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7 of the most unique and interesting Instagram brand campaigns in 2015 (so far)

Instagram is arguable THE platform for brands right now. According to a SocialBakers survey, Instagram is CRUSHING Twitter in terms of engagement. You’re seeing brands like Nike, Starbucks and Adidas with MASSIVE communities on Instagram.

And, we’re seeing some brands using Instagram in all sorts of interesting and interactive ways with their customers.

That’s what I want to talk about today: The interesting new executions brands are implementing to use Instagram to interact with their audiences.

Nordstrom uses rooftop Instagram installation to promote sale

Our biggest sale of the year deserves a really big @instagram post! #NSale #instaphoto #seattle #drone

A video posted by Nordstrom (@nordstrom) on

According to this Mobile Marketer post, Nordstrom used a visual of an Instagram post featuring a 55-foot dress on its corporate headquarters in Seattle. They then took video/photos of the installation via drone and then shared those pics and videos on Nordstrom social media channels. All to promote a summer sale. Fun, smart way to promote a sale that most likely happens every summer.

Whiskey maker created Insta-zine


Interesting concept here from whiskey-maker, Ballantine’s. The Insta-zine! One part Instagram project, one part digital magazine. Users are encourage to click on each photo (and its tag) from its @w_issueone account to dive into deeper digital stories on whiskey. Not sure if this is the future of Instagram, but it’s an interesting concept. And, kudos to Ballantine’s for giving something new and different a try (I may dive into this one in greater detail in a future post).

Target using Instagram clues to style dorm rooms

Target IG

Leave it to the Bullseye to use Instagram and Facebook data to build the perfect dorm room! Yep–that’s what Target it up to this fall. Interesting way to use the DATA from Instagram to point customers to products that work for them.

Forever 21 turns customer pics into Instagram mosaics

Forever 21

Not sure I’m really buying the effectiveness of this tactic, but it is different. And, it is a creative execution. Essentially, what Forever 21 did was create a 2,000-pound, 11-foot high “thread screen” that turns pics posted by customers/friends with the #Forever21ThreadScreen tag into complex-looking mosaics. The weird part: The “thread screen” sits inside the agency’s office that created it (Breakfast). It does create the “thread screens” and post them to this site: http://f21threadscreen.com/. But, I can’t get over the fact that it’s sitting inside the agencies walls–and NOT in or outside a Forever 21 store. Seems odd.

TOMS gives away 1 million shoes to children in need via #WithoutShoes campaign


In May, TOMS started the #WithoutShoes campaign (nice recap over on Jay Baer’s blog here). It’s goal: To give away 1 million shoes to children in need by asking people to share a pic of their feet and tag it with #WithouShoes. For every pic posted with the hash tag, TOMS will give one pair of shoes to a child in need. Outstanding cause marketing campaign. And, judging from the 358,599 pics using the #WithoutShoes hash tag on Instagram, I’d say it was a smashing success!


Gap starts micro-video series on Instagram to promote Dress Normal campaign

Gap started what has been described as a “micro-video series” between Jenny Slate (Marcel the Shell creator) and actor Paul Dano (no idea who that is, but I’m sure he’s famous and hits their target market). It’s an interesting approach–much like those “webisode” series’ that were so popular a few years back (PSFK has a nice recap here). Since the series is somewhat built on the cliffhanger model, it encourages viewers to check back each week–nice way inspire repeat views. And, each video features a different style or item from the Gap spring line (not surprisingly, of course). Interestingly–just glancing at Gap’s Instagram account, the video series’ generally generated LESS likes/comments than those “everyday” posts in its feed. Hmm….


Land Rover’s Instagram accounts take you inside National Parks

Land Rover IG

Land Rover created two new Instagram accounts (@solitudeinsawtooth and @brotherhoodofwonderstone) that attempt to give followers an “epic panorama” (as described by Fast Co.writer Dan Solomon in this recap post of pretty fantastic outdoor environments. Creative? Yes. Effective at advancing key marketing goals? That one I’m not so sure. I’m still not sure I understand why Land Rover made the panoramas in landscape view. The only way to see the whole thing is by visiting either one of the main IG pages. It is cool to see the whole panorama–I won’t lie. But, since it’s in landscape view, you have to turn your phone. And, the videos leave MUCH to be desired. They seem disjoined and provide little context to the bigger picture. And, of course, all the little pics that make up the big pic provide ZERO value or context. Again, seems like a big “creative agency project” to me.

Are we really on the right side of the digital divide?

