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If Instagram Likes Go Away, It’s the Beginning of the End for Influencers

Late last week, a TechCrunch story made the rounds on Twitter that Instagram was considering removing the likes count from organic feed posts. Jane Manchun Wong shared screen shots that indicated she was part of a test that was evaluating this concept.

Per the screen shot, Instagram said: “We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get.”

That sounds benevolent, and it aligns with all of the studies that suggest social media is stressing people out. But as is seemingly the case with everything else involving Facebook/Instagram changes, the ulterior motive probably boils down to one thing.

Money.

Consider this: The first thing any marketer looks at when evaluating an Instagram post, feed or influencer is engagement rate, a quick measurement of how many people, as a percentage of a feed’s overall following, like or comment on a post. If you can’t tell who’s got engagement and who doesn’t, it makes working with an influencer far less appealing. 

It also becomes more likely that spends once earmarked for influencers will instead become direct ad buys with the platform itself.  Measuring the true ROI of influencer marketing is hard enough. Removing critical data from the equation would only exacerbate this problem.

Estimates say the Instagram Influencer industry is already worth $2-5 billion annually, and will become a $10 billion industry by 2020. Facebook currently doesn’t see a dime of that market. But a major change to Instagram’s platform like this would quickly derail this growth and presumably start to redirect these spends to Zuckerberg’s coffers instead. 

If like counts do go away, what becomes of Instagram Influencers? If they’re not already looking to conquer new territory, they should be. Short-from video sharing network TikTok is probably the most obvious landing spot, and Facebook recently launched “Lasso,” a TikTok competitor. Anyone who’s serious about being an influencer has a vested interest in skating to where the puck is going to be, and taking their followers with them.

The question is, will Instagram take this drastic step? I think they’ll keep it in their back pocket for a while. But it feels inevitable.

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Advertising Brand Marketing Content Database Marketing Digital Marketing Facebook Google+ Influencers Instagram Internet iPhone LinkedIn Marketing Mobile ROI Search Engine Marketing SEO Snapchat Social Media Storytelling Technology Television Twitter Uncategorized Video YouTube

I (Don’t) Want My IGTV

Despite massive popularity, unrivaled cultural relevance and a billion daily active users, Instagram can’t seem to figure out long-form video. Specifically, its “IGTV” platform, which originally launched as a standalone app in June (remember that?) is largely being ignored by users, at least if multiple media reports (New York Magazine, Fast Company) are to be believed. 

Small sample-size? Sure. But the numbers aren’t encouraging when so few show have shown any interest in IGTV.

We don’t have much else to go on. Despite scouring the internet, I couldn’t find a credible reporting of IGTV’s monthly active users (MAUs). Presumably, that would indicate that the number is underwhelming, and as such, it hasn’t been released. I found a random tweet that pegged it around 65 million, but that number is unsubstantiated and seems unlikely. 

Quick, informal polls on my Twitter and Instagram feeds suggested the same conclusion. 

In my own Instagram story and Twitter feed last week, I asked followers, most of whom work in the digital marketing space, if they actually use IGTV. Of 40 responses to my Instagram story poll, only one person acknowledged actually watching the IGTV platform. 

At 2.5% percent, that’s about as effective as a PPC ad. That’s not what we industry types call a great conversion rate.

On Twitter, most replies were “Nope.” Others suggested that they’d only landed on IGTV accidentally.

Instagram launched IGTV to much fanfare midway through 2018, with analysts proclaiming it to be a potential YouTube competitor. That didn’t pan out. Almost a year later, the platform feels like, at best, an afterthought, and at worst, a miscalculation. When the initial standalone app failed to take off, IGTV was more deeply integrated into into the main Instagram experience.

However, IGTV doesn’t seem to be resonating with rank-and-file Instagram users. 

Early on, Instagram was preaching patience. â€œIt’s a new format. It’s different. We have to wait for people to adopt it and that takes time,” former Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told TechCrunch in August of 2018. “Think of it this way: we just invested in a startup called IGTV, but it’s small, and it’s like Instagram was (in the) ‘early days.’”

