Business information written specifically for newspaper advertising departments

Instagram: The New Word-of-Mouth Advertising

Instagram users post pictures of their purchases to share their purchases with their friends. The resulting photos are terrific advertising fodder for retailers

The latest of social networks to join forces with advertising are photo-sharing apps like Instagram. While we’ve spoken of such apps before, their role in advertising has become even clearer recently, as they have proven to hold a pragmatic function for retail advertisers.

Shoppers are a talkative bunch. They like to share their purchases with others, and social media allows them to share those purchases with a huge audience. Specifically, Instagram users post pictures of their purchases to share their purchases with their friends.

The resulting photos are terrific advertising fodder for retailers. When a customer posts a photo of a pair of shoes he just bought, he’s actually doing marketing for that particular brand. Consequently, international brands like Coach and L’Oreal’s Lancome are using those Instagram photos as a viable piece of their marketing strategies.

Brands simply ask customers to post photos of their favorite products and purchases and include a hashtag specific to the brand. The hashtag acts as a filter so brands can find photos related to their stores and products. The consumers are incentivized to use the hashtag, because it opens the flow of communication between brand and customer.

For example, Coach asked loyal customers to post photos wearing their shoes accompanied by “#CoachFromAbove.” These photos then appear in a continually updated gallery on Coach’s website.

Brands have recruited companies like Olapic, which helps retailers curate such galleries. Olapic helps retailers collect photos of their products and then include them as part of their marketing, like website photo galleries. Sometimes brands even use the photos on the product pages of their ecommerce sites, proving these pictures can sell just as well as professional-grade photos.

Although it can sometimes feel like it, social media isn’t completely reinventing the wheel here. Of course, consumers respond well to customer-taken product photos. Firstly, they depict a more authentic portrayal of the product. Second, it’s really an evolution of word-of-mouth advertising. Consumers trust the opinions and experiences of other consumers, because, they’re not trying to sell something. They’re simply sharing their satisfaction with their purchases. In this case, they’re sharing it in the form of an Instagram.

It isn’t just a hunch that these photos are working in the retailer’s favor. Olapic co-founder Luis Sans told Mashable that these photos increase the likelihood of a purchase 5 to 12 percent.

Some brands have also found that it’s effective to make their products secondary to the call for Instagram photos. For instance, Lancome created a campaign, wherein it asked women to post “selfies” without makeup. The accompanying hashtag was “#BareSelfie.” The goal was to empower women by demonstrating beauty without makeup. The Instagram campaign was smartly crafted alongside a push behind a new Lancome product intended to correct blemishes without the makeup-like textures of blush or powder.

In this case, the product is seemingly an afterthought of the Instagram campaign, but Lancome knew exactly what it was doing. Interact with consumers, ask them to share their photos and thoughts, and — hey! — here’s this product that is completely relevant to the conversation.

As Lancome Social Media Director Mimi Banks told Mashable, “People love social clout — to be acknowledged by the brand.”

For some brands, these photos even dictate aspects of business other than marketing. For Coach, the photos actually help determine what products the company will manufacture. For example, if one color of a particular shoe appears more often than others on social media, the company will actually produce more of the popular product.

While these are large-scale marketing solutions for international brands, this brand of Instagram marketing can work for your local retailers as well. There is a whole host of Instagram users in your area. Encourage your advertisers to connect with that demographic by creating a contest for the best photos of the customer’s favorite purchases from that particular retailer. The best photos win a gift card or an equivalent prize. Or, you could go the Lancome route, and simply host an Instagram hashtag campaign sponsored by a relevant advertiser. The options are really limitless and so is the revenue potential.