A Better Way To Think About Instagram

Engagement.

It’s a seemingly catch-all term that, no doubt, has increased in usage 1000% or more in the last few years. But it means different things to different organizations and different people with, well, different goals. Broadly speaking, social media engagement is defined by any intentional action taken with a post — a like, a comment, a retweet, a reblog, a snap view, etc. Taken all together, all the social media students and pros are preaching the emergent value and incredible ‘engagement’ taking place on Instagram.
A quick look at the graphic above would lead one to believe that Instagram is FAR superior its Facebook and Twitter brethren for a brand seeking engagement with its fans and users. But while there IS indeed value in someone double-tapping your Instagram posts and even some (though not much) in making a mundane comment (like “First!”), is this so-called engagement what you’re seeking from Instagram and social media, in general? What good is having 120x more engagement than Twitter if Instagram is a place where much of the visible engagement comes from bots or power users?
Well, I’d like to propose a fresh way of looking at Instagram: branded user-generated content.
Instead of ONLY looking at those pillowy-soft engagement metrics of Instagram, start proactively promoting Instagram as a true social network for your brand. This network can be truly powerful when the content creation of its users (and your fans) is harnessed and maximized promoting the brand in visually stunning, creative, and, best of all, genuine content showcasing a brand. Each piece is a visual advertisement, earned media created by a fan on behalf of your brand.
So…who is doing this well?
I leave you with a few examples of brands propagating branded hash tags that users are actually using, evangelizing on behalf of brands they love.

Gatorade’s #WinFromWithin: A slogan that speaks to their brand and its fans, a concept its athletes can play in as much as its fans, and a campaign strong enough to be timeless, authentic, and visually distinct.
San Francisco Giants’ #OctoberTogether: This hash tag lasted the duration of their 2014 run to the World Series title and brought together a communal tie of fanhood, reallying around the team, and creative ways team and fans celebrated the Giants. The result? Instagram was chock full of posts celebrating the Giants and #OctoberTogether, likely penetrating one’s feed or Discover tab whether they were following the Giants on Instagram or not.

UnderArmour’s #ProtectThisHouse: Similar to Gatorade, this branded tag from UnderArmour is timeless, represents something branded and conceptually visible, and something pros and joes alike can participate in with content. The result? Again, multitudes of branded photos showing genuine passion for UnderArmour for fans, and showcasing the brand values in action in ways that will overwhelm, emotionally, its friends more than just about anything a brand itself can create.

While we all love, and should love, data and the stories it can tell about social media and content marketing, not all data is created (nor should it be interpreted) equally. The “engagement” metrics on Instagram mean something, but does not represent the 120x and 58x magnitude plastered across presentations and infographics across the social media universe would have us all believe. Don’t get caught stuck inside the box; remember that social media is most effective and beneficial when it truly is two-way; when it’s just as much about the social as it is the media.

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