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Why Instagram @Mentions Are a Brand’s New Best Friend

Earlier this year, Instagram announced updates to its API and accelerated the deprecation of its older version in an effort to better protect user privacy. These changes impacted partners that utilize the platform (like Olapic), as well as how brands interact with consumers directly on the channel.

Along with the implementation of GDPR in Europe, a global trend is becoming clear for marketers:  Consumers are in control. At Olapic, we’ve long understood the importance of putting consumers at the center of a brand’s marketing strategy. And now more than ever, companies have the opportunity to leverage data privacy concerns and changes in the industry to establish an better dialogue with their customers. One way brands can improve transparency and trust is through the incorporation of user-generated content (UGC) into a robust visual marketing strategy. But with the ever-evolving digital landscape and shifting brand conversations, there’s a new normal ahead. That’s why we put together a short guide below for how brands can better understand, curate, and activate UGC in a post-GDPR world to ensure more authentic and compliant marketing experiences.

THE NEW NORMAL: Why @Mentions Matter

We touched upon this at a high-level in our previous blog, For Brands, Instagram’s @Mention Takes on Greater Importance, but we’ll dig in a little more tactically here.

While there have been many changes to Instagram’s API, the main one we want to focus on is the deprecation of the capability to post comments on public media that simply includes a hashtag.

Although the update impacted the workflow for how brands obtain rights for user-generated content, fundamentally we believe this change is for the better. As Seth Godin once noted,

“Selling to people who actually want to hear from you is more effective than interrupting strangers who don’t.”

Companies can no longer rely on putting just any message out there and hoping it resonates or reaches the right people. Modern consumers are far more informed than ever before and poised to engage with a business on their own terms. As a result, brands must shift their communication strategy on Instagram to better connect with users that want to be engaged. How?

Enter: the @mention.

For years now, our clients have been requesting a feature that could collect content and ask for rights on photos that include @mentions or tag a brand, and with Instagram’s new API update we’re happy to announce that this is now possible.

Instagram hashtags, while still an important key to understanding a brand’s social audience and industry trends, have also given the platform some headaches. In the previous version of its API, virtually any hashtag could be commented on by not just approved partners like Olapic, but also by bots, spam accounts, and more—causing Instagram to seek a more permanent solution to solve its spam issue. Not only that, but today there are hashtags for everything and although they provide a much-needed categorization for content, they no longer are the best indication that a consumer wants to enter a dialogue with a brand. More often, hashtags (yes, even branded ones) are leveraged by users as a way to increase the discovery and engagement of their own content. With changes to its API, Instagram is now poised to reduce spam on the platform and ultimately give users and brands better control of their communities.

What does this mean for user-generated contentIs it over? Actually, quite the contrary: It’s becoming a key differentiator for brands. According to eMarketer, 86 percent of millennials see UGC as a good indicator of the quality of a brand. And our previous research found that consumers trust their peers’ content 7x more than branded advertising. Why? Because when businesses leverage user content in marketing, it showcases that their values align with those of their audience. In turn, this can drive loyalty, provide transparency, and, inevitably, make brand experiences more customer-centric.

Moreover, with the aforementioned emphasis on @mentions, Instagram predicted that mentions and photo tags were actually better indicators that a consumer was primed to enter a conversation with a brand. But we didn’t want to just take the Insta’s word for it, we did some internal research of our own to corroborate this idea.

After analyzing preliminary numbers from Q1 in 2018, we found that it actually does pay to collect on mentions rather than hashtags:

  • Brands were 5x more likely to use UGC they collected from an @mention
  • And on average across industry verticals there was a 12 percent higher chance a user would approve a brand’s rights request if they included an @mention in their original content. Note, this is just an averageCertain verticals saw even higher numbers with travel UGC seeing a 57 percent higher chance of a user approving a brand’s rights request when they included a mention

Although these are just the initial metrics from our test, we expect these numbers to only increase as companies realize the quality of @mentioned content and shift their behavior to meet customer and industry expectations. For that to happen though, brands must begin to educate consumers on how to better connect with them. Below, we have a couple tips to help update your brand’s social approach and mobilize new user behavior.

SHIFT YOUR STRATEGY: Activating Mentions for Better User-Generated Content

So, we’re all caught up on the digital landscape changes and the importance of @mentions, but how can brands continue to successfully engage their users on Instagram and also create better methods to garner relevant UGC?

First, remember that the hashtag isn’t deadIt’s alive and well! But instead of being used as a primary content collector to obtain rights, the hashtag has instead evolved into something to leverage alongside @mentions as a way to categorize content and organize campaigns. Of course, the hashtag is still maintained as a primary way for consumers to discover specific content and for brands to keep up with trends. But in order to get the most out of these changes, it will be important to educate users on how to use @mentions together with specific hashtags to gain a more holistic understanding of your brand’s social engagement.

We’ve already seen several companies in market expanding their strategy to include mentions, so here are some ways to get started:

Highlight @Mentions on Your Digital Properties
  • Social media profiles
  • Website Homepage
  • Photo Gallery
  • In-App
  • Olapic Widgets
Don’t Forget: Print Matters Too!
  • Update your printed materials such as signage, billboards, receipts, packaging, and shopping bags to also include your brand’s @mention
Spread the Word
  • Use Instagram Stories, emails, and post-purchase instructions to let people know that they should start using @mentions for a chance to be featured by the brand
  • Tell employees and influencers to start @mentioning you on social and encourage customers to follow suit

Brand Examples in the Wild

While many brands are already implementing these suggested updates, here are a few examples that caught our eye and could inspire your @mention strategy.

Cheap Monday not only reworked its UGC gallery to include a clear call to action for mentions accompanied by brief instructions for how to do so, but also provided a concise CTA in its dropdown menu that highlights the @mention too. This is a unique example because the brand doesn’t wait until the user is browsing the gallery to share the mention message, its priming the audience with “new rules” even before they click.

Another company we noticed that made some changes on Instagram is the hotel brand, Kempinski. It updated its about section on the platform to include a quick call to action for @mentions in order for its audience to have a chance to be featured on the brand’s account.

And last, we really enjoyed HostelWorld’s approach to @mentions on Instagram Stories. The brand didn’t just highlight the importance of @mentioning, but included clear directions for how to do so and encouraged user excitement to be featured on its account. Not only that, but the brand incorporated UGC into its new promotion as another way to showcase pride in its audience and exemplify the type of content the brand wants its fans to create.

Our suggestions and examples only just scratch the surface of what brands can do to start using @mentions on Instagram to amass user-generated content. That’s why it’s imperative to begin evolving your approach on social and testing what works for a specific audience.

And @ mentions is not the only Instagram update that will change how brands and users engage through content. The line between traditional and digital media is continuing to blur, as evidenced by the recent release of Instagram’s long-form video feature, IGTV. Whereas Stories is an application designed for ephemeral communication, IGTV presents an interesting opportunity for brands and for users to deliver long-form content more akin to traditional television. The difference: IGTV still commands the full screen of a user. Content creators on both sides of the fence will need to find ways to both entertain via this channel and to develop thoughtful calls-to-action that capitalize on its potential.

Whether your company is just starting out or already well-seasoned in UGC, we encourage you to listen to your customer, meet industry expectations for compliance, and update your strategy to ensure you’re getting the best user content (with rights, of course!) for your brand.

To learn more about how Olapic can help drive success with user-generated content, you can reach out to us here and stay tuned for more articles like this one!

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