Lessons from Prince and the platform formerly known as Instagram
A view from Theo Delaney

Lessons from Prince and the platform formerly known as Instagram

Prince may have joined Instagram, and in the process caused a greater stir than any brand ever could by effectively renamed it as Princestagram, but Watchable co-founder Theo Delaney believes brands can learn a lot about how musicians use this creative channel.

Prince has a business brain and it has not escaped his notice that an Instagram presence is a pivotal component in any modern pop star’s communications strategy

When the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince turns up on your social network, you know you’re on a roll. His band might be called the Revolution but his resistance to social media has betrayed a yearning for the pre-digital status quo. He told the Daily Mirror in 2010 that the internet, like MTV, was "completely over".

Durable pop icon

But like all durable pop icons, Prince has a business brain and it has not escaped his notice that an Instagram presence is a pivotal component in any modern pop star’s communications strategy. The world’s top three Instagram accounts by followers are Taylor Swift (a staggering 52.9 million), Beyoncé (49.2m) and Selena Gomez with 48.6m.

GLAD U LIKE ??

A video posted by PRINCESTAGRAM (@prince) on

These figures are growing rapidly and coincide with huge overall growth for the network which now boasts over 400 million users globally, compared to Twitter’s 316m, having added a cool 100 million in the last nine months.

Direct-to-fan communication

The obvious appeal to pop stars is the ability to communicate directly with fans, with complete control of the message, unlike the old days when you had to butter up journalists to secure favourable write ups. The prevailing atmosphere on Instagram is much less adversarial than on other platforms.

While Prince, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé can keep feeding their account with selfies and concert clips, brands need to work much harder to make their posts interesting in their own right if they are to build a following and engender positive responses

When we at Watchable were asked recently to make a short film to promote Elvis Costello’s new memoir Unfaithful Music And Disappearing Ink, Instagram seemed the obvious choice. So obvious in fact that there wasn't even a debate when we proposed it to his publisher Penguin and the great man himself.

The creative parameters for Instagram videos appear restrictive at first. The maximum length is 15 seconds and, as it’s a mobile app, it’s likely your work will be viewed on a very small screen. But embracing these limitations is the way forward. If you make your images bold and clear (we went for a graphic, animated execution born out of Costello’s early album artwork) the small screen is not a problem. And though short, your video automatically repeats on Instagram until the viewer moves on. So if you build in a seamless link for the loop and add enough detail to reward repeat viewings - in our case fleeting appearances from members of the book’s illustrious supporting cast like Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan - you can make a virtue out of a necessity. A soundtrack that works when looped also helps. We were able to make a subtle edit to the iconic intro in the Costello hit ‘Pump It Up’ so that it looped perfectly on the beat.

Cutting down TV ads is counter productive

These creative considerations also apply to any brand on Instagram. Unlike your average FMCG brand, musicians start out with a certain amount of fan adulation already in the bank. So while Prince, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé can keep feeding their account with selfies and concert clips, brands need to work much harder to make their posts interesting in their own right if they are to build a following and engender positive responses. Lazily running cut downs of TV ads can be counter productive.

A photo posted by PRINCESTAGRAM (@prince) on

Instagram’s EMEA creative lead Alastair Cotterill has said that people come to Instagram to be "transported" and encourages brands to "stand out by fitting in". In other words, Instagram appeals to musicians and other artists because it is essentially a tool for creative expression. If brands can use it as such, they will enhance the experience for their followers and reap the benefits.

Prince has shared 88 photos (almost all of himself) in his first four days on the network he’s renamed Princestagram. Safe to say he has fully embraced his new creative outlet. We can but hope, after his all too brief flirtations with Twitter and Facebook, this new found love will last. In the meantime, his fans are in for some very entertaining, if slightly bonkers, viewing.