Earlier this month, Instagram took over the Electric Fire Station in East London for a one-day event aimed at brands and creative agencies. With talks from influencers, creatives and Instagram’s product and partnerships teams, it offered a look at what’s new and what’s coming up on the platform, along with a wealth of advice for advertisers. Here, we share some key insights from the event.
IS IT TIME TO GET ON IGTV?
Instagram launched IGTV – an app for longer-form vertical videos – in June last year. Since then, brands, celebrities and creatives from BBC Earth to Dazed and Beyonce have experimented with the medium.
Sunil Singhvi, Strategic Partnerships Manager, acknowledged that IGTV had initially been slow to take off (it launched to mixed reviews), but said people were finally beginning to catch on to its potential.
Jameela Jamil’s body-positive account, I Weigh, has gained over half a million followers since launching last summer, and has used IGTV to post candid 30-minute interviews with celebrities from Rose McGowan to Sam Smith. Musician Billie Eilish has used the platform to post behind-the-scenes footage from her world tour, while ASOS has posted advice from stylists as well as curated edits of new product drops. Stormzy also used IGTV to document his 25th birthday party in Menorca (he flew 30 fans out to celebrate with him on the island), and combined Stories content with more polished drone footage to offer his followers a glimpse of the party – showing how high-quality footage could be combined with more ephemeral content.
“We’re seeing more and more creators using it as an opportunity to do different things,” said Singhvi. “A lot of smart people have been thinking of it like, if Feed is where your fans are, and Instagram Stories is where the next level of fandom is, then IGTV is where the super fans are. Think of it as a chance to talk to them and tell them what you’re about.”
As audience figures continue to rise (Instagram has seen a steep increase in views since the beginning of this year), Singhvi said IGTV offers an opportunity for brands and creatives to get noticed. “At the moment, there’s not a gazillion videos uploaded every two minutes, [so] there’s a chance to stand out and be spotted in that Explore section,” he said. Instagram has recently introduced IGTV previews into the main app Feed, and Singhvi said videos which were also shared on Feed received a much higher number of views than those that weren’t.
While he claimed it was too early to give hard data on the type of content that performs best on IGVT, Singhvi said that videos with people in them far outperformed videos without. “If you’re shooting a documentary put yourself in it. This audience is used to seeing people. A voice isn’t enough – they want to see faces.” He also recommended that creators treat IGTV as an opportunity to try something new, but said videos should still feel in keeping with other Instagram activity. “It can be a great chance to experiment with something you haven’t had the chance to do, but [IGTV posts] should be a surprise to your audience, not a shock,” he added.
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BRANDED CONTENT: DO’S AND DON’TS
Branded content was a key talking point at the event. Ali Busacca from Instagram’s product marketing team outlined a set of principles for creating branded content, advising brands to be “transparent” and “authentic”.
In a panel chaired by Singhvi, influencers Elle Adams (a.k.a. Elle Next Door), Caspar Lee and Ben Jeffries advised that brands put trust in creators – giving them freedom to create the kind of content that will resonate most with their audience. In a separate panel discussion, Calum Watson, Head of Sponsorship at Gymshark and Joshua Heaton-Armstrong, Head of Digital at Sony Pictures, advised working with influencers who understand your brand and are genuinely enthusiastic about it.
Gymshark spends a large proportion of its marketing budget on influencer activity, and has embarked on a number of long-term partnerships with fitness influencers – a strategy that allows the brand to build a relationship with that person’s audience and create content that feels like a genuine fit for both parties.
“Where the industry’s moving now, the audience can see through the bullshit. [If you think about] the amount of content we consume on daily basis, you can see straight through what’s very obviously paid-for content versus what is a little bit more organic,” said Watson.
In January 2017, the brand worked with influencers to create a 66-day fitness campaign (inspired by the insight that it takes 66 days to form new habits), with creators posting new content each day to motivate their followers. Gymshark’s audience was also encouraged to share their workout regimes using the hashtag #Gymshark66. The campaign was a success, with over 240,000 mentions of the hashtag on Instagram. “I think it goes back to that point of the influencer has to feel part of the campaign and be enthusiastic about what you’re doing,” said Watson. He also recommended that brands bring influencers in early when devising campaigns and involve them in concept and idea creation.
