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The instagram Quotient

For today’s savvy travelers, a picture’s worth a thousand likes >>

For those of us who were born in the 1980s or decades before, Instagram may be about as meaningful in our lives as colorful advertising on bus stop benches. All those pithy posts and prettily framed photographs that pop into view through this social media app cannot clean our houses, fix our plumbing or pick up the dry cleaning.

For those younger than 30, however, the mention of Instagram gets a much different reaction. It’s as coveted as lunchroom clique conversation and as seamless as ordering a hamburger.

For destinations, Instagram has turned into a spitfire promotion machine, allowing vacation destinations to show off their wares and even bring in a new attraction phenomenon: the buzzworthy selfie backdrop. For travelers, the social media channel is a must for finding out the cool things to do in a certain destination or even deciding where on the map to put the next pin.

Business travelers looking to have some fun broadcasting the travails and triumphs of their trips find Instagram to be the perfect confection. But for entrepreneurs or business managers who rely on social media to bring in traffic, frame their brand or convert sales, managing an Instagram presence – indeed any social media channel – can be as vexing as putting together a console from IKEA in poorly translated Swedish.

“Instagram is going to go the way of Twitter and Facebook to become a dominating force in social media. So every business should probably look to Instagram as a big part of their marketing plans,” says Sandra Mohr, owner of Mohr Publicity, an agency based in Los Angeles offering an expertise in social media management.

“If you don’t have an Instagram page, and if you think it’s too limiting, think again. The folks at Instagram are going to add more and more features until it becomes extremely well rounded. It may even create a new genre of movie-making. It will definitely start to run more advertising, allow more links for businesses to post to create more traffic to their websites, and grow in terms of the number of people that are using it. Instagram, for now, is the future.”

That means Instagram is growing up, lengthening in the tooth and is likely to become a fact of life as much to those who grew up listening to the Rolling Stones or Duran Duran as to those who rock to Maroon 5.

Fluent in Insta Grammar 

So, exactly what is Instagram and why should you care? By definition, the social media presence is actually an app managed best in one’s smartphone. It focuses on photographs, rather than words, as its dominant medium and relies on its users to follow other users and create lists of geo, ID and concept hashtags with each post to spur on connectivity.

Users who are hashtagged are likely to connect to the user who is posting. Each benefits through the addition of that follower and then being seen by that follower’s followers and suddenly there is an audience of many. To such audiences, Instagrammers post photos that show them using a product or enjoying a destination in the hopes of getting those audiences to buy a product or head to a destination. But mostly, posters want engagement – comments that show real people (as opposed to bot programs) are liking their posts and are interested in what they are doing. Users must engage and look at other people’s accounts, not just passively receive attention, in order for their Instagram efforts to see any success.

The channel was launched as a photo and video sharing service in 2010 with functions allowing users to edit and organize their posts with various filters, tags and location information. Facebook took notice and acquired the channel in 2012 for $1 billion, helping to build the app into the force of more than a billion users, as it has today.

Naturally, the travel niche has taken to this medium like avocado to toast – so much so that more than 40 percent of people under 33 are prioritizing travel plans based on their Instagram worthiness, according to a survey by the UK home insurance company, Schofields.

The results topped a list of other vacation concerns: Cost/availability of alcohol (24 percent), personal development (22.6 percent), chances to experience the local cuisine (9.4 percent), opportunities for sightseeing (3.9 percent).

“We are constantly being told how much of an affect digital marketing can have on a person. However it’s only when you see results like this that you become aware of just how much effect living in a world where everything is online can have on a person,” Phil Schofield, head of inbound marketing at Schofields, said in a statement about the survey.

This fact has turned heads in destination and attraction marketing offices and has created entire industries within the Instagram universe: Fake vacations.

FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out – may be a lot of what fuels the social media frenzy. Addressing this new itch are companies such as Nebraska-based Fake A Vacation, which gives clients a chance to be the envy of their audience from the solitude of their home. For a nominal sum, clients can have themselves pasted onto fake backdrops of popular Instagram destination hashtags, such as the Grand Canyon and Hawaii.

