Instagram Trends Report 2015

Instagram Trends Report 2015

Food, drink, and recipe content provides an immediate, highly valuable form of marketing for all types of brands, businesses, and individuals.
On Instagram, food equates to shared experiences.

In January 2015, nonpartisan American think tank PewResearch released widely shared analysis that showed for the first time in the United States, roughly half of internet-using young adults ages 18-29 (53%) use Instagram.

Instagram not only increased its overall user figure by nine percentage points, but also saw significant growth in almost every demographic group; PewResearch.

Join us in this case study as we examine the exciting intersections on Instagram where modern food data, consumer & business technology, and content marketing meet.

Instagram LogoThis report looks specifically at high growth or startup focused technology brands in the food and drink space on Instagram, one of the most viral media platform for 2015 and beyond (and with similar strategy requirements to networks like Snapchat and Vine.) National, heavily funded food & drink chains are reviewed at the bottom for an overall comparison but are not our main focus in this startup centric report.

Consumer spending shifts towards pleasurable purchases focused on experiences, not material goods

Consumers in the last 2-3 years have trended towards the realization that spending their hard earned dollars on experiences over material goods leads to increased overall human happiness. This is a knowledge trend we expect to reach further viral heights through 2015, especially for food & drink. This creates an environment where consumers are now seeking out complete experiences over material goods, and in the food and beverage space, sometimes this means a table replete with farm to table, whole ingredients.

Many other types of entities under the broad “lifestyle” umbrella will benefit greatly from this trend, and content marketing with recipes will play a major role in assisting such brands in establishing the trusting relationship they need with consumers to survive digitally.

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“Authentic” and “diverse” should never be part of a buzzword trail mix

This Instagram is completely photo based, but captures unique typesetting and writing that Instagram followers can clearly see and engage with in the comments.
This Instagram is completely photo-based, but captures unique typesetting and writing that Instagram followers can clearly see and engage with in the comments.

These days, average American consumers demand absolute, raw authenticity from brands continuously. And they’re aware when they’re being duped more than ever. So being told that something is “authentic” in advertising copy, for example, is definitely a bad way to start off the marathon that is high-quality content marketing.

Continual social change and upheaval across the globe in 2014 demand that marketers remain overtly transparent & especially responsive to their consumers at all times, including sharing things such as manufacturing and other policies openly. Such media can include video walkthroughs of production sites, which will then in turn produce highly valuable content marketing given the right creative fit and direction of the team. If you need to create informative content, you should better work with professional digital agency like Fix Now Media.

Given the faintest sense of cheapened, low-quality stock, or haphazard content, consumers will be quick to unfollow. Thankfully, Instagram engenders a popular sense of boundless creative possibilities and constant collaboration, generally a dream for editorial strategists and creative directors looking to drum up inspiration for new content.

Companies old and new need to start opening up traditionally closed parts of their business to their in-house creative professionals at all levels to create this authenticity and diversity in your brand’s strategy for high-quality content marketing.

Graph courtesy Quartz.
Instagram users overtook Twitter users around October 2014; Courtesy Quartz.

The most successful marketing strategies on Instagram demonstrate an implicit and explicit sense of authenticity and diversity. Their composition captures something truly unique not only in subject’s nature, but the emotional lens and frame through which it’s captured as well. The fact is that the bold, new tastes in pop global culture and style–thanks to the hyper digitization of mass communication and global community creating–promise exciting market movements for any consumers or businesses on Instagram.

Media-rich Instagram, Tumblr reign supreme with massive growth in 2014, to continue through 2015

It’s clear that media- (originally photo-) first channels and platforms such as Instagram and Tumblr now dominate the high-growth landscape for emerging social markets. These channels are perfect for food styling and photography in its most expressive, bold, and fascinating forms. In turn, this produces the kind of authentic, satiating content consumers continue to seek out almost feverishly on Instagram, and use to build brand trust and thus long-term loyalty.


Instagram has made a number of updates in recent months making post and comment management much easier, including editability, more statistics, in addition to the slow rollout of Instagram ad placements directly in the feed.

Instagram video (and likely auto-play video sometime in 2015) will gain much more of a stronghold in the regular narrative of brand strategies on Instagram as it continues to succeed on Facebook. Community engagement on Instagram is also expected to undergo consecutive mini “revolutions” as additional account management tasks become more streamlined and easier. Facebook continues to place increased, heavy focus on Instagram through new iterations in the UI expected throughout 2015. This is similar to the ways in which Facebook as a platform learned and iterated its way to its current, most successful ad and business model today. We expect Instagram to take a somewhat similar but quicker path as a stand-alone entity within the Facebook enterprise.

