Under the Influence of Instagram

In my earlier Insta Exploration posts, I highlighted how to create an Instagram account and manage its content (see: An Appetite for Insta) and dove into the why of its relevancy (see: Instagram Serves Up A Shared Experience). Now it's time to talk about the who of Instagram -- the influencers or the #InstaInfluencers.

I'm talking about influencers in these ways:

1. Those who drive content creation as a collective group or audience like teens and

2. Those who drive behavior as a business, brand, celebrity or bloggers. \

3. Those who drive stories, like a collaboration of brands and micro-influencers working together

Influencers of Content

When I think about the best brand or company-owned Instagram accounts, they're the ones paying attention to their audiences. These brands could certainly be viewed as influencers, but to me the more interesting trend is the voice of the individual (or group of individuals, like teens) as influencers who are driving the content these brands create. Starbucks paid attention to their audience recently and invented a drink based on their teen and tween consumers' trending love of unicorns. They successfully harnessed the power of the unicorn with The #Unicornfrappuccino, which hit nearly 160,000 posts in its 5-day run in April 2017 (See my taste test and review: Pink Unicorns and Purple Rain).

Influencers of Behavior

Aside from celebrities of the affluent, actor and athlete types, examples of individual influencer categories owning Instagram are foodies, fashionistas, travelers and beauty bloggers. These Instagrammers not only have top accounts in Instagram, they own and create broader, more in-depth content in the form of blogs, vlogs, photography and publications including their own books. They have personal brands from My Life As Eva (@mylifeaseva) with 5.4M followers to Rachel Levin (@rclbeauty101) with 3.8M followers. These influencers drive behavior based on their personal brand and may or may not be paid by brands to endorse specific products and services.

In the business world, brands have sought out many of these top influencers to endorse their product or service. But the price tag is often too high. Brands like Jim Beam with their version of the Apple Watch went after huge celebrities for endorsement and then abandoned that strategy for a lesser known Instagram weapon, Mila Kunis. She's a popular brand in her own right with her own Insta account, but that account doesn't capitalize on her humor -- one of her best assets.Jim Beam's creative team in Minneapolis (featured at the Social Media Breakfast in March 2017, #SMBMSP98) saw an opportunity to channel that humor into their brand campaign for the Apple Watch, with huge success and at a reasonable cost. Jim Beam's Insta account has 77.5K followers and Mila continues to rep the brand with her most recent feature just two weeks ago.

Influencers of Stories

The gap between the two types of influencers (content drivers and behavior drivers) in the Instagram space is lessening and content is becoming more reflective. It's opening up new doors for a third type of influencer: a micro-influencer (thank you, Arik Hanson for our conversation on this topic).

Micro-influencers on Instagram are individuals with strong followings who post consistently and have a reputable personal brand, often with a passion for a few select themes like biking, beer, books or baristas. They are sharing lifestyle imagery, experiences, stories and content. And what they share is generally more accessible than other social media channels like LinkedIn or Facebook, which require friending and linking to see content.

I recently heard the term #StorySparking (thank you, Bridget Jewell of Periscope). As Sparktracker, I was drawn to it. The concept asserts that we've moved beyond storytelling to a pivotal place where our content exists to spark others to create their own story. In the Starbucks example, they saw their audience's obsession with the unicorn and reflected that back in a glorious, sugary, playful beverage which indeed sparked many stories and loads of user-generated content and feedback (without, may I add, having to survey their audience - - bonus!). In the Jim Beam example, through humor and a very specific suggested use of their product, people just knew how to respond -- create their own video of their Jim Beam Apple Watch in action.This more reflective and specific approach is working in brands' favor. Rather than paying top dollar for mass influencers, brands can tap into micro-influencers to create and share rich content. Give your audience something they asked for or a task with just enough direction and bam! -- you get a load of creative content and insight.

As a brand, consider reaching out to your micro-influencers to offer them a meaningful way (incentive-based or other) to engage with you in some way. Whether it's a shot of espresso or apple bourbon, envision your brand under the influence of micro-influencers. How might that spark others to create their own story with your brand?

---Cheers to more micro in the marketplace!