Instagram Ads and Why Brands Need to Think Like Humans

Instagram recently announced in-feed advertising and on November 1, Michael Kors was among the first brands to kick off this new feature. Soon, we can expect to see such ads from Adidas, Ben & Jerry's, Burberry, General Electric, Levi's, Lexus, Macy's, PayPal and Starwood. This is truly the beginning of one era and the end of another.

The social media strategist inside of me is doing heel kicks. All of those client concerns about “how do I grow my fans on Instagram?” or “how do I get people to see our photos?” are suddenly addressed with this fabulous thing called money — er, buying ads. Brands can now capture advocates and grow their follower base on the network.

However, from a user perspective, I have to admit I am a little peeved. Instagram is my solace from the rest of the social media world. It’s the network upon which I can rely to just dream and get lost in the photo experiences of others — whether it’s a great Brooklyn Bridge sunset, the latest pork belly bun my friend is about to inhale at Momofuku, or even the occasional photo of my cousin's new baby, all dressed up in Giants swag before the big game. It’s a world of unfiltered sharing of life moments with filtered lenses that make these life moments look even cooler.

When Instagram was bought by Facebook, it was only a matter of time before the social network started catering to brands. But like any network, its longevity is based on how brands and humans can strike a balance. After all, it will die a quick death if the user experience is akin to old MySpace… you know the feeling... like you were just caught at the intersection between an infomercial, an episode of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, and your teenage neighbor’s garage band practice.

If the experience feels like the visual equivalent of ads yelling at you or if the ads are irrelevant to the targeted audiences, brands and the network will experience backlash and attrition. To wit, the Michal Kors ad had over 300 negatively charged comments, with one saying, "Get this [explicative] outta here. Nobody cares about your awfully expensive watch."

So here’s my advice for brands as they encounter these new brand-friendly features and map out their Instagram strategies: think like a human. Imagine that you are the end user of the content experience you are creating, and imagine that yours is not the only brand featured in your feed. Are you happy with the experience? Because if you think like the end user, your publications will not only have a greater impact on your audience, but you’ll be making the network overall a more positive and sustainable experience.

Don’t trust your gut to determine if your content is good or not? Here are eight quick tips to help you achieve Instagram success, regardless of whether you choose to use the new advertising feature.

Eight Ways to Be Human on the ‘Gram

1. Take cues from people on Instagram. 

Look at what your followers are posting — moments from their lives, inspirational quotes, sunset images, first-person perspective, and try to keep your experience in line with their content. Let the users call the shots and follow suit.

2. Use compelling photography.

Choose photos that best represent your brand and culture. Need some inspiration? Check out Johnnie Walker’s instagram feed, which never fails to inspire or make you immediately want to sip a JW Black on the rocks.

3. Don’t over-post — once a day is enough.

Scrolling through the ‘gram  and seeing three back-to-back posts of a friend’s baby is annoying enough, so there’s no need for back-to-back brand posts either. Don’t be tempted to “fight” for space in the Instagram newsfeed. It’s a surefire way to get unfollowed.

4. Be ownable and show off your product.

It’s tempting to think too much like a human and just post a bunch of cat photos to get likes, but really think about a space your brand can own. Don’t be afraid to still show off your product  — your core advocates love you because they enjoy what you make. Dunkin’ Donuts is a great example of a brand who perfectly shows off the product and makes every post interesting and ownable.

5. Be responsive.

Fans go absolutely bananas when brands respond to them personally because they view social as a way to pierce the corporate veil and connect with a human. The more you can respond to people on Instagram, the more you can build equity among advocates. (And have you heard? Spredfast’s latest road map has the ability to respond to Instagram followers and edit comments from our platform! Ask your rep for more details).

6. Empower fans to be your advocates.

It’s sometimes easier said than done, but your best content is not always solely generated by your platforms. Oreo got major accolades for its 100-day Daily Twist campaign, which turned the spotlight on fan’s cherished photos. For 100 straight days, a cross-agency team sculpted fan-submitted photos out of cookies or cream depending on which hashtag the user chose upon submission — #CreamThis or #CookieThat. The idea was brilliant and helped Oreo earn PR that generated new followers, gave the brand an endless stream of content, and also turned its fans into advocates by generating thousands of user submissions across Instagram.

7. Build conversational capital with hashtags

Joining trending hashtags or creating a unique and user-friendly hashtag are great ways to expand your audience. Think creatively and find one that’s relevant to both your brand and audience. Redbull shares its brand story through the hashtag #GivesYouWings across all platforms, inspiring fans to dream big and take action.

8. Be hyper-relevant with cultural moments

Plan ahead for major cultural moments. For example, major sports events, concerts or holidays can be an amazing opportunity to have a ready-to-go Instagram video or photo that’s up-to-the-moment relevant and shows off your brand in a unique way. Dunkin’ Donuts first-ever Vine-only television adis an example of a creative hyper-relevant cultural play that can be planned for Instagram.

What are your thoughts on how to strike the perfect balance on Instagram? Share in the comments below!                        

Kelly Ferraro's picture

Kelly Ferraro

Kelly Ferraro is a Strategy Director for Spredfast, where she leads social strategy for global customers. Kelly is a social media and running addict. She is an east coast transplant currently living in Austin, TX.