Instagram marketing is booming more than ever, as brands set their targets on the nearly 1 billion monthly active users the platform has today. The biggest trend? A third of users are addicted to stories, watching the content with a 24-hour time stamp on a daily basis.  And, unsurprisingly, almost 90% of business stated in a recent survey that they want to increase posting stories, too.

Yet with marketing departments thrown in the annual holiday frenzy, there is immense pressure on social media strategists to come up with the most engaging content for stories. Marketers who are keen to get their slice of the estimated  $720 billion of holiday retail sales in the US have to be creative to compete for the attention of customers. But there are lots of conflicting ideas about the best ways to do so.

For example, have you heard that images where blue is the dominant color perform 24% better than those with high concentrations of red and orange? Or that the rather dull #goodmorning, #mood and #work featured among the most used hashtags?

Rather than revamping the entire social media strategy based on these random facts that marketers get bombarded with, it is worthwhile spending five minutes to take a closer look at three common myths on how to boost stories – and why they should be debunked.

Myth No. 1: Invest in spotless content

Chances are high you are one of the more than 90 million followers of the National Geographic social media team, who are drawing their compelling pictures from the most talented photographers around the world. In fact, @NatGeo is so ubiquitous, it has become the most successful Instagram account (just after Instagram itself) by the number of followers. It is easy to falsely deduct that the key to success is simply choosing the most beautifully polished photo or video.

This might have been what The Guardian thought, too, when it started to invest heavily in creating carefully produced videos – think properly scripted studio shots, similar to a TV format. Yet after re-evaluating their strategy, they found that ‘keeping it simple’ was the much better credo for them: Static graphics or quick video explainers had a much better completion rate and overall better return on investment.

For inspiration, it might be worthwhile to consider other accounts that prove extremely successful: Victoria Secret, for example, leading the list of most interactions in the fashion industry and using posts and stories that have a very clean look – one item, a sticker, hashtag, ready. Or pages such as wordporn, with about 10 million interactions – solely relying on quotes in black typewriter-style letters on white background.

Content is king – but rather than believing it will be measured against a universal beauty standard of “Instagrammability”, good content is simple but convincing, clean but creative and containing a clear brand message.

Myth No. 2: Social Influencers are a must

Influencers are a new-age phenomena that has emerged alongside the Instagram hype. And it would be easy to belive that just like hashtags and stamps, they are an ubiquitous part of any social media strategy. Influencers have doubtless emerged as a new and exciting tool for marketeers. However, in pursuing these uber-hip individuals brands may quickly lose sight of the central question – who do they actually want to reach, and what message do they want to tell.  

As a general rule, influencers are often more appropriate for the youngest segment, but less for older generations. Generation Z, born approximately from the mid-nineties onwards, seem to favor influencer marketing – but millenials prefer a more direct brand-to-consumer approach, studies find. And these are very broad categories grouped only by a single metric, namely age. Considering income, location, family status, brand preferences or any other typical segmenting category of the marketing toolbox may lead to even more divergence.

“The golden rule to keep in mind is that social content must be targeted”, explains Joe Carrozza, Co-founder of bidpin, a company advising brands on their social media strategies. “Get to know your target group, and analyze how your message is performing with them.”

Second, even if the target group has avid followers of Instagram influencers, the fit with the brand and its message must also be evaluated. A tale of social media fails is Milka’s influencer campaign, asking popular lifestyle influencers to drop their green smoothies and chia puddings for sugary chocolate bars – the result being equally unauthentic and embarrassing.

Myth No. 3: The best stories have the largest reach

Myth No. 1 & 2 show that the art of a good social media strategy is often misunderstood. Unfortunately, the science is as well: While many marketers are eager to grow the reach of their stories, the quality of engagement arguably matters even more.

Impressions or reach tell us how many eyes have looked at your content. Not less, but also not more. However, it fails to inform brands who these eyes actually belonged to (ideally – a potential customer?), what did they thought of it, and most importantly, whether this content actually contributed to business goals – such as the download of an app, a purchase in a store, driven by the content. In short, the real ROI.

Compared to the standard Instagram posts, evaluating the quality of engagement with stories can be tricky – there is no ‘like’ or comment section, so marketers sometimes falsely believe that they are only left with reach. However, the first thing to look at is the ‘tap’ statistics: If users are using the forward-tap a lot, content may be too long, or simply not interesting.

Backwards tap, on the other hand, mean that they actually want to watch it again – which can almost be equated to the missing ‘heart’ icon.

If the Instagram story contained a call to action, this will be the most important aspect to look at. For about 60% of brands, this will come in the form of linking to an online shop; other popular redirections are blogs or app stores. While Instagram Insights, the build-in analytics tool, will not share data on links, adding a Google UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) is a good workaround. By adding this parameter to links you share, the traffic coming from Instagram stories can later be identified and analyzed in Google Analytics.

A bonus: This allows you not only to check the number of clicks, but also the session duration on your page – another good indicator whether the story content was well-aligned with the message you wanted to give and the target audience you wanted to reach.

With so much business potential on offer, the annual holiday season is the time many brands are keen to boost their marketing campaigns on social media. While there is more to Instagram marketing that meets the eye, smart marketers will have to really stay on top of trends to stand out from the Christmas crowd this year.

Disclosure: This article includes a client of an Espacio portfolio company.

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