I read an op-ed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune yesterday titled, “The future of work in a digital world.” The article talked about how digital tools and technologies have made the world a better place to live–but, quite possibly could also lead to a sharp downturn, and potentially the death, of our society.

That’s a bit extreme, but the article touches just a bit on a key question I’ve been thinking more about lately:

Are we really on the right side of the digital divide?


If you read this blog, you are most likely a part of what some call “the digital elite.” This means you have easy access to the internet. You own a smart phone. You probably have a tablet. You even may have a Apple Watch.

You are on what many would say is the right side of the “digital divide.”

Who’s on the other side?

Older people, generally. According to a 2013 Pew Internet study, only 46 percent of Americans 65 and older had access to a smart phone and broadband internet in 2013.

Rural folks, too. According to more recent Pew data, 84 percent of folks in Washington, D.C. have broadband access. 73 percent in Miami. But, look to more rural areas (or states) like Mississippi and that number plunges to just 57 percent.

And, of course, education levels matter, too. 52 percent of those with no high school diploma had access to a smart phone or broadband internet. By comparison, 93 percent of college-educated Americans had access.

But, are these folks on the other side of the digital divide so much worse off than us right now? Are we so much better off?

Outside of the education bucket, I can’t convince myself the answer is an unequivocal “yes.”

Just look at social media for a moment–just one component of the “digital” in the digital divide. When people talk about how social media benefits society, the list usually look like this:

* Social media helps build relationships

* Social media helps make you smarter

* Social media helps connect you with the world

I’m over-simplifying things, but that’s about it, right?

Well, let’s take a closer look at those three benefits:

* Helps build relationships. Does it really though? On the plus side, I do feel a bit closer to a lot more people. But, how well do I really know those people? How many of my 1,500 Facebook friends (I have no idea how many FB friends I have–just a wild guess), do I consider “close friends?” How many of them would I share news that my son was in the hospital, for example? How many would I tell about a big business milestone? The answer: Not too many. I would argue social media has definitely given us the tools to “keep in touch” with far more people than ever before. And, that helps on many levels. But, does it really mean we have more friends? Does it mean we have deeper relationships? Does is mean we’re happier? I’m not so sure you can say ‘yes’ to any of those.

* Helps make you smarter. Yes, social media gives you access to more information than you could have possibly imagined 20 years ago. And I, for one, am very grateful for that. But, has social media given you information you couldn’t have consumed in a classroom, by reading a book, or by sitting down with a good, old-fashioned newspaper? I love reading all the different perspectives we see online each day about marketing, politics, religion and our communities. But, I’m just not 100 percent sure I couldn’t have got that information from other sources–and, more importantly, I’m not sure I’m that much better off for it.

* Helps connect you with the world. Hard to argue this one. Social has brought us so much closer together. And, in a much more intimate way thanks to the huge explosion of video tools and capabilities. But again, weren’t we pretty connected thanks to media like TV, radio and newspapers before? And, don’t we all have a threshold for how connected we can really be? Social has definitely helped connect the world and make it a bit smaller–I’m just wondering how great the benefit has been.

This all leads me to a scenario I’ve been thinking about lately. What if my wife I had moved to rural southeaster Minnesota 10 years ago, before all this digital media stormed on the scene?

What if we had built a house on 10 acres of land and decided to start our family in a small town, instead of the 15th largest market in the U.S.?

What if we had sent our kids to a high school with a graduating class of 50 instead of 500?

What if we raised our family and didn’t own a tablet OR a smart phone?

What if we didn’t even have internet service in our home? (GASP!)

Would our lives really have been that much worse off? I’d be on the wrong side of the digital divide, that’s for sure. Pew told me as much since I wouldn’t have owned a smart phone or had broadband access.

But would my life have been worse as a result?

You see, I bring this up because I hear a lot of people talking about that exact scenario.

Trading in the urban, go-go lifestyle for a slower, more rural pace.

Moving to the stix. Buying land. Living a simpler life.

If I did that, would I really be on the wrong side of anything?

I’m not saying I’m considering this path. I’m not saying that’s in my future.

What I am saying is this: I’m not so sure the “wrong side” of the digital divide is really all that bad.

In fact, I think some people might be seeking it out.

And, I think that group is about to grow a little bit bigger in the years ahead.

photo credit: Sony ICF-J40 via photopin (license)


The misunderstood case of “brand voice” in social media

When you think of companies that have nurtured a great “brand voice” on social media, which organizations come to mind?

According to my research, the “experts” will tell you the list looks something like this:

Sharpie (accounts dead, btw)

DiGiornia Pizza

Red Bull



Taco Bell

Taco Bell tweet

As I continued to dig in, I noticed a striking trend. All these brands that people were lauding as having great “brand voices”–they were all snarky, hip, young, energetic voices.

