Image power: fashion in the age of Instagram

London - The Decoded Fashion Summit 2016 in London saw Instagram's 7th employee, Amy Cole, give a talk on the power of Instagram.

The 2016 summit has been a focus point to explore the integrative, impactful, relevant and consumer-led innovation in fashion and technology, of which Instagram has played a key role since the app was first introduced to our mobile phones in 2010.

Not just pretty pictures

"Instagram is not just about pretty pictures, or people posting for likes and comments. It is a place to connect around inspirational imagery," Cole enthuses. In the bigger picture, "brands should be asking how do you connect people around all these inspirational and aspirational moments" and then actually capitalise on this and drive sales.

Image power: fashion in the age of Instagram

As an online mobile photo-sharing, video-sharing, and social networking service that enables, brands should think of instagram as a real channel, a real platform for growing their businesses. Whilst there are other photo-sharing apps, including Tumblr, Facebook, Google and Pinterest, research has shown images on Instagram are considered 2.8 times more imaginative and distinctive, and 1.5 times more creative than other apps.

Instagram is a powerful medium for the fashion industry, and it is interesting to see the myriad of ways the platform is being used. Instagram for the past few seasons has been re-imagining the runway, giving users a multitude of perspectives from the front row, behind the scenes, in hair & makeup, be it from a buyer, a celebrity, a photographer, an editor or a designer's perspective. A good example of utilising Instagram was Tommy Hilfiger's AW16 catwalk show, where he created an Instapit - a place where bloggers could take unique photos from the show and share them online.

Image power: fashion in the age of Instagram

Other designers are embracing the app in their own unique way, for example some designers have uploaded their entire collections prior to their catwalk show. New York-based designer Misha Nonoo created a separate show account so that it wouldn't conflict with any publication of her catwalk images and users knew what to expect. Here she uploaded creative look book images and still shots of full looks.

Another example is make-up artist Pat McGrath, who works with many luxury brands, including Saint Laurent, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Givenchy. At a product launch event in Brooklyn she took over a diner, bringing in celebrities and influencers and people from the street alongside a team of artists doing makeup. By doing so she created an experience around the brand, all of which is documented by photographs, and then posted as content, which subsequently gets shared and liked around the world.

Vogue launched an Instagram Studio at the Met Gala

At the Met Gala in New York last week, Vogue created an Instagram Studio with fluorescent lights, what Cole deems as 'experiential' content. The result being incredible videos and content where users can share experiences created around a brand and see first-hand how they can be used to tell their story.

Image power: fashion in the age of Instagram

Video consumption is exploding

Video consumption on Instagram is exploding, and has increased by 40 percent in the past six months. When you think of all the ways people can use video, the platform is creating more tools and more methods to create and consume that content more easily. For example, one recent upgrade has been to expand the video length to 60 seconds, so brands can think what those longer form stories could say for them.

Higher production quality, time-lapse and cutting tools for editing allow for more professional content that can be tailored to the brand, to make compelling video. One notable app that can be accessed from Instagram is Boomerang, which operates like animated GIFs, and are easy for brands to curate interesting content. Instagram is focused on bringing more tools to brands, to expand the ways they can tell their stories.

Don't be afraid to be innovative

When we think about creating video for mobile, Cole has a few tips: think about user experience, as you want to capture users attention quickly. Think about your own behaviour when you're using Instagram, if you're scrolling quickly, you want to capture that moment instantly. You want to be able to convey your message in video without the user necessarily having sound on. Also think about framing your story, think about the entire space you have when you're on a mobile. You can take different formats of video on Instagram, but if you use the full square you're "getting so much more real estate," says Cole. Brands should also play more, and to test and learn what works, don't be afraid to be innovative.

Connecting with the community is key on Instagram and brands should embrace engaging on a deeper level, such as mixing professional images from campaigns and look books, but also backstage, street style, celebrities, and at the same time reaching out and commenting with users, such as having discussions with people following the brand. Having that connection makes users feel closer to the brand, as it builds the connection and closes the gap between user and brand.

Image power: fashion in the age of Instagram

Instagram users inspire brands

At the same time, the Instagram community is also inspiring the fashion industry. Calvin Klein's former Creative Director was inspired by Artist Alice Lancaster's colorful, Fauvist-skewed paintings and self-portraits on her Instagram feed. “I had been following him [Costa] for a while and there was this moment where he posted an image from a runway show. I posted a bunch of hearts on it,” says Lancaster. “I think at the moment he was on his phone and saw the notification, and he quickly went over to my account and saw my work.” It culminated in Costa using a print from Lancaster's work and showing it in Calvin Klein's resort 2016 show.

Gucci too has found inspiration on Instagram. The Italian fashion house launched #GucciGram at the end of 2015, which it's creative director Alessandro Michele said "is a starting point to tell different stories, which are all united by a great freedom. Today creativity is often born and finds its voice in digital media, a vital source of visual culture.”

"It's very exciting to see how people are engaging around fashion," says Cole. The most important tip she lends, is that companies post content that are 'on brand.' Really understanding what your brand stands for and leveraging that into creative content. For example, if we think what Burberry stands for, being a British heritage brand, it's feed shows images of its iconic trench coat, iconic check pattern, iconic London scenes, etc, which is in contrast with Refinery29, a company that aims to be the number one media brand for smart, creative and stylish women, who's content is vibrant, youthful and more playful.

What does your brand stand for?

The most overlooked branding exercise on Instagram is the space under the username, says Cole. Often brands will say this is a "visual account of so and so," but rather it should be utilitised to tell people what you stand for, what your brand is, and what your account will show to people. It's a good tool to use, because you can see if the images posted reflect the ethos of the brand. A good example is the Hugo Boss eyewear campaign with the Instagram hashtag #masterthelight, who's images all incorporate the theme of contrast between light and shadow. Consistency in imagery is key to telling a story.

Cole's final message was for brands to think about the craft of images, and utilising the knowledge of how immediate, emotive and how powerful images can be. Think about what you're uploading, think about what story you are going to tell, and how will it look on your account. How are you crafting that experience for your brand.



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