Instagram and the Future of Visual Marketing

Written by Carmen Sutter, Product Manager for Adobe Social:

If you’re any­where near as much of a tech-press junkie as I am, you’ve no doubt seen at least a few arti­cles over the last few weeks about Facebook’s lat­est exper­i­ment in mon­e­ti­za­tion: the buy but­ton. If you haven’t seen it in action yet, you can prob­a­bly find an exam­ple in one of those “spon­sored posts” that occa­sion­ally show up in your newsfeed:


Once that lit­tle but­ton in the cor­ner is tapped (or clicked), users who already have their address and credit card info on file can pur­chase the prod­uct with­out ever leav­ing Face­book. While it’s a pretty neat idea from a dis­cov­ery stand­point, it’s not exactly revolutionary—Amazon mas­tered the one-click pur­chase a long time ago. Face­book is just adding another oppor­tu­nity to act as the mid­dle­man for adver­tis­ers, which at the end of the day, is basi­cally their entire busi­ness model.

If the pilot pro­gram is suc­cess­ful, we can all expect to see a lot more of this. In fact, at least one other social net­work is secretly test­ing out an almost iden­ti­cal con­cept. Mash­able caught this quickly deleted tweet a few weeks ago:


More so than Face­book or Twit­ter, Insta­gram seems ide­ally suited to this sort of call to action (CTA) adver­tis­ing. With 200 mil­lion users and 20 bil­lion pic­tures, Insta­gram is the world’s most pop­u­lar photo shar­ing ser­vice by a clear mile, and any­one who knows her clichés will tell you that a sin­gle pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words:

20,000,000,000 x 1,000 = 20,000,000,000,000

A lot of com­pa­nies are already using Insta­gram for mar­ket­ing pur­poses. Some of them, like Lime­light Exten­sions, credit much of their suc­cess to the platform’s unique abil­ity to turn visual inspi­ra­tion into action. Of course, Insta­gram doesn’t get any money out of that par­tic­u­lar kind of marketing.

While par­ent com­pany Face­book isn’t deploy­ing their buy but­ton tech­nol­ogy on Insta­gram yet, at least a few com­pa­nies are try­ing their hand at sim­i­lar ideas.  One of the odd­est is an Israeli startup dubbed Inst-ore.

This awk­wardly named com­pany aims to rev­o­lu­tion­ize shop­ping on Insta­gram by turn­ing your photo likes into engag­ing, item-specific URLs. Sound a lit­tle con­vo­luted? It is. Here’s a quick a video of Inst-ore in action:

When the con­cept works (which it often doesn’t), it’s tech­ni­cally more engag­ing than a bit​.ly URL in the com­ments sec­tion, but adding extra steps to a pur­chase is pretty much always a ter­ri­ble idea. This handy chart illus­trates the dif­fer­ing philoso­phies at play here:


Spring, a slightly more ambi­tious e-commerce startup, has cut out the mid­dle­man entirely. While the just-released app (iPhone only at the moment) looks an awful lot like Insta­gram, it’s really just a shopping-focused clone. It’s so sim­i­lar that it’s really dif­fi­cult to know what their future will hold—it’s a tossup between acqui­si­tion and a cease and desist let­ter. Here’s how it works:


Users reg­is­ter with their credit card infor­ma­tion and then browse a never-ending ver­ti­cal stream of pic­tures of items for sale from dozens of Spring’s part­ners, always just one click away from an impulse buy. Unlike Inst-Ore, Spring has already brought major brands like Hugo Boss and Levi onboard.

Whether it’s Face­book and their buy but­ton, Inst-ore and their magic URLs, or some other com­pany with an idea we haven’t thought of yet, impulse buy­ing is going to spread like wild­fire on Insta­gram, on Twitter—pretty much every­where we live online. That rep­re­sents a unique, almost unprece­dented oppor­tu­nity for online merchants.

Every­one already knows how pow­er­ful visual-focused social media can be, but if you’re any­thing like me, you know that this is really just the tip of the ice­berg. My pro­posal for a panel at next year’s SXSW will cover all of this and a whole lot more. It’s called “Text is Dead! Long Live Visual!” and you can help make the panel a real­ity by click­ing here. Vot­ing is open from now until Sep­tem­ber 6.


Carmen Sutter

Carmen Sutter is a Product Manager for Adobe Social, focusing on data collection and campaigns. In her role, Sutter is responsible for the social monitoring functionality as well as the integration of Adobe Analytics and Adobe Social. Prior to joining Adobe, she led the digital analytics teams at Warner Music Group and Scholastic in New York City. A native of Germany, Sutter moved to Salt Lake City from New York City for her position at Adobe and is trying to take full advantage of the great Utah outdoors.

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