Instagram Lets Brands Get Personal with Followers

A stream of filtered photos can make for an intimate glimpse into a person’s life. Whether it’s globe-trotting vacations or a really great sandwich, people use Instagram to keep up with family and friends.

Users who are able to capture truly stunning photos with the app can also develop a following of complete strangers. The same opportunity is available for brands, and one business owner, Sam Maher, says brands that aren’t on Instagram now are making a huge mistake.

Maher runs Fluent City, a language school in New York, and has found that the most popular content isn’t always a direct representation of his brand — a picture of a cupcake does as well or better than something about language education.

On his own, Maher follows the colorful streetwear community and a couple in Memphis (her and him), which he calls his Instagram reality show, since they’ve developed a following simply by being charming people.

Some other hits are NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, which uses Instagram to share the most fascinating images from science, and educate followers at the same time.

The official account from HBO’s Girls is almost an ongoing scrapbook of the show, with memorable quotes superimposed on screenshots from each episode

Maher himself is a success story for brands like WestNYC, which he discovered by searching hashtags on Instagram and was in the store days later due of the brand’s great content.

Streetwear is a natural fit for Instagram’s visual interface, since personal accounts from industry personalities such as Dennis Todisco can double as the “what’s new” section of the clothing brand’s website — he’s simply out doing cool stuff and wearing the label’s latest attire.

Some brands take a step further and use Instagram to involve followers in the product, effectively enabling these devoted followers with influence.

NPR posted a note to its followers after the acquisition of Instagram, asking them to email a voice memo with their reactions — and used the voice memos on the air, said Andy Carvin, who manages the account along with a few others.

Burberry runs a series called “Art of the Trench,” which asked users to post street photos of trench coats with the hashtag #artofthetrench, essentially a celebration of the style for which Burberry is so well known.

Instagram may be one of the few places left on the internet where value is in being interesting, not loud, or posting at the ideal hour. Most of these popular acccounts only post a few times each week.

Even after its purchase by Facebook, Instagram continues to be the untainted network — no ads, and a single stream that does not allow for noise or clutter. That means that when a brand garners a spot on a user’s stream, it also earns full attention, and it is up to the brand to make that worthwhile.

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