If you ever had any doubt that Instagram would become a commercial platform, that doubt should be dead – taken out back and shot with a sawed-off rifle dead. The network was bought by Facebook, did some house-cleaning with third party apps in regards to its trademark, and has officially introduced ads. There’s no mistaking it: Instagram is all business.
Despite this comparatively buttoned-up approach, the app remains popular with users. Even through its maturation and brand-courting, Instagram has ably retained its “magic;” it’s still a place for personal photo conversations, spurring visceral reactions and interactivity, as well as real life connections. And that is what makes it such an attractive platform for marketers.
There are a variety of start-ups focusing on this space – helping brands identify their Instagram strategies and utilize the potential there. One of them is Pixlee, which we got an early look at during StartX’s Demo Day last spring. Today it officially launches, diving into an already-crowded pool.
If you’re wary of yet another concept that wants to help infiltrate Instagram with brands, Pixlee understands your concern. “There are a number of platforms focused on social aggregation. Pulling content from hashtags is a fairly basic feature,” says founder Kyle Wong. “We at Pixlee have a completely different philosophy of what brands and consumers want out of visual content. We see user content as the intersection of photos and data, and we combine the two to deliver personalized authentic content at scale.”
To break that down a bit, Pixlee is the bridge between brands and users that are unwittingly (or willingly) advertising them. For instance, if you proudly Instagram yourself throwing up the “O” while donning your Mariota jersey and add the “#WTD” hashtag at every University of Oregon Duck football game (speaking from experience here …), Pixlee wants to help the Ducks find and potentially use that photo.
Wong says that “eventually,” these photos could be used in Instagram advertisements, but the start-up sees broader potential for its technology and services. “Imagine if every e-commerce site had customer photos included in the product listings, like on Yelp and TripAdviser. And if fashion brand websites showcased examples of how their clothes are being worn in your city? Or if the Squaw website showed the best real time photo taken by visitors of every angle of the mountain?”
Pixlee uses its proprietary PhotoRank technology to help brands and organizations find the best Instagram photos and videos for their purposes. Because there are going to be thousands – likely hundreds of thousands – of photos sent over the course of the Seattle Seahawks football season (the team is currently using Pixlee), PhotoRank finds the worthy ones based on photo quality, comment sentiment, photo popularity, among other factors.
Using Pixlee, clients can also quickly repurpose Instagram images where they please; your tagged fandom can immediately be distributed by the brand’s various social channels with an added note. If you’re quick to dispute this reuse of your creative content, firstly, the quickly becoming-old adage of don’t upload what you don’t want taken comes to mind. If you hashtag, location tag, and photograph a brand in some way, then you’re asking for some attention from said brand.
And so far, Wong says they’ve only gotten positive reactions from those on the user side. “We see consumers taking screenshots of the photos with brand or team comments and reposting them on social media.”
Wong says that users who are displaying their love for a brand or product on Instagram, in general, want some recognition for it. “For example, I just bought a Jawbone Up and I took a picture to show all my friends. I would love to submit this photo to Jawbone in some way, but how do I do that today? I’d love to be featured on the Jawbone website or reposted or retweeted. Now imagine if Jawbone gave me a discount off my next purchase?”
There’s a benefit to appreciating something, announcing it, and being rewarded for that. Now if you want to reserve Instagram for nothing but pictures of your breakfast and home renovations, no one is stopping you. But if you’re posting up a storm about your new Lebrons anyway … it’s hard to argue you wouldn’t like 30 percent off on your next pair.
The reason for the many sports-related examples is that so far, most of Pixlee’s clients are athletic organizations. “Companies with strong communities and brand affinity are attracted to Pixlee. That makes us a natural fit with sports teams because of their rapid fan base and the desire to see the behind the scenes, authentic experience surrounding games,” says Wong. But Pixlee is also working with 1-800-Flowers, UGGs, as well as Stanford and UCLA.
For those of you who want to remain undercover … well, just keep those Instagram profiles private and forget the hashtags. For everyone else, the chances of being discovered by your favorite brand are only going to get better.