If your brand isn’t using Instagram yet, it is time to seriously consider if it is the right channel for meeting your engagement objectives. It has gone mainstream.

Instagram has been popular for many, many months. We’ve talked about the big brands that are using it. We’ve talked about the ways that other brands can start using it. Facebook bought it. An Android app was developed. They finally created a web companion for user profiles. And then Hurricane Sandy and the 2012 election happened within a week of each other, taking Instagram to new heights. Today, Instagram boasts more than 100 million registered users and more than 11 million daily active users.  So brands are paying even closer attention and now jumping in droves to the platform.

What Happened During Hurricane Sandy & the 2012 Election?

“Instagram became a mainstream social network, checked by everyday users during major news events and embraced by media outlets who previously weren’t sure what to make of it.”  Hurricane Sandy was the largest single event in the history of Instagram to be photographed and captured with 800,000 photos tagged #sandy (the previous record was the Super Bowl with 85,000 photos). ”For the first time, the mobile photo-sharing service was being used and talked about during a major news event – the same way Twitter has been for years…But the uniquely visual nature of Instagram lent itself perfectly to a news event that was all about images – from flooded city streets and ransacked store shelves to the eerily dark Manhattan skyline.” “Instagram was not only the main service people used to share their images of the superstorm (at a clip of 10 per second), it was also a primary source of pictures for the likes of CNN and Time Magazine.”

On election day, users were snapping pictures of their “I voted” stickers, their polling lines and their watch parties. The NY Times even created a page dedicated to “Instagramming the Election.”

What’s In It For Brands?

The base of users on Instagram is now huge. Those on Instagram are checking in on it daily, multiple times a day, much like they use Twitter and Facebook. People use Instagram as both a standalone social network and as a tool for sharing to their other networks. Brands can (and are doing) the same. But the images shared by brands on (and via) Instagram are more thoughtful and lifestyle/aspirational in nature. On Instagram, it is not about sharing an album and cataloguing events or product libraries. It is about sharing a singular, spectacular image once or twice a day. There are some brands that are doing it well. Others are still trying to find their Instagram voice. But they are all jumping on board: Brand adoption of Instagram has jumped by 35% since August and more than half of the Interbrand 100 are now active on the service.

While more mature social platforms like Twitter and Facebook are constantly changing the rules for brands and increasingly trying to monetize brands’ use of the platform, Instagram is still new and pure. If users choose to follow you, they see your message. It is not flooded, it is not hidden, it is not categorized separately . That is not to say that features like that won’t be introduced soon; given that Instagram is owned by Facebook, chances are good that things will change soon. But getting in now can build a new rapport with customers that can carry you through those inevitable changes.