It’s been more than year since Instagram  added video to its bag of tricks, giving its users 15 seconds to tell their stories. That was a generous 9 seconds more than Twitter’s Vine, whose 6-second clips presented a challenge to even the most creative marketers by making them find a way to produce a brand pop in a literal blink of an eye.
Instagram Video’s 15 seconds may not be much, but it’s as long as many TV spots, and the platform offers marketers compelling reasons to attempt this kind of ultra-short form messaging: audiences numbering the hundreds of millions; a virtually non-existent barrier to entry; high levels of engagement, awareness building, and sharing; and no concerns about taxing a viewer’s attention.
And marketers are figuring it out. According to Unruly Media, 40 percent of Instagram videos in 2013 came from brands. Big names such as Doritos, Taco Bell, H&M, Coke, McDonald’s, Nike, and KFC have all been lauded for successful Instagram video marketing efforts. In fact, according to Simply Measured, 59 percent of the world’s top brands are active on Instagram.
While Instagram videos are limited by the fact that they are not easily embeddable outside the app, they do offer the advantages of editability, visual filters, cover image selection, and stabilization. It will also be interesting to see how Facebook, which owns Instagram, will leverage Instagram videos for new marketing purposes down the road.
How can marketers best use Instagram Video?
Find Your Voice
“It’s all about figuring out what the strongest tenets of the brand you’re working with are,” says Michael Bellavia, CEO of social media agency HelpsGood. “What do their communities look like? What is the voice and tone and person that would best represent that brand?”
Participate Like a True Instagrammer
Create a complete profile, link to other sites and to the brand’s home page, interact often, and follow loyal customers. Be friendly to demonstrate that there are real people behind the brand.
“If a brand is present but silent, it’s a huge missed opportunity,” says Deutsch LA’s vice president and creative director Scott Clark. “Fans don’t feel like they’re getting as deep an engagement with the brand.” Even a huge brand like Starbucks goes to the trouble of following several thousand Instagram users.
Deploy Hashtags Optimally
Instagram’s search relies on hashtags, so all brand content must be tagged carefully and creatively. But don’t make a mess. Resist the urge to attach too many hashtags to a post.
“It’s a blend of art and science,” says Bellavia. “Sometimes hashtagging is simply for pure discovery, a way to attract people who would never find you otherwise. Other times it’s because you want to be part of a current conversation that’s going on.”
He cites an example of immediately attaching the hashtag #pharell to his Smokey Bear Instagram campaign when Pharell’s Smokey-like hat made such a sensation at the Grammy Awards.
“We try to draft off existing hashtag rather than always invent new ones. Just because you invent one doesn’t mean people are going to follow it,” says Clark, who works on social media branding for Volkswagen.
Understand the Social Media Culture
Instagram is where brands try to explain who they are and what they’re all about, creating a brand personality and perception. One buzzword that successful Instagram marketers often use is “curation” of the brand, something that high-powered marketer Starbucks has won plaudits for. It has almost three million Instagram followers, and a recent video showing paper cup decoration for its “White Cup Contest” earned 125,000 likes, while a video of the simple pouring of a cup of tea got 60,000 likes.
“We don’t try to create ads,” says Clark. “We try to create little short entertaining pieces of content that are good for the platform. We add a little URL at the end but we don’t try to shill anything.”
Of course, video inspiration is everywhere on Instagram. Marketers looking for good video ideas can follow GE, which has progressed from its science fair to well-tagged videos that often feature a warm human touch. Burberry, Nike, Whole Foods, Sharpie, Target, GoPro, and Victoria’s Secret (with 3.9 million followers, it’s one of the most popular brands) have also produced many impactful videos. (As you might guess, a typically dramatic GoPro video earns around 100,000 likes.) AdWeek recently highlighted clothing retailer Hollister, noting that the company, with 1.2 million followers, had posted 21 clips in the most recent month, almost one each weekday, featuring music from their summertime beachfront “Hollister House.” The effect was a sort of shareable new millennium MTV Spring Break.
Instagram Is Also an Ad Platform
In spring 2014 Instagram announced that it would launch its own ad platform to let advertisers place clearly labeled “sponsored” content within the site.
“Our focus with every product we build is to make Instagram a place where people come to connect and be inspired,” the company said as it invited high-profile brands such as Levi’s, Ben & Jerry’s, and Starwood to begin testing the platform.
“That’s kind of a mixed bag from what I’ve seen so far,” says Bellavia. “When you see a sponsored post in your stream, as opposed to a post from a brand you follow, you get a different feeling. You can also see the comments from people who are really mad about it being there.”
Clark agrees. “I don’t know if we would do that. It was bound to happen, and people aren’t totally shocked by it, but that doesn’t mean they like it. We’d rather try to interject our paid placements in a highly targeted way into places where fans are already active so they don’t feel like something totally out of place.”
Ultimately, branding via Instagram — either through native means or paid posts — is only going to grow.
“I’m a big fan of Instagram,” says Bellavia. “I’ve seen tons of people make real friendships there. It feels intimate even though it’s kind of a broadcast platform at the same time. It’s something that we’ll continue to recommend to clients for sure.”
Just remember, Clark says, to embrace the environment. “Be sympathetic to the platform. Don’t create ads, create content that people want to see and share.”