A month later, Systrom, along with Instagram Co-founder Mike Krieger, left Facebook, Instagram’s parent company.

So, is IGTV the new Google+? It’s likely too early to tell, but it’s looking that way.

Instagram’s main feed and Stories products have become symbiotic with the influencer community, and IGTV seems tailor-made for brands and influencers to offer longer-form content; videos can be up to an hour long. However, the people who should have the most interest in the new platform, creators themselves, are mostly just repurposing (read: cropping vertically) their YouTube content

Without a clear monetization path, they’re unlikely to continue to put any real effort into the platform. Top talent on YouTube can make six figures or more a month.

IGTV isn’t the first time that Facebook has swung and missed on long-form content. Facebook Watch, which was also positioned as a YouTube competitor, initially was paying content providers, with an estimated budget of $90 million. But as that money started drying up, outside of truly unique content like Tom Brady’s “Tom vs. Time,” “Ball in the Family” or WWE’s “Mixed Match Challenge”, there wasn’t much to see on Watch.

IGTV is not paying content creators, and it still lacks an advertising or revenue-sharing model. (UPDATE: On April 2, AdAge reported that Instagram has started to reach out to advertisers about buying spots on IGTV.)

Far more problematic beyond a revenue model is the main issue for influencers: If nobody’s watching, who’s being influenced?  Is there really a long-form content appetite to be fed on Instagram via the smartphone?

Depending on which gurus you believe, millennials either want “snackable” short-form content, or they actually want long-form content. Go ahead: Google “longform video making a comeback.” You’ll find articles from 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018 in the first page of results.

Gary Vaynerchuk has embraced the platform, but many creators have already given up on IGTV.

But here’s the thing: Long-form content never went anywhere. With apologies to L.L. Cool J, don’t call it a comeback. Long form content has been here for years. It’s called YouTube. And why is YouTube so successful?

One word: search. YouTube is the second-biggest search engine in the world, trailing only its parent company, Google.

IGTV, in an effort to differentiate itself from YouTube, launched without proper search functionality. In fact, when you activate IGTV, it opens with static fuzz, like what you would see when you turned on a TV with a cable box back in 1983 and flipped through channels, not knowing what you’re going to get next.

“Because we don’t have full text search and you can’t just search any random thing, it’s about the creators” Systrom explained at the time of the launch. “I think that at its base level that it’s personality-driven and creator driven means that you’re going to get really unique content that you won’t find anywhere else and that’s the goal.”

Search has since been added to IGTV (and it quickly auto-suggests feeds that create IGTV content), but when I opened IGTV over the weekend, I was served up content from ESPN, WWE, Gary Vaynerchuk and The Daily Show. 

This is all content I can find everywhere else, on Twitter, television, Linkedin, etc.

Discoverability is one of the main issues that’s continued to plague Snapchat, and seems to be hurting IGTV as well. With all of the choices we have today, am I going to invest five minutes into a random piece of longform content that an algorithm thinks I want to watch? Possibly.

The likelihood increases dramatically, however, if it’s something I’ve searched out.

With all of the data these major platforms have at their disposal, why do they continue to make such large errors in assessing what their users actually want? Why do they fail in targeting new spaces like Google did with social, or Instagram seems to be doing with long-form video?

In reading about the Google+ failure, one anonymous former Googler said the company was “late to market” and motivated from “a competitive standpoint” as they looked to take on Facebook.

If you’ve never read this infamous tweetstorm from another former Google+ engineer, it describes office politics, siloed teams and a lack of clear vision as major factors in the demise of Google’s failed social network. Here’s the start of that thread:

Given the recent Instagram drama surrounding the founders’ departure from Facebook, it’s likely that similar forces were at play with IGTV.

Whatever the reason, IGTV hasn’t lived up to the hype of last year’s launch, and it may never take off at all. Instagram itself doesn’t seem to be losing steam. But they badly misread the market and their users’ appetite (or lack thereof) for long form content. 

