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Instagram, the new shopping mall of social media

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Instagram, the new shopping mall of social media

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Instagram, ever-receptive to the changing demands of new consumer preferences and behaviour has launched a major overhaul of its site functionality. A new, simplified and streamlined system allows customers to make purchases directly within the Instagram app, using PayPal. This positions Instagram to attract new business customers eager to take advantage of the social media giant’s growing advertising reach and newly overhauled e-commerce features. 
Instagram – from social media giant to savvy e-commerce platform 
Just as it surpassed its 1 billionth user, Instagram has revealed it wanted to attract more business users, with a raft of new features, dubbed “shoppable media” aimed at making buying through the platform easier, quicker and more convenient. The main change has been in allowing in-app purchases through clicking on pictures posted within the app. Previously, to make a purchase through Instagram, users had to leave the app and make their purchases through third-party websites or apps. Instagram users who wanted to make a purchase were able to see the price and product description, but there was no integration between this function and the process of making a payment for an item. In fact, when Instagram first began, only one link to an external site was allowed to be utilised by business users of the site. Retailers wanting to use the historical Instagram platform to drive sales to their business site, had to tailor their creative campaigns around the (now famous) terminology – “link in bio”. With shoppable media, this is all changing. The new Instagram features encourage impulse purchasing and this is a major incentive for new business customers to flock to the app. The changes also coincide with growing consumer demand for “seamless” purchasing. Whereas, previously retailers separated their digital and physical purchasing systems, so that an item bought digitally could not be returned in-store, these highly inconvenient barriers to quick and easy purchasing are being dismantled. 
It appears that Instagram has now understood the “diversion” of users wishing to make purchases to third party sites as harmful to its customer base, but also something that could be changed in order to attract more users and deliver a higher level of satisfaction, both to users who wish to make in-app purchases and businesses who wish to use the Instagram platform to boost their business sales. However, these Instagram features are not fully operational as of early 2019. Instagram is currently trialing the system and there are plans for a major roll-out of the features as the end of 2019 nears. The new features are not free; Instagram will charge a fee for every sale generated through the new planned features. 
“Insta-ready” marketing campaigns 
In introducing these e-commerce features it is clear that Instagram is looking to disrupt current e-commerce giants like Amazon and Shopify, with a new and completely novel mode of business advertising and purchase. According to new research, as many as 55% of customers begin their search for new products on Amazon. It is hoped that the new platform will divert some of these sales, particularly on the basis of impulse purchasing which the image-orientated app is well positioned to attract. In this way, it is hoped that the many hours potential customers spend browsing the Instagram images available, can be monetised to good effect. No other social media platform has the potential to inspire impulse purchasing in the way that the visual and image orientated Instagram can, so there is a vast, untapped potential to reap profits from these changes, and also to expand its customer base even more. The news of shoppable media has even prompted positive responses from many major brands including Nordstrom, Gap and Glossier, who have all changed their advertising strategies to seek sales and leads through Instagram’s new shoppable posts. 
Other retailers will be forced to change their sales strategies, if they wish to avail of the new shoppable media features on the Instagram platform. Sales strategies will need to be simplified, in line with the new visual sales pitches that shoppable media makes necessary. Retailers may wish to invest in professional photography as the emphasis on getting the perfect picture is even greater. With its emphasis on visual stimuli, to succeed on Instagram many brands will need professional photograhers and content editors to collaborate to create the kind of impactful, resonant campaigns that do well on Instagram. Pictures and videos will need to be well lit and will in many cases need attention such as the kind of retouching that only seasoned professionals know how to achieve. Written content will need to be pared down, and the visual media will need to be accompanied by well thought out captions and optimised hashtags. Moreover, multiple hashtags will have to be chosen, but these will need to be chosen well, and this, in effect involves predicting what the most popular hashtags are among target audiences. There will also be a renewed focus on generating unique and attention grabbing visual content, and common “text-heavy” marketing techniques like “useful” blogs, interviews and frequently asked questions will afford less traction to target audiences. As such, there is a whole new set of rules that will determine success on Instagram and retailers will need to prepare targeted, professionally grafted campaigns to generate sales.
Moreover, businesses seeking leverage and new sales for their products and services will need to experiment and evaluate their campaigns more than ever to ensure their success through these new advertising conduits. This measurement and constant evaluation will allow brands to find out what really impacts their target audiences. It seems ironic that such a seemingly “superficial” medium where pictures are videos are “king”, actually forces highly focused, and well thought out media campaigns. All of this requires an investment of time, which in many cases is over and above what is required to produce successful marketing campaigns on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and whereas it is plain that there is a huge opportunity here for Instagram to expand its user base and increase profits, there is also an element of risk for users, new to Instagram’s image-oriented platform. 
Retailers looking to make an impact on Instagram may also need to consider partnering with micro-influencers or influencers. Again, this is due to the highly visual nature of the media that tends to succeed on Instagram. In devising a marketing strategy involving the use of influencers or microinfluencers, retailers should beware that influencer-based campaigns aren’t always successful. Public trust in so-called influencers is in decline, and this is forcing retailers using influencers to really choose a partnership that will resonate with the target audience – something referred to in the industry as “fit”. 
Research by media agency UM examined the modern dynamics surrounding influencer endorsement of brands and products via platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It found that only 8% of the people surveyed believed the information they saw or read on social media, with this level of confidence dropping to only 4%, when the information was presented through an influencer. The study highlighted that compared to influencers, governments were trusted more frequently by readers. None of this means that campaigns involving influencers, or microinfluencers should be avoided, rather it simply highlights how important it is for any influencer chosen to deliver on-point messages that inspire trust and confidence in the target audience. The importance of this point can perhaps best be highlighted by discussing what happens when an influencer is exposed as a fraud or as someone who has not really invested any time or energy in the products or services they are recommending. As one study highlighted one “influencer” with 2 million followers could not sell 36 teeshirts. Retailers and buyers alike need to be aware of so-called “influencer fraud”, including accounts where fake follows, followers and likes are represented as real. A study by the University of Baltimore Business School revealed that marketers expected to lose approximately 1.3 billion USD as a result of fraud in one year alone. The same study suggested that as much as 15% of influencer followers are fake. 
