Posting content on Instagram allows brands stability that cannot be guaranteed on Facebook, regardless of a consumer’s previous engagement.

Creative Leeway

Creativity comes with a price. To innovate captivating content, brands often invest in the tools needed to succeed – whether it’s using creative agencies, photographers or video teams. There’s been an explosion of creativity across Instagram. Gap recently announced the premiere of a mini soap opera series while apparel retailer Ted Baker launched its “All is Not as it Seams” campaign, which encourages consumers to repost Instagram content and adjust filters to unlock secret messages. In both a literal and figurative sense, brands can afford to be more innovative on Instagram where their work is guaranteed to be seen.

But will brands ever have to pay for playing on Instagram? Because Instagram is owned by Facebook – the original monetizer of the social space – monetization will always be the elephant in the room, especially considering the negative feedback tied to Facebook’s own ad strategy. It’s clear Instagram is proceeding with caution to avoid inundating fans with ads, and it’s unlikely that the app is going to stop here. That said, Instagram seems to understand that the simple interface is one of its biggest strengths, and will likely take its time unrolling additional paid measures.

Usability

Time and time again, Instagram has demonstrated a deep understanding of its audiences’ preferences by introducing companion apps that allow users to enhance content. Hyperlapse, which launched in fall 2014, invited users to create time-lapse videos and was quickly adopted by Taco Bell, Chips Ahoy and Sonic, among others.

Recently, Instagram debuted its Layout app, which allows users to post photo collages, create mirror effects and flip images. Like Hyperlapse, well-known brands like Victoria’s Secret and Sephora were quick to adopt the app, creating collages its first day. This speaks to the amount of trust brands have in Instagram’s platform and their confidence that such features will heighten engagement.

In creating such apps, it’s clear Instagram pays attention to trends within its platform. Even before the launch of Layout, many users embraced external apps of a similar nature. Layout demonstrates that Instagram effectively recognized a need and worked to streamline its functionality to delight its users.

While Instagram pays special mind to its usability, there are other features it should look toward to further streamline efforts. Ecommerce in particular is a missing piece of Instagram’s model. Many brands have maneuvered their way around this by leveraging third party apps with like-to-buy functionalities, but an internal feature would be a revenue driver for brands and Instagram alike, simplifying the user experience. Similarly, another obstacle remains the inability to hyperlink within posts.

While brands have been strategic about changing their bio link, such a process doesn’t lend itself to the long term — consumers can only purchase featured products in a timely fashion, when the links correspond. While Instagram values its inclusive UX, it wouldn’t be a stretch to expect an in-app browser similar to Facebook’s down the line.

Embracing the Unknown

As new networks continue to emerge, brands have lost the luxury of hanging back. While it’s true that one site doesn’t fit all, brands should keep a close eye on how others in their vertical are leveraging new media. Brands shouldn’t be afraid to pivot quickly; in fact, there are a number of advantages for being an early adopter. Pioneers have the chance to play around and test new features before specific guidelines are formed, granting them creative flexibility and the opportunity to stand out.

However, despite the steady stream of newcomers, Instagram is here to stay. While other networks have emphasized photo sharing down the line, Instagram has offered audiences a seamless means to share photos from the very beginning, serving as proof that sometimes, simplicity and accessibility is the best way to foster loyalty.

Jessica Kessler is the Senior Product Marketing Manager of Social at HelloWorld. She joined HelloWorld in 2011 as a strategic services manager working with brands such as AT&T, Travelocity, Newell-Rubbermaid, and Canadian Tire. As a thought leader on the social media team, Jessica brings fresh, authentic insight to world class brands who are looking to engage their fans within the social landscape.

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