[Podcast] Brand Tips from Africa’s Top Instagrammer Gareth Pon
8 September 2015
Gareth Pon, a filmmaker and photographer by trade, is widely regarded as Africa’s top Instagrammer. In an interview with Moneyweb’s Morgan Barnard, @garethpon (who is also Samsung’s brand ambassador), explains how brands and businesses can leverage the platform…
“Before Instagram was launched, I had close to no interest in social media at all, which was quite a funny story in itself,” reveals Pon. “The reason I hopped onto Instagram was because it had that appeal of creativity to it as well. So that began just on three years ago, as a way of just capturing Joburg in a different light…”
He says that originality and good storytelling are the two key elements to success on the platform.
“If you go to the original sort of profiles that were highlighted back in the day – when Instagram was first launched, it was guys who were telling the stories of their cities in a very unique way,” says Pon. “If you take a look at, say, the likes of – I always highlight this guy in Japan, Hirozzzz, he’s been one of my favourite Instagrammers ever since I’ve been on the platform. His outlook has always been, how do I capture Japan in a very accessible way?”
He adds: “That’s something that I adopted very early on – what makes South Africa unique? What makes South Africa different from the rest of the world, and how do I tell that story in a very honest way?”
In addition, he maintains that you’ve got to have something ‘quite unique’ about who you are as a brand. You’ve got to treat yourself as a brand, firstly, on the platform.
“And you’ve got to make yourself stand out in such a way, whether that’s capturing a specific niche or capturing a specific theme on your profile that stands out, because unfortunately with social media comes copying – and duplication, and just doing what works because that’s easy,” he says. “But the moment you find something that starts conversations for people to talk about, that’s really when people start recognising your name and your style…”
According to Pon, one of the biggest mistakes that people make is they duplicate what they do on other social platforms (on Instagram).
“I’ve often seen brands just using their print media on social, or just using their Facebook pages’ content on their Instagram. In reality it doesn’t work because the thinking is very different on Instagram,” he explains. “Instagram is a very visual platform – nine times out of ten people won’t actually read your captions, so that’s also something to think about.”
Pon highlights that there is a major community aspect to Instagram, and if you try to do something on Instagram ‘without involving a community element of actual physical meet-ups, photo opportunities, etc., then you sort of miss the mark ….’
“Of course, there are ways to do it without that, but in a traditional sense the community is also a really big part of it,” says Pon. “And it’s also a platform of integrity. A lot of people try say: OK, we’ll just buy our first 20 000 to give that impression. And people get very put off by that purely because it’s so personal. The audience on Instagram sees a profile and then suddenly they have all these followers – and they start to question, well, where is the integrity here? Where does it come from?”
Working with Big Brands
Pon has worked with both Nike and Samsung around content creation for the platform.
“Nike reached out to me a few months ago – it was an agency that works with them, called Conscious Minds, and they thought up this really cool idea about how to create awesome content for their Instagram account. So they reached out to me and a few other Instagrammers – and it was purely because of our profiles being recognisable around the world.”
According to Pon, Nike wanted to find people in different countries with a certain style that they [the brand] could relate to.
With regards to Samsung, Pon had already done a few campaigns with the brand when they approached him to be their official ambassador.
“They do amazing stuff. So it was really cool just to partner with a brand that believes in the industry that you’re in,” he says.
Video Content is Key
“I have always been pro video,” says Pon. “I’m trained as a filmmaker, so that’s always been my background and whenever I capture images, I always think of the film behind that image. I think the next step, no matter which platform you are on, has to contain video…”
He adds: “A guy who is doing that really well now is Casey Neistat in New York…his audience is very broad in terms of age-groups. They [his viewers] do have spending power, and they do have that extra $50 in their pocket so that they can buy three e-books or whatever content you are talking about…”
“So that’s where I think the future of social content is, in the moving image,” says Pon. “It’s an extension of telling stories just beyond stills, which I think people are getting very attuned to. Periscope is another one – that’s live broadcasting, so you can literally broadcast live content as you go. People can comment and send ‘likes’ while the video is going, which is pretty cool.”
Advice for Small Business Owners on Instagram?
“I think you’ve got to sit back and observe for a while,” advises Pon. “A lot of guys just jump straight into it and do everything without doing anything…you’ve got to be very strategic, you’ve got to figure out where your audience lies and go after those targets instead of just mindlessly putting stuff out.”
He adds: “For me, it always boils down to curation. So what is the content you are putting out – is it curated, or are you just doing it for the sake of providing something visual? If we go back to Nike, they won’t just put stuff up just for the sake of it. They’ll be conscious about this content being online forever – so that’s something you have to think about as well!”