The power of the hashtag – is Instagram the marketing platform of the future?

  • Shopping is becoming an increasingly important part of the Instagram experience
  • Instagram provides a much higher user engagement rate than other social networks
  • More and more brands are starting to recognise Instagram’s unique marketing opportunities

Consumer needs and expectations have changed dramatically in recent years and businesses are facing an uphill battle in trying to find a way to satisfy everyone. Staying relevant has never been more difficult and social media is becoming an increasingly important factor in this struggle. Millennial and Gen Z shoppers in particular have repeatedly demonstrated that they’re more comfortable interacting with brands on social media than older generations. And Instagram seems to be their medium of choice.

Over the years, Instagram has gradually transformed from a simple photo-sharing app into one of the world’s most innovative digital marketing platforms, and it’s become an essential part of every successful company’s marketing strategy. According to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, more than 25 million businesses now have profile pages on Instagram. Furthermore, the Facebook-owned platform boasts more than 800 million monthly active users, 90 million of whom are interacting with product tags on Instagram’s shopping posts every month. These numbers represent a massive opportunity for companies to reach new consumers, advertise their products, and build brand loyalty through social media, and those that fail to take advantage of it may find it increasingly difficult to remain competitive.

Shopping is becoming an increasingly important part of the Instagram experience

Instagram has introduced a number of new e-commerce features in recent months, making shopping an increasingly important part of its community. In September, following several months of testing, Instagram rolled out the ‘shopping in stories’ feature to 46 countries around the world. The new feature allows brands to add product stickers to their Stories, which users can tap on to learn more about the products they like. Today, more than 400 million accounts visit Stories every day, one third of which are created by businesses. Instagram also announced the addition of the Shopping channel to the Explore tab, which allows users to browse Shopping posts from the brands they follow and to discover new brands that might suit their interests.

Girl on Instagram wearing sunglasses
Instagram has introduced a number of new e-commerce features in recent months, making shopping an increasingly important part of its community.

In November, Instagram announced three new features that will make it easier than ever to shop on the platform. Users can now add the products they like to their Shopping collection, which they can later revisit at any time from their profile page. To add a product to the collection, all they need to do is tap a product tag that appears in Stories or Feed and then tap the ‘save’ icon in the bottom right corner. Instagram also redesigned the Shop tab on business profiles to make it easier for users to view all of the products featured in the brand’s shopping posts in one place. Now, by tapping the Shop button on a business profile, users will get a list with all of their products, including their name, price, and the original post they were featured in. Finally, users will now also be able to shop directly in Feed videos posted by the brands they follow. By tapping the Shop icon in the bottom left corner of the video, they’ll be able to see all of the products featured in it and learn more about them.

Instagram provides a much higher user engagement rate than other social networks

Instagram has one major advantage over other social networks in that it offers a much higher user engagement rate. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, Instagram delivers an engagement rate of 4.2 per cent per follower, or nearly 60 times higher than Facebook. To increase the engagement rate even further, brands are encouraged to add hashtags to their posts and Stories, as one recent study revealed that Instagram posts with at least one hashtag boast 12.6 per cent more engagement than those without. It’s possible to add up to 30 hashtags to each post, but brands should be careful not to overdo it, with up to 10 hashtags per post usually considered the optimum number. Brands should also take time to choose the most relevant hashtags, instead of just picking the most popular ones, because their posts could then end up getting lost in a sea of other content. And because Instagram recently added the ability to follow hashtags, including them in their posts allows brands to reach even those users who aren’t following them. Geo-tagging is another useful tool, with geo-tagged posts receiving 79 per cent more engagement. Yet, only 5 per cent of Instagram posts use this feature.

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More and more brands are starting to recognise Instagram’s unique marketing opportunities

Some brands are already starting to take advantage of these new features. As a part of its holiday campaign, the US retailer Macy’s is planning to use Instagram Carousels to create personalised gift guides. After answering a couple of questions about their interests and preferred price range, users will be able to swipe through the Instant Gift Guide Carousels to find the perfect holiday gift for their friends or family members. Once they find what they’re looking for, users will also have the option to buy it through the Carousel’s final frame, which will be fully shoppable.

This isn’t the first time Macy’s has used Instagram for marketing purposes. In March this year, the retailer launched a new spring campaign called ‘Find the remarkable you’. As part of this campaign, the company also created an Instagram Live hack, in which it enlisted the services of several well-known influencers and Macy’s own stylists to help users put together the perfect outfit. Each influencer was provided with the same article of clothing and then tasked with styling it with other clothes and accessories from Macy’s catalogue. Once they were done, they’d tag other influencers and challenge them to do a better job, while at the same time encouraging users to join the conversation and share their ideas, using the #FindRemarkable hashtag.

Another example of a carefully considered Instagram campaign was Madewell’s ‘Flashtagram’, in which the clothing retailer invited 500 of its employees, bloggers, and editors from Allure, NYLON, Elle, and Marie Claire to post their best photos wearing Madewell jeans, accompanied by #denimmadewell and #flashtagram hashtags. “Since denim is at the core of our brand identity and we have such [a] great relationship with our favorite Instagrammers, it seemed like a no brainer to marry the two,” says Somsack Sikhounmuong, the head of design for Madewell. The results were rather impressive: users posted more than 1,600 posts in a single day, which garnered more than 160,000 likes and 8.5 million impressions.

To stay relevant and satisfy changing customer demands, companies are forced to constantly look for new solutions that may give them an edge over their competition. As social media takes on an increasingly prominent role in people’s lives, more and more companies are trying to take advantage of it and incorporate it into their marketing strategy. Instagram in particular offers a unique opportunity for companies to engage consumers and increase their sales, with the platform introducing a number of new e-commerce features in recent months, making shopping an increasingly important part of its community. It’s clear that Instagram may well be the digital marketing platform of the future.

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This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk

This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk

Trendwatcher, futurist and international keynote speaker Richard van Hooijdonk takes you to an inspiring future that will dramatically change the way we live, work and do business.

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