5 Min Read |

Launched in 2010, Instagram’s impact has been huge. It has changed the way brands market themselves, creating an advantage for new brands that embrace this changing world and knocking previously unshakable beauty incumbents and media outlets off course.

Instagram’s simplicity is key to its power; the brands who use it well really know how to use it, and consumers know how to find and connect with beauty brands they love. The result? Beauty magazines are less important than ever before when it comes to product marketing. Consumers aren’t looking to print pages for new beauty buys. They’re looking to social media.

Instagram was acquired by Facebook in 2012 at a cost of $1 billion. People now use Instagram not only to find new beauty brands, content and products, but also to shop. A study of 2,000 Instagram users published in 2017 by jeweler Dana Rebecca Designs found that 72% of users have made beauty or style purchases via clicks from Instagram. And the platform itself claims to have a shopping audience of over 90 million users who actively search for shopping hashtags.

With more than a billion users as of June 2018, the Instagram has a lot of marketing potential to offer. Social media and other online media consumption has now overtaken print media consumption by a long way; research specialist firm Activate explains that 4% of the media consumption hours of Americans is spent on print, while 20% of that consumption time is spent on computers and 28% on mobile devices. Instagram’s user count is growing by around 5% per quarter, making it the fastest growing social media platform right now.

Moving Away from Magazines

Look at the numbers, it’s hardly surprising that Instagram has pushed print media down the marketing food chain.

According to marketing data firm Magna Globa, US print advertising revenue was $61 billion in 1998. This decreased by 12% by 2008, when it dropped to $54 billion. But in 2018 print advertising hit around $15 billion — an incredible 75% drop in 20 years. And where have those consumers gone? To easily digestible and audience- targeted online marketing avenues like Instagram.

In 2018 Facebook was still responsible for generating the majority of the overall company revenue. But Andy Hargreaves, research analyst for KeyBanc Capital markets, predicts that Instagram will generate approximately one third of its parent company’s ad revenue, and 70% of its new revenue, by 2020.

It is clear that the simplicity we mentioned earlier is an important factor in Instagram’s success. It is a highly visual platform which quickly grabs attention, and its developers are constantly working on new ways to hold that attention for longer. Recent changes to Instagram’s algorithm mean that users now see more of what they like in their feed. ‘Friends and family’ are prioritized, but this loose category can extend to include beauty brands that a user frequently interacts with by, for example, liking or commenting on brand posts. For brands, this means that efforts to increase post engagement are rewarded — the more a user engages with a brand, the more visible that brand will be to them.

It offers a pleasurable user experience, and for beauty brands and influencers, its image filters mean that less time and money needs to be spent on photography — because even unprofessional photos can look good and evoke emotion when touched up with simple color and impact filters.

The Personal Touch

Instagram also gives brands and consumers an opportunity to connect on a level that feels personal. Something that’s simply not possible within print media advertising, no matter how much investment a brand puts into its visuals and copy.

Instagram users can direct message a beauty brand — and many young brands capitalize on this by responding personally and quickly. This is one way that a brand can take advantage of Instagram’s algorithm to position itself prominently in audience feeds. Marketing strategies such as offers or competitions which ask customers to comment, ‘tag a friend’, or use brand-specific tags in their own posts are also effective.

The Instagram Stories feature allows users to record video or images which remain on their account for only 24 hours. This means that brands can speak directly to their audience without worrying that unpolished content will be visible forever. This  enables a more casual and intimate relationship between company and client — as well as an additional sales opportunity, as Instagram users can click to shop directly from a brand’s story.

Beauty companies of all sizes are now dividing their marketing budgets to include social media marketing as well as print and legacy publications. Social media influencer marketing and direct social media adverts take a tranche of marketing funds. And there’s another important marker of this rise in the advertising value of digital media: visual artists and copywriters who would previously have worked for traditional advertising outlets are moving to in-house and freelance roles within digital publishing and social media marketing.

But What Next?

Instagram won’t last forever. Loyalty to social media platforms is low in a fast-developing technological environment, and at some point in the future a new platform will capture consumer interest.

But Instagram is making efforts to evolve and retain its users — although these changes could change the way people use Instagram so significantly that its marketing value will fall. Under its parent company, Facebook, Instagram has launched new shopping features and enhanced its directly transactional functionality. Which hasn’t been to everyone approval, resulting in the telling resignations of Instagram’s co-founders, Kevin Svstrom and Mike Krieger.

Instagram now offers Business Accounts with additional out-linking features and integration with e-commerce providers including Shopify, and some welcome these changes. Lauren Price of research firm Gartner L2 says it doesn’t feel like a big divergence: “the intention [to shop] has always been there.”

The question remains: will Instagram’s success continue because of — or even in spite of — its increasingly transactional focus? It is possible that users will feel its simplicity and integrity has been compromised by too much advertising and too much marketing. Its power as a personal and direct connection between brands, influencers and customers will be lost. If that happens, we will look with interest to the emergent platforms which take its place as facilitators for the ever-changing relationship between beauty brands and beauty consumers.