Instagram is a place for people to share their passions – whether it’s cooking, fashion, photography, art or pictures of spherical animals (yes, there’s even an account for that). And one of the most popular passions among Instagram’s community of one billion users is sport. A third of all accounts on Instagram follow at least one sports-related account, and the platform has become a source for breaking news as well as sporting highlights, exclusive videos from clubs and a glimpse into athletes’ lives and training regimes.
Football is the most popular sport on Instagram with 140 million fans – three times more than basketball. Sports fans follow an average of 10 sports-related accounts and most of these belong to individual athletes, some of whom now have a following to rival A-list actors and musicians. (Cristiano Ronaldo recently overtook Selena Gomez as the most followed person on Instagram, with a staggering 144 million followers.)
Le Bron James has over 45 million followers on Instagram
How sports fans are using Instagram
Facebook recently commissioned a study into how US sports fans use the platform. Of the fans who responded, 49% said they use it to discover sports news and highlights from their teams as well as special match day footage while 54% said they use it as a window into the lifestyles of their favourite players.
Fans also said they saw Instagram as a place to fuel their excitement, allowing them to track players and teams in the run-up to games and events, and to be inspired, with training videos and highlights footage spurring them on to pursue their own fitness goals.
Over half of fans said they post selfies at professional sporting events and upload photos of themselves in team kits or engaging in sport.
Serena Williams has over 10 million followers on Instagram
How fans are consuming content
The viewing habits of sports fans has changed considerably in the past four years (a trend due in part to the increased quality of mobile streaming). Facebook has found that over 90% of people in the US use a mobile device while they watch sport and 59% engage with social media at the same time.
People have quickly grown to expect great video content in their Instagram feeds, and this is especially true for sport. The action, drama and speed of sport lends itself well to video and sports fans are proving this by viewing and sharing a staggering amount of video during every major football event. Worldwide, fans have generated 250,000 video uploads and watch twice as many videos as non-sports fans.
Manchester City Football Club posts details of upcoming features as well as highlights from recent games
Three quarters of accounts that sports fans follow on Instagram belong to individual athletes rather than organisations, and 94% of fans say they welcome and enjoy seeing athletes share posts about their lives off the pitch.
Athletes have always been idolised, but Instagram has given them a direct means of communication with fans, and in turn, professional players across sports from tennis to motor racing have built up a sizeable and highly engaged following.
Advertisers have capitalised on this by incorporating athletes into their campaign: Beats by Dre enlisted over 100 top athletes and musicians to take part in its 1 of 1 campaign, with each influencer posting an image of a customised pair of Beats headphones featuring their personal mantra. It generated a huge level of engagement, with individual posts by athletes receiving millions of likes.
Beats by Dre’s 1 x 1 campaign
Under Armour also worked with athletes for its Rule Yourself campaign. Created to motivate millennials and drive brand awareness, the campaign focused on the dedication, commitment and gruelling training regimes of professional athletes, including Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. On Instagram, consumers were encouraged to post details of their own regimes to use the campaign hashtag to be in with a chance of winning free Under Armour kit.
The campaign film won a Grand Prix at Cannes Lions, and went on to become one of the most-shared Olympic spots of all time, while the Instagram campaign led to increased purchase intent and ad recall. Showcasing inspiring athlete success stories is a popular approach in sports advertising but for good reason – as the success of campaigns such as Rule Yourself show. Under Armour has since launched more motivational campaigns on Instagram, and regularly posts workout challenges and footage of professional athletes’ training regimes on its Feed.
Under Armour regularly posts inspirational stories of athletes’ achievements and their gruelling training regimes
What fans want
In a recent Facebook study, 92% of people on Instagram said they want content that connects them with friends and family, 91% said they want content that makes them feel part of a community, and 89% said they want content that makes them feel confident and knowledgeable. Creating and sharing content that acknowledges this and reflects the type of content fans expect to see (for example, highlights and news) is the best way to engage them on the platform.
And remember, sports fans interests aren’t confined to sport – Instagram has identified video games, travel, food, film, music, fashion and health and fitness as key areas with massive crossover potential for advertisers.
