By the end of 2016, Instagram’s full suite of business tools will be available globally, offering branded accounts and profiles, analytic tools and the ability to manage ad creation from content.

The roll out confirms Instagram’s growing status as a major player in social and digital marketing. With upwards of 70 million photo and video uploads each day, the photo and video sharing app has long been targeted by businesses keen to tap into a market of more than 300 million unique monthly users.

But what is it exactly that makes Instagram so attractive as a marketing tool, and, business accounts or not, how do you boost your brand through a photo sharing app?

Kings of Content?

Three words are central to Instagram’s appeal - User Generated Content. Where other social media platforms rely on text and shared web links, Instagram really is all about what people create themselves, be it photographs or videos. From a marketing perspective, this offers a rich consumer’s eye view of the world, with unique insights into consumer interests and unique opportunities to engage.

Social media has turned content generation on its head. Digital marketers explain the surge in popularity of apps like Instagram in terms of a public throwing off the shackles of media content fed to them. Social media puts people in control over what they read, watch and share. Moreover, people trust content produced by friends and family far more than they do anything a business produces, having long ago grown savvy to sales-driven messages.

Consumer-led social media campaigns

The word ‘organic’ is often used to describe content on platforms like Instagram, to capture the sense of it being ‘natural’ as opposed to being ‘faked’ to drive sales, but also the sense of trust. Businesses wishing to succeed in social media marketing are given two choices - either learn how to mimic the look and feel of ‘organic’ social content, or, even better, use actual user generated content in your own branding and marketing activities.

There are many successful examples of the latter approach. On Instagram, the tactic has typically been to ask followers to post a photo or a video based on a campaign theme. For example, Belkin marketed its Lego iPhone case by asking Instagram followers to post pictures of their most creative Lego designs. It is a perfect example of consumers creating the sales content themselves - and from the brand’s perspective, it is free.

Explore and curate

On the other hand, Instagram is already full of user generated content, so is it always necessary to encourage followers to create more specifically for a campaign? The short answer is no, and getting involved in finding, liking, sharing and possibly curating relevant photographs and videos is part of a business behaving in a ‘social’ way. If you want to build a presence, you have to get involved in the conversation.

But with billions of images uploaded, how do you find the best content relevant to your brand? Last year, Instagram launched a tool called Explore, which automatically updates trending topics and hashtags based on users’ interests. A continuous feed of the most popular content out there makes sure you are always in touch with the largest possible audience. Simply by liking, commenting on and sharing popular content, you are expanding your reach beyond your own community of followers.

Explore has proved a very popular feature, and a trial was recently launched in the US to curate users’ videos of the biggest global events. So if you ever wondered how you could tap into the huge audiences watching a World Cup Final or partying at the Rio Carnival, Instagram’s Explore feature might soon be the answer.

If you want to learn more about how content marketing can have an impact on your digital marketing, check out our blog for more articles on the benefits of using a social media strategy to build your brand.

Written by Emma Puzylo October of 2016