It is All About the Pix!
By Bonnie Knutson Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU | December 29, 2019
About six months ago, our family – grandparents to grandkids – spent a weekend in Las Vegas for a sports tournament. Since the games were primarily in the late afternoon or early evening, we had some free time to roam around what I often call the "mother-lode" of the experience economy. We were walking along the Las Vegas Boulevard (affectionally known as the "Strip") one morning between "Venice" and "New York" just watching people and seeing how the city had changed since our last trip ten years ago.
Our younger granddaughter wanted to get a picture in a certain spot with a specific backdrop, so we headed over to that location. Out came her iPhone. She moved from here to there, aimed the camera lens left and right and up and down, posed this way and that, and finally announced that we would have to come back later because "it" just wasn't right. The sun wasn't in the right angle, there were too many of the wrong shadows and she had worn the wrong scarf for the background.
Huh!? It was just a picture!
But to her, it wasn't just a picture, it was an Instagram Picture! That made all the difference in the world; it had to be an Instagramable moment. Now for full disclosure, this 25-year-old granddaughter is the senior graphic designer for a national magazine. She knows how to make each picture flawless, and if it isn't right, she knows how to photoshop it so that the result will be that perfect addition to her Instagram story.
Unless you have lived under a rock in recent years, you have no doubt heard about Instagram, launched your own personal account, monitored your hotel's postings, or followed someone or some brand on the app. But if you are not really "into" Instagram (unlike our granddaughter), you may not fully appreciate its power from a brand strategy and brand marketing perspective.
Instagram (or as some refer to it, IG or Insta) is simply a social networking site that is now part of our marketing lexicon. Developed in 2010 by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, IG was sold to Facebook about two years later and is now part of the Facebook empire. At its core, Instagram is simply an app that enables its users to upload (i.e. "post") photos and videos clips. These posts can then be viewed by other users who can "like" them as well as "follow" a user or a brand. And believe me, users avidly count the likes and followers. Instagram is all about sharing visually. Every user's goal is to find, take, and share only the best photos or video clips in order to attract more followers to its Instagram site and hopefully have them repost the photos or video clips on their sites. This can result in quite a word-of-mouth effect – or as I call it, word-of-finger. Hence, my granddaughter's obsession with coming back later for the perfect picture.
To better understand how being on Instagram can add incredible value to your hotel, here are some statistics that may give you a WOW:
- As of February 2019, there were more than one billion active IG users.
- As of February 2019, two million of them updated their posts every day.
- The United States boasts 120 million active Instagram users, which is almost two-fifths (37%) of the population.
- According to Instagram, those under the age of 25 spend more than 32 minutes a day on Instagram, on average, while those age 25 and older spend more than 24 minutes a day.
- As expected, active users currently tend to skew younger, with 64% in 18-34 range and another 25% between 35 and 54. That is virtually nine out of every ten people currently on Instagram. And like any new trend, the number of 55 plus users will increase as consumers naturally grow older. All you have to do is look at the growth trend for other social media platforms or online service programs such as Facebook and Amazon Prime. There are a lot of grandparents using each today.
Add to these, some statistics on the business side of the equation:
- Over 25 million businesses have a profile on Instagram.
- Of these, 2 million plus use the platform to share their visual stories and drive business. In fact, a third of the most viewed are business stories.
- More than 200 million users visit at least one business site every day.
- And here is the biggie! According to the folks at Instagram, 60% of people discover new products and services on the platform.
It is no secret that we live in an over-communicated world with advertisements and brand images bombarding us 24/7. Nor is it a secret that social media is commanding an ever-growing amount of our time. Some recent figures show that the average person will spend about two hours every day on social media. That is more time than we spend eating, drinking, socializing, and grooming together. This amount is expected to increase, especially given the rise is mobile devices. The time consumers spend on each social media platform is important because the amount allocated to each app means that, in general, people are seeing more promotions on that app. The biggest battle among social media platforms, then, is for user attention.
This brings me to the well-known marketing acronym, AIDA, which stands for Attention (or Awareness), Interest, Desire, Action. This model begs the question as to how your hotel's Instagram post will break through the advertising clutter? How will it grab the user's attention? How will it boost the likelihood that he/she will repost your original post? But most of all, how will it move the user from consumer to customer (guest)? The operative words here are unique and story. And the operative phrase is One picture is worth a thousand words.
I am not smart enough to know how to build an effective Instagram – let alone one for your hotel. But I am smart enough to know that, to break through the clutter and grab attention, hoteliers need to look outside the lodging industry for inspiration. Too many current Instagram hotel sites seem to be clones of other hotel sites. The property's unique story isn't being told in the photo or video clip and therefore can't move the user through the AIDA model from Attention to Action.
There are a few brands in every industry who are doing Instagram well. Here are some of the things that set these Fab Five apart and can help spark new ideas for your hotel's future Instagram strategy.
One of my favorite Instagram accounts is FollowMeTo. The site is filled with spectacular vistas from all over the world. But what makes these photos so unique is the story they tell. In each picture, a woman is leading a man by the hand in different parts of the world – from snow-capped mountains to the halls of Versailles. The continuity of the pose makes each picture like a chapter in a book. The stance was made famous by Murad and Natalia Osmann for their #FollowMeTo project and is now well-known as a "how to do it right."
In the retail space, LuLulemon's Instagram strategy centers around the notion of community that is built on its yoga-themed clothing line. As an aspirational brand, it incorporates great lifestyle shots showing how its products can be used outside of a yoga studio and is specifically targeted towards women who want a lifestyle that is healthy and happy. It is a good example of how a brand can expand its uses – in this case, from wearing LuLuLemon for a variety of daily activities that can range from shopping to a casual evening out.
Vogue Magazine moves outside of its publishing wheelhouse by integrating the power that celebrity updates, contemporary fashion, and current news brings to its Instagram strategy. Many of its posts use all three in posting a visual of a current event that incorporates celebrities wearing the latest fashion attending a recent news worthy happening. Using this strategy, the photos change often, keeping interest high for the next story. And the beautiful part of these posts is that they incorporate a caption that drives viewers to the magazine's website.
No Your City began by producing a documentary series that feature untold stories about fascinating people from all over the world. The success of this captivating series led to an imaginative Instagram presence that highlight the local where these people live, more than the individuals. While that may not sound noteworthy, it is the individual photos themselves that are. This is because they all follow "the best practices for taking great photos with your phone" such as "focusing on a single subject, using negative space, playing with reflections, or finding a unique perspective." The results are "consistently stunning," building a strong brand following.
Finally, I love examples of small, independent "mom and pop" shops that have been around for a long time and are smart enough to embrace new technologies to compete with bigger competitive brands. Such is King Arthur Flour. Founded in 1790, the bakery is still an employee-owned company whose mission is to "inspire connections and community by spreading the joy of baking." This mission is beautifully reflected in its Instagram feeds using behind the scene shots from employees and customers alike. They post visuals of how flour can be used in different ways, by different chefs, in different seasons. It keeps posts fresh to grab attention, is innovative to keep interest, and aspirational to drive desire and action.
I read a recent article that summarizes the value of being on Instagram in basically one sentence: "There's no stopping Instagram!" and concludes that social media marketing, especially on Instagram, can no longer be left on your brand's backburner. I couldn't agree more.
And, oh yes, our granddaughter did get the flawless picture for her perfect Instagramable moment.
Your REVPAR will thank you.
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