With 600 million users and growing, Facebook-owned social media platform Instagram is an imagination-fuelled network with a simple and powerful visual style, and its favour among brands for creating connections with customers is on the up. According to research by GlobalWebIndex, half of active Instagram users follow at least one brand.

From app to purchase

To grasp the opportunity properly, however, requires a content strategy that suits these specific users. According to Instagram’s own statistics, 60% of users learn about new products through the platform, and if they are enthusiastic enough 75% actually take further steps.

Creativity matters

Posting stock images is unlikely to light the audience’s fire: Instagram users are moved more by inspiration. Scan Instagram and you may detect that products are rarely showcased too emphatically. Instead they are put into a context that highlights their fit into an on-brand lifestyle. A common practice for Ralph Lauren, Nike, Adidas or Vans is to depict their wares in real-life situations. Picture a first-time marathon runner with an appropriately Nike-like slogan on her shirt.

British start-up Shore Projects attributes their international success in part to the image-sharing website. Co-founder Jono Holt explains, ‘I think for us, if you think about our Instagram feed, it’s really our shop window.’

Scan the site and you’ll see retailers’ wares sharing space with products that belong to the same aspirational or stylistic space – see Xbox’s campaign for its customisable joypads.

Creating buzz

Launching contests where Instagrammers are encouraged to show their attachment to the brand is a good way to create organic buzz. Starbuck’s Christmas campaign saw countless users take selfies with the company’s limited-edition red cups.

An appropriate tagging strategy is important for identifying communities of potential customers. With a negligible marketing budget, the managers of Black Milk Clothing expect they would have struggled to reach an audience beyond their native Brisbane, Australia, without social media; a recent post is careful to add judiciously chosen hashtags: #blackmilkclothing, #rainbowhair, #cute and #unicorn.

Instagram is well aware of its importance to brands. Earlier this year it launched a feature in the US that allows vendors to augment their pictures with product information and a link to their website, paving the way to complete almost the entire shopping journey without leaving the platform. For now Instagram is like a glossy catalogue, but at this rate observers expect that it will become more of a marketplace that brands can hardly afford to ignore.