Instagram overtakes Twitter and Facebook advertising rates rocket

The big news in the marketing world this month is that Instagram has now officially overtaken Twitter on the social media winner’s podium with the photo sharing app now reporting 300M active monthly users as opposed to 284M for Twitter.

This all continues to demonstrate the growing lure of photo stories and visual posts.  And it’s not just having an impact on Twitter.  Facebook too appears to be losing ground to its younger stable mate.  In the past quarter Instagram has experienced 2x the growth levels compared to Facebook for new mobile app users.  Even more importantly though, it’s the levels of organic engagement that really set Instagram apart from other channels.  

Instagram's a Winner in More Ways Than One

This month I’ve been diving deep into the world of fashion through my work with a Covent Garden PR agency that specialises in working with UK and US fashion brands. What’s really struck me during my research is the how much fashion youth brands have significantly lost traction with their organic engagement levels on Facebook, whilst on Instagram they are experiencing dizzying heights of success.  Take the British online fashion and beauty store ASOS for example.  They currently have 3.6M likes on Facebook, but their engagement levels are at an abysmal 0.6% this week.  Over on Instagram, there is a completely different story with a single image posted last month attracting nearly 100K likes (4% engagement) from their 2.5M followers.

The Social Advertising Dilemma

Another key reason for Instagram’s appeal is it’s still mostly an advert free space.  Promoted posts have slowly been run out by some big brands, but as yet Instagram feels relatively free of advert formatted, promotional content.  This again is in stark contrast to Facebook, which is a now awash with adverts and promoted posts across the newsfeed.  In the marketing industry, experts are rumbling about the Facebook’s position for the future.  Has it gone too far with its advertising sales ambitions?  Will FB users stay loyal in this advertising-heavy space?  In recent months, Facebook has responded to customer feedback by reporting that overtly promotional organic posts will be filtered out more frequently.   This will mean brands will have to work harder to deliver content that is entertaining or more relevant.  Other reports from Facebook HQ have suggested that there is also a growing backlog of brands queuing up to buy ad space which the network is having trouble delivering.  The only way to solve this problem is for Facebook to put up the price of their advertising.  And the latest stats bear this out.  Kenshoo recently reported a 700% increase in CPM rates (per 1,000 views rates) on Facebook between November 2013 and November 2014.   To counter that, the only cheery number to report is that Facebook advertising return on investment has also doubled in that time. 

So What Next for Businesses on Social Media?

If you’re a consumer brand with deep pockets, then Facebook will continue to offer great advertising opportunities, especially with older, full-time employed audiences.  However, if you’re a smaller hospitality, fashion or lifestyle brand with a younger demographic, I’d be hot footing it over to Instagram to make a mark (for the short to medium term anyway).  If you’re a smaller business, looking to reach out to an older demographic, there is no point in beating about the bush.  You are likely to find it increasingly hard going on Facebook to engage your audience unless you are prepared to make a significant investment in Facebook advertising or a highly engaging content strategy.  Facebook will more likely function for you in future as a customer feedback channel or as a ‘mini website’ destination within the Facebook space.  The onus will be more on the customer to seek you out unless you’re prepared to pay for advertising to get yourself noticed.  Twitter is still a very relevant and low cost channel for small businesses and should be utilised if your customers are active here.

Remember, it’s not all about social media

All small businesses are well advised to focus on other marketing activities such organically growing an email newsletter list.  In 2015, I believe we’ll see a mass wave of corrective actions as businesses finally realise that social media is not a magical panacea for all marketing challenges.  There is still a very strong case for growing your own audience through customer relationship management programmes and other types of customer feedback activities and more budget should move to these activities to help brands get an edge.

Getting Back to Brand Basics

My strongest belief is that businesses will gain strength for the long run if they invest in building their brand from the ground up.  That means establishing your mission, your vision and your values and then successfully communicating and living your brand through every single business action.  This approach, more than any other, leads to the ultimate ‘word-of-mouth’ effect that all businesses crave.  And this is how you will ultimately benefit from the real power of social media, when it acts as a high-speed delivery mechanism for all your hard won ‘word-of-mouth’ praise. 

This topic is going to be my big focus for 2015.  I’ll be researching businesses that have successfully built their brand on the back of extraordinary levels of word-of-mouth marketing and this research will then form the basis of my next book.  Watch this space for more news on the book and its findings in the coming year.