The very first photo posted on Instagram was of a cute dog and a woman’s foot—specifically the CEO and co-founder, Kevin Systrom’s girlfriend’s foot. Since October 2010, Instagram has been a fierce contender in the competitive game of social media when it comes to influencer marketing. Fast forward to today and they’ve reached 500 millions users around the world—300 million of whom use the app daily.1
Let’s start from the beginning
When co-founders Mike Kriefer and Kevin Systrom started on this journey, they were working on an app nearly exactly the same as FourSquare, called Burbn.2 One thing that seemed to be grabbing Silicon Valley’s attention at the time was the photo sharing component of the app. So, they reduced the breadth of features Burbn offered and decided to focus on photo sharing. Systrom referred to it as an “instant telegram”. It was an instant success from the minute they went live. Within its first two hours, its servers crashed due to the amount of traffic. In total, approximately 25,000 people created accounts within 24 hours. And within nine months, Instagram had reached 7 million users. Everyone, from college students who wanted to edit their photos with cool, retro filters to celebrities like Justin Bieber wanted to test out the trending app.
Facebook joins the picture
Since the announcement in April 2012 that Facebook was set to acquire Instagram for approximately $1 billion in cash and stocks, Instagram has had access to the slew of demographic data and resources within Facebook’s network—and vice versa.
With the acquisition came a lucrative, symbiotic relationship. Facebook was born during a web-only era and lacked the passionate and young follower base that Instagram held in the mobile community. Once they inherited this following, Facebook ads became virtually unstoppable. By acquiring Instagram’s user data, the company was able to further expand its offering into a fully comprehensible suite of opportunities, which advertisers used to target specific audiences. Needless to say, many brands successfully invested in their web and mobile advertising. And for all intents and purposes, it’s been a major success.
While initially Facebook seemed to have benefitted the most from the acquisition, Instagram has proven the ‘sell-out’ naysayers wrong and risen right up there with Facebook as a successful company and advertising portal. The two together benefit tremendously from the ocean of user data at their fingertips, but Instagram has a unique positioning over Facebook: the intimate relationships influencers build with their followers by storytelling through pure photo sharing.
Social media influencers on Instagram
Instagram announced they’d be weaving in sponsored content in October 2013 (just over a year after the Facebook acquisition). Instagram was then able to build a sustainable business model and advertisers could hyper-target their campaigns with ads directly in users’ feeds. But the fact-of-the-matter remains: Instagram users still hate intrusive, irrelevant ads. So, the market’s adjusted with the birth of influencer marketing and native advertising.
As native ads pick up steam in the industry, advertising your product or app with influencers is becoming the preferred route to communicate with target audiences. We’ll say it: it’s the future of advertising, particularly because of the influence and correlating buying patterns of the growing population of millennial customers around the world. In fact, 89% of millennials trust recommendations from family or friends over advertising directly from brands.3 This extends to the relationships they have with influencers whom they choose to follow on Instagram. And you’ve seen it—Kim Kardashian promoting the latest lip mask or the Yeezy Season 4 collection.
Users on Instagram willingly follow ‘brands’ influencers have thoughtfully curated for themselves. In tandem, 24% of US influencers prefer Instagram over other social media platforms to promote the brands they work with—second only to its parent company, Facebook, with 32%.4 The platform was built on a culture of photo sharing and influencers have used this to promote a specific lifestyle, which then builds desire among their loyal followers. Advertisers work with these influencers to carefully embed their products into the right markets. Ergo, it’s the best solution out there for all players involved; it reduces the chance of annoying users with irrelevant ads, helps influencers earn and improves audience targeting for advertisers.
Celebrities aren’t the only successful influencers on Instagram
The good news is you don’t have to hound Kris Kardashian’s assistants’ assistants to land your product on the Instagram feed of one of her daughters. When it comes to social media influencing, advertisers don’t have to place all their eggs in this particular (and expensive) basket. Recent trends have pointed to partnering with social media influencers who have 10,000 or more followers—dubbed ‘micro-influencers’. These types of influencers can be in very specific verticals like beauty, health, fitness, food, tech, the list goes on. With these targeted followings, there is a greater potential to truly engage users with discounts or sponsored content.
On the horizon for Instagram influencers…
The landscape for social media influencers is constantly changing and tactics must be updated to allow for closer connections between brands and users. The recent release of Instagram Stories is a perfect example with real-time, personal updates from influencers and, even more so, as they begin to recommend Stories on the Explore tab. Yes, they essentially took the concept from Snapchat stories, but the truth is Instagram is a more comprehensive and consolidated tool for influencers as it houses their short, more personal videos and static, brand building posts on one platform. With Stories just beginning to expand, it’s unlikely Snapchat will ever surpass Instagram as the preferred method for influencers to share news. Altogether, it’s further proof that Instagram is one of the biggest, most successful advertising portals for social media influencers—and it’s not slowing down anytime soon.
A striking 80 percent,5 around 400 million, of Instagram’s active users live outside of the United States. With such a large pool of Instagram users across the globe, it’s important to have a system in place to select the right influencers for your product or app. This system applies both ways; influencers and advertisers should seek equal benefits in partnering together. Once you do so and connect with the right users, the opportunities are boundless.