Yes, there’s a lot of selfie-sharing by real and wannabe celebrities on Instagram. The image/video-based social network took just six years to amass 500 million active monthly users, and much of that growth has been sparked by the likes of certain reality show stars who really don’t need any brand-building help.
But another picture is slowly coming into focus regarding Instagram: It can help introduce your business to potential customers in a very colorful, human way.
Also, thanks to a pilot program now available to iOS users, there’s a chance those customers could soon shop for your products directly within Instagram posts.
In early November, Instagram partnered with 20 U.S.-based brands, including A-list names like Target, Levi’s, Macy’s, and Ambercrombie & Fitch, for this experiment in mobile commerce.
Lusting after that Guess handbag you just saw in a post? Click on a “Tap to view products” icon at the bottom left, and boxes appear for up to five products in the photo listing names and prices. Tap on those boxes, and you get more product information. If the temptation becomes too great, you simply hit the “Shop Now” icon to go directly to the retailer’s site for purchase.
According to the Instagram for Business blog post announcing the pilot feature, it’s clear that the company (now a part of the Facebook empire) is wading into uncharted but exciting territory. “Instagram already is a great place for discovery on mobile. While consumer research informed the first step of this test, we expect to learn a lot from the businesses we’re working with in this early test…As we roll out further, we’ll explore product recommendations, ways products are showcased to shoppers, global expansion and the ability to save content so Instagrammers can take an action later. We want to understand how to deliver the most seamless shopping experience for consumers and businesses on Instagram, and ultimately mobile.”
If the program works as advertised, it promises to be a frictionless process. Keeping shoppers more or less inside an app for the buyer’s journey has always been the ultimate goal in m-commerce.
Ryan McIntyre, chief marketing officer for Instagram partner JackThreads, tells the company blog that his customers are already using the social network to discover potential must-have products. “This test is going to change the scope of what we, as retailers, are capable of offering on mobile,” McIntyre said. “Instead of having to transition over to the JackThreads app, our customers will be able to shop seamlessly from their social media feeds—allowing us to reach guys where they’re already hunting for what’s new.”
We don’t know how much of their sales the partners will have to share with Instagram, but given a user base that is second only to Facebook, who knows; a picture could be worth a thousand bucks.
Advantages of an Instagram Strategy
Even without this m-commerce trial period, the evidence is starting to pile up that B2Cs should consider the advantages of an Instagram strategy:
- A Young, Spendy Audience – Did we mention 500 million users? Nearly half of them are under the age of 35, the sweet spot for marketers. If you offer products and services targeting those demographics – clothes, jewelry, electronics, entertainment, food – then you should go where they are spending a lot of their time.
- A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Shares – It’s all about the visuals, which you get to control by literally showing off your product in the best light while adding hashtags to attract the right potential customers. Then consider than Instagram says 95 million photos and videos are shared daily on the network. Lululemon, with images of active people wearing the company’s yoga pants in gorgeous natural settings, has 1.7 million followers sharing those pics with like-minded fans.
- The Human Factor – Why so serious? Instagram photos and videos can help businesses pull back the curtains to show the people behind the logo – or their canine partners, as in the #DogsofWeWork hashtag that celebrates the four-legged pals of those who use this shared office space provider.
- Lights, Camera, Community – Say it with me one more time: Social media is a conversation, not a lecture. Getting Instagrammers to share anything – photos, comments, emojis – helps narrow the gap between business and customer. Office equipment retailer Staples gets high marks for getting their customers to talk to them via Instagram.
Smartphone cameras can now take some very good pictures and videos, but starting a Instagram account for your business means someone has to get behind that camera. It would help if they knew some basics about composition and lighting. You could hire a professional, or find someone on your staff who already has shown some creativity with a personal Instagram account.
As a business owner, you’ve already pictured what success looks like for your brand. Given the innovation that’s going on within social networks like Instagram, you could add more detail to that image with photos and videos telling your company’s story.