Can you think of anything better than an evening spent discussing the social media industry and all things Instagram, aka everyone's favorite marketing channel and consumer app? We certainly cannot, and we're fairly positive that you'll all agree.
Last week in London, Dash Hudson partnered with global innovation and research advisory firm Stylus to gather some of the brightest experts on social marketing to do just that. The evening's host, Dash Hudson's very own senior marketing manager, Michaela Atkinson, sat down with three super pros: Stefanie Dorfer, retail editor at Stylus, Agata Narkowicz, director of influencer partnerships and marketing at TI Media, and Lisa Maynard-Atem, founder of social consultancy The Social Word and former Harrods social media manager.
They touched upon all facets of the social media industry and visual marketing, including strategy and trends in the fashion retail, publishing, media, and tech spaces. Because this was such a rich discussion, we did not want to miss the opportunity to recap some of our top learnings from the conversation.
Here we go!
Instagram has become an all-encompassing platform that allows brands access to so many tools that help them connect with consumers, and they're running with it. Whether it's designing a physical space or actual products, businesses are primarily thinking first and foremost about how the visual social channel is going to help propel their brand.
Stefanie from Stylus states that "as a research and innovation company, we track how Instagram is influencing brands, and we see that it's now part of the strategy of so many departments, from marketing to product design." The king channel encompasses myriad functionality for marketing teams to contend with, presenting them with really thrilling innovation opportunities.
TI Media's Agata explains that "we can develop a multifaceted narrative around what we do and have so many more ways to showcase brand personality." Prior to this, businesses weren't as fortunate to have such tools, which are now enabling brands "to reveal these extra pieces of information that didn't have a place in the past," she asserts.
Stefanie goes on to disclose that "brands are now focusing on product specifically designed for Instagram," something that would have been unheard of a mere few years ago, let's be real. Marketers have shifted towards a social first mentality—quite the one-eighty from the industry's first rumblings. "Social media used to be the last thing that brands thought about," recalls Lisa from The Social Word, "whereas now it's Instagram first and everything else follows."
There's no more questioning whether influencers are worth hiring—they are. But for campaigns to be effective, brands must first and foremost understand their Instagram goals. Leveraging a user's influence to drive business growth starts with identifying what they're realistically looking to get out of those partnerships. "When brands find that Instagram purpose, that's when they can really create value for audiences," quips Agata on the topic.
Working with the right people based on those goals is key to running a successful activation, and with all the unsavory, inauthentic practices happening in the influencer space, Agata mentions the importance of technology as it relates to vetting those tastemakers. "So much nowadays is about questioning how influencers acquired their audience," she observes, concluding that "you want to make sure that the people you work with are legitimate, and it's impossible to do this task manually. You need tech for that."
She goes on to say that influencers play a key role in branding, if only for having mastered the art of creating magical moments that inspire audiences. Tapping into their clout to spread the word about a cool new idea is a fantastic way to generate hype because their followers will want to discover it as well.
While proving the concrete return of those partnerships has been a difficult feat for marketers over the years, Agata states that "Instagram Stories have been a real game-changer, and from an influencer's perspective, it's a great way for them to prove ROI," especially thanks to the swipe-up functionality. "We see that influencers sell fashion items," she continues, "and now we can go back to our clients and say 'Look, this is working.'"
To survive in the social media industry and in business, marketers must be quick and adaptable. Lisa explains that brands can no longer afford to just feel their way around because everything moves at lightning speed, with teams required to strategize on a daily basis. "Agility is key," she says, "brands really have to be as quick as they can to adapt to new tools like Stories and IGTV when they're released," instead of waiting around to feel out usership.
To achieve social marketing greatness, team members need to be both awesome creatives and analytically-driven all at once—two qualities that are often mutually exclusive. "It's something we like to refer to here at Dash Hudson as the alchemy of creativity and data," discloses Michaela, and one of the best ways for brands to remain agile amidst an ever-changing landscape.
In fact, a big part of being a social media manager is sitting in front of a screen to analyze numbers and figures that will inform future strategy and creative decisions. These things can change from one day to the next, from one post to another. "One of the things I always say to people is that in social media, data is your best friend," specifies Lisa. It can make the difference between sink or swim, and that adaptability to the numbers is the secret to keeping things flexi and happening.
"You can have the fanciest videos, you can have the best content, you can have the most engaging visual, but without actually engaging in a dialogue, it's not really social and more of a one-way conversation," Lisa wisely articulates. Touché.
Some brands go about their business by logging on, posting, and logging off, without ever acknowledging fans that spend their hard-earned money on their products and their precious time on tagging them in their posts.
Brands that fail to interact with regular users are doing themselves a big disservice. "What's the big deal?" Agata rightfully declares, continuing: "It takes a split second, and then what happens—which I think is really profound—is that over time, people are more likely to buy from brands that have acknowledged them." Failing to foster their Instagram community is a missed business opportunity.
Having a member of your team dedicated to responding to comments and throwing down some double-taps on your audience's posts can elevate your social activity. "Carving out time to reply to users in real time is really important," advises Agata. "If you're posting but don't have time to reply to user comments, it's not great," explaining that it feels selfish on the brand's part to ask for likes without ever reciprocating. Point taken.
"Most social experts would agree that the solid foundation for Instagram marketing really is engagement," asserts Dash Hudson's Michaela. Stefanie mentions that she's seen brands use Instagram Stories to crowdsource and get followers involved in strategy and product by creating fun, interactive initiatives. Facilitating these kinds of moments by "talking to them in a very real and accessible way is the key to finding a path to them," she specifies.
Instagram provides all those tools for brands to be able to reach their audience and connect with them in meaningful ways, and it's up to marketers to make the most of the functionality. Lisa also brings up capitalizing on user-generated content, which can be paramount for quality follower interactions. It's a great way for businesses to engage back with their community and create that positive sentiment among followers, leading to brand loyalty.
Social media saturation is a real threat, as there are more and more brands trying to assert themselves through these channels. To paraphrase Lisa, if you're not creating quality content, you're creating noise. It's certainly becoming increasingly difficult to get your brand message out into world. "You have to compete with millions of other pieces of content," she states, going on to pose the million dollar question: "How are you going to elevate your message above all of that noise?"
Finding your purpose and point of differentiation is what will allow you to hone in on your perspective—aka why people will want to follow your brand journey. Lisa advises to lean into what makes your brand unique to perfect your narrative.
Artificial intelligence technologies were also brought up as a way to stand out because they help marketers improve and become more efficient in their role. "AI helps us make better visual choices," mentions Agata, mainly by "neutralizing opinions across a company," something that can often be the source of internal chaos. This confusion reflects into what the consumer sees, and only ends up creating additional noise in the space. The more concise and streamlined your strategy and decision-making, the higher the storytelling quality.
When discussing what's next for retail in the social media industry with our panel of experts, Stefanie forecasts that we are destined for an omnichannel shopping future. While Instagram's native shopping functionality is a polarizing one, even between our pros, it points to "making the consumer experience between channels as seamless as possible," she explains.
So what is that all going to look like moving forward? There's no question to Stefanie that "closing the gap between retail inspiration and being able to purchase, all within the same ecosystem, is the natural evolution for all product categories." Makes sense that if users are following brands on a social platform, that they'd be interested in having the option to take their discovery mindset to one of purchase.
There's no limit to where things can go with social marketing and the integration of retail opportunities within a brand's visual storytelling. Stefanie also broaches the topic of immersive technologies and augmented reality to facilitate those conversions.
Exciting things are coming, no doubt.