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Instagram photos make unsexy brands and content look sexy. Fact.

And more often than not with the help of a professional photographer (forget those built-in filters).

For this reason, I love Instagram as much as I love Vine.

And to prove my point, here are some of my favourite finds and Instagrammers.

#1 FAVOURITE:

Reuters has mastered the art of making news (even bad or mundane news) look sexy through the use of stunning photography.

Simply, the photo catches your eye first, and then 9 times out of 10 makes you want to read the accompanying story. See for yourself with this small selection of some of their posts:

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Their newsfeed is highly addictive I must admit, so much so that I find myself grabbing my phone first thing every morning to check it out – sad but true. On the plus side, the snackable format keeps me informed of and interested in what’s going on in the world at large (outside of the world of advertising that is), with minimum impact on my time.

This is an ingenious way from Reuters to make itself relevant, top of mind and build a direct relationship with end consumers like me, without relying on news organisations to broadcast its up-to-the minute content.

By feeding beautifully packaged news bites to the time-poor and easily distracted amongst us, it brings critical information to our attention in a pleasing way. In other words, it delivers utility content and entertainment into one post.

The downside of their eye-candy photo teaser approach is that sometimes the photo is more interesting than the news it portrays – this is however a minor inconvenience compared to the delight the photography gives you. One other issue I can foresee is that it may spark controversy by making the ugly look beautiful (e.g. the aftermaths of a natural disaster, violent protests etc). However, I would argue the latter is a good thing if it raises awareness of said problem and mobilises people to get behind a cause.

#2 FAVOURITE: 

For those of you who read me regularly, you will know by now how much I worship General Electric’s social media and content marketing efforts.

As well as mastering the art of Vine-making, the giant conglomerate has become an Instagram expert.

As a B2B company, it is not the type of business or brand that naturally excites the masses i.e. clearly not in the same vein as Burberry or Nike. Indeed, for the latter, the nature of their industries (mainstream and aspirational) combined with a ready access to shots of glamorous models and athletes make the photo-sharing social network a natural playground.

Yet, GE has against all odds managed to make its day to day business look sexy to the wider public, so much so that I actually find myself liking its photos on a regular basis – and in the process, I am learning lots about how the company crucially powers and supports a myriad of industries.

So yet again a great example of an unsexy brand that makes itself relevant in a simple and enjoyable way.

Cases in point:

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#3 FAVOURITE:

I thought of Burberry and its ongoing #THISISBRIT Instagram campaign, peppered with beautiful B&W shots of the gigs the brand is sponsoring in different countries.

But that would be too easy!

So watch this space for more *unexpected* Instagram goodness – and don’t hesitate to let me know of any little gems you may have uncovered yourself.

Vine has been gaining momentum ever since its launch in January, piggybacking on Twitter’s considerable user base and fast becoming the new social media darling amongst younger users.

To this day, and despite the recent launch of arch-rival Facebook’s Instagram video sharing feature, it is showing no sign of abating. On the contrary, if anything Twitter promises us that with Vine ‘2.0’ soon in market this could well be the beginning of greater and bigger things to come.

In terms of reach, the latest publicly available figures stand at 40M Viners worldwide (up from 13M in June), with an estimated 50K in Australia (source:@SMN_Australia, thanks David!).

Now some of you may argue that’s a drop in the (South Pacific) ocean, hence not even worth considering as part of your marketing mix.

I beg you to reconsider and here is why.

Vine offers a unique, playful way to connect with your audience that drives differentiation for your brand.

Vining has been described as a new ‘art form’ by Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, and rightly so. Simply, the 6-second videos (or Vines as they are known) are ‘little windows’ into your consumers and fans’ creative minds.

Unlike Instagram’s ‘generous’ 15 seconds and various props (e.g. 13 filters, cinema mode etc.), Vine’s time constraints and ‘raw’ approach to video creation truly put the power of your imagination to the test. The art of Vine-making is tricky to master as it requires you to be creative not only in the story you are telling but in its execution also – with only 6 secs to get your message across artfully.

And so not surprisingly, the 6-second short-form video is particularly popular with the creative community, with some art directors specialising in Vine-making and advertising agencies using it as a tool for hiring creative staff. It actually takes skills to create something meaningful and beautiful at the same time, in such a limited amount of time – just have a go and see for yourself.

The first Vines I saw were rather painful to watch, jerky and hard to comprehend at the best of times. However, as advertisers and Viners at large got the hang of it, the micro-video blogging network grew on me as did the quality of the content.

9 months later, it has turned out to be a great way for brands to seek participation from their fans. Successful examples of this abound in the US, where the adoption of Vine is the most prevalent amongst consumers and marketers.

Famously, GE with its successful ongoing #6SecondScience projects; one of which can be seen here. And its #GravityDay campaign – the longest Vine chain ever to my knowledge – as sampled here.

Other early adopters include Virgin Mobile USA with its #happyaccidents campaign and Airbnb which took Vine-making to a new level by inviting the audience to co-create the first short film entirely made of Vines.

Vine may never reach the same scale as Instagram (with 10 times as many monthly users today); however I can foresee its community and loyal following building steadily over time. Vine-making is hard to master for a start and so when you do, you tend to stick to it. Simply, as a brand it gives you an edge (or USP) hard to compete with in your category. As a fan, teenager or aspiring creative, it makes you stand out amongst your friends or peers; it makes you feel good.

In my opinion, it is the creativity at the core of its proposition that gives Vine longevity and makes it appealing to the hyper-connected 15-to-30 years old and creative at heart the world over. Twitter made that clear on the day it announced its launch and so did Dom Hofmann, Vine co-founder, when he said “constraint inspires creativity”:

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The arrival of Vine on the market was timely for a number of reasons.