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CREATIVE ADVICE FROM MOTHER AND WE ARE SOCIAL
In a session moderated by CR’s Rachael Steven, Ana Balarin, ECD at Mother, Gareth Leeding, Group Creative Director, We Are Social Sport and KJ Weir, Group Head of Creative Agency Partnerships at Facebook, discussed how to stay relevant and keep up with trends on Instagram.
Weir encouraged brands to try out new formats such as IGTV, but stressed the need to set realistic expectations. It can take time to master a particular medium, and brands should be willing to accept that they might not achieve instant success or get perfect results overnight: “You have to be willing to let go a little bit of control,” she said. “When we launch something like IGTV or Stories, people are using them instantly, and they’re not afraid to mess around with it, but I think it’s really hard for brands to feel comfortable experimenting. Everyone wants to be first, and to be perfect, but those two things never happen.”
Leeding highlighted the value of investing in bespoke content for different formats – and being quick to respond to new features and additions to the platform – with examples of We Are Social’s work for adidas. The agency has been creating custom content for Stories since 2017, combining fast-paced animations with bold type, images and video, and has seen 2 million people click through from adidas’s Stories to adidas.com as a result. “We can’t track how much the sales are on that, but if you think of Stories as a potential shop window … I think it’s a really interesting platform to play with,” he said.
When Instagram launched a polls function within Stories, We Are Social pitched the idea of inviting adidas’s audience to co-create a trainer to promote the Ultraboost Xeno. Fans could select their choice of heel, sole and upper using the poll function in an eight-part Story which ended with a chance to win one of 50 limited edition pairs. Within 24 hours, over 30,000 people had entered the competition.
“What’s interesting with that is that it didn’t come out of a brief. Sometimes, it’s better to be proactive, rather than waiting for a brief to come through … especially when it comes to platform innovations,” said Leeding.
If you think about audience figures, the balance is completely wrong
While brands are investing more in creating custom content for different social platforms, Leeding said that some were still prioritising videos for TV and YouTube over creating content for Instagram – despite the fact their Instagram content could have a wider reach. “We need to rethink that balance, because if you think about audience figures, the balance is completely wrong,” he said. “The best work we’ve done is where we’re brought in early, we’re able to lead the creative and be on shoots and make sure that what we’re making is fit for platform.”
Weir, Leeding and Balarin recommended looking closely at what creatives are doing with the platform and studying how different audiences are communicating for inspiration. But as Balarin pointed out, brands need to find a balance between reacting to trends and creating content that is fresh, original and in keeping with their tone of voice. (Mother and KFC recently tapped into the mindfulness trend with KFChill – a digital platform which features relaxing audio content set to the sounds of sizzling bacon and crisping chicken – tackling a popular topic with KFC’s trademark wit and irreverence.)
“By all means follow your audience to where they are but don’t try to mimic them – be true to your brand identity,” she said. “Yes, you can flex it and have a little more fun in some platforms, but Gen Z-ers can smell inauthenticity from a mile off and they’ll just switch off if they feel you’re trying to fake it,” said Balarin.
Balarin also recommended experimenting with vertical video – not just on Instagram Stories but IGTV. “I think there’s a lot of fun and excitement to be had there and I think we need to keep pushing the possibilities of vertical.”
While Instagram started out as a platform with a focus on curation, the arrival of Stories and IGTV has seen a rise in less polished content. Musicians, brands, influencers and creatives are now using IGTV and Stories to offer a behind-the-scenes look at their life – while they’re on holiday, on a shoot or hanging out at home – something Weir said she was paying close attention to. “It’s interesting if you think about where we started, from having these pretty, square, filtered pictures to something that’s becoming a key way for a generation to communicate. I’m interested in the folks who are doing it all: they know the stuff they want to put on IGTV, which is different from how they are approaching their individual Feed,” said Weir.