Social media giant Instagram is the current darling of online merchants seeking to boost their brands through word-of-mouth marketing, thanks to a rapidly-growing audience and aspirational, product-focused imagery.
Sellers who hope to establish lasting customer relationships, however, will need to do more than launch a hashtag campaign.
For online retailers, the biggest problem with Instagram is that curated content, high follower counts, and even popular hashtag campaigns don’t necessarily lead to the establishment of long-term customer relationships. Rather than stimulating the peer-to-peer advocacy that constitutes effective word-of-mouth marketing, Instagram more often becomes a brand-driven marketing channel that earns only glancing attention from followers. That’s because:
- “Free” turns out to be expensive. Much like Facebook, Instagram has honed its algorithm to favor posts that match individuals’ interests, with only about 30% of available content showing up organically in users’ feeds. Increasingly, merchants must pay for visibility, whether through sponsored posts or via paid placement with “influencers.” Most small- to mid-sized merchants are quickly outspent.
- Glossy aesthetics invite superficial engagement. Despite the recent addition of “stories” that display a sequence of images, Instagram primarily consists of highly-curated individual photos. This sea of lustrous but haphazard imagery is fun to surf, but finding a pearl of a relevant hashtagged post or trawling with a product link in the profile header often delivers scant rewards.
If they’re to succeed with word-of-mouth marketing, merchants need a more substantial foundation — one they can call their own.
The good news is that consumers habituated to sharing online are willing to participate in brands’ endeavors. In fact, 57% of consumers said they would be comfortable contributing content about products directly to a brand, whereas just 4% said they would be comfortable posting the same content via their personal social media accounts.
Not only are merchants more likely to elicit participation via self-branded content platforms; investment in such solutions improves the potential for results, because merchants can:
Showcase an authentic story, not just a snapshot.
Merchants who equip customers with robust content tools can elicit a variety of contributions, from individual annotated photos to before-and-after testimonials, project galleries, and video lookbooks. Not only are in-depth stories more coherent and engaging than a single Instagram post; they also provide a way to showcase product categories whose value is more utilitarian than aesthetic. Ownership of these stories gives merchants the flexibility to syndicate content to suit their needs. Photos can be re-used on Instagram — but they can also be redeployed as new social platforms emerge.
User contributions stimulate ecommerce purchasing: a recent Rivet Works survey shows that shoppers are more likely to buy from a merchant that shows photos and videos of customers’ experiences. This means that merchants who collect customer stories on self-branded platforms can tighten the connection between content and commerce. Viewers can shop directly from the images and text contributed by customers — unlike on Instagram, where unpaid posts can’t contain clickable links in captions or comments. And the integration can go both ways, with ecommerce site product pages dynamically incorporating relevant customer stories.
Build trust with transparency.
By soliciting contributions from customers, merchants demonstrate a willingness to authentically represent their brands — not just stage a photo. This commitment to transparency helps foster trust: 64% of consumers say they trust brands more if encouraged to contribute reviews of products, according to research from Edelman. Invitations to participate also catalyze word-of-mouth sharing: customers who create content for brands are more committed advocates, Edelman found.
Similarly, customers who entrust merchants with their stories reveal preferences and interests that go beyond their purchase histories. These new insights give merchants further opportunities to build stronger relationships and prove their aptitude with product and service offers that are relevant to the whole individual, not the customer data point—a giant leap forward on the path to long-term loyalty.
In order to realize the full potential of word-of-mouth marketing online, merchants need the tools to showcase meaningful customer stories — not just post hashtagged snapshots. Self-branded content platforms give merchants the control and flexibility they need to convert customers into loyal advocates.
About the Author: Mike Svatek is the Founder & CEO of Rivet Works.