Instagram Power: Book Review

Like the age old saying goes: “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Why share your thoughts in text form when you can show the world what you see (with the addition of a really cool vintage-y filter on top of it)? The concept of documenting your life through images has taken over the world of technology and as a result, social media has become more visual than ever. More and more users are giving up lengthy statuses for photograph updates with cute captions.

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And instead of opting out of this phenomenon, Jason G. Miles suggests in Instagram Power: Build Your Brand and Reach More Customers Through the Power of Pictures that small businesses should take advantage of Instagram’s image-oriented technological affordances in order to market their products more effectively to consumers. Miles even explains that people are not the only ones who can benefit from Instagram. Companies can capitalize off of the platform as well by “[finding] ways to engage customers in conversations and contests” and by “[building] social communities around their brands.”

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As I read Instagram Power, I became increasingly aware of Miles’ analytical mode of thought. He truly breaks down the platform of Instagram into a science. Miles makes it very clear that there are rules to abide by and that there is data involved. You have to study Instagram in order master it. He emphasizes that every post should be carefully thought out in order to maximize the potential for gaining followers and likes. Miles also focuses on the shareability of photograph by describing twelve “emotional triggers that marketers have discovered” in order to “prompt people to act.” He explains that the key to a successful post on Instagram is to be “authentic , honest, and non-manipulative.” It is by sharing images that are relatable and personal that a company is able to build a devoted following. Alice Marwick and Dahna Boyd expand upon the notion of genuine versus disingenuous posting in To See and Be Seen: Celebrity Practice on Twitter. They explain that those who simply “broadcast publicity information are seen as less authentic than those using [social media] for dialogue and engagement.” Whether a user is following a celebrity or a business, they like to think that there is truth in what they see in their news feeds. No consumer enjoys feeling as if they’re constantly being marketed to. As Nicolas Boulad explains in his notes over Instagram Power, Miles suggests that Instagram users enjoy interaction. In Miles’ words,” “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Marwick and Boyd demonstrate this idea through their Mariah Carey Twitter case study. Carey responded to fan tweets by privately messaging them, and as a result, she curated an image of “availability and fan access.” Whether or not she was actually sincere in doing so, she generated a perception of authenticity to her followers. Miles suggests that businesses need to adopt a similar strategy when targeting their consumers.

The format of Instagram Power is as left-brained as it comes. Miles is sure to include historical information about the platform, definitions (including one for “hashtag”), and a great deal of statistical information as well. Although the book is extremely organized and easy to follow, it can become quite tedious to read as a result. To his defense, however, when I found myself disengaging from the book, Miles had moments where he drew me back in with thought provoking questions and interesting observations.  Overall, I was surprised at how much Instagram Power reminded me of a textbook at times as it was definitely more instructional than entertaining. It’s also interesting to note that Miles’ frames his Instagram advice around his own company throughout the book.

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I found myself frustrated at times by Instagram Power mainly because I couldn’t relate to it as a young social media user who is technologically adept. As harsh as it may sound, I found most of Miles’ input to be useless and redundant. At the same time, however, I recognized that this book could be extremely useful for some people. There is definitely a market for Instagram Power and it lies in the population of older individuals who are in the process of building a brand and finding an audience for said brand. Instagram Power has a very specific audience and demographic which I’m not a part of. This is the main reason that the book did not appeal to me: it is targeted towards companies, NOT people. As a result, the writing is very business oriented as opposed to highlighting the social aspects of Instagram. Most of Miles’ book focuses on the concept of a new internet economy which is also discussed in Tiziana Terranova’s essay Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy. Terranova explains that a “digital economy” has materialized which is “characterized by the emergence of new technologies (computer networks) and new types of workers (the digital artisans).” Miles builds off of this notion by explaining how Instagram essentially bridges the gap between the digital economy and the traditional economy. For example, a company can post a picture of their product and a consumer can purchase it (which would provide monetary capital for the company) and/or share/like the image (which would provide digital capital for the company).  Ultimately, Instagram (like any social media platform) is a numbers game: followers and likes legitimize a brand.

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The concept of performativity has been discussed in relation to social media technologies throughout the semester. One of the strengths of Instagram Power is that it touches on the notion of online performance without explicitly describing it in such a way that suggests insincerity. Instead, he frames this discussion in a “do’s and don’ts of Instagram” type of way as opposed to a “how to perform on Instagram” type of way. This is smart on Miles’ behalf because as Zizi Papacharissi explains in Without You, I’m Nothing: Performances of the Self on Twitter, no social media user likes to think that they’re performing. Instead, users enjoy the idea that they’re being their authentic and true selves online (although this is rarely true). Miles’ shares tips on adhering to performance constructs in order to be successful on Instagram, but he never outright references ‘acting’ or ‘theatricality’ in any way. He is subtle about his own presentation of the assertions he puts forward.  Miles also draws upon the idea of an audience. Whether one has a personal Instagram or a business Instagram, it is important to play to their followers. As Papachrissi states, “Online social platforms collapse or converge public and private performances, creating both opportunities and challenges for pursuing publicity, privacy, and sociality.” Without an audience, sharing images has no meaning. And without a consumer base, a business has no chance of surviving.

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Instagram Power was definitely packed with information but many aspects of the social media platform were left unexplored by Miles. Overall, I felt as though the book was an incomplete “how to” manual that was limited in scope and would only be useful for a small fraction of people. As Claire Ahn states in her notes over the book, video updates (Instagram’s newest feature)  were not discussed. Even on a strictly marketing level, this was an important element to elaborate upon. Videos on Instagram have the potential to completely redefine social media marketing and I found it strange that Miles ignored this component. It would have also been useful to approach the book from the perspective of someone who uses Instagram as a personal profile. The largest problem with Instagram Power was that it didn’t apply to me as a reader. I was not invested in the perspective that Miles employed when writing the book.

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