October 18, 2017

Instagram Polls: Great at Selling Stuff.

Earlier this month Instagram launched a new feature. They’ve followed the ranks of YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Now we finally have polls on Instagram Stories! Of course I immediately experimented. I used them on two corporate Instagram accounts - where audience engagement is notoriously difficult. We tried polls on boomerangs as well as photographs.

Results: They work! Stories with Instagram polls got far higher rates of engagement than normal. A brand is lucky to get comments on Instagram Stories. But about 20-25% of people who saw polls on our Instagram Stories went on to vote. For a brand, that is important customer knowledge and can help shape the way they market a product or even influence the product itself.  

People want to engage on social media. They want to express their opinions. Any tool that makes that easier is invaluable for brands.

Using polls: The new feature is super easy to use. You find the poll option in the same place you find hashtags and locations.

You type a question and then choose two potential answers. Both answers are brightly coloured - one is pink and one is green. Polls are super simple.

It’s slightly irritating to have to put both options in one Instagram Story, especially with the 9:16 aspect ratio. This ratio limits the subjects you can poll on. Unless you custom design something in Photoshop, it’s quite difficult to compare anything complex.

Deeper Issues?: My real issue with Instagram polls is that they illustrate yet another social failing. It’s very difficult to poll on anything meaningful.

Polls on other social networks are slightly different. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter offer more than two choices. They also allow people to publicly respond to the poll question through comments.

Twitter is my favourite example. They still limit the number of characters in the poll question and you can't offer more than four answers. But, people can publicly tweet in response to your poll - critiquing the question or answer options. Earlier this year, I conducted a series of Twitter polls about influencer marketing. The most interesting discussion happened in Tweets replying to the poll. People's replies sparked a conversation. People could critique the questions. Share information with each other. Have a real debate.

Replies to Instagram Stories are private. The space for public debate is limited.

Even Instagram's own Story that advertised the new feature was yet another example of the inanity of social media. Close to a parody of itself. Instagram decided that the important question they could pose to advertise the feature was “Which donut?”: “Plain” or “Sprinkles”.

Instagram is today’s consumer marketing essential. The platform is incredible for selling food, clothes, a lifestyle. But more than this, Instagram’s revenue comes from ad behemoth Facebook. The more attractive Instagram can become to brands, the more money it makes.

Necessity isn’t the mother of invention in this case. Money is. The poll culture may feel like democracy in social media. But polls on Instagram are most effectively used for consumer choices. They sell things.

Anyway, the feature does its job. Definitely made me want a doughnut.

If you’ve seen anyone use the feature for something substantive or more than a consumer choice, please send me a screenshot!