The internet doesn’t need another blog post marvelling at the rise of Instagram any more than Whitehaven Beach in Australia needs more footprints. By the time you finish reading this paragraph alone, some 66,000 more spontaneous shots of sunsets, trailing arms, Kombucha tea and perfectly toned thighs will have been posted. Long story short, it’s big. So big that it doubled in popularity in two years alone from 2016 to 2018. 

Photo courtesy of Sandrachile on Unsplash

Of course, we’ve been here before, and we could probably predict where this is heading. A platform driven by teenagers, fuelled by vanity metrics, that seemingly exists because ‘Why not?’ Any moment now, Millennials will be ousted by Babyboomers getting memes wrong, advertisers will swamp the feed, and WikiLeaks will reveal how those inspirational quotes and footie bantz were funded by the ERG. 

Probably the best platform in the world

In the meantime, it’s worth pointing out that Instagram is surprisingly good at what it wasn’t designed to do. It might be ‘the happiest place online’ with 4.2 billion likes a day and engagement ten times that of Facebook, but it’s aspired to much more than an organic FOMO farm. We’re talking about 25 million brand accounts, with 80% of users following at least one. We’re acknowledging that 60% of Instagram users discover new products on the platform, and can now buy them in a couple of thumb taps with the Shop Now button. 

Instagram is a sensationally good way for brands to connect with their audiences, mainly because the platform stays out of the conversation. Unlike its heavy-handed parent, Instagram isn’t trying to force birthdays, memories and experiences into your feed. 

Macro influencers keep growing, and growing, and growing

The guardians of the experience are the content producers themselves, and influencers their A-list. For brands looking to reach new audiences, or shore up their presence where their customers are, Instagram is too big to ignore. No more so than when the opportunity arises to pair up with influencers. 

OK, it’s not a secret. Instagram influencers as ‘a thing’ are still struggling to be taken seriously. Only now is it a career ambition you could share with your school guidance counsellor with a straight face. It conjures up images of ham-fisted product placement, impossible perfection and a total lack of self-deprecation. 

But that’s the macro-influencers. 

These are the guns for hire with hundreds of thousands of followers who don’t get out of bed (or Bali) for less than $1,000+ a post. Get Kylie Jenner to promote your festival, colonic flush or SaaS solution and the tab could touch seven figures. In return, you’ll get enormous reach, but precious little engagement. Scour the comments section of an Ariana Grande post and things tend to go off tangent somewhat, with other products hopping on like ticks on a bison. And for your audience, there’s precious little credibility. 

To quote Groucho Marx, “I don’t care to belong to any club that would have me as a member.” The same principle goes for macro-influencer roadkill. You might pick up a few sales, but do you really want people so easily hoodwinked as your brand evangelists?

Macro-influencers might have turned the advertising dynamic on its head (and all power to them), but the principle is the same. It’s no more creative than hiring a famous face to front your TV ad, or paying eye-watering sums for a Hollywood celebrity to be the face of your perfume. Essentially, it’s still Kevin Keegan and Brut in the shower. 

Think different – the need for creative messaging

One of the great ironies for now is that macro-influencers continue to prosper at a time when audiences are switching off or actively blocking ads on all other platforms. All the evidence suggests that people no longer want sales messages direct from brands, partly because they don’t trust them. Yet for now, they trust macro-influencers. Figure that out. 

Micro-influencers, on the other hand, are worth hooking up with. Typically, these are the niche accounts with just a few thousand followers, but whose opinions resonate louder within their community. Partner up with a micro influencer, and some studies suggest you can expect 11 times higher ROI than with traditional digital marketing. 

Reassuringly authentic

At this level, it is engagement not reach that makes the difference. Micro-influencer followers cluster around voices they trust and engage with. Often, that voice will respond. And for brands, they’re much cheaper – typically under four figures for a single post. 

Any brand that is discovering the awesome potential of user-generated content is already late to the party. Micro-influencers can claim with authenticity to be on the right side of the cusp. They don’t just brandish products, they test them, engage with them, review them and recommend them. Most will only work with brands they value, so a video testimonial from a respected micro-influencer can be priceless. 

They’re easy to find too. Look around the hashtags relating to your sector and you’ll find the accounts that tend to comment most, or share the most content. You don’t need to go through an influencer talent agent. 

Of course, now you’ve reached the end of this piece, all of the above is probably wildly out of date. Instagram could well be shedding users faster than Friends Reunited. But for now, it’s where your brand could look its best. 

All comments, counter-arguments, diatribes welcome. Just send them to