Instagram media innovators also taking advantage of direct posting tools to Tumblr will reap further rewards from this artistic, high-growth, socially viral network, most popular among Millenials and other important high growth groups. This channel is essential for long-term planning if you are in any way a creatively operating brand.

Matcha is often used in a Japanese pastry involving a unique dry mix made mostly of dried green tea, a treat our friends at Town & Cooking have enjoyed in macaron form before!

2015 Instagram Market Forecast Q1 – Q4 2015

We expect the remainder of 2015 to see the continuation of brand maturation and increased consumer loyalty building, especially for food and drink brands on Instagram, as it continues to demand more creativity and authenticity from brands, much to users’ and consumers’ delight. We expect the aesthetics discussed and shown throughout this report to continue to gain momentum across Instagram and many other social platforms as well.

Martha does... Martha best.
Martha does Martha-style Instagramming best.

The continual, massive growth in user acquisition or growth numbers for Instagram seems to have no end, thus furthering the future fate of this highly visual, creative, and almost counter-culture network’s reach for many humans who may not share a native language across the globe for years to come.

Before you have a comprehensive Instagram channel strategy set with your team, here are the central concepts you must be thinking about as you move forward in Internet marketing today:

  1. Authenticity. One simple way, to interpret “authenticity” for food & drink content on Instagram is to use whole ingredients and foods in their rawest or most original forms in media compositions as often as possible. Consumers are becoming increasingly keen on where their food is sourced, and will continue to withhold their spending dollars from food & drink brands that they feel lack transparency and authenticity in their production line. This savvy and increased intelligence will only continue to trend upward as consumers become more immune to traditional gimmicks given the ease of quick fact checking on smartphones in places like restaurants or supermarkets.
  2. Clarity. Authenticity is clarity in many ways, but we couldn’t help but drive this point home again! Simpler is always better. Clarity also involves being concise for us, so we try to make sure a clear artistic message is present for each one of our clients’ Instagrams. Try for extreme brevity in all copywriting for Instagram, however, always using proper grammar and punctuation, except when it comes to hashtags. DO throw in a few emojis for context, but don’t turn yourself into a bit of a newbie with more than three.
  3. Embrace diversity over and again. Choose photography subjects that are striking, and unexamined in popular culture. Do things unlike you’ve ever done them before. Big bold attempts at creative effects, and culturally diverse subjects from an authentic and ethical, documentarist angle are all certain to lead marketers to positive growth for their companies.

The leader in food & drink on Instagram: @Food52

Internet recipe lovers of the late 2000s and early 2010s may expect Instagram front runners to be some of the best, boutique food publishing from the past such as Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, or even extremely multi-faceted and talented network Serious Eats.

While these greats continue to reign, Simmer found that it’s epic media and software company Food52 who, especially in the last 2 years, has been the continually most aggressive innovator in food and drink media, today leading the Instagram pack.

Food52 uses many regular community management techniques and conversion strategies. This includes the popular “link in bio” reference for their most recent Instagram, so that users on mobile can work around the user interface (UI) faults of the app right now and click straight through within their mobile browser without awkward attempts at memory copy and paste. This is a great example of a successful UI workaround on a social platform to further convert users.

Thanks to a team led by Kristy Mucci, Food52’s Instagram presence has seriously excelled its overall success as both a technology and media company. With over a quarter of a million active followers on Instagram, the @Food52 feed is a lively center for brand engagement and growth building towards revenue.

Food 52's beautiful, fully responsive website that powers the amazing media and content produced and strategized for their Instagram channel, @food52.
Food 52’s beautiful, photo-centric and fully responsive website can be viewed with the same user experience (UX) across a variety of mobile devices with its UI.

Food52 exemplifies their authority in the field of food Instagram marketing by actively creating new sources of content on their Instagram channel, then often featuring the content in new blog posts on their website. We’ll let the authority and taste of their excellent, wildly viral food & drink content speak for itself in the select Instagrams throughout this report.

