In Depth

Instagramming Retail, Inside And Out

Instagram — the social platform of choice for millennial consumers — can be a vital tool for customers to share their in-store retail experiences with their online peers, perpetuating a business cycle that touches both channels.

Launched in 2010 — and benefitting from fast adoption thanks in large part to “Instagram celebrities” — the mobile-first and highly visual network is perfectly positioned to dominate as mobile devices become consumers’ primary access point to the Internet. Some big brands (like Nike) are getting it right … but one smaller company in Portland, Oregon, is proving that the platform can be even more valuable to retailers of their size in expanding their reach.



Instagram has a ton of potential, thanks in large part to its active user base. A recent report from HootSuite gauged engagement on Instagram as extremely high, with an estimated 300 million active monthly users who collectively post over 70 million photos a day. Who exactly are these people? Of those monthly users, nearly 70 percent are outside the U.S., meaning the potential global reach of the network — much like that of its parent company Facebook — is extremely high. According to Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends Report, users ages 12-24 rated Instagram as their most important social network, ahead of Facebook and Twitter. Young, global and engaged — what more could a brand ask for?

These compelling statistics have caught the attention of top brands, 85 percent of whom already have a presence on the social platform. There are certainly standouts on Instagram among retailers. Nike, a longtime dominant presence in the athletic footwear and apparel niche, has the most followers of any brand on Instagram with 27.5 million, not to be confused with the account with the most followers on Instagram, a title which belongs to Taylor Swift with 53.9 million, or the family with the most accounts in the Top 10 most followed list, a crown that is worn by the Kardashian/Jenners with roughly 194.7 million followers combined.



Nike’s feat may not seem all that surprising given their longstanding marketing prowess. But when you consider that they only have 805 posts, it’s an impressive traction rate. They may be taking a cue from Miss Swift’s playbook, as the pop princess has a mere 780 posts as of this article. That would seem to suggest quality over quantity is preferred on the platform.

With a mix of highly polished professional photography featuring recognizable athletes, inspirational scenarios and athletes doing all-around incredible things, Nike’s big-brand marketing strategies are certainly in play. What is more out of the ordinary is how the company has offered fans a chance to participate, submitting their own images through a number of hashtagged promotions. The effect is an experience that feels polished (much like the Nike brand itself), but, at the same time, authentic, creative and unique to individual users.

Crowdsourced content is a huge trend for brands across social content platforms. It’s a smart move for top brands and smaller retailers alike as it removes some of the burden of producing a constant stream of fresh content — a must-have to stay relevant on social.



A few brands that are not exactly household names have followed Nike’s lead and taken their Instagram integration to the next level. Poler Outdoor Stuff, a small outdoor activewear retailer based in Portland, Oregon, ran with the crowdsourcing concept and incorporated it into a winning strategy that brings online social interactions into their brick-and-mortar experience.

Poler has been using Instagram for nearly four years and made a few smart choices early on, one of which was supplying their gear to outdoor photographers. They asked them to share snapshots of their adventures along the way — and share they did. The company’s Instagram feed is chockablock with breathtaking vistas, far-away locales and the very best of outdoor adventures, all captured in stunning high quality. Some of their images feature product, but most do not. This proves out the effective strategy of featuring an experience rather than a product.



Another key to Poler’s success was the creation of a catchy hashtag, #campvibes, which allowed outdoor enthusiasts to add their own content to a stream of images that highlight the outdoor activities they enjoy. The hashtag has grown into something of a phenomenon, with nearly 500,000 posts bearing the tag. Even other outdoor brands have jumped on the bandwagon, adopting the hashtag in their own posts because they know it’s a popular tag that has the attention of their target audience. Well played, Poler.



With all of this content, Poler thought it was a waste to just let it sit online. So they mounted large flat screen televisions around their stores where they pump a stream of select images of their own and from fans. The result is a compelling backdrop for their apparel that gives shoppers something larger than the clothes to connect with while in the store, in essence reminding them that they aren’t just purchasing a parka or a pair of hiking boots — they’re buying into an outdoor lifestyle.

This idea of carrying that hard-earned sense of community and belonging carefully generated between a brand and its followers online in the social media space and integrating it into the in-store buying experience, where 94 percent of purchases still happen, is one that is likely to gain even more traction in the months and years to come.

A retailer doesn’t need to be a Nike-sized operation to craft a clever Instagram strategy, as Poler proves. The real secret to retail success on the platform is to remain inspirational not promotional, giving a company’s fans access to participate, and looking for ways to extend that shared experience beyond a mobile screen.


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