Emerging Communication Tool: Instagram

By: Jordan McDonald & Erik Snucins


Instagram allows its users to apply attractive digital filters to mobile photos. In a nutshell, it acts as a photo sharing and social networking service that allows users to: take photos with their mobile phones and share the photos on a variety of different social networking sites and applications (Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare). The application was launched on October 6, 2010 and now has over 100 million accounts registered. Instagram has reported that over 150 million photos have been uploaded since its inception. In December 2011, Instagram was also named “App of the year” by Apple Inc.


To start off, here are some quick statistics that show why a marketer should consider using Instagram (McGee, 2012).

-There are already 100 million users and there is a growth rate of 2 million per month

-Instagram is quickly outgrowing Foursquare, the largest mobile social network

-91% of people have their mobile phones within reach 24 hours a day and 25% of people have abandoned their computers for exclusive use of mobile devices

With millions of users, Instagram has become a primary channel for brands to communicate messages to their target audiences. Instagram has proven to be a perfect way to share a company’s brand, their products, and any additional content that helps engage consumers. There are many different ways that Instagram can help to improve a business’s communication strategy, however for the sake of space, we will highlight three main ways a company can use Instagram to achieve their marketing goals.

#1: Use Instagram Profiles and Feed to Reach a Wider Audience

The fact that the Instagram feed is available on Android and iPhone devices, Google Play, and the Internet gives marketers access to a wide variety of ways that consumers can interact with their brand. It allows businesses to “take advantage of the increased real estate” to help “tell a story with the images” (Sprung, 2013). Instagram provides an exceptional platform that allows companies to give their consumers a better look at their brand. An Instagram profile makes it easy for companies to create and solidify brand associations by making the brand story more transparent and visible.

#2: Create Engagement With Content

Instagram has become a very popular platform for improving brand engagement. Posting new product pictures, offering promo codes, and offering photo contests are some popular ways companies are utilizing Instagram to do this. Lately, Instagram has become a popular platform to use for photo contests.

#3: Feature Customers

“Customers are your brand’s greatest advocates and are a great way to tell your company’s story from the perspective of someone outside the company” (Sprung, 2013). Instagram allows companies to post pictures of customers to help showcase what the true experience with their brand is like. This feature helps to solidify the brand story and allows a company to better connect with their audience.     


Instagram complements other marketing communication tools perfectly. One of its main functions is that it allows users to share photos quickly and on multiple platforms at once. This means that photos taken with Instagram can be shared with other social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and even Foursquare. Therefore, Instagram helps a business to round out its social media strategy by allowing them to extend their reach and their quality of content.

Instagram can help companies to achieve many different communication objectives. To start, it helps companies increase their brand awareness since it gives them the opportunity to be in front of a greater number of people. Secondly, Instagram helps to create and stimulate interest. Women’s clothing store Topshop is a prime example of this. They have used Instagram by posting pictures of clothes, accessories, and even customers shopping. This has resulted in a high follower count and thousands of likes and comments on each picture. Lastly, Instagram helps companies to reinforce their brand image and brand story. The application gives companies an opportunity to inspire consumers by creating stories through photographs. The North Face case below is a prime example of this.