A playful, morning light aesthetic.
Hippos in playful, morning light view.
Modern, high quality food photography makes use of excellent macro lenses, morning lighting, and a great deal of whimsy and creativity.
Modern, high-quality food photography makes use of excellent macro lenses, morning lighting, and a great deal of whimsy and creativity. Even in the depths of winter for their Northeast United States audience, Food52 manages to cultivate a continuously sumptuous experience for its followers, replete with unique giveaways and community campaigns.

The future is in autoplay video

Food52 also uses video expertly given the fast changing pace and trends of auto play mediums on social today. One of their best uses of video in Instagram content includes an extensive holiday cocktail series, perfecting the ambient video capture for mini films that take a uniquely simple look at kitchen life.

#f52gram creates shared food experiences AND revenue

There are ___ Instagrams for the #f52gram campaign as of writing, and counting!
There are 7,872 Instagrams for Food52’s recent #f52gram campaign as of writing.

Food52 collaborates with a variety of whole, authentic brands that identify with their core editorial values and tastes on a regular basis on many different channels. This is a central key to their resounding success.

Unsurprisingly, the hashtag campaign #f52grams continues to be one its most successful and viral campaigns for Food52, with 7,872 tagged Instagrams at time of writing. It continually avoids any trolling, and has a truly active and creatively generative community. This translates into excellent content for Food52 to collaborate upon and amplify further on other media engagement platforms, like their Pinterest channel. Ultimately, Food52’s inclusive, super authentic, vibrant, and lively tone is the way they establish their high quality, industry-leading content.

Collaboration plays a strong role in Food52's viral growth hacking on Instagram for the food & drink content space.
Collaboration plays a strong role in Food52’s viral growth hacking on Instagram for the food & drink content space, especially with their #f52grams campaign. The above photo was featured on @food52’s feed as a part of the user-generated content from the wildly successful campaign.

The weird, diverse, peculiar, colorful, awesome, and raw now rule marketing… beautifully & boldly

As previously discussed, success in food and drink content marketing above all else now demands a certain creative and peculiar finesse. Paying homage to the weird, the playful, the quirky, the colorful and fresh faced look at the world around oneself will provide a brand with all the authenticity needed to demonstrate their value in just the millisecond down scroll through streams like Instagram, now required of brands.

Current ideal aesthetics include cool, morning lighting and tones coupled with highly and even bizarrely unique props and diverse. Vintage, raw props, old kitchen utensils, tools, family heirlooms, sentimental items, floral patterns, and rough textures all do a lot to set a beautiful photo and thus drive the highest amounts of engagement from an analytics view as well. Naturally, these types of props tend to evoke the strongest senses of authenticity.

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Texture, lighting, & film

The photo selections throughout this report demonstrate many excellent marriages of texture (including color), lighting, and the “film” chosen to process the digital photo later on in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom or on other professional photo processing software.

VSCO’s film line provides a wonderful set of Lightroom tools, and those unfamiliar with Lightroom or a similar caliber .raw photo editor should first pause to educate themselves with the basics of digital photography first to achieve this same level of content marketing on Instagram.

Absolute, professional quality is definitely not always paramount on Instagram, and smartphone photos hold an important place in building authenticity on your Instagram channel. Just try to find the right balance that works for your audience.

The morning tones in this shot from @Food52 demonstrate how "the Golden Hour" of photography can create a beautiful, surreal effect in photo lighting.
Using cooler film filtering like those used here from @VSCO on Instagram show the surreal kind of effect morning lighting can have on food styling and photography.

Community management & quality go hand-in-hand on Instagram

Instagram followers tend to be more discerning in the flow of media into their stream vs. average users on Facebook and other more “traditional” networks. Couple this with the app’s impersonal and relatively more anonymous nature, and unfollowing becomes a regular practice. This means that brands need to be continually innovating and iterating upon their media for content marketing, trying different flows, editorial strategies, creative aspects, and more. Above all else, simply avoid creative stagnation.

Hashtags continue to be one of the best ways to produce immediate and long-term social growth regardless of channel, but only with continual community engagement and selectivity among quality. The agencies Simmer interviewed for this report found that working with Instagram analytics services such as Iconosquare significantly aided in discovering the best hashtag communities for market movement and consumer loyalty, and thus, revenue building opportunities. Hashtags should be light and fun, but, above all, short and easy to remember.

Jaime's Instagram caption tone is casual and friendly, warming and inviting followers in with regular recipes and of course regular British witticisms from this social food reform visionary.
Jaime’s Instagram caption tone is casual and friendly, warming and inviting followers in with regular, quick family focused recipes and, of course, regular British witticisms from this social food reform visionary.

