New Instagram Features Put Premium on Better Brand Storytelling and Great Videos

Whatever else it does, social media certainly forces PR pros to be alert for new features. Even Facebook-owned Instagram, a platform that has added fewer features than most, has been active recently. Some of the latest additions to it include the ability for brands to purchase carousel ads and the introduction, on Halloween weekend, of curated video content. While the carousel ads have become a permanent feature, it’s unclear whether or not curated video content will be reserved for special occasions, like holidays or major sporting or television events, or become a 24/7 occurrence, similar to Moments, which Twitter unveiled recently. Speaking of Twitter, last week saw it unveil another feature, or more exactly modify one. As of last Tuesday you could Like a tweet. As the company said on its official blog, “We are changing our star icon for Favorites to a heart and we’ll be calling [it] Likes.” Sound familiar? We boarded the social media carousel and had a heart-to-heart with several PR pros, asking them how brands should react to these additions.

Michael Lamp

VP, Social & Digital Media, Hunter Public Relations

The Larger View: At a high level, Lamp says, brand PR people should be happy that Instagram opened its advertising API to all advertisers a few months back. Prior to that, it hand-selected advertisers and those opportunities came with a high price tag. Now, Lamp says, brands with lower ad budgets can advertise on Instagram using module-style ads, similar to boosted posts on Facebook or promoted tweets.

  • Room With a View: Regarding carousel ads, Lamp sees them as “a unique unit because of the user experience. Instagram is a linear top-to-bottom experience on your mobile device; people thumb through it, as they do with Facebook and Twitter. But the carousel ad shakes you out of that experience” since you are able to swipe for more content. Most importantly, the carousel “makes episodic storytelling possible in one ad unit.” Lamp envisions auto companies using multiple images to show their cars from different angles and food brands being able to provide 5-step recipes. In addition, the last page can send consumers outside of Instagram’s four walls to a website to get more information. “It whets the consumer’s appetite to learn more…you can do that better with several photos as opposed to just one…it’s going to turn Instagram into more of a referral driver than ever.”
  • Holy Grail: Instagram’s curated video content feature should be an incentive for brand PR people to create great content. “If I’m lucky enough to be positioned within one of those curated collections it’s a bit of a holy grail of earned PR placement within Instagram.” Lamp feels the influencer route is the best way in. “I’m guessing they’ll be reluctant to let a lot of brand content in.”
  • I Heart Twitter: Likes as opposed to Favorites is mainly a moniker change, Lamp believes, but “brands will put a lot more stock in measuring [Likes],” he says. It won’t topple retweets or replies in prestige, but brands will be more interested in counting Likes than they were about Favorites. “Like feels inherently more like an endorsement.”

Allison Carraghan, Public Relations Manager, planit

  • Evolution: The carousel “is just the beginning” of allowing brands to have a deeper engagement with consumers, Carraghan says. Like Lamp, Carraghan sees carousel ads adding to brands’ storytelling ability, which “is what every brand wants…it will give brands longevity because consumers will engage more with stories and products when there is a series of photos as opposed to one image.” The curated feature, she ways, will allow brands to find their most loyal fans in that their videos likely will be featured.

Nicol Addison

Director, Corporate Communications, Lithium Technologies

  • Shock Absorbers: Addison is impressed with the way Instagram tested the curated content feature on Halloween. “It’s not too jarring...it’s respectful to the user, but it adds value for brands.” Will curated content become an everyday feature? “It’s less about when it happens and more about who’s allowed to [appear on] it,” she says. One of Instagram’s advantages over other social platforms, she says, is that users aren’t “inundated” with brands. Instead, brands on Instragram “really try to connect with customers.” This is why the carousel format will fit well, she says. It allows brands to tell stories in different ways and “identify your superfans and advocates, because those are the people that are interacting with the ads,” tapping on an icon to learn more. “Brands hadn’t been able to do that before” on Instagram. This also will help brands with measurement and metrics, she says. “Having the URL there lends itself to that.”
  • Storytelling: Addison sees carousel ads as “a chance for brands to go above and beyond” traditional product messages. A chance to “[show] what you are doing in CSR, what interesting ways consumers are using your products.” In sum, she says, “it’s about ‘how do you master the different platforms?’ This is the challenge for PR pros, to be ready and creative…it’s not just about logos anymore.”

CONTACT: mlamp@hunterpr.com anc@planitagency.com nicol.addison@lithium.com

This article originally appeared in the November 9, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.