The rise and rise of Instagram

Social media engagement is changing. The old adage goes that actions speak louder than words; Instagram seems to be successfully proving that sometimes a picture can speak rather loudly too. Just as many professional firms begin to get their heads round Twitter and how best to use it, it emerges that Instagram is quickly becoming its contender.

Just last month Instagram, the photo sharing service, overtook Twitter in its number of users (Instagram’s 300 million to Twitter’s 284 million). However Socialbakers pointed out that the true scale of the shift lies in the fact that Instagram enjoys 50 times more engagement than Twitter. A separate study released last April from Forrester Research looked at Interbrand’s top 50 global brands and found that the average Instagram photo generated 120 times higher user engagement per follower than the average tweet. Advertisers of consumer goods may see a clear argument in shifting their business to Instagram, but is there a brand and PR benefit for professional services firms?

Instagram launched four years ago and was then bought by Facebook for roughly $1 billion in 2012. Whilst its popularity has been on the up since then, many have noted that engagement (likes, retweets and such like) should come second to whether Instagram will assist business metrics. The most important question is whether Instagram will bring in clients or sales, but brand metrics such as affinity, awareness and loyalty are also critical.

Instagram is based solely around images, a medium many professional services organisations are not used to communicating in – unsurprisingly given that the written and spoken word come a lot more naturally to them. Communications strategies do not regularly have a social media angle, let alone an image projection arm. But photos are becoming central to social media, and Twitter’s move to include images in people’s timeline was surely a ploy to increase engagement. The shift to images may not serve all purposes, but the right image can serve a brand far more than a blur of words.

In the US, The University of Massachusetts has been conducting yearly studies of social media adoption amongst Fortune 500 companies since 2008. It is believed that their adoption of social media practices indicates the future direction of their use in commerce. The studies shows that executives are starting to see the benefit of social media: 83% Fortune 500 companies now have corporate Twitter accounts that have been active in the last month, and 80% now have Facebook.

Yet tellingly, last year alone 27% more of respondents have started using Instagram. While it still lags behind its picture rival, Pinterest (which has seen a 42% increase amongst the companies included in the last year) the rise of the two image sharing sites suggest that image sharing is no longer the preserve of the consumer sector, and that images boost a wide range of brands. This is reflected in its revenues: Morgan Stanley estimating that it will on average double every year for the next four years ($200m forecast for this year).

Instagram seems to serve a purpose for businesses that neither Facebook nor Twitter seem to at the moment. It offers a powerful means of conveying the look, feel and essence of an organisation – that is to say its brand – instantly. Of course, for businesses that sell complex expertise rather than products or experiences, translating brand into a striking, shareable visual language is far easier said than done. But for those that can succeed in fully harnessing the power of imagery, they may just be ahead of the curve.

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