Mobile Media Lab, an agency for Instagram

Brian DiFeo is a co-founder of Mobile Media Lab. His agency collaborates with brands to get their ideas out on Instagram using a variety of different tactics. I first heard about the agency a couple years ago, and immediately felt that they were onto something smart. As the popularity of Instagram has grown, I’ve followed along as Brian and Mobile Media Lab have found a number of great ways to help brands get their products and ideas on the platform.

Advertisers on Instagram are in a very interesting space right now. While it’s shut off to all but a handful of advertisers, the platform is growing in popularity. That means lots of brands are trying to figure out how their marketing messages can fit in without using traditional paid media.

I sat down to talk with Brian about his agency, the current state of marketing on Instagram, and to get his ideas on what brands should be thinking of when making plans to use the platform.

There are two common avenues for brands to get their message out on Instagram. The first is to connect with “influencers,” or Instagrammers with a large following. The second is with a sponsored post which Instagram is doing now very conservatively and with a select group of brands. How do you think things are evolving between these two options?

It's tough to determine the direction it's going to be headed in. I think sponsored posts are like a traditional television commercial back in the day when you couldn't fast forward through them. In Instagram, a sponsored post is there, and you have to look at it, at least for a split second before you scroll past. You can't delete it or anything. What influencers offer Instagram brands is a more organic connection. It’s partnering up with someone who already has an established audience. That audience is going to be totally cool with seeing ads in their feeds from someone that they like, appreciate and respect. 

Also, I guess the other difference is financial. I can make an educated guess of what these brands are paying Instagram for posts, and I know what I charge for my campaigns. The difference is like night and day. Working with influencers can be a much more affordable option. When an influencer is posting a brand you don't get a lot of those comments saying "get this ad out of my feed" like they do on sponsored posts.

What kind of advice do you give brands who want to really be authentic in the way they use Instagram and interact with people?

One of the things I have told brands is that Instagram should be “80/20”. Twenty percent of your time should be spent creating content, and 80 percent on engagement. If you're going to spend 10 minutes a day posting content, you should be spending five times that just surfing hashtags, and really just finding photos and people that inspire you and engaging with those people.

I also tell some brands that they should speak the Instagram language. If you're okay using emojis, and putting up a smiley face or a thumbs up, you should do it. It may be cheesy for some brands, but for others it really resonates with them, because it's what their audience does.

Imagine, I put up a photo and tagged my LL Bean boots in the snow, and LL Bean comes over and give me a thumbs up. As a consumer, I would be so excited about it.

Do you ever have brands asking Instagrammers to take pictures or shoot concepts that don’t fit in with the rest of their feed?

It comes up, but we stop that line of thought with the brand very early on, oftentimes even in the very first phone call. There are times when a brand will come with an idea, and we may not even run it by the photographer, we just know it won't work on Instagram and we know it's not the direction that they should go in. We tell them that these Instagrammers know what works on their account. They know their audience. They know what's going to perform the best. So let's give them creative control and final say over what goes up on their account. 

We will work with the client on a brief and a mood board, some creative direction on the photos, and the photographers for the most part really appreciate that because it gives them some guidance.

How much control does a client generally have over what goes on an Instagrammer's feed? Do they see and sign off on each image?

Images from an Earth Day campaign by Mobile Media Lab for Rodales. From top left, influential Instagrammers  @brandenharvey ,  @cacahuete_sr ,  @flashesofstyle ,  @gregorywoodman ,  @mrsgrubby  and  @sar_m  were all commissioned to post photos to their own feeds.

Images from an Earth Day campaign by Mobile Media Lab for Rodales. From top left, influential Instagrammers @brandenharvey, @cacahuete_sr@flashesofstyle@gregorywoodman, @mrsgrubby and @sar_m were all commissioned to post photos to their own feeds.

Every job is unique. For the majority of them, it's up to the Instagrammer to do it, and the client trusts us, because we've worked with these Instagrammers before. They look at their feed like it's their portfolio, and they know what to expect from a given photographer. So the majority of these clients are just saying "go for it, we trust you guys." Occasionally they want to see it beforehand. Especially when we're working with a brand with a more old school approach that's just starting to dip their toe into the social media world. Our Instagrammers have been totally cool with complying with that, as long as it's out in the open from the first conversation.
What advice would you give a brand that really wants to succeed in marketing on Instagram in the next few years?

The quality of the photograph is really imperative. Every brand that is putting up photos really needs to consider the photographic merits of what they're putting up. It’s a shame when you see photos go up on a brand account when the person who took it wasn't really considering things like exposure and framing and focus, and they just posted for the sake of posting.

I think the influencer marketing world is a growing relationship, and I think it's really powerful. Most of the Instagrammers that we work with were amateurs at first. They find a love for photography and social media, and they pursue it, and they grow their audience and get great engagement, and brands start connecting with them. And I think it's really cool in the sense that these folks set out with a different mindset. It is this love of photography and this love of sharing. You see this wave of people who are growing up with social media, and people who really speak and understand the platform. More and more brands are going to embrace that, and take it really seriously. Establishing more of a relationship with influencers and making them feel a part of the team, the story, the conversation is only going to help the brand ultimately.

Also, stepping back and having a brand think about why they're on Instagram, and what their goals are is really important. The more you plan and conceptualize and strategize your Instagram account, the better. You can do some a/b testing and experiment with some things, and evaluate what performed well, and what didn't perform well. Finding out why is only going to make your account more successful. Also, I see a lot of brands that are stuck at like 6000 followers, and they're looking for that exponential growth. I think that influencer push really helps in that sense. But I also think that traditional engagement is really important. It's tough when a brand doesn't have the personnel to do it. But someone really needs to be logged in at that brand, liking and commenting and finding other users. If you do that for a couple hours a week over the course of a few months, you will see your numbers grow. 

If you don't have an audience, the content can be amazing, but it's the opposite of field of dreams. If you build it, they won't come. You need to go out and find those people.