Instagram Photos of You

Matthew Witt is the Executive Vice President, Director of Digital Integration at TRIS3CT, a full-service advertising and promotions agency in Chicago and Los Angeles.

While most marketers have focused on Twitter and Facebook as social channels for their brands, Instagram has skyrocketed in popularity, particularly among the coveted Millennial audience, because it enables them to express the very unique way each user sees and experiences the world.

If Twitter and Facebook are truly about me-based, outbound expression, telling the rest of the world what you’re doing and thinking, then Instagram is about the inbound experience, what you’re observing and taking in that makes you want to share that moment with everyone else.

That critical distinction makes Instagram a special opportunity for marketers to craft visual narratives at the intersection of brands and people. It’s an opportunity that has increased with the recent introduction of “Photos of You.” This feature allows users to tag other people in their photos similarly to the way they can do so on Facebook (Instagram’s parent company).

Following the announcement of the new feature last week, Ad Age speculated that Nike, as an example, could tag LeBron James in one of its images. This model, building engagement around celebrity sponsorship, is similar to an existing practice on Instagram, in which celebrities with vast numbers of followers are paid to share branded photos. Those images are essentially visual versions of celebrities’ paid tweets about certain products and services. Such an approach to creating compelling social content is questionable.

Ultimately, a blatant paid endorsement strategy is not as authentic as the kind of engagement I envision with the “Photos of You” feature.

Imagine instead if Nike chose to post a photo of a high-school gymnasium scoreboard, one that seemed like random Americana to everyone but those who played under it. And what if Nike celebrated a few unknown fans by tagging that photo with a handful of its almost 1.4 million followers, a group of normal student athletes who played in that same gym, all working hard to “find their greatness?”

Nike as a brand sees the world through the lens of human potential, and the content they share must reflect that. While LeBron James is a magnificent athlete and a terrific choice to represent Nike, selling a brand within a particular platform should adhere to the principles that make that platform captivating. A barefaced advertisement simply does not constitute engagement.

Just this week, Ohio State University uploaded a gigapixel panoramic photo of commencement to its website and asked the class of 2013 to tag themselves in the photo using Facebook. Although Facebook is a different platform, that tactic represents the kind of interaction and social storytelling that earns traction for a brand.

“Photos of You,” like most attributes of successful social networks, is about evolving and enhancing the experience for the people who live their digital lives through it, not the advertisers that hope to leverage it. So, like every good piece of socially driven content creation, brand storytelling that is authentic to the experience, the people who use it, and the true promise of the brand that brings it to life will be what succeeds.

As the EVP, Director of Digital Integration at Trisect, he spearheads digital thought-leadership, collaborating with the all departments and disciplines to develop and execute digitally-focused, integrated platforms for our clients.

Matthew WittBefore joining Tris3ct, Matt was the VP, Director of Creative Innovation for Y&R, where he worked across all accounts in the Chicago office and also collaborated on other WPP network projects. He can be reached at @MatthewWitt on Twitter.