They all involved witty–and oftentimes–funny language.

They all involved a degree of humor.

They all were fun, light and airy.

By looking at these lists and case studies, one would think you’d HAVE to be young, witty and funny to establish any kind of successful brand voice on social media.

But, we know that’s simply not true.

However, it does appear to be a myth under which many people are operating (the recent Chevy product launch seems to be a perfect example).

Clearly, not all brands need to have a snarky, witty and/or humor-filled voice on social media to be effective.

A good, consistent brand voice should be a reflection of your brand and your brand values.

It should be your brand personality described as an adjective (I read that somewhere–can’t find the source right now, so this isn’t my line, but I like it).

Really, your brand voice should be boiled down to a few simple words.

For example, I think Tiffany & Co. has a great brand voice on social.

I would describe it as: Simple. Elegant. Refined.

Tiffany 3

Notice the brevity in the text. Notice the simple product shot. Notice the white space. Notice the words they use.

And, notice what they’re NOT. Funny. Witty. Snarky. Targeting 20-somethings.

Or, what about Life Time Fitness?

Here’s a brand (love to pimp my friend Tony Saucier’s work) that’s voice can be summed up in two words: motivation and inspiration.

Life Time 2

Again, nothing overly witty or funny here. Sure, Life Time’s voice is light-hearted in spots (they are a fitness/wellness brand, after all!). But, I’d hardly put it in the same bucket as Oreo. Life Time Fitness appears to be more aligned with its “real life” brand–which focuses on wellness, motivation and health.

Life Time 3

Or, what about Hilton on Twitter? It’s @HiltonSuggests account’s voice can be summed up in ONE word: Helpful. Not funny. Not cute. Helpful.

Hilton Suggests

Nothing fancy going on with Hilton’s voice here. They’re all about helping the customer–and using language that’s clear and effective. Not language that’s “on fleek,”

So, I’m here today to stand up and say, you don’t need a cute, fun, witty voice on social to be effective.

But, you do have to be your own brand. Aligned with your mission. Speaking in a tone and style your customers will appreciate and understand.

That’s what makes a good “voice” within the social media world.


Why aren’t more companies using LinkedIn Sponsored Updates to retain and recruit talent?

As we’re all painfully aware by now, Facebook has morphed into a complete pay-for-play platform thanks to the prevalence of “sponsored posts.”

But LinkedIn? That’s a different story.

“Sponsored updates”, as they’re labeled, on LinkedIn are a bit less ubiquitous than its Facebook brethren. But, according to many, they can be more successful (if used right).

However, when I started digging into how companies are using Sponsored Updates at this time, I came away feeling uninspired and unimpressed.

As I reviewed the Sponsored Updates in my feed, I started to group them into a few key buckets:

Posts that drive traffic

LinkedIn sponsored 1


LinkedIn sponsored 8


Posts driving to influencer content

LinkedIn sponsored 2


Posts that encourage participation through contests

LinkedIn sponsored 5


Posts that drive downloads

LinkedIn sponsored 6

LinkedIn sponsored 7


Posts that drive subscriptions

LinkedIn sponsored 10


So, from looking at the types of Sponsored Updates I’ve seen on LinkedIn, we can glean one thing: Brands are looking to SELL on LinkedIn.

Think about that for a minute.

Now, let’s reflect upon why actual human beings use LinkedIn:

* To research people and potential employers

* To research and find jobs

* To network, nurture and build relationships

* To learn and get smarter

Nowhere on that list do I see “buy stuff.” Nowhere.

Yet, that’s where I see most of the companies focusing their attention–on selling.

I didn’t see a single post that was focused on promoting open jobs.

I didn’t see a single post that was focused on building relationships with human beings on LinkedIn.

And I didn’t see a single post that showcased a company’s employees as a way to stimulate interest in a job.

This is why I was uninspired and unimpressed.

Why aren’t more companies using LinkedIn for what it was intended to do?

Why aren’t more companies using LinkedIn to meet the needs of users?

Why aren’t more companies using LinkedIn for recruiting and retention purposes?

I’m so confused.

But, it’s also a huge opportunity for brands that are savvy enough to realize this and take advantage.

And I look forward to watching that evolution.


How to find a good social media blog to add to your reader

Like many of you, I read a decent amount during the day. I read the newspaper. I read emails. I read news sites.

And I read blogs.

I use Feedly to aggregate all the blogs I read. I organize them by categories: MN blogs, advertising blogs, PR blogs, content blogs.

And social media blogs.