Emojis are making an important, gradual entrance into the globes universal lexicon, especially on platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, where the icons often serve to fill a communication void only the Unicode Consortium visually derived system–now working to add many more culturally diverse symbols–can provide.

This form of symbol-based expression initially flourished on Instagram and has since spread to many other channels and platforms such as Facebook. The increased speed of the trend of Emojis has flourished in a variety of Internet communities, with many adopting their own raceless or in-house, branded versions. Emoji open sourcing will be a continued, important trend in the proliferation of this system, especially for marketers and product developers.

Conversion optimization is still at an early stage on the Instagram platform due to the relative lack of actionable buttons and features that can be attached to each post for an average marketer and not a specially sponsored ad account.

The “link in bio” technique seen on many of Instagram’s largest content channels works very well to hack this problem, and opens a link immediately within the users’ native browser. We expect Instagram to introduce clickable URLs, and other conversion optimization focused features alongside their paid advertising products (open to many more businesses and not by an invitation only basis) by the close of Q4 2015. 

Dos and Don’ts

If using a service like PicMonkey or another very simple graphics editor, try to limit your graphic and logo placement to a preset template reviewed by a creative professional. Continue to only use that template per your creative’s directions to create continuity in your campaigns. Social campaigns, especially on Instagram, never benefit from continually changing fonts or font colors.

Generally, Instagrams should never have text overlayed and should remain 100% photographic in nature, unless absolutely necessary for the picture (try to make it a part of the original photography itself instead or use a concise caption). Giveaway Instagram posts inundated with text, either within the photo itself or the caption, turn users away and continue to drive unfollow rates for brands. 

Generally, 1:1 cropped photos continually test and prove the best levels of engagement over alternative crops, however, more creative and experimental slicing, including placements of multiple photos on a slant or as part of a basic, alternative (not PicStitch style) college, have produced markedly viral results for certain national and startup brands on Instagram with a flair for the bold. Crops to show the original ratio as the camera intended it (with bars to the left and right, or top and bottom either in black in white) continue to provide an artistic edge, but do limit the amount of detail viewable by the average Instagram user on a smaller handheld screen.

Break out food & drink innovators to watch

jaime oliver on instagramJamie Oliver takes a close second behind Food52, as his Instagram channel isn’t just an archive of beautiful and innovative shots, but the real human change also going on around him. He shows more step-by-step and traditional media demonstrations of some food content, which works, but doesn’t always hit the Instagram mark absolutely perfectly, as some material might be better suited for communities such as Pinterest or elsewhere. Jaimie also captures the social good essence that allows so many brands in the health or food spaces capture to gain viral momentum today.

vice munchies on instagramMUNCHIES is Vice’s new food channel, decidedly for Millenials and those who identify with similar values. This continually groundbreaking media giant is always at the most innovative edge in terms of photography styles and aesthetics, so it’s no surprise that their Instagram can be pleasantly swiped through each day for a decidedly more “for the people” photography feel, millennial focused, hilarious nature. We recommend following @munchiesvice on Instagram definitely before your next late night chow down session (why not enrich the experience with video from Vice like we do?)

National (and international) brands on Instagram to watch

543px-Whole_Foods_Market_logo.svgWholefoods at the national and local level have done exceptionally well in better engaging their communities in individual sales and high-quality products. While content quality is OK, it is certainly not the best and leaves plenty of room for competition and saturation over this national brand.

Maybe it won’t be “Whole Paycheck” for long? … can’t a (wo)man dream?

ChipotleChipotle continues its rise to the top as Millennials’ favorite restaurant brand internationally. The Mexican Cuisine brand focused on eco-conscious, whole food ingredients continues its same aesthetic of rustic minimalism complemented by the whimsy of highly innovative and playfully creative content wells, such as Chipotle’s original authors content marketing series, and unique brand of community engagement on their national Instagram feed. While their photography is not at a continually quality level, their narrative is authentic, and engagement real. We’ll continue to watch this innovator carefully on Instagram as an emerging creator.

marthalogoMartha Stewart; while this media and product conglomerate is surely in a completely different league than most brands mentioned in this report, it’s ability to continually innovate despite a long history of brand styles and tastes cannot be ignored by professional entrepreneurs looking to reach a Marth-esque market cap today. The Instagram channel @marthastewart continually produces stunning, new visual aesthetics for food, drink, and recipe content.

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