On October 6, 2010, two adventurous computer programmers launched a photo-sharing app on the web for iOS devices. Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, both Stanford graduates, had been working on that app for a year. They had beta-tested their app with some friends and the user responses were satisfactory. Systrom and Krieger were confident about their app, but they did not expect what happened next. The app hit 25,000 users within 24-hours of its launch and became the number 1 photo-sharing app on the App Store. Within 3 months, a million users started using their app. Thus, began the journey of Instagram, a photo and video-sharing platform which was soon to become a cultural phenomenon around the globe. Today, Instagram has over 1 billion monthly active users and the company was valued at over $100 billion in 2019. Currently, it is the fastest growing social media platform on the web.
Instagram is loved by its users for its simplistic design and user-friendliness. It has now become an essential part of the daily lives of millions of its users. These users share photos on the app to let other people know about their lives, hobbies, passion, and profession; or just what they are having for lunch, or the dress they are going to wear to the party that night. It has completely integrated into the daily lives of many, especially the younger generation, which has opened a window of opportunities for businesses.
A Shangri-La for Small Businesses
According to two web monitoring platforms, Mention and HubSpot, 71% of all formal businesses in the US have an Instagram page. And 80% of all U.S. users follow such a page. Not only in the United States., using Instagram to leverage your business is a growing trend around the world. Big brands to small businesses, all types of companies are using Instagram to sell themselves. But it has become the greatest blessing to individual artists, designers, photographers, singers, food or fashion bloggers who can now use this platform to sell their skills; giving rise to numerous online-based micro-businesses.
Almost all types of products are now sold and marketed on Instagram. Interestingly, there are many niche micro-businesses who sell specialty products only through Instagram, products which are not available on any other platform. A large number of tech-savvy, on-the-go customers, especially from the younger generation, prefer shopping through Instagram because it saves them time and effort.
The Era of “Instagram Influencers”
“Instagram Influencer” is the latest buzzword in the world of social media marketing. Influencers are users who have a considerable follower base on the platform and have established a sense of credibility with their audience. Probably the first major Instagram influencer was Justin Bieber. When Bieber joined the app, user engagements boosted as thousands of girls liked and commented on his photos. It was not long before Bieber’s agent called Kevin Systrom and demanded that the pop star be compensated for using his app. Systrom flatly declined. Because he knew that Instagram could stand on its own feet, it did not depend on celebrity endorsement for survival. Since its inception, the platform had been growing organically, without having to spend a single dollar on advertising. Users loved the experience of his app and that’s what really mattered. So, he refused to pay any money, but Bieber went on using Instagram anyway.
But influencers have other sources of income. They can charge businesses for recommending their brands. Influencers are like role models to many of their followers. Fans want to eat what their role models eat, wear what they wear, buy what they buy. Hence, influencers can shape the buying behavior of their follower base by recommending products. According to the Financial Times, a small Instagram influencer with around 100 thousand followers can charge client brands up to $2,700 USD per post. But if you are a celebrity influencer with millions of people following you, you can charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single post.
Power Features for Boosting Business
Instagram shopping has always been a better experience for online purchasers. The app is known for its effective algorithm in audience targeting. The algorithm is highly effective in showing the right ads to the right customers. Also, the app allows businesses to add shoppable hashtags to their product posts and stories. By searching for the right hashtags, customers can easily find their desired products.
Instagram is now trying to add new features that will allow users to purchase directly off of the app. In March 2019, they beta-launched a new “Checkout from Instagram” button on 20 US-based business pages which would allow customers to order directly from the page. Another new feature allows users to buy directly from Instagram “Stories” or “Explore” page. Suppose, Lionel Messi has posted a new story wearing an awesome pair of shoes. This new tool will allow you to buy those shoes just by tapping on that story. Or, suppose you found a photo of Kendall Jenner on the “Explore” page and you like the t-shirt she’s wearing. You can buy it directly from that post. It saves you the trouble of surfing through Amazon or AliExpress to find the product that you want. So, it is very much possible that Instagram would come out as a disruptive force in the retail industry of tomorrow. Even big companies such as Amazon, Alibaba, eBay or JD.com cannot take this threat lightly.
Even a few years ago, brands considered Instagram as one of many social media options to generate customer interactions. But now, maintaining an Instagram presence no longer remains an option, rather it has become a necessity. Brands now allocate a considerable portion of their advertising budget to Instagram marketing. As Instagram is owned by Facebook and has an ever-growing user base, it is not going out of business anytime soon. The shopping industry of the future is going to be shaped by this app. So, it is high time that business organizations started integrating this platform into their long-term strategies. Instagram is a powerful business tool and brands must utilize this tool properly if they want to stay in the game for a long time.
By Ezaz Ahmed