As CEO of a creative and tech agency, I've spent considerable time in the boardrooms of major corporate marketers, and I've gotten an understanding of their business challenges and needs. But I've also gotten an inside look at the major disconnect between their knowledge of the marketplace and the groundswell of disruption and change being driven by youth culture.
Many of today's business leaders do not understand that youth culture is no longer counterculture as it was in the '60s and '70s. Instead, our nation's youth have become the driving force behind innovation, growth, and competitive advantage globally.
For brands today, the old marketing models are over. That status quo is dead. Our rapidly shifting marketplace requires businesses to be agile, connected, authentic, artful, meaningful, immersive, and socially responsible.
In other words, to succeed, businesses have to embody the ideals of today's "YouthNation."
What follows is based on an excerpt from my book, YouthNation: Building Remarkable Brands in a Youth-Driven Culture, which is a brand road map to the youth-driven economy that will help businesses large and small harness the enormous power of youth.
The Instagram Phenomenon
Considering the increasing predominance of images at the core of communication, it was only a matter of time before a social network broke through to serve that exact purpose. In October 2010, a former Google employee named Kevin Systrom and his college friend Mike Krieger created Instagram, a mobile application that served a simple purpose: allowing users to edit and share pictures with friends and followers.
The growth of Instagram was predicated on YouthNation's desire to share what they were experiencing. The photo filters built into Instagram allowed even the most mundane experience to seem beautiful, the beautiful experiences of mountaintop sunsets or mornings on the beach to look incredible, and the amateur photographer to feel and look like a true artist for the amazement of friends, family, and the world at large.
Especially on platforms like Instagram, bling and brand labels just seem less interesting and less valuable than pictures of people experiencing the world. It's what you were doing rather than what you bought that would now earn you status.
Instagram has helped to cement an American experience revolution, which seemed to spark from one of the worst financial collapses in our nation's history. For the first time since the '60s, YouthNation was shifting away from the status symbols that defined Gen X toward a new defining trait for millennials constructed around experiences.
The question of the day among millennials is where can I capture an unforgettable experience right now? The constant barrage of Instagram updates from friends doing epic things is only making the recipients yearn to do more stuff themselves. We are now in a race to collect stamps in a passport rather than cars in the garage.
Instagram boasts well over 300 million users worldwide, making it one of the fastest-growing communication tools in history.
Due to its explosive popularity especially among YouthNation, Instagram presents a unique opportunity for brands or organizations to connect with their communities in new and interesting ways. That said, it's also easy to lose the interest—and the follow—of your customers with just one misstep.
Pro Tips for Marketers
The following "pro tips" will help you to master what every marketer should keep in mind when using Instagram. Getting it right means the difference between being a part of your customer's daily culture-stream and being cut out.
1. Keep it real
Nobody wants to see an ad on Instagram, period. Instagram is all about authenticity and telling the world what you are, as a person or as a brand, one photo at a time. So before posting, ask yourself whether your photo comes off as authentic or commercialized. If it doesn't feel 100 percent real, don't post it.
This isn't the channel to re-post your print ads. It's the channel to tell your brand story authentically, the same way your customers tell and share their own stories: What does your brand care about? Where does your brand go? Who does it spend time with?
The mantra of YouthNation for talking on Instagram is "show us—don't tell us."
2. Go behind the scenes
Too often there is a large divide between the people and processes behind products, on the one hand, and the customer, on the other. Today's customer wants to get an inside look at how everything is made, the people who make it, and where everything comes from. They want to be a part of the experience.
No matter what business you're in, there's a story to be told. Keep your audience engaged by giving bits and pieces of the backstory (but not too much; you want them to always want more). Make sure you cover everyone and everything, big and small, from the CEO all the way through to the truck driver. Think "Humans of New York" meets "National Geographic" meets "How It's Made."
When you give your community a peek behind the curtain, they'll feel closer to you and your brand.
3. Be relevant
Follow and participate in Instagram's pop-culture social trends. From "Throwback Thursday" (#TBT) to "Man-Crush Monday" (#MCM), participating in such cultural movements doesn't only show your audience that you're relevant and hip to the times like they are but also allows you to tell different stories than your day-to-day content stream.
What old-school moment or memory would your customer relate to, and appreciate your brand more for loving it as well? Who does you're brand crush on, and why?
If there's something happening across the social Web, it's better to be one of the first brands to jump on it than one of the last. By the time the rest catch up, you'll already be looking for what's next.
Wherever you find yourself in the social media landscape (not just Instagram) the name of the game is cross-promote! Too often you'll see a brand with a million likes on Facebook but only several thousand on Instagram. That's not OK!
Share your Instagram photos across other channels not only to extend the great visual content you're producing but also to encourage your fans and followers to join you on Instagram: "If you like us on Facebook, you'll love us on Instagram!"
Consider running ads to your Facebook and Twitter following that drive directly to your Instagram. Make sure you've put up at some quality content beforehand: You only get one chance at a first impression.
Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from YouthNation: Building Remarkable Brands in a Youth-Driven Culture by Matt Britton.