You know the scene:
A room full of twenty-somethings, all staring at their phones, scrolling through eighteen different versions of the same picture, obsessively trying to figure out which one to edit and then post to their however-many Followers.
But behind this seemingly surface level behavior (and what many accuse of being "narcissistic") is actually a tool belt of skills most marketing professions want to think that they have--but actually lack.
Sure, there are moments when "Instagram fever" gets to be too much. But, similar to video games, people who take Instagram seriously tend to be judged out the gate. They're called self-obsessed. They're called "detached from reality." They're put in a box--and meanwhile, no one seems to want to ask, "What are they learning in the process?"
A lot, actually.
Today's average Instagrammer has far more of a knack for creativity, attention to detail, and personal branding than most "marketing professionals." (Hence why so many Millennials, many of whom pay close attention to their Instagram feeds and treat their profiles seriously, get frustrated working under people older but less competent people.) Marketing has changed, and if you want to be able to market to today's social consumers, then you need to speak the language first yourself
So, what skills do today's Instagrammers have that are actually incredibly valuable?
1. A trained eye for every detail.
"Do you like this picture or this picture? What about the filter, is it too much? What if I turn the brightness up, is that better? I want to sharpen it, but not a lot. Wait, now the trees look too saturated. Okay, okay I think this is good. Now, what should I caption it?"
If you treat Instagram with even an ounce of care, these are all questions worth asking. Today's Instagrammers don't just "post a picture." They select carefully, and then assess every detail.
2. An inherent understanding of "brand voice."
A lot more work goes into that two-word caption than you might think.
Instagrammers know their voice, and they know whether it's cheeky, witty, sarcastic, inspirational, overly descriptive or just plain goofy. Not a single caption follows the oh-so-monotonous tone most companies and "professionals" use.
The problem is, most marketing professionals fear anything that doesn't sound like this: "We love our team! Thanks everyone who came out!"
3. An artful awareness of perception.
On the Internet, we are what we appear to be.
Today's serious Instagrammers know the value of building what I like to call their Personal Brand. They see each and every picture they post as another brushstroke on their profile's canvas, painting the image they want to present.
Now, obviously the shadow side of this is when you see scrubs trying to "fake it until they make it." But the truth is, it's an art building yourself and who you want to be seen as online. So even if someone presents themselves as a total poser, you've got to give them credit for going to great lengths to do so (like renting exotic cars and parking them in front of other people's mansions).
Nobody knows how things will be perceived online better than a room full of Instagramming Millennials, I can promise you that.
4. Using filters without looking like you're using a filter.
Instagrammers who know what they're doing are like girls who have mastered their make-up: you can barely tell they're wearing any at all.
Nothing stands out worse in today's social world than a poorly edited photo--or worse, a good photo that has been filtered to death.
The next time you see your social media intern (or full-time employee, for that matter) staring at their phone for an hour, editing a photo, trust that they are trying to do you and your company a favor. They don't want your content to look low budget.
5. Reciprocity done right.
Instagrammers know that it's a give-give world. If you want people to Follow you, you have to give them content worth following. If you want people to comment on your photos regularly, you have to comment back. If you want people to Like what you post, you have to post things worth Liking (and Like other people's content as well).
Every single social media hire (or Millennial, honestly) can attest to the rage they feel when their manager, boss, whomever says, "We need more Instagram Followers," but then gets mad when too much time is spent on Instagram.
You can't get without giving first.
6. How to monetize without being overly promotional.
If you become a good enough Instagrammer, you can make some serious cash promoting brands on your page--or, furthermore, even get hired to run or direct the creative behind a big brand's Instagram account.
There is a reason why big brands look for talent this way. It's a simple concept, really: prove that you know how to do it for yourself first, and then make money doing it for other people.
Which is why it's astonishing to me that firms, managed by "marketing professionals" who don't even have their own Instagram accounts, are the ones giving creative direction to their young social media hires. They are most likely the more knowledgeable ones in the room anyway.
You just have to give them a chance to speak up.
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