Instagram is an interesting communication tool due to the fact that, unlike other social media devices, the communication that is being conveyed is almost purely through pictures and visuals with the exception of the usage of hash tags and the ability to comment on the pictures. This is advantageous for users of Instagram because instead of their followers having to search through a few levels to find the pictures, they have the visuals right there on the main page. One of the main trends that this plays into is the use of creative imagery with minimal text within marketing communications. Instagram accommodates this external trend with extreme effectiveness by allowing users to access endless pictures on their mobile device, which is intriguing and opens up new opportunities for companies to infiltrate the daily lives of consumers. Another trend that Instagram capitalizes on is the fact that consumers in the modern age have a very low attention span and as a result, they want their media instantaneously. Instagram provides a fresh way to display photos that can be modified and uploaded in a matter of seconds. This means that there can be a real-time update of any event sent out to Instagram. Therefore, given the impatience of today’s consumers, Instagram is a great way for users to get messages across quicker than with Twitter or Facebook. As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Instagram is also accommodating to many of the market factors that are occurring in the marketing world and beyond, and offers a fresh new way for businesses to interact with their customers. One big factor that determines how successful a marketing campaign is, is how creative it is. Instagram certainly has an extremely large allowance for creativity, be it through the effects that are placed on the photo, what the photo actually consists of, or how they choose to get the consumers to interact with the account. To expand on this, companies are trying to get the consumers more involved to make them feel like a part of the brand and to try to develop a relationship that will translate into future loyalty. Instagram accommodates this by allowing companies to use hash tags to have fans of the company send photos in to engage more with the brand. This is seen in the Levi Strauss photo contest where the company asks followers to send in pictures of themselves and they will choose one person to be the next model for the company. In addition to this advantage that Instagram can give, it can also generate awareness of a product or campaign and allow for the ability to spread an idea to a very large market in a very small amount of time. This is a market factor because every company is pushing to get their new products or initiatives seen by as many people, as quickly as possible. The ability to measure effectiveness of an ad or campaign is also possible by estimating how many people saw the picture based on followers and comments. Companies can use these metrics to look for correlations in sales, which is also very important in today’s market where effective spending and effective analysis is necessary.


The marketing tool of Instagram is a medium which businesses can effectively use, however there are a couple limiting factors that could present risks or barriers for adoption. First of all, Instagram is limited in the sense that it has only recently been available for more than Apple products and is still not available on Windows Phones. In addition to this, Instagram has only been available on mobile devices until one week ago when they expanded into web profiles. This means it will take some time to build its presence on the web and acquire the same following as on their mobile application. Companies that have an older demographic that perhaps are not as well versed in social media or in the abilities of their mobile devices or have no interest in accessing social media on the internet, may not benefit from having an account and displaying their products or promotions via Instagram. In addition to this they may not receive any return on their investment if they spend a substantial amount of time or money in promoting or facilitating their Instagram marketing efforts. Futhermore, a barrier to adoption could also be the fact that it will take some engaging content for companies to draw in enough users to make the application worthwhile and to make it an effective platform to promote the company. This will require posting pictures that gain attention and are attractive enough to elicit followers and a significant amount of traffic on the company’s Instagram account.


The North Face is an American outdoor company that focuses on bringing consumers performance apparel, equipment and footwear. As part of their marketing campaign, The North Face has recently chosen to utilize Instagram. They have decided to try and engage their consumers by bringing them to places they have never seen, via Instagram. They are also giving users access to their favorite athletes and helping them to discover new ones as well. The North Face did this by creating an Athlete Instagram Field Team to contribute mobile photos from interesting places across the globe. The North Face’s goal is to utilize this tool to engage customers with the brand and to inspire people to “get outdoors, and get after it.” The North Face has successfully used professional athletes to create deeper connections with their consumers. In addition, they have also solidified a more natural and complete brand story. The North Face shows their athletes challenging themselves and inspires their followers to go out and challenge themselves as well. Therefore, The North Face uses Instagram to provide a fresh new way for consumers to interact with their brand. This helps to increase brand awareness, strengthen the company’s philosophy, engage the consumer, and strengthen the brand as a whole.

This example helps to further solidify how Instagram is an emerging communication tool that is useful for any company.


McGee1, Matt. "Social Network Demographics: Pew Study Shows Who Uses Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest & Others." Marketing Land. N.p., 14 Sept. 2012. Web. 14 Feb. 2013.

Sprung, Rachel. "5 Ways Marketers Can Use Instagram." Social Media Examiner RSS. N.p., 23 Jan. 2013. Web. 14 Feb. 2013.


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