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How to Create Instagrammable Brand Experiences in the Age of Authenticity

Mandi Cohen

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Painstakingly curated Instagram feeds are a thing of the past. Brands looking to stay relevant on the platform should adopt a freer, more authentic approach.

Since its inception, Instagram has continued to grow in popularity as a platform for users to engage with each other and for marketers to engage with consumers. As of June 2018, Instagram reached the 1 billion monthly active user mark, with more than 500 million people using the platform daily and spending an average of 53 minutes per day on the app.

But the way users engage with the platform has changed over time. The “Instagram aesthetic” of perfectly plated food, gorgeous sunsets and friends laughing together in front of a beautiful backdrop is becoming less popular, and there’s a growing movement toward more authentic photos.

The app is still a source of inspiration, with 83 percent of Instagram users saying they use it to discover new products and services. But they’re coming to crave a sense of reality from their feeds, not a set of unattainable, overly curated images.

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In addition, Instagram announced in April that it will be doing a test run in Canada to hide likes and view counts. As brands enter what may be a new era for Instagram, how should marketers engage with their audiences? And what does true engagement look like when getting likes may no longer indicate a post’s performance?

The answer: Create shareable brand experiences that genuinely inspire and don’t feel forced. Here are some ways to do that:

Make It More Than a Photo Op

At SXSW 2019, LinkedIn hosted a space where visitors could get free headshots for their LinkedIn account pages, receive profile consultations and network. These experiences aligned with the company’s offer and drew visitors in by providing genuinely valuable offers.

Promote Your Presence

At the Color Factory in New York, visitors can ditch their phones and enjoy the museum’s exhibits without worrying about taking photos. Guests are given a card to scan at each exhibit for more information, while photo booths will capture moments and email them to you later. This lets visitors actually experience moments, rather than be concerned about posting them online.

Don’t Make It About You

Dove’s brand’s message has been consistent and clear: promote real beauty. In Canada, the company partnered with Snapchat for 24 hours to disable the app’s popular filters that change users’ appearances and to promote unfiltered images with the message, “Let real beauty shine.” The campaign featured the Dove name and logo, but ultimately it wasn’t about selling products—it was about showcasing the inherent beauty in everyone.

Engage the Senses

Toyota and Essence magazine partnered to create an experience that tapped into users’ sensations when they are behind the wheel of a car. At a pop-up event in Brooklyn, New York, multi-sensory installation rooms were built on themes such as “drool,” “pulse” and “lust,” creating irresistible photo ops for visitors who shared their experiences on Instagram.

Make Experiences Accessible

With Airbnb’s “Experiences,” the hospitality service company expanded its offer beyond places to stay, connecting users with curated activities in cities around the world. Through Instagram, the brand allowed users to share their journeys, which ranged from adventurous to low-key. Airbnb was able to engage with its followers online without having to host an exclusive, in-person event.

Think Outside the App

Pedigree created an ingenious clip for a user’s smartphone that holds a dog treat near the camera lens. The result? Photos with your pup attentively looking at the camera. The company then launched the SelfieSTIX app with filters that add hats, glasses and other props to your dog’s pic. This not only created a wealth of user-generated content for the brand, but was also a natural way to sell Pedigree’s own treats.

As these examples illustrate, beautifully curated imagery is no longer enough. Successful brands will be the ones that ditch the traditional Instagram tropes and find new ways to create meaningful experiences: ones that engage the senses, go beyond the gallery and make it fun to be part of the brand’s community.

Mandi Cohen is a senior strategist at Ologie, a branding, marketing and digital agency in Columbus, Ohio.