A Critical Review: Instagram Power

???????????????In his book, Instagram Power: Build Your Brand and Reach More Customers with the Power of Pictures, Jason Miles attempts to teach readers how to use Instagram as a business marketing tool. While its title solely points to Instagram marketing, Miles’ social media manual focuses on more than just that. Packed into the 234 pages, are excessively detailed instructions on how to use Instagram for personal and business reasons along with novice tips for brand building and on/offline marketing, guidelines for incorporating Instagram and other SNS’s into company marketing plans, and personal stories from Miles himself and other outside sources who have used Instagram to market their own brands.

The beginning of Miles’ book explores the “social shaping” of Instagram from the rise of photography to the invention of the iPhone camera and Instagram’s “latest evolution” where statistics showed that roughly 5 million images were shared on the app every day (Baym 44) (Miles 6).  To show how consumers shaped the use of Instagram, Miles outlines a brief history of the photo sharing app and the “unexpected and emergent ways that people [made] use of [its] affordances” for a variety of different purposes such as artistic expression, personal documentation, and marketing (Baym 44). He then spends the next four chapters covering the technological affordances of the platform and the behavioral norms of the Instagram community by incorporating pictures and written instructions.

When discussing the app itself, Miles highlights its photo-editing capabilities and points out limitations such as the inability to distribute “clickable” URL’s or repost images from other users. After establishing the basics, he gets to the core of his book which covers the purpose of hashtags, following, liking and commenting – the most important  “basis” for any company to establish a trustworthy relationship with its “target audience” (Miles 51).

In order to help business owners establish such relationships with their target audiences, he comes up with a basic four-step marketing plan. One of his main points in this plan is that business owners must generate a large number of Instagram followers to show customers that they are trustworthy. According to Miles, “the number of followers is a social status issue” that is “akin to casting a vote of approval.” In her notes on Miles’ book, csmtwerk group member Michelle Budnyza strongly noted how this Instagram marketing culture is similar to Limor Shifman’s idea of the “attention economy” where attention (likes, comments, and followers) measure a user’s value (Shifman 32).

Another step in maintaining an intimate relationship with customers, according to Miles, is producing content that gives consumers “an insider’s view” of a company. Such content consists of “sneak peak” and “behind-the-scenes” photos that highlight what Erving Goffman refers to as the “backstage” view of the company in his work The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. As Claire Sahn notes, exposing what goes on behind the scenes at a business  “creates a more personal touch to the brand” and brings the customers in by informing them in a genuine, uncensored way.

Getting a glimpse into the “backstage” life of a company gives customers a sense of trust, but if the images are of bad quality or presented out of context then they are pretty much useless. Because Instagram is a media-centric SNS that focuses primarily on images, the quality of content produced is just as important in brand marketing. In the eighth chapter of his book, Miles notes that the most powerful photos used in Instagram marketing take followers on an “emotional ride”  by tapping into their “deep-seated emotions” (Miles 83). As Michelle and Ray point out, this chapter aligns with Tiziana Terranova’s concept of affective labor, a subset of immaterial labor that aims to produce an “emotional response” from consumers. As Miles puts it, Instagram marketing is essentially a form of affective labor — if customers can emotionally align with a company’s product or mission, the chances of them purchasing products or investing in the company are much higher.

Emotional connections with companies can be established on Instagram, but Miles highlights that the strongest company/consumer relationships are maintained on a variety of platforms. While Instagram marketing is the sole purpose of the book, Saad, Ray, Nicolas, Michelle, and I noticed Miles repeatedly stressed the importance of media multiplexity in social media marketing. Just as Carolyn Haythornwaite explains in “Social Networks and Internet Connectivity Effects,” Miles notes that there is a relationship between “stronger ties” and “more means of communication” (Haythornwaite 131). He emphasizes the importance of media multiplexity by highlighting how his company, Liberty Jane Clothing, uses four platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Youtube) to develop strong relationships with customers.

While Miles’ experience of using social media to market Liberty Jane Clothing was interesting, group csmtwerk concluded that the company’s Instagram presence was unimpressive with barely 4,000 followers and questionable photos that don’t quite fit into context. Miles also incorporated “success stories” from other companies to highlight his points, but along with with Yasmeen and Ray, I found these examples to be vague and unnecessary. Instead of providing new insight about Instagram as a marketing tool, these blotchy interview excerpts mostly consisted of business owners giving their personal opinions about Instagram, which ultimately does not help the reader learn.

Miles’ writing style and repetitive emphasis on Instagram’s newfound importance in the marketing world showed his passion to help his audience develop a strategic Instagram marketing plan for their businesses, but as Victoria Cana pointed out, he does not have an imagined audience and was instead “trying to reach everyone.” As a result, group csmtwerk concluded that his book only really appeals to a limited audience of older (40 +) small business owners who have minimal to no experience with Instagram and other social networking sites.

In order to appeal to the Milennial audience, the group concluded that Miles should have also focused on marketing brands that are not solely based off of physical products. Much of this book focuses on monetary value and merchandise, but in this day and age, many Milennials are using SNS’s to create their own personal brands and make a name for themselves to jumpstart their careers (many of which that do not revolve around selling physical products). While Miles randomly incorporated the example of how artist/blogger Laura Lawson used Instagram for business, her insight was brief and opinion based. She commended Instagram for being a great outlet for artistic expression and also emphasized that while it has helped her promote her work, Instagram should mostly be used for fun – a point that seemed to contradict Miles’ marketing plan (Miles 101). As an active blogger, I am curious to learn how to market my material and my own personal brand and would have liked to see Miles expand on that idea.

A last question that I, along with Michelle, Claire, Carolyn and Jessica, had after reading Miles’ book was what he would say about implementing Instagram’s new video feature in a marketing plan. Carolyn and Jessica recently reached out to him via Twitter to gather insight, but he only gave a brief opinion.

In conclusion, my overall consensus is that Miles’ Instagram Power could be a very beneficial read for older, inexperienced SNS users and small business owners. However, I think the excessive focus on fundamentals does not appeal to young readers who have been using SNS’s since they made their first Xanga in 5th grade. Maybe I will buy this for my mom.


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