Adidas’s campaigns feature a mix of professional athletes and musicians, reflecting the brand’s focus on both sport and lifestyle
Understanding the sports community: core fan groups
From its research into sports fans, Instagram has identified three core types of fans with different motivations and habits when it comes to viewing – and talking about – sport.
Matchday Maniacs are devoted, highly engaged fans who organise their social schedules around sporting events – typically, young males aged 18 to 34 with a lot of free time, who want a constant stream of content from teams, matches and players.
These fans hate half-time lulls, so are likely to respond to content that grabs their attention during breaks in the action and builds their excitement for the game ahead. As their friends are likely to share a similar love of sport, advertisers should also think about creating content that appeals to their social side and competitive spirit – for example, through pre-match predictions, post-match analyses or group challenges.
Advertisers should consider creating content that allows fans to broadcast their allegiance to others
Homeland Heroes are the fans who see their team allegiance as part of their identity. They might not catch every match, but they are there for the ones that count and their love of their chosen team makes them feel part of a community. This group is more evenly split between male and female and tends to be older than Matchday Maniacs. They’re also fiercely proud of their team, so consider content that allows them to broadcast their allegiance to others.
Social Supporters respond to the sporting zeitgeist, whether it’s the World Cup or the Olympics. For these fans, the match day experience and social engagement that surrounds it is more valuable than the match itself.
These supporters are predominantly female and most are social influencers. The match itself might not be their focus, but they are highly active and engaged participants, so invite them to join your bandwagon and give them ways to capture, share and remember the day’s memorable experiences.
Sports brands are using Instagram Stories to serve a mix of ads, match footage and content to fans. The vertical format can be a powerful tool and now has 300 million daily users.
BBC Sport engages with a younger audience through a mix of opinion polls, interviews and trivia, from a Story celebrating football’s oldest players, to an interview with cyclist Geraint Thomas and a poll asking fans to rate FA Cup goals. Copa90, meanwhile, creates Stories with brands, fans and influencers – a recent video with Puma goes behind the scenes at the Dortmund training academy. Viewers are invited to comment and react, reflecting Copa90’s focus on the fans.
Instagram has seen rapid growth as a video platform. People are spending 80% more time watching video on Instagram year on year and are now producing four times more videos every day. Video ads can help increase brand awareness and sports-centric advertisers are seeing real results from their video posts: the World Surfing League used video ads to drive awareness of the Billabong Pipe Masters competition, leading to a 176% increase in the number of unique people who tuned into watch the live stream.
In a typical month, 180 million Instagram accounts visit a website, get directions, call, email or send a direct message to learn more about a business. Businesses are connecting with people through Instagram, and people are welcoming this connection. 60% of people surveyed by Instagram said they learn about products and services through the platform and 80% of accounts follow at least one business.
Nike has been serving up inspirational stories as part of its Just Do It campaign
Creative considerations for advertisers
When producing creative, it’s important to think about context. With both Feed and Stories, advertisers can create content that works with sound on or off, but a large percentage of Stories are watched with sound on, so don’t overlook audio.
Content should be crafted with a range of ad formats in mind. Within Instagram, advertisers have portrait, landscape and square options, as well as the ability to display multiple images in a single post using Carousels.
Brands should also think about time as a creative tool – consider the different ways you can tell a story in different times, from five seconds to 15, and how different aspects of a story can play out across different formats.
For more sports-related insights, see the full report, Top of Your Game, from Instagram Business.
Insights is part of Inspire, a partnership between Creative Review, Facebook and Instagram showcasing outstanding creative work and emerging talent on both platforms.
More advice and inspiration is also available at Facebook’s Creative Hub. Creative Hub was launched to help the creative communities understand mobile marketing. The online tool allows creatives to experiment with content formats – from Instagram video to Facebook Canvas – and produce mock-ups to share with clients and stakeholders. It also showcases successful campaigns created for mobile. Try out the mock up tool at facebook.com/ads/creativehub and see the inspiration gallery here facebook.com/ads/creativehub/gallery