The lesson might be this: You don’t have to be all things to all people.

Or, as Facebook Watch’s LaVar Ball says, “Stay in yo’ lane!”

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Advertising Brand Marketing Branding Digital Marketing Marketing Photography Storytelling

Chasing snow at Zion National Park: How to market a unique experience

Here’s a dirty little secret of marketing: When you get a “limited-time offer,” it’s generally because sales are slow, and not because quantities are actually running out, or in short supply.

Marketing is all about creating urgency. In most cases, though, that urgency is manufactured. Or it’s totally imaginary.

Sometimes, however, opportunities pop up that have a legitimately limited shelf-life, or are truly rare. So you either have to act now or miss out.

This week, I got an email from a photography tour company that I’d used before, alerting me to a rare snowfall in Zion National Park. The email featured a few amazing pictures of Zion under snow and the following text:

“Alright everyone, this is the week to be in Zion and Bryce if you’ve ever wanted photos of this area under snow.  The combo of red rock and fresh snow produces vibrant, poppy images of this landscape.  Living in the area for the past 9 years, this is the wettest and coldest stretch of time I’ve experienced in the winter time.  We usually get one or two winter storms a year that produces snow that sticks in Zion, and within one, maybe two days it has melted away.”

The email continued, telling customers that even if they didn’t purchase a tour, they should make the effort to get to the park to see it for themselves.

“Even if you don’t join us for a tour, we HIGHLY recommend visiting this week for a multitude of days to be able to experience this event.  To be clear, to have this much snow, for this long in Zion is extremely rare.  Get it while it’s good.”

On the surface, the email was selling a photo class, but it was really selling an experience. And quite frankly, this email sold me instantly. As a photography enthusiast, I’ve been to Zion before, but hadn’t had the opportunity to shoot in these types of conditions. With winter winding down, it was too good to pass up. I had to go. My next chance to capture this type of moment may not come for another year, or perhaps much longer.

So I made the short drive to Zion Thursday night and woke up at 5 AM for a 6 AM excision into the park to capture sunrise and morning light around the park on a guided one-on-one photo tour. It was extremely cold, which I was prepared for, but the beauty of Zion under snow was something for which I was not completely prepared.

It was breathtaking.

The tour itself was outstanding, as my guide Seth took me to a great spot to capture the morning light of sunrise, and had planned out several options for both the morning and sunset sessions.

The day was a memorable, unique experience, and I’m very happy with the results of the photos I captured. The day was well worth the price of admission. I’ve now got a batch of amazing photos that captured the memory of seeing one of America’s best national parks under a blanket of snow.

I really appreciated spirit of the email alert. It provided valuable information, alerting me to a truly exclusive opportunity, and they didn’t hard-sell me. Instead, they appealed to my passion for photography and the desire to capture a rare moment, and provided a service even if I didn’t make a purchase. Seth just wanted his customers to know that they shouldn’t miss a rare opportunity to capture Zion this week. I really appreciated that.

That’s how you build and maintain a relationship with a customer. I’m already thinking about when I can sign up for another photography class.

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Advertising Analytics Brand Marketing Branding Conferences Digital Marketing Influencers Instagram Internet Marketing ROI Social Media Uncategorized

Speaking on Instagram Influencers at Digital Summit Phoenix this week

I’m looking forward to speaking Tuesday morning at Digital Summit Phoenix, where I’ll present on Instagram Influencers. I’ll share research and insights from Instagram Influencers about how they like to work with brands, and teach you how to spot fake followings.

For more details, check out the session description below.

Need a speaker at your next digital marketing conference? Let’s chat.


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Advertising Analytics Brand Marketing Branding Digital Marketing E-Commerce Internet Marketing Mobile Social Media Technology Uncategorized

Burger King’s unique Location-Based #WhopperDetour promotion gives customers a reason to download app

Burger King made news this week by offering up its iconic Whopper sandwich for just one cent on their mobile app. It’s an incredible deal. 