Not only does it tap into our growing appetite for consuming and sharing visual content on social networks and on the go, it also gives advertisers a new tool to achieve cut-through on social media amongst the ever-increasing noise.

As recently outlined by Ipsos, competition for ‘image attention’ has indeed never been greater as we hop from one screen to the next and back, and our senses get solicited all day long by hundreds of messages in different media formats.

Vine is simply a great tool for creating attention-grabbing rich visual content and generating earned media amongst social media users.

How critical is Vine to your social media marketing mix?

GE’s CMO Beth Comstock admitted recently that social media had played a critical part in helping turn around the company’s fortunes. In her view, social media had helped make GE “relevant in a lot of new ways”.

I agree.

I recently became a fan of GE’s social media initiatives, and in particular of their marketing efforts on Vine, which I follow with great interest and amusement. For a company whom I never felt connected to in any way, and whose purpose and business were obscure to me to the say the least, through its own but also fans’ Vine videos,  this once faceless corporation has managed to make itself likeable and its purpose tangible – in other words relevant to me.

The performance metrics speak for themselves.

Here are some recent stats on the effectiveness of the various social video formats in market:

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At a glance, during that one-month period, we can see that Vine outperformed Instagram on both engagement rate and number of retweets. Further, according to Unruly’s research in May, 5 Vines get shared every second on Twitter.

Together, these metrics clearly demonstrate how complementary Twitter and Vine are as engagement channels.

If that’s not enough, what else does Vine have in its favour?

Unless Facebook whose usage and appeal amongst millennials is declining, Twitter and by association Vine are still happily used by teens and 20-somethings (source: eMarketer May 2013).

So if you have a substantial Twitter following and Gen Y’s are a key target audience, then it is worth trying Vine in a complimentary way to Twitter.

Oh, and unlike Instagram, Vine will remain ad-free for the foreseeable future – which makes the user experience all the more immersive and attractive to social media users who are seeking to escape advertising-heavy networks (such as Facebook).

So all considered, Vine makes for a brilliant opportunity to build a 1:1 relationship with your audience, in a space free of competitive noise.

So come on, be brave, start SMALL but start experimenting NOW. Down Under or wherever you are.

Let us take a look at Target and General Electric… What could they possibly have in common?

I have been a fan of Target’s innovative marketing techniques for some time; whilst GE has just made it to my Top 10 all-time favourite marketers.

Neither brand is what one would say sexy or aspirational i.e. not in the same vein as a Nike or a Red Bull. Yet their content marketing efforts are in my view amongst the best, if not the most hyped.

Simply, both companies’ content plays are great examples of how to build relationships with consumers through meaningful content – relationships that eventually drive sales. The last point is not to be underestimated as mentioned in an earlier post.

What is it Target and GE are doing well then in the content space? What can we learn from them?

First, they aren’t afraid of experimenting with new technologies and getting out of their comfort zone.

The first time Target piqued my interest was in October 2012, when I came across their ‘Falling For You’ shoppable web series.

They had then hired an Emmy award-winning TV director and Hollywood talent to film 3 episodes of an online rom-com, which was to be a promotional vehicle for their Fall collection. Products (from women fashion wear to homewares) were cleverly placed in each episode and could be shopped effortlessly throughout the online viewing experience. The technology that allowed you to buy as you watched without pausing the film was claimed to be a first and certainly caught my attention at the time. You can find out more about Falling For You in their (promotional) behind-the-scenes video:

Meanwhile, GE have been experimenting with real-time marketing and campaign hashtags on Twitter amongst other social platforms; with its #IWantToInvent and #PiDay campaigns in particular attracting a lot of attention.

It is also (surprisingly) one of the early adopters of Vine and so far it is doing well with it: its #6SecondScience Fair campaign launched only a few days ago has already generated 20K+ social interactions on the young network as it invites users to submit Vines of their DYI-style science experiments alongside its own, like this one on how to create your own lava lamp. Entertaining and captivating at the same time.

The brand’s bold marketing approach was recently acknowledged on Creativity-online.com.

Both brands have invested in content hubs to tell their stories.

Target’s online magazine A Bullseye View launched over a year ago and deliberately stays clear of hard-sell messages; instead it focuses on the company’s behind-the-scenes stories (e.g. designer partnerships). The site is heavily branded and as such, unequivocally positions the brand as the publisher.

GE has opted for the more discreet position of ‘Sponsor’ with its online magazine Txchnologist, one of 2 blogs the company operates and that focuses on non-corporate news. The site is a Tumblr blog about technology, science and innovation across the various industries the giant corporation is involved with (e.g. energy, transportation, heath care etc.).

Both have complemented their content strategy with an influencer program to boost their credibility and relevance.

Target has more than a dozen Fashion bloggers on its books, who write ‘Target-inspired’ posts on their blogs and also contribute to A Bullseye View. Likewise, GE’s Txchnologist features guest contributors and writers.

Lastly, they are outsourcing the bulk of the content creation to agency partners.

Whilst Target’s A Bullseye View is run by Target’s PR team, GE’s content marketing and social media team is responsible for operating Txchnologist. Both teams are understood to be on the small side, primarily focused on the site development strategy and operations, with the creative execution (content creation) sitting with agency partners. Brands and agencies meet weekly to discuss and plan the editorial content.

Interestingly, the 2 brands are ticking a few of the pre-requisites outlined in my earlier post on best practice content marketing.

I will continue keeping an eye out on their progress in that space and will keep you posted on their next (bold) moves.

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