It was designed to do one thing very elegantly- share photos. That simplicity of focus has real power, (5).
Thus begins Instagram Power, author Jason G. Miles’ 2013 book that guides an arguably inexperienced Internet user through the steps of using the popular app as a business tool in order to form relationships with customers, build demand for a product, and remain technologically savvy in a constantly-changing media environment. The book is formatted in a fairly user-friendly manner, pairing lists of tips with an “Up Close With…” section- highlighting examples from real businesses that are successfully using Instagram as an effective marketing tool. As co-founder and marketer at Liberty Jane Clothing, a company that designs and sells doll clothes (yes, you read that correctly), Miles also includes his own personal experiences using Instagram and how the app has helped him build his brand to its fullest potential. We’ll talk more about this later, though, when we take a peek at LJC’s Instagram profile and see if it lives up to the hype.
Miles heavily discusses what Caroline Haythornthwaite refers to as “media multiplexity” within her piece Social Networks and Internet Connectivity Effects. Stressing the importance of connecting with customers over numerous mediums, Miles declares: “There is safety in numbers… your wisest social strategy is to migrate as many [users] to another social media platform as quickly as possible. That way, you have two points of social media contact with them instead of just one… you want a social vineyard, not a social oak tree,” (170). While Miles ensures this is a technique used in the case of a social media site shutdown, it also happens to be a clever way to cultivate stronger ties with customers. As Haythornthwaite notes, “Organizationally established, group-wide means of contact are needed to create latent tie connectivity from which stronger ties can grow” (139). Miles clearly supports this method, and encourages his readers to follow suit.
Miles devotes the entirety of chapter 8 to Tiziana Terranova’s notion of “affective labor,” discussed within her piece Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy. Affective labor refers to the immaterial work done towards producing an emotional response from the consumer. Miles notes common buying triggers found on Instagram and advises the reader how to capitalize on emotions such as love, desire, curiosity, greed, etc (84-87). As Miles puts it simply, “Images provoke thoughts and feelings that are the basis for buying decisions,” (84). Thus, Instagram incorporates affective labor at its finest.
Perhaps the most significant theme for me, personally, was the underlying message of the entire book: the modern-day prevalence of what Limor Shifman calls the “attention economy” within her work Memes in Digital Culture. The entirety of Instagram Power is centered on the goal of gaining the most followers, the most “likes,” and the most comments: equating that to success. As Miles blatantly puts it, “your number of followers is a social status issue… it is akin to casting a vote of approval,” (52). This idea strongly resonated with me, as it appears to be completely indicative of how modern society measures worth. The focus has shifted from quality to quantity, in terms of attention: we ascribe value to a particular celebrity/product/company based on the amount of attention it gets (I’m looking at you, Kim Kardashian). This is the direction society is headed at the moment, and Miles’ book is just one indication of this new pattern.
Analyzing this from a critical standpoint, I naturally found some issues with the book as a whole- points that my group appeared to wholeheartedly agree upon. The most popular critique amongst the group surrounded Miles’ limited audience, which seemingly catered to an older, less technologically savvy generation that made the book unnecessarily drag on with step-by-step user guides. Meanwhile, Miles also limited his scope to solely product-based businesses. As Skyler Bouchard points out, “How do aspiring online writers/singers/actors build their own brand when they have no physical product to sell?” These types of “brands” need guidelines too, and Miles’ examples were unfortunately only tailored to those businesses with physical products.
Another popular criticism arose from analyzing the Liberty Jane Clothing Instagram page itself. With only 175 posts and almost 4,000 followers, the LJC Instagram page was highly underwhelming after reading a book written by a so-called Instagram “expert.” While group members such as Yasmeen Cesare took note of the unimpressive numbers and lack of frequency in posting, I also found issues with the quality of posting. I completely understand and agree with Miles’ emphasis on marketing what Erving Goffman calls the “backstage” aspect of a brand within his 1959 piece “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life”; however, I found the photos on this Instagram page to be highly confusing and almost too personal. It is not altogether clear who the people featured in these photographs are, and what their relation is to Liberty Jane Clothing. Yes, there are “sneak peeks” and clever marketing tools used, but some focus also appears to be lost in the attempt to mix personal images with business tactics- leaving potential customers, such as me, confused and moving on to the next profile.
As Skyler Bouchard and Claire Sahn also note, I would be highly interested to see how Jason G. Miles would incorporate Instagram’s new video feature into his marketing guide. The new culture of Vine and Instagram video is worth heavy discussion, as these innovations are once again changing the digital media game. This could be revolutionary for businesses, providing new and improved ways to reach customers, build relationships, and create desire for a product. But how? Now that is a book I would love to read.
Despite these flaws, Instagram Power still managed to introduce me to new features, provide useful comparisons to other social networking sites, and transform a seemingly daunting opportunity into an easy, user-friendly guide. And for that, I highly applaud Jason Miles. While I would not recommend this book to a younger, more savvy audience, I would happily pass this along to my father- who has yet to remember how to “log in” to his Facebook account. These are the types of people that Miles should be targeting. And making that clear within his next piece would be useful not only for him, but for his audience and those perhaps looking for something more.