It’s still a struggle for small businesses to get off the ground, but in the social media age it seems easier for the startups to at least get their name out in the public. Through Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, business owners are able to connect with their customers and peers like never before. On the flip side, customers are able to spread the word – whether positive or negative – about a company through those sites.
Photo-sharing app Instagram, which was purchased by Facebook, is letting companies get creative with how they are interacting with the public. Companies are using Instagram to promote their business visually and are creating followings that allow consumers to speak their minds through photos. The social media company puts the phrase “a picture is worth a 1,000 words” into perspective.
“Instagram has been helpful because it’s very simple and to the point and it does what it was designed to do exceptionally well,” said Dave Allee, founder of Almond Surfboards & Designs in Newport Beach, California. “Instagram has been a great tool for sharing images with our followers – it’s like visual Twitter. It’s like a real-time sneak peak at what is going on around Almond.”
There are some businesses that can specialize in the visual sense of networking. Instagram plays to companies like Almond, where products are based on appearance and not on text.
Another startup using Instagram to further its following is ShowScoop, a company that is specifically directed at music fans. The company has begun encouraging fans attending any concert at any venue to post their photos. ShowScoop is integrating into various social media sites, but Instagram is definitely leading the way. The startup has 172 followers on Twitter and 972 on Facebook, but Instagram has brought in 17,638 followers.
“I think our Instagram numbers are high for three reasons,” said Micah Smurthwaite, founder and CEO of ShowScoop. “We can find our target demographic, provide relevant content, and symmetrical following. Instagram is still novel enough that if someone outside of your network likes your photo or follows you, you’ll check to see who it is.”
Business owners are particular about where they put their product; and they have to be in order to get the most out of their time and effort. Austin Smith, owner of a new Oklahoma City-based startup clothing line, Rich Forever Clothing Co., said he was hesitant about joining Instagram. Smith started his clothing company in February, but didn’t join the social networking site until a month ago because he wasn’t sold on the idea.
He said it seemed like it was just another social media site that centered on individuals with not much potential to help a company. To him it seemed like Instagram was a platform for people to show off their new shoes rather than a place for businesses to show consumers where they could buy shoes.
“This is why I have an account now,” he said. “Selling products you can physically see. And now I’m hooked on Instagram, which I feel is better than Twitter. Twitter’s only advantage it has over Instagram right now is the power of retweeting. I feel Instagram should build that factor into the program itself so once people like your photo it will show up in their feed so others can see it.”
Smith said he thinks the photo-based service is the best way for people selling products to get their creations seen by their niche markets via hash tags.
“For instance my brand is a urban street clothing line, so I search hash tags like #karmaloop, #streetwear, #fresh, #dopeness, #swagg, etc,” he said. “And this has helped me get my brand overseas to London, Australia, and all over the United States. Before I got on Instagram my website had about 10,000 hits, but I only had a few sales out of all those views, which honestly discouraged me a little. But Instagram has really changed that and brought a lot of awareness to the Rich Forever Clothing Co brand.”
The first thing ShowScoop did to launch its company was attend the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 20 and start snapping photos and posting them. It created a buzz among music fans especially when the company of four posted a photo of a set list signed by musician Feist. From there the group began following everyone who was posting about Feist.
“When they looked at our page and saw the signed set list we got really positive feedback,” Smurthwaite said. “Instagram has allowed us to find our target demographic easily, and increased signups. Using Instagram’s search we found everyone that posted a photo about Coachella and followed that user. Then when the user sees a new liker or follower, they may check us out and see we have posted Coachella photos as well. We have seen people follow or like back at a 20% clip. So there’s relevant content and symmetrical following.”
These startups are seeing what Instagram can bring to the table to help their business in ways that other social media sites cannot. Companies have continued to find creative ways to use the free tools to benefit their business. Letting consumers see products first-hand via social media has taken window shopping to the next level.
Smurthwaite said any business can find their target audience on Instagram and other social media platforms in ways that follow their goals. He added that social networking has to be about more than just creating a channel for complaints and customer service. The focus needs to be on how to add value business.
Allee agreed with this sentiment and said Instagram gives Almond quick and easy feedback to see what people are responding well to.
“If we post an image of a new board and get an overwhelming amount of feedback from people,” he said, [then] we know we’ve done something right. Comments and likes seem trivial, but it’s nice to gauge people’s interest in particular products or images.”
Smith said one of the best things about Instagram is that it is not complex and that it is not repetitive with people posting the same photos and links like users do on Facebook and Twitter.
“Instagram puts your audience in a position to be exposed to the images you’re posting, and as a business this can really help because people want to see what they are buying,” he said. “They want to see new designs, designs in the works, and so on. Even though you can post images on pretty much all the social networking sites, Instagram surpasses that, mainly because it’s the newest trend, but even more, a picture is worth a thousand words.”
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Photos: @almond_surfboards, @richforevergear, @showscoop