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Instagram is a fun social media brand that has particularly caught the imagination of young people. But although this photograph-centric site created a lot of buzz and gossip, it is also an excellent tool for advertising and commerce. But one problem with Instagram as a platform for marketing is that it only allows paid advertisers to access brand lift data.

Facebook Successors

As social media became increasingly prominent, and Facebook became the market leader, taking over from the now largely defunct MySpace, social media content began to take on a life of its own. The particular advantage of social media has been its immediacy, and also the ability of the platform to deliver a variety and depth of content which cannot be replicated with traditional media. As Instagram was acquired by the market-leading Facebook in 2010, so visual-based communities increasingly blossomed and began advertising with them.

This trend reached to such a crescendo, that during the World Travel and Tourism Council Conference in Madrid this April, Gary Vaynerchuck, a famous Internet entrepreneur, asserted that Instagram completely superseded the print business. This might seem to be an excessive statement, and it is not actually supported by existing revenue models, but in terms of the number of people being reached by the two types of media then it is absolutely accurate.

To give some examples of this, Murad Osmann, who has become infamous for a series of pictures in which he holds his girlfriend-turned-fiancee’s hand in different locations, has a ‘circulation’ of 2.2 million followers, Liz Eswein’s @newyorkcity handle attracts 1.2 million followers, inspirational aggregator Beautiful Destinations has over 3.2 million, and extreme surfer and professional photographer Chris Burkhard has managed to attract 697,000 followers.

Yet despite the popularity of this medium, measuring return on investment with Instagram influencer programs is certainly not an easy process. What can be said with more confidence is that it is possible to track the amount of advertising dollars which are being spent on print advertising as opposed to paying the transportation and other costs related to influencers. It is also possible to have a rough idea of the number of people being reached by the two approaches, so although Instagram leaves a little to be desired in terms of measuring impact, it is possible to achieve this.

Control Freak Platform

The control freak nature of this social media platform ensures that only paid advertisers have access to qualitative data. This means that if you don't pay for advertising that you can only access such information as follows, likes, shares, and comments, while impressions and clicks are very much excluded from your package. Ultimately, only Instagram will know how people actually checked out Instagram accounts.

Naturally this can be quite annoying, as the data which is prohibited is among some of the most important for any advertiser. Yet in the meantime, strategists, marketers and technologists in travel continue to work with their tourist boards, brands and destinations in order to build their brand presence on this image-based platform. This is perfectly logical, as its mobile-centred nature coupled with the extremely useful demographic that it attracts would seem to be perfect for marketers and commerce.

Thus, numerous destinations and travel-related companies have been working hard on building their brand presence on Instagram, usually by publishing a combination of user-generated content along with professional marketing material. Yet the difficult aspect of Instagram remains. There is no easy way to correlate the trips of influencers to visits to the site.

Questioning Instagram

This has caused some influential people in the travel industry to query the value of Instagram influencer marketing. For example, Jesse Desjardins, Social Media and Advocacy Manager at Tourism Australia, has questioned the degree to which Instagram is scalable and repeatable. Citing the fact that it is difficult to bring in the requisite number of influencers due to limits, Desjardins is of the opinion that it is difficult for someone who has only been in a destination for possibly a week to have a deep understanding of its attraction, culture and other pull factors.

When the top five performing the tourist boards in the world what Instagram influencers they would like to work with in the future and why, the most popular selections where informative. Each of the tourist boards indicated that they would like to target people who were local to the area, or from their target market, of those with a significant digital media presence outside of the Instagram platform. Another interesting suggestion was for publishers who continue to differentiate themselves with their own creative communities.

Getting the best out of Instagram as a travel-related brand can be a challenge, and many destinations and tourist boards are still getting to grips with this issue. Additionally, it could be argued that the social media platform itself doesn't provide some of the tools that marketers would like to be part of the package. But the size of audience promised by Instagram - and the fact that it already has a tourism flavour among some of its most important influencers - ensures that it should be considered important for travel-related businesses and destinations to consider the best way to engage with customers via this platform.

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