The myth of a free Instagram channel

When social media started taking off, marketers were all over the idea of new, free marketing channels. But it was true then and it’s still true now: there’s no free lunch. Even on Instagram.

The channel may be free. But what you post, when you post, and reaching your target audience all require time and money.

For a piece of content to be effective on Instagram, you need the following:

Great images: With smartphone photography getting better all the time, it’s easier than ever to create a good photo. But to ensure a great photo, you still need a proper camera like a Nikon DSLR. You also need a good/passionate photographer, even if he/she is an amateur, to take an amazing shot.

Wordsmiths: Copywriters have been around for so long, but it is the good ones that can separate pun from a social media disaster. Not to mention, with every post, comes engagement, which we all want for our brands. Even if you know the brand, the products, and the subjects well, and can easily respond to every troll, you need someone that can also cleverly respond, because once you put yourself out there, you also open yourself up for scrutiny. And there are only over a 400million monthly active users. The more successful you are, the larger the volume of community management.

Clever crowdsourcing: Sure, you can use the hashtag #YourBrand on Instagram to use public images for free. But the fact is, the more favored your brand is, the more images you have to sieve through. Remember, 80million photos are uploaded each day on Instagram. Curating and selecting the very best is no easy task. This still requires a manual process by a person with a really good eye, working closely with the stakeholders.

Great video: Moving images, cinemagraphs, videos (and even Instagram’s Boomerang) can work well on social media. To succeed, you need to think through a few things. Do you want to maximize the screen real estate (portrait format which is how the Instagram app is fixed) or do you want to stick with what people are used to – videos in landscape orientation? How long should your video be?

While Instagram allows for 60 seconds, rarely do users stay until the very end, which traditionally is where you leave off with your campaign link or brand tag line. A source from Facebook (which owns Instagram) suggests that seven seconds is the most effective length.

Paid posts: You can forget about the idea that people will actually go to your Instagram profile to see what you have posted recently. And even if you time your posts according to the habits of your audience, that’s no guarantee that everyone will see them.

So the next thing you have to consider is, yes, paid posts. The truth is, every brand, even the popular ones be it @NatGeo, @Nike, @HM, all of them use Instagram ads, because a larger audience means better engagement which ultimately converts – depending on your objectives – to awareness through to repeated purchases.

With your great shots by a good photographer, copywriters on standby for your posts and community management, a set process to curate and verify crowd-sourced images, an awesome video strategy, and a good media plan, you are all set to rule the world. But do not forget you still rely on a really creative team (whether in-house or with a perfect relationship with a Social Team).

And none of that is free.

The writer is Leon Traazil, Regional Account Director, J. Walter Thompson.