Apu Gupta is the founder and CEO of Curalate. Prior to Curalate, he worked in retail and technology. He built the second largest drugstore chain in India and as the chief operations officer and chief marketing officer of MedPlus Health Services, served on the interim management team of Peracon, a provider of software for the commercial real estate industry, and was in sales and marketing roles at WebEx Communications from its Series A financing through its IPO.
The following is an e-mail interview with Gupta. It has been lightly edited.
What’s the appeal of image-based social networks for brands? Why should a brand that’s already juggling several other social platforms add an image-based network to the mix?
Consumer behavior is undergoing a fundamental shift. Increasingly, consumers are electing to communicate with pictures rather than words. On Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram alone, consumers share nearly 5,000 images every second of every day. Add in platforms such as Pinterest, Polyvore, Wanelo and even SnapChat and it’s clear this isn’t a fad; this is the new face of engagement. Unfortunately, for most brands engaging with pictures is the equivalent of learning a new language. With this new language, it’s not a question of if brands will have to learn to communicate visually, it’s just a question of when they’ll get up to speed. Forward-looking brands have realized that investing now is far less expensive than trying to play catch up later.
How do the leading image-based social networks stack up against each other? What strengths and weaknesses of the leading platforms should brands keep in mind when deciding where to allocate resources?
At Curalate, we try to help brands think about visual networks in broad classifications so that brands can make connections between networks and better understand how they relate. One classification we consider is temporal versus thematic. Facebook for instance is a highly temporal network — new posts push old posts down diminishing their visibility and engagement. On temporal networks, it’s all about what’s happening now. Contrast this to thematic networks, the most notable of which is Pinterest. On thematic networks, time plays a much smaller role. Instead, images are grouped together based on commonality — themes. This allows brands to tell stories rather than produce news.
The other broad classification to consider is user-generated content versus brand-generated content. Instagram, for instance is almost entirely user generated content — people take their phones out, snap a picture and share it. Tumblr and Pinterest contain far more professional imagery.
For brands, understanding these classifications help to form smarter strategies around how to leverage these networks. While each of these networks represents a unique channel with a unique experience, learning to engage consumers across these channels in native ways is where brands need to be. For instance, starting a story on Facebook and extending the story with richer visual cues on Pinterest while asking consumers to add their own experiences into the story on Instagram can create an incredibly engaging experience for consumers.
How do you measure the success of a campaign on an image-based social network? How is it different from measuring the success of other social media efforts?
We still think that measuring engagement with images matters. By understanding what images resonate with fans, brands get the ability to repurpose highly resonant images into social posts, display ads and even e-commerce opportunities. In addition to traditional engagement metrics however, the visual content on these emerging visual networks is frequently very granular — it’s about specific products. This creates opportunities for clicks that convert to revenue. As a result, it’s becoming not only important to measure social [return on investment] metrics, but hard-dollar contributions as well.
Are image-based social networks only good for reaching female audiences? Can you share any instances of brands finding success courting gender neutral or predominantly male audiences on these networks?
While social networks in general skew female to begin with, there is nothing inherently female about engaging with images. This is a human thing — we’re a visual animal and images drive an emotional response with an immediacy that no other medium offers. We’re seeing brands like Nike do an amazing job of generating compelling imagery on Instagram and have the following and engagement to prove it. [Curalate’s] own social experiment, G1VE -a basketball lifestyle brand run by one of our marketing leads, has done a great job of generating engagement via the #ballislife and #hoopdreams tags from an audience that is decidedly male. That said, one of the things marketers everywhere need to understand is that females are incredibly influential in household spending. Even traditionally male brands benefit from female engagement. Look at engagement with Bonobos on Pinterest and you’ll see women pinning clothes that they’d love to see their boyfriends in.
What are the biggest mistakes you see brands making on these networks?
Brands need to think natively about the platforms they participate on. Too many brands treat the networks the same creating content that doesn’t tell a story or acknowledge how consumers want to consume content.