Instagram Marketing Trends

The use of social media influencers and key opinion leaders (KOLs) has become an indispensable tool in any marketer’s arsenal. Today, Instagram is as much a marketing and advertising platform as it is a social media platform, and as we look towards 2020, a number of key trends have emerged. Evolving from a simple photo-sharing platform to its current form today, every new feature rolled out by Instagram has brought something new for consumer brands and retailers to harness and utilise for their marketing goals. In the not-so-distant past, for instance, Instagram marketing used to be limited to branded posts and content. Then came the era of influencer marketing, and with the addition of Instagram Stories, brands found another format – video marketing – to market themselves. The most recent addition, IGTV, now allows businesses to post long-form videos, much like YouTube.


Authenticity: The importance of “keeping it real”

A foremost trend in social media marketing today is consumers’ clamour for authenticity. The recent backlash against fraud and deception in influencer marketing, one of the most popular – and effective – approaches for companies on social media, clearly illustrates the importance of authenticity as a critical social media marketing component. In a saturated social media landscape full of paid product reviews, sponsored content, celebrity endorsements and paid influencers, authenticity is hard to come by. Never has the adage, “fake it till you make it” been more apt – brands and the social media influencers they recruit have become increasingly better at faking it.

However, consumers are wising up. A 2017 consumer content report found that nearly 75% of people could tell the difference between brand-created and consumer-created content, while the majority of those surveyed agreed that fewer than half of brands create what would be considered “authentic” content. As such, this is the first trend – of many – that brands must be cognizant of: consumers are catching on to their tactics, and they demand authenticity, in one way or another. There exists a trust deficit between social media marketers and their target consumers, and given the plethora of options available to the typical online shopper, many consumers are ready to spend their money elsewhere, on a brand they trust. Consumers crave authenticity, and it is a – if not the – key factor in their decision-making process when deciding what brands to support or engage with. One-fifth of consumers admit to “unfollowing” a brand or company on social media due to inauthentic content. By defining an authentic approach to social media, companies can strengthen their legitimacy, and showcase their brand’s unique voice and personality. Authenticity inspires trust and loyalty, which in turn can drive sales and, ultimately, ROI.  Hence, authenticity should be the most important driver of any brand’s social media strategy.

In response, many brands have begun the transition from influencer marketing to, instead, establishing relationships with micro-influencers, whose smaller (1,000 to 10,000 followers), more niche following, combined with what is perceived to be a more honest and less curated perspective, creates an air of authenticity. Ultimately, however, authenticity can only be sustained through a brand’s commitment to an open, honest, and transparent relationship with its target audience. Authenticity is about defining brand values and staying true to them. Brands must be able to establish a dialogue and form relationships in order to grow a loyal and engaged following – which will, in turn, translate into sales.

With the transformation of Instagram into what is essentially an online shopping platform, other, smaller trends have emerged as the app continues to introduce new features that brands can capitalise on.


Instagram shopping

In 2017, Instagram launched a feature that allowed the adding of links to a user’s Instagram Stories. Since then, this feature has been extensively leveraged by brands to add direct product purchase links to their Stories. This trend will continue to grow as it allows brands to showcase their products and drive sales conversions.

In addition, recent years have seen the rise of the ‘Instagram boutique’ – online shops that use Instagram as a virtual boutique to display their products and enable purchases. Instagram’s visual style lends itself perfectly to e-commerce, as its format allows for the presentation of arresting visuals to the consumer, coupled with shrewd use of hashtags to help a brand reach its target audience.


Long-form video content

While video selling has always been a useful avenue for marketers, Instagram has taken the practice to the next level. With the advent of features such as Instagram Live, Stories, and IGTV, video selling has become easier and more accessible than ever. As a mobile-friendly format, many Instagram users are now driving this trend. The launch of IGTV – Instagram’s feature for posting vertical, long-form videos – in June 2018 has firmly entrenched this function as an important tool for brands on Instagram. As the IGTV feature gains more traction, this trend will only grow further, as brands continue to leverage this format for a variety of purposes, marketing and otherwise. Whether it is showcasing a product, running a giveaway, or showing a tutorial, Instagram’s vertical video function is a versatile feature that will prove useful for many social media marketers.


Instagram Stories as an integral marketing tool

Ever since its launch in 2016, Instagram Stories has been a crucial component of Instagram marketing. Brands have leveraged the Stories feature in a myriad of creative ways to deliver content to their consumers and engage their target audience in ways that other forms of marketing simply cannot. Due to the versatility of Instagram Stories, it has become an important aspect of any marketer’s Instagram marketing strategy. With the addition of trending filters, stickers, and other visual effects, Stories are now more engaging than ever before.


Influencer marketing is here to stay

Despite the furore over authenticity (or the lack of it), influencer marketing is set to remain the main thrust of any brand’s social media marketing campaign, due in no small part to the massive following and vast reach of an Instagram influencer. As the moniker suggests, they wield influence over their followers’ purchasing decisions, and bringing a well-established band of influencers on board will likely be integral to a brand’s marketing success on social media platforms. Nonetheless, the need for authenticity still applies, and influencers may need to reinvent and revamp their approach to content creation if they are to retain a robust base of followers. Fortunately, most consumers tend to perceive influencer-generated content as more authentic than brand content.

In addition, influencer-driven marketing is often far cheaper for a brand than running a traditional advertising campaign, whether digital or print. Micro-influencers, who are becomingly an increasingly popular option as brand ambassadors due to being seen as more authentic, charge only between $75 and $3,000 per post, depending on their level of engagement and follower count. This is still cheaper than the thousands – or tens of thousands – of dollars that brands spend on traditional advertising.

Another strategy increasingly employed by brands is to invite one or a number of more popular influencers on paid trips to promote their products, or to swanky launch events. The influencers, in turn, post about the event, mention the brand – some more subtly than others – and promote the brand.


New features and functions

Part of the secret to Instagram’s enduring success is a commitment to constant evolution and refinement. Instagram has never failed to surprise when it comes to adding innovative features that are both fun for users and useful for brands. The platform has evolved from a chronological visual news feed to an algorithm-fuelled, consumer-driven integrated content platform, now with live streaming and IGTV. Due to the sheer intensity of competition among social media platforms and the unrelenting race to attract more users, Instagram will continue to evolve, and is now testing a new, better analytics platform aimed at helping businesses grow. There is also set to be a new feature called Promoted Stories, which will help boost featured Stories for maximum reach and engagement.

2020 and beyond are set to be exciting years for Instagram and for the brands savvy enough to harness the immense influence of social media.

Helena Ma brings with her a wealth of experience and a truly cosmopolitan perspective, having lived and worked in Shanghai, China; Gothenburg, Sweden; and London, UK. Her stints in Europe and China has armed Helena with a potent blend of ancient Chinese wisdom and contemporary Western knowledge which she incorporates into business management and client project