In the past month, I have returned four out of the five items that I have purchased online. Not because I enjoy making friends with the folks down at my local UPS store on Polk Street here in San Francisco, but because four out of the five items arrived astonishingly different from what I had been lead to believe I had ordered online. Whether it was the fit, feel, flush of the product, something was always off; the supposed “convenience” of shopping online sacrificed with the greater inconvenience and inevitable headache that goes along with a return.
Despite rich e-commerce experiences, we are still often at the mercy of how something looks photographed under the best of conditions, worn by that elite superhuman, the fashion model. And while most major retailers now include customer reviews to reduce the surprise of say, a pencil skirt that appears to be this season’s trending rich mustard color, but is in actuality a sad, awkward pea green, direct website shopping is only one of the places that today’s social customer goes to shop and be inspired.
While you may be tracking brand mentions, hashtags, and account growth on Instagram, have you considered that the potential of customer-generated photos - that is - real products on real people - to help drive discovery and purchase of your client’s wares? Despite reaching 4.5 million users as of March 2013, and more than 40 million images posted each day, and 8,500 likes per second, Instagram’s strengths from both a PR and marketing perspective remain relatively untapped. However, a few interesting new startups are taking advantage of Instagram’s community and visual appeal to extend the business use of everyone’s favorite photo filter app.
Shop and Share with GlowPanda
GlowPanda allows customers, bloggers, publishers, merchants to discover and share products through Instagram. In what is essentially a popularity contest via Instagram photos, consumers can use #GlowPanda to bookmark products they like. Products receiving the most #hashtags will appear on the GlowPanda feed along with answers to common Instagram questions like, “where can I get this?” or “who makes this?”
Pro: GlowPanda creates an accessible online marketplace that highlights content created by your brand’s community (also, who doesn’t love pandas?!) The site has already generated revenue via affiliate “big-gun” brands like Nordstrom, Nike, Adidas, NastyGal, and Michael Kors. Pretty impressive turnaround considering the company launched in August of 2012.
Con: We haven’t quite nailed down whether there is a great enough incentive for users to #hashtag an Instagram photo for GlowPanda purposes, which may raise questions about how much brand awareness is possible via GlowPanda. Perhaps it’s just too soon to tell.
Best For: Brands that already have robust affiliate marketing programs or nimble, smaller brands who are looking to increase discovery opportunities. Merchants and fashion bloggers can mail [email protected] to set up an affiliate account to start earning commissions on products you tag, so try it out and let us know how it goes!
Buy and Sell with Osom
Created by a couple of guys across the pond in Stockholm who also recognized Instagram’s potential for e-commerce, the Osom (pronounced Awesome!) app connects users solely for the purpose of selling and buying items via Instagram. The app allows users to follow what friends, favorite sellers and bloggers are offering, and also keeps track of most “Osom’d” items on an updated feed.
Pro: A sort of Craigslist meets Poshmark, the app could be an option to get rid of excess samples or seconds. The style mimics the artsy-hipster aesthetic and vibe of Instagram, offering similar filter options as well: perfect for the fashion market and all things a la mode.
Con: Well for starters, the payment process is a total free for all: buyers and sellers sort this out amongst themselves which might lead to some less than desirable conflict. Until the app makes more of a splash, we’re not really sure whether it can be used to successfully monitor and track brand growth, or whether it is more realistically limited to exchanges between independent sellers and consumers.
Best For: Designers just starting out, perhaps even particularly for jewelry designers who are using Facebook and the like to announce new inventory.
Incentivize Engagement with VenueSeen
This management and CRM tool allows brands to drive their Instagram campaigns by integrating generated content onto a company website. VenueSeen does the technical legwork, aggregating photos with specific hashtags onto a webpage. In terms of creative campaign development, VenueSeen suggests creating an incentive to drive followers (read: traffic) by incentivizing participants to claim their photos to unlock special prizes, like a coupon. Current client list including Bath and Body Works and Benefit Cosmetics.
Pro: By inviting your social customer base to verify their photos online, brands not only get connect the dots between Instagram and potential purchase or other desired actions, but doing to allows you to acquire valuable customer data, like an email address, as well as additional reporting. Brands also have the option to curate and organize all the photos that come in.
Con: According to CEO Brian Zuercher, the price for a campaign can range from just under $1000 a month to tens of thousands based on the scope and reach of a project.
Best For: Driving trial of a new product or generating a ton of user-generated content. Given the cost, VenueSeen is ideal for brands who have already amassed a large Instagram or social following, or know their capacity to drive participation and conversions through contests announced via email marketing. However, anyone with a bit of creativity, and ideally someone on the team who can leverage the API can develop similar campaigns.
Rate and Review with Olapic
Enterprise SaaS platform Olapic (which we covered back in March) allows brands to collect, curate, and showcase Instagram photos onto a client website or Facebook page. The NYC-based start up has been courting and winning with fashion brands, based on insights that "by having photos in the e-commerce experience, browsers are converting [into customers] at the rate of two or three times more than people who don’t interact with photos," a stat they recently shared with the Upstart Business Journal. Eech photo connects to the look (or similar) featured in the photo, and site visitors can vote and comment on these images.
Pro: Well, if a list of partner brands like Free People, Lululemon, Nasty Gal, and Dolls Kill doesn’t convince you, consider the business value of being able to get access to real-time customer feedback, and the popularity (ie profitability) of different items. Olapic's internal insights connect those crowdsourced photos to online sales and customer feedback.
Con: It's hard to think of a way in which inviting customer-generated photos, driving conversation about those photos and getting access to great data would be a bad idea....however, if your client is very uncomfortable with anything but positive accolades, or commands a particularly critical consumer base, you might end up dismissing more images than you approve, negating the value of the functionality. And although it would be great to believe this wasn't a genuine concern for many brands...perhaps some things are best left off of a website!
Best For: Established brands with a consumer base frenetic both about the brand and the perfect filter. A consistently updated inventory and willingness to show both positive and negative reviews will keep the momentum and credibility of the feed.
Track Results with Nitrogram
While each of the tools mentioned above come with their own analytics, it's important to incorporate Instagram reporting into your overal brand reporting.Nitrogram, the brainchild of the developers who brought you Instagram, will allow you to closely track and manage Instagram conversations, and provides through colorful graphs that make it easy to see account opportunities and insights. Any brand on Instagram should avail themselves of reporting functionality as a means to demonstrate growth, engagement and develop a sense of return on engagement, and Nitrogram provides the basics for free.
Hopefully these examples and tools have inspired you to rethink your Instagram strategy. While Pinterest seems to be the crowd favorite amongst online marketers and PR professionals, to drive referral traffic, the original content-element of Instagram takes the cake in customer retention. When it comes to sharing and spreading brand stories in an accessible and relatable style, fashion brands are learning just how powerful a tool Instagram can be. At the end of the day, a brand-tagged Instagram photo, regardless of the filter (assuming that pencil skirt isn’t filtered into a different hue entirely!) or who created it, has the potential to drive powerful engagement and even a direct sales channel. Instagram is Perfect for PR because it tells stories. Can you say La vie en Instagram? Oui oui!