Influencers beat out brands as early adopters of Instagram polling

Earlier this month, Instagram rolled out an interactive sticker within Stories that provides users with the opportunity to poll their audience. Though fashion and beauty brands have been slow to adopt the new feature, influencers have been quick to experiment with it to better engage with their audiences.

Sixty-six percent of respondents to an Instagram poll conducted by influencer network BlogLovin’ — which has more than 84,000 followers, a large majority of which are influencers themselves — stated they had already tried polling. Eighty-seven percent indicated that if they hadn’t yet used it, they intended to in the future.

The sticker functions by prompting a user to ask a question of their choosing before defining response parameters, and followers can mark their selection at any time over the course of the 24 hours that the Instagram Story is accessible. Account holders can track responses in real time and view the participant breakdown, allowing the to gather insights quickly.

Lifestyle influencer Victoria Van Ness said she uses the polling feature to inform content on her blog, as well as the types of photos she shares on Instagram. Since Van Ness covers a variety of topics, she said it can be difficult to determine what resonates most. Real-time polling responses help her strategize and make changes to her monthly content calendar to optimize engagement.

“I like to ask my followers what they want to see next from me. I cover a lot of verticals on my blog, and if one niche is in high demand, it becomes very apparent from the polls,” she said. “Your audience can surprise you when utilizing the polls: I used to cover a lot of personal style on my blog, I thought [my readers] were mainly fashion-focused, but it turns out they are really wanting more beauty and travel posts.”

Despite having brand partners like Cartier, Sephora and Raden, she said none have tapped her for a sponsored Instagram poll yet. Even the standalone accounts of most fashion and beauty brands have been slow to test the feature. (Alice + Olivia is among the few that have.) Kamiu Lee, vp of strategy and business development at BlogLovin’, said it is likely a result of brands dedicating limited resources to social media.

Ultimately, Lee said polling provides a different value from standard ‘like’s and comments for influencers and brands alike, given the limited window to collect responses and the ability to provide engagement that may have been lost through Instagram’s algorithm. (Rather than employing its former chronological setup, Instagram implemented an algorithm that positions certain posts more prominently than others, depending on the user, in 2016. The methodology remains elusive, for both traditional posts and Stories.)

“At the end of the day, polling is another way for influencers to engage with their audience. Influencers are always looking for more ways to form a tighter knit community to engage with their brand,” Lee said.

For influencers, this function may prove particularly valuable, given that many marketers have hypothesized that the algorithm — aided by the Federal Trade Commission regulations that require more stringent disclosure of sponsorships — is burying sponsored posts.

Gil Eyal, founder and CEO of influencer platform HYPR, said a big draw of polling is it allows consumers to feel more involved in decision making, regardless of whether or not companies will use this to extract useful data or just employ it as window dressing.

“Instagram’s new polling feature offers brands and influencers a new form of social engagement,” Eyal said. “We’re seeing brands asking for feedback about products, creating engagement around topics that are in the media and conducting market research.”

Though still in its early stages, brands are testing polls in a number of ways, Eyal said, including posting one at the end of a video to receive feedback on the footage or to inform future videos. However, whether polling will take off on the brand side remains to be seen. “We still haven’t seen tremendously successful usage of this feature, but we are advising our [clients] about it and expect some great content to follow.”

Regardless, Instagram is seeing high usage across its vast user base and plans to evolve the feature moving forward, according to Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram. Speaking at Vogue’s Forces of Fashion conference last week, he said the sticker has increased Story posts, and the platform is eager to see how it grows.

“What we realized is a ‘like’ is a form of feedback, but so too is answering a question. We’re going to be doing a lot more of that — more than just judging whether or not a photo is good, but getting feedback from customers, friends, fans and family,” he said.

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