Living in The Insta World

Meanwhile, destinations, hotels, attractions and products are getting into the act and setting up marketing campaigns aimed solely at bringing in Instagrammers. Los Angeles, which claims an Instagram channel that has more followers than any other US tourism management organization with its @discoverLA account, promotes its various landmarks and attractions according to popularity on Instagram. The city offers no shortage of historic and iconic spots for celebrity-style selfies, plus a new phenomenon along shopping streets in Hollywood and West Hollywood have emerged in the past many months: pop-up selfie events and parking lot selfie murals.

Instagram has all but replaced the traditional travel brochure as vacationers are now choosing destinations based on social media more than qualified advice, according to a recent study.

Research for UK budget carrier easyJet showed more than half (55 percent) of the 18 to 65-year-olds surveyed had booked trips purely based on images they had seen on Instagram. Nearly a third (32 percent) of those surveyed also admitted picking vacation locations according to how nice the photos would look on their personal Instagram feed.

Las Vegas has never shied from the social media spotlight and has fueled this demand with all manner of exotic backdrops – from the Bellagio Fountains to bungy-jumping off the 1000-foot-high Strat Las Vegas tower. However, now spaces are in development that aim to attract experience-seekers and events planners alike in spots that can create magical custom experiences.

AREA15, just west of the Las Vegas Strip, is currently in development and targeting a 2020 opening as the world’s first purpose-built experiential retail and entertainment complex. It will offer live events, immersive activations, art installations, and host ongoing pop-up events that will resonate well with the Instagram crowd – making this concept more accessible to meetings and events planners looking to offer wowing experiences for their attendees.

“People are seeking experiences more now than ever before, but they are also feeling less connected than ever. AREA15 is setting the stage for anyone who enters to connect and experience things in a modern way,” says Michael Beneville, chief creative officer, AREA15.

The developers recently launched an ambassador program through Instagram and Facebook, called “AREA15 Agents.” With just a few posts to their social media channels they enlisted some 400 people to spread the word about AREA15 by sending out stickers and pins, and tagging out branded swag throughout the city.

As the market for influencer promotion swells – predicted to reach $5 to 10 billion by 2020, (with the Instagram influencer market poised to reach $2 billion this year) – small businesses, brands and entrepreneurs are realizing a path to profits through the efficacy of a robust influencer marketing strategy.

However, most business operators may not be wizards at making bad movies on the fly, or propping themselves up for cool shots that show off their product as they dangle dangerously over a cliff, or posing strangely in front of the Eiffel Tower. Lacking this capability, they can get left out of the game.

There is much to Instagram that never meets the eye: Clever but unfriendly user apps that enhance and modify shots; endless editing of even the simplest video set-ups; intelligent tagging and hashtagging strategies; organic – and inorganic – fan collections; optimized engagement strategies. It’s a dizzying list that comes with an oft-uttered caveat, “If you don’t do it right, you might as well not do it at all.”

But Instagram done right can catapult the quietest of businesses into an explosion of engagement and new revenue opportunities.

“The idea is that by making a post seem active with lots of conversation and thumbs ups, it encourages people who stop by to get involved and post their own comments,” says Mohr. The owner of this social media agency recommends some simple moves and approaches that will help anyone who is posting manage better results.

Those include:

•Post interesting photos. This is not journalism. Doctoring, filtering, all is allowed.

•Use Hashtags. This is an important part of Instagram. A hashtag puts your post in a category that is open to the public, rather than keeping it only in front of your own followers. Choose hashtags that are popular and possibly trending according to current news, or headlines in the entertainment industry. It’s a great way to attract viewers from outside of your main page.

•Get more followers. People make a judgment about a page immediately upon visiting and often that is inferred by the number of followers that you have. The more followers you have the more interesting your page appears.

•Hire an outside company to make sure posts maintain a minimum level of engagement so that others are encouraged to jump into the conversation.

•Reach out to others in your industry – like their page, make comments on their post, and eventually get them to follow and be engaged with you as well.

•Finally, don’t over-post. Everybody has so many messages coming in to their cell phones on a minute-by-minute basis. Make sure your posts are relevant, thought-provoking, well written and interesting.