What Middle Schoolers Taught Me About Instagram

Last weekend, Instagram made me cool. Really cool.

Following a hard-fought 22-point playoff loss, the team of 12-year-olds that I coach in a local basketball league was celebrating with an end of it season barbeque. When it came time for team photos, I took out my phone and said, “This one’s for Instagram.”

“Coach, you have Instagram?” said one of my players.

YOU have Instagram?” said another player’s older sister.

“Wow coach, you’re cool!”

I’m cool, because I have Instagram?

I have Instagram, but I’ve only ever posted a handful of photos. I have it to follow marketing guys and my hipster friends from grad school that post pictures of their food and, more recently, their babies. I check it maybe twice a week, usually while I’m waiting for the subway. I have Instagram because when your follow digital marketing bloggers on Twitter you start to think that everyone does. It’s the same reason I have Pinterest, FourSquare and dozens of other apps that I’ve studied but never really gotten into. Back when Facebook bought Instagram last April I agreed with most critics that it was wasting its money on a bunch of filtered photos of vegan lunches. It took a group of prepubescent boys to show me that there is more to Instagram than meets the eye. Instagram is really cool.

As Facebook and Twitter have fallen into “My grandma has that!” territory, Instagram has managed to keep its cool and that reflects back onto the brands that are able to best utilize it as a marketing tool. Nike, for example, uses Instagram to sell its trendiest lines of sneakers by putting up photos and linking directly to the point of purchase. Luxury retailer Bergdorf Goodman uses Instagram to turn its fan’s photos into digital and in-store marketing campaigns. Reef just posts pictures of people at the beach.

So what’s the best way for your brand to start using Instagram and embrace your cool? Just start taking pictures. Take pictures of your products, your employees, your offices and your factories. Don’t forget to smile. If your brand is connected to a cause or a charity, share photos of the work that your team is doing on that. A little humble bragging never hurt anyone.

Most importantly, as you are starting out take a moment to comment on your own photos and create your own #hashtags. By creating #hashtags that are associated with your business it will be much easier to track images of your brand down the road. Once your fans start using these #hashtags, keep an eye out for their photos, comments and questions as they appear. Be sure to share their photos and let them know just how much their posts mean to you.

I know what you’re thinking. “I don’t sell video games and soda pop, why should I care what a bunch of 12 year old boys think is cool?” I wish I could tell you my team was full of trendsetters, but that unfortunately is not the case. What’s important to remember is that if there is something that teenage boys and girls really love, their parents will find a way to join in and ruin it for them. Just as grandmothers and Farmville took over Facebook and Barbara Walters and Oprah took over Twitter, Instagram may be the next mainstream. Get on it now while it’s still “cool” or watch your brand get left behind.

How does your brand use Instagram? How has posting and sharing photos helped your brand to succeed? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Share your thoughts