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Instagram is home to 200,000 brands and boasts one of the highest Millennial user growth rates among social media platforms. Some estimate that 51.8% of all social network users will use Instagram by 2017. Its visual platform makes it easy for users to share and recommend — via tags, likes, and follows — but not to make purchases. These attributes make it popular among aspirational Millennials, but challenging for brands that want to measure the impact of their Instagram investment. The value of referrals on a purchase decision has spawned an entire marketing segment (referral marketing), but the value of sharing content before a consumer enters the consideration stage of the purchase funnel has not been quantified.
It can be hard to justify the cost of operating social media accounts to managers without being able to quantify the value provided in dollar-amount terms. “It’s important that we continue to shift our focus from the short-term sale to the long-term value of social media. Part of our willingness to make this shift comes from trust that our efforts will pay off, even if not immediately, and part comes from finding new ways to measure results over time,” says Emily Teele, loyalty and retention marketing manager at the home goods retailer west elm. While calculating the value of a social media follower can be difficult, the potential value of these followers is real.
Companies can engage aspirational consumers as brand advocates, even before they purchase. Aspirational customers follow brands that represent the values, causes, status, and communities that they want to be a part of as customers. Contrary to their popular portrayal as window shoppers, aspirational consumers identify with brands whose value extends beyond status and into empowerment, trust, and social responsibility. Our research suggests that these consumers may provide real value for companies.
Who are Aspirational Customers?
We conducted a survey of 401 Instagram users ages 18-33 in April of 2016 (see “About the Research”). Sixty-six percent of respondents follow at least one brand on Instagram, with a median number of six brands followed. Of those who do follow brands, 56% follow at least one brand that they have not made a purchase from — yet. Our data suggests that they do plan to purchase in the future. Today’s followers are very likely to be tomorrow’s customers.