A Snapshot of Instagram

The digital world is ever-changing. The expression “15 minutes of fame” does not just apply to people any more, but to social network sites (Ellison & BoydSociality Through Social Network Sites) as well. All you Millennials out there, remember MySpace from middle school? Remember when blogging platforms like LiveJournal and WordPress were overshadowed by the more media-centric microblogging SNSs Tumblr and Twitter? The same way the entertainment and fashion industries experience short-lived trends, social media experiences them too. If you want to know the big thing in digital marketing this year, ask Jason G. Miles. In his recently published book Instagram Power, Miles heralds the trend of the year like it’s a chorus: mobile.

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According to Miles, 2013 is the year of mobile and Instagram is today’s “hottest social media site” that is taking the world by storm. That’s why he wrote Instagram Powerthe next book in what seems to be an emerging Digital Marketing “Power Book” series (see also: Pinterest PowerCraft Business PowerEmail Marketing Power). Instagram Power seeks to help “work-at-home marketers” leverage Instagram to build their brand, reach more customers, and ultimately increase sales. To achieve this mission, Miles provides “everything you need” in a “guide that covers it all”. Literally.

Some book blurbs make false promises to readers. Instagram Power‘s blurb does not. With 6 parts, 18 chapters, and 219 pages, Instagram Power is an exhaustive, step-by-step how-to guide on Instagram the SNS and on Instagram marketing. Instagram Power strictly adheres to a chronological format, oftentimes painfully so (Nicolas noted that Miles constantly references subjects he will “discuss later in Part X”), starting with an introduction that includes instructions on how to set up your Instagram account, transitioning to the marketing and branding opportunities of the SNS, and ending with complementary tools as well as guidelines for measuring your success.

My team #csmtwerk‘s biggest critique of Instagram Power is in regards to the book’s target market. In the book, Miles says he’s mainly writing for “work-at-home marketers”. The Amazon description says the book will become one of your most trusted resources “whether you’re a kitchen table entrepreneur or a corporate marketer”. The book’s blurb suggests it’s for those who have yet to realize the marketing viability of Instagram. So who’s the real target market here? Well, everyone. In foreseeing the inevitable context collapse of his book, Miles seems to have envisioned too broad of an imagined audience (Marwick Boyd, “I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience“). Miles tries to appeal to as many audiences as possible with the polysemic messaging tactic frequently used on Twitter (Zizi Papacharissi“Without You, I’m Nothing: Performances of the Self on Twitter”, but as the popular saying goes, if you try to be everything to everything to everyone, you become nothing to no one (author unknown). Since Miles is a marketer and so-called social media expert, I would have expected him to practice the golden rule of marketing and social media – know your audience. Seeing that Miles intends to write more books in his Power Book series, I suggest he write specifically for what Marwick Boyd call the ideal reader – someone much like the writer, who is likely to share their perspective and appreciate their work. In spite of Miles‘s overly broad imagined audience#csmtwerk was able to define Miles‘s ideal reader as an age 40+ individual who lacks sufficient social media knowledge and who either owns or works for a small business.

#csmtwerk also questions Miles‘s credibility, which he blatantly provides in Instagram Power more as a plug than anything else. Based on his biography in Instagram Power and confirmed by Google Search results, Miles is the co-founder of Liberty Jane Clothing (an American Girl Doll clothing and pattern business) and Vice President of Advancement at Northwest University where he also teaches as an Adjunct Professor in the School of Business Management. He has 770 Instagram followers and just over 1,600 Twitter followers at the moment. His business Liberty Jane Clothing has about 9,110 Pinterest followers, 34,760 Facebook fans, and 3,955 Instagram followers. The first credibility issue is that Liberty Jane Clothing, which he frequently uses as a case study in Instagram Poweris extremely unique and markets to a niche–though evidently passionate–audience. This experience made sense when Miles wrote about social media marketing for more Etsy-esque businesses in Craft Business Powerbut it’s way too far reaching to command authority over corporate marketers. The second credibility issue is that Miles‘s SNS followings don’t exactly blow the social media savvy away. Especially not the Instagram following.

On the note of followers, Miles also fails to fully explain the value of social currency like the Follow, the Like, and the Comment. He urges readers to strive for 1,000 followers as quickly as possible, but the only reasoning he has is that “For [Liberty Jane Clothing], that’s the number that indicates credibility”. Michelle‘s recommends that Miles draw from Ellison‘s “Facebook Relationship Maintenance Behaviors” to explain the differences between weak ties and strong ties as well as the three kinds of social capital. For the audience of Instagram Power #csmtwerk established earlier, Miles‘s Instagram strategy would initially focus on getting strong ties (people you engage with on other channels) to engage with your brand, build new weak ties, and then the bridging capital provided by weak ties (knowledge, opportunities, connections) will help you reach more customers. Yasmace also suggests discussing the attention economy (Tufekci) to explain how how attention is a rare and valuable resource nowadays; in the media and on the Internet, it’s a currency similar to money.

Putting these critiques aside, Instagram Power actually has some insightful sections that I could see published on the popular blog Social Media Examiner or even Ragan. The 12 Common Buying Triggers on Instagram are actually pretty genius. Many of the triggers tie into Papacharissi‘s theory that SNSs afford public or private performances of the self. Because users wish to perform a specific identity online, they fall into the trap of these 12 triggers. Another great section in the book is Cautionary Tales, where Miles points out how context collapse pokes a hole in McDonald’s and Kenneth Cole‘s marketing campaigns. The lesson in this section of Instagram Power is that you have to be prepared for the nightmare reader to see your message, so your best bet would be to construct a message with what Marwick Boyd call the lowest common denominator philosophy.

When evaluating Instagram Power, the big thing to remember is that Instagram, like all other SNSs, is in perpetual beta (Ellison & Boyd). It’s in an iterative development process, it’s constantly changing, and it’s never truly finished. Thus, reading a book on how to use an SNS, especially one that fails to focus on the timeless, big picture elements of them the way our course authors do, is ironic and backwards. If you want to learn social, get social. Sign up for Instagram and learn by doing. It’s okay to make mistakes. As Miles was wise to note, even big brands like McDonalds (#McDStories) and Kenneth Cole (#Cairo Tweet) make them. And if you’re afraid that making mistakes will damage your brand’s reputation, being a lurker (BaymPersonal Connections in the Digital Age) until you’re ready to dive in is perfectly acceptable.

Although I do recommend this book for social media amateurs and small business owners, Instagram Power  suffers the limits of the print medium through which it was published. It will only ever be a snapshot of Instagram, capturing what the SNS was at the time when Miles decided to press the shutter button.

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