The catch is, you can only get this deal once, and you can only get it at… McDonalds???

In a clever technology/PR stunt, Burger King’s #WhopperDetour promotion geofenced about 14,000 McDonalds locations in the U.S. inside its mobile app. When users get to within 600 feet of a McDonalds, they can activate the one-cent promotion in the Burger King app, then head to the nearest BK to get the deal.

I’m not a big fast food guy myself, but I am fascinated by mobile marketing, and it was a unique promotion that leveraged technology. So I downloaded the Burger King app and tried it out this week to see how seamless the experience would be. And hey, can you argue with a $0.01 Whopper? 

I did a little research in Google Maps to find a Burger King that was near a McDonalds in Las Vegas, and found one about 5 minutes away from me. So I made the drive to Micky Ds.

As I pulled up next door, I re-opened the app and clicked on the promotion. It immediately confirmed that I’d unlocked my #WhopperDetour deal, and then provided me with a link to navigate to a nearby Burger King. 

So far, so good! It then asked whether I wanted Drive-Thru, Dine-In or Take Out. After that, I started to make my order, and grabbed my $0.01 Whopper, and added some chicken tenders and a drink. Total cost: $2.49. Not too shabby.

Except the kicker was coming, and I assumed it would be around the corner: Burger King wanted my data. This was not entirely surprising, but as a new user of the app who downloaded it just a few minutes ago, I will say, it almost caused me to abandon ship. 

After all, why not just have a Big Mac here instead? I’m already 600 feet from McDonalds…

Quite frankly, this is where the promotion may backfire for Burger King. Some people just aren’t willing to give away their data in exchange for a “free” Whopper. The marketer in me was willing to do it to evaluate the promotion, but otherwise, I would have likely just hit the road, or enjoyed a full-price Big Mac and called it a day.

So I started the sign-up process, and hey, there’s a Facebook Connect option. One click. Let’s try that.

Not so fast!

Facebook wouldn’t log me in. So I had to sign up, with a name, email, zip code, password and my credit card info on the next screen. 

(Apparently you can’t just drop a penny on the counter for your Whopper. I had one ready to go.)

Finally, I was able to complete my order. 

Time to drive to Burger King! 

The restaurant I’d picked was about 5 minutes away. The app gives you a direct link to Apple Maps to get you turn-by-turn directions to the store. Nice and easy. Well done, BK.

The app also gives you an hour to go complete the mission, and there’s a countdown clock in the bottom of the screen to let you know how much time you’ve got left to cash in on the deal.

When you get to Burger King, you check in with the red button, which charges your card and lets the store know you’re actually going to pick up your meal.

As I walked in the store, I hit the button, and seconds later, a receipt automatically printed at the counter. 

My app confirmed on screen that Order 86 was being prepared. “We’re preparing your order now. Please give your name to a BK Staff member and let them know you placed a mobile order.”

I told them I had ordered on the app, and the cashier told me it would be a few minutes.

Finally, mission accomplished.

Overall, it’s a clever promotion, and it certainly generated plenty of media attention. It got me to download the app out of curiosity, and spend $2.49 for a quick meal. The location aspect of the promotion worked seamlessly, but the logistics of setting up an account in the app slowed the process down quite a bit, and as I said earlier, almost made me abandon the whole thing, and even made me consider eating at their competitor’s store.

While I appreciate their desire for data collection, in this case, it may have been more effective to just allow customers to claim the deal, and pay however they wanted to when they get to Burger King.

The promotion ends on December 12, and apparently, you can only cash in on it once. According to CNN, 50,000 people have already redeemed the promotion. 

While it’s a little wonky from an execution standpoint, it got people talking about Burger King this week, and it gave customers a reason to download their app, which is not easy to do. Mobile apps have to solve problems and complete tasks to earn a spot on consumer’s home screen.

At least for one day, Burger King got their app on my phone. That’s half the battle.