I read these blogs because I need to stay on top of what’s happening in our industry–the same reason many of you read these blogs.

But, over the last number of months, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with the landscape of social media blogs.

Just so many rehashed posts. People and companies trying to game the system. People and companies just looking for a click.

For example, how many times do we have to see a post with this kind of headline before our heads explode? Was this really written in 2015?

How to Get Your First 1,000 Real Facebook Fans (Infographic)

And, how many more times do we need to restate this post? I mean, I know blogging is still new to some people/companies, but c’mon now…

How to Start a Successful Blog…Today!

And, for the love of God, how many more “47 tips from the top social media pros” posts do we need? Especially when they feature THE EXACT SAME PEOPLE EVERY TIME!!! Holy hell–don’t get me started (and, I used to be guilty of this approach, so I’m fully aware of the why and reasoning behind the posts).

67 Insights from the Worlds Top Digital Marketing Experts

Then, you have a slew of blogs created by agencies and vendors. Which, on its own, would be fine. Until you dig a little deeper and figure out many of these posts are written by 23-year-old kids almost straight out of college. Now, that’s no crime. Kids coming out of school today impress the hell out of me. Much smarter than I was at 23. Except, I’m 42 now. And, I’m looking for insights and analysis from people who have been in the business a while. People with marketing chops. People with experience. People who have been in digital marketing longer than a couple years.

So, needless to say I’m frustrated. And, to be clear, I do still enjoy some of these blogs despite some of the drawbacks.

But, it really is tough to find truly good social media blogs that: 1) Aren’t entirely self-serving and overly promotional, 2) Written by people with credibility in the industry, and 3) Written with some actual thought and analysis.

Now, there are a handful of blogs that I read regularly that I do believe hit on these key criteria. And, they’re blogs I read religiously as a result. They provide thoughtful analysis. New ideas. And bold thinking.

THAT’S what I want from a social media blog. And I get it from these folks.

Mark Schaefer, Grow

I’d love to hear more from Mark–he features a lot of guest posts on his blog. But, I know he’s a busy guy. Mark’s posts are insightful, interesting and often times, well ahead of the curve (see his “Content Shock” post from 2014 here).

Contently, The Content Strategist

Although this is a pretty self-serving blog, I still usually really enjoy it. Mostly because Contently tackles virtually every angle of the world of content marketing. And, they usually do it in a very interesting way. Although I’m not a big fan of every post they make (don’t love the comics lately). I do love the case study posts and their prediction posts (even though I frequently disagree with them).

Shelly Kramer, V3B blog

Love her weekly round-ups (a must read for all), and also love the fact that Shelly is doing most of the posting. One of the few who really writes a lot anymore across the social web.

Jay Baer, Convince & Convert

I’ve been a big fan of Jay’s work for quite a while (dating back to probably about 2009). Much like Mark, we don’t hear from him often enough (even though he’s doing a lot of video and podcasting recently). I still prefer the old 1,000-word blog posts he used to churn out on any number of topics. Today, we get more guest posts–which are still fairly good, but I’d love to hear more about Jay’s thinking. Still a great blog to keep tabs on.

If you’re reading this blog and/or you work in PR/marketing, you have probably heard of the blogs above. But, how do you find other blogs LIKE these blogs that could potentially make you smarter about your job and the world of digital and social media marketing? I think a few key steps would go a long ways:

Do a little digging on the author

Research the author. Heck, just looking up their LinkedIn profile will probably tell you enough. Do they have experience in the field? Are they an author trying to sell a book (automatic skip for me–in most cases)? Are they truly credible? This step should narrow down your reading field substantially based on what I see online these days.

Is their heart in the right spot?

I know, this is fairly subjective. But, it matters for me. For example–Mark Schaefer. Is Mark trying to make money through his blog? No question. But, does that drive everything he writes about? No. Does he try to help make the industry a better place through his writings? I think so. Does he care about his community of readers? Just go sift through the comments some time. I think the motivations of the blogger matter. Sure, most of them/us are doing this because of money in one way, shape or form. But, for the good ones, that’s not THE reason–it’s just one reason. There is a difference.

Hands-on vs. Pontificator?

This has been a big beef of mine for years. The bloggers who “pontificate”, but rarely get their hands dirty with the day-to-day work. Not going to name any names here, but we all know there are plenty of folks in this boat. The folks I really admire and appreciate really do both. They theorize, but then they also back it up by actually working with clients (Gini Dietrich and Shelly Kramer come to mind here). Find the bloggers who do both–not just one.

photo credit: AAAARRRGGGHHH via photopin (license)