How can Pinterest, Instagram, and such platforms raise brands' consumer profile?

How visual-based social platforms can raise the consumer profile of brands.

Panel
Teresa Caro
, VP of social marketing, Engauge
tcaro@engauge.com

Ally Mann, Associate, digital strategy, Burson-Marsteller
Ally.mann@bm.com

Jorie Mark, Editorial manager, Vitacost.com
jorie.mark@vitacost.com

David Richeson, MD and chief digital officer
Kaplow dricheson@kaplowpr.com

Aaron Strout, Head of location-based marketing, WCG
astrout@wcgworld.com

Teresa Caro, VP of social marketing, Engauge: 
The focus on visual-based social platforms seems to have happened overnight. Suddenly, brands are realizing their audiences are spending more time in newer, more visually driven networks such as Pinterest and Instagram.

The most popular "visual platforms" have created strength in their communities be-cause they are visually interesting and they aggregate like-minded people. Pinterest's visual boards are sorted by interest. This means people can find and follow the things they're passionate about. Instagram is a community of photo enthusiasts and people who find value and interest in visually cataloging life's adventures.

This is the first and foremost thing brands need to remember. With this in mind, they then need to determine which platform works best for them and plan a strategy that plays to its strengths. There can be no half-baked efforts and absolutely nothing inauthentic.

Pictures are windows into a company's soul. Leveraging these photo platforms is an opportunity to showcase all of the reasons people love a brand.

Pinterest has also shown us there is real opportunity to drive sales through images. This crushes the belief that photography is a sunk cost. Instead, images can be tied directly to key performance indicators. The images selected for these networks should reflect all of this - product or service photography blended with a peek into the soul will help brands fit in with the community.

Of course, there's a caveat: none of this should happen without a proper social mix strategy. Be careful to think about what networks are right for your brand and why. How do you connect with the audience in meaningful ways? This is ultimately what will allow a brand to understand the right way to enter the space.

Ally Mann, associate, digital strategy, Burson-Marsteller:
With upward of 50 million users, it is hard to ignore the influence of visual-based social networks such as Instagram and Pinterest. These platforms have obvious relevance for brands that are more visual in nature - in industries such as fashion, home furnishings, and automotives - but organizations that have a seemingly less linear fit, such as the US military, have found creative ways to utilize these platforms to connect with consumers as well.

The ability to humanize brands is a main reason visual platforms are particularly influential. Even in today's changing communications landscape, many brands lack a distinct personality. A brand's choice of images is a powerful way to shape its character. They can shape a brand's personality on a more intimate level than is possible through press releases, website copy, and corporate logos.

In addition, these platforms can channel a two-way conversation between the brand and consumer and foster a sense of community among brand advocates. Pinterest and Instagram are completely integrated with social media, so images shared on these media can ignite deeper brand interactions. For instance, images shared on Instagram can offer a backstage, exclusive glimpse into an event or they can encourage consumers to contribute their own interpretation of the brand on a collaborative pinboard.

In late April, fashion designer Oscar de la Renta's team "live-pinned" photographs from behind and on the runway throughout its bridal show, which were then repinned hundreds of times by users. Some brands utilize Pinterest for contests, where users pin images related to the brand around a theme.

Sharing insider content and crowdsourcing inspiration from fans resonate as human traits and demonstrate the brand's effort to connect and interact with consumers and other stakeholders.

Visual-based social platforms are not just a fad. They can be utilized as a powerful tool to connect with consumers. Get the picture?

Jorie Mark, editorial manager, Vitacost.com:
Pinterest and Instagram allow users to connect, often wordlessly, by sharing images they've compiled that represent their emotions, beliefs, attitudes, and interests. By creating pinboards and photos on Instagram, users are in fact creating visual mosaics that express their identities one image at a time. Brands have a unique opportunity to become part of these personal mosaics, but they must be up to the challenge of offering images that resonate with customers at a genuine, emotional level.

Because of their highly individualistic nature, these two new social media allow corporations the ability to appeal to users deeply and personally. When a user encounters a brand's pin on Pinterest or photo via Instagram and feels a connection to it, adding this image to a collection of the user's favorite philosophical expressions, recipes, inspirational photos, and other favorite brands is akin to saying, "This brand is one part of who I am." Members of a user's social network who like and repin this brand image offer a sort of wordless word-of-mouth endorsement that has the potential to become viral.

The object for brands is then to create pins and images that will resonate with users on a level deep enough to inspire this kind of allegiance. Fulfilling this mission isn't just about pretty pictures. It requires getting to know customers more meaningfully than we have ever tried to know them before. Otherwise, we will not understand what will make it to the pinboard and what will be ignored. The brands that rise to this occasion are the ones that will be rewarded in our increasingly visual social sphere.

David Richeson, MD and chief digital officer, Kaplow:
Facebook's purchase of Instagram and Pinterest's growth have put image-based social media platforms in the spotlight.

Why images? We say "a picture is worth a thousand words" because a great image can evoke an emotional response. When something moves us, it inspires us to act - to share it with our social graph. If one picture tells a story, then a collection of photographs presented in a thoughtful way can tell a story powerfully.

That's why Pinterest has seen such phenomenal growth as a referral site. Founder Ben Silbermann believes Pinterest is successful because it's a timeless way to express yourself. Similarly, Instagram brings out our inner artist because we can create and share interesting images easily. Tumblr and its ilk are visual journals that tell stories over time. What we choose to share says a lot about what's important to us.

Here are some tips for brands using image-based social sites:

  • Show your brand history in images or show how a product is created over time. Use how graphic novels tell stories as a guide to deliver your brand story in creative ways.
  • Think about what will inspire people to share, repin, and come back for more. Include e-commerce links, but don't make this another iteration of your online catalogue.
  • Engage your audience with a story, such as the inspiration behind a product. Use images and evocative words to make an emotional connection and you will create consumer advocates who will share their love of your brand with others.

Done thoughtfully, brands can indeed make a picture worth a thousand clicks.

Aaron Strout, head of location-based marketing, WCG :
According to studies conducted by the Social Science Research Network, 65% of people in the US are visual learners. That's a lot when you consider the way many of us were forced to learn and digest content from textbooks and newspapers growing up. No wonder English class in high school was such a struggle back in the day.

So have businesses gotten it all wrong over the last several decades as they communicated with customers through type-heavy communications? The better question is: what choice did they really have? YouTube didn't exist and use of TV to educate and engage audiences was expensive except for some of the largest brands that could afford to sponsor programming.

The good news is that companies now have new alternatives to engage the customer and ultimately raise their profiles among target consumers. In addition to video channels such as YouTube and Hulu, photo-sharing sites such as Pinterest and Instagram provide easy ways to create, curate, and re-use photos of products and people. In some ways, these new photo-sharing sites offer a lower cost and easier-to-staff alternative, as it is often much easier to snap a picture with a digital single-lens reflex camera than it is to try and edit any kind of video content.

More importantly, Pinterest and Instagram allow for easy syndication - a fancy term for "sharing" - of brand and personal photos into larger social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. If the saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words, think of what a thousand words multiplied by Facebook's 850 million-plus members equals.

The Takeaway

  • Utilizing visual social networks can lead to a visual-based word-of-mouth endorsement of a company or product
  • Because platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram are visually interesting, they often create strong communities and aggregate like-minded people around particular areas of interest
  • It's important to carefully think about which, if any, visual social platforms make sense for your brand and will help you communicate with consumers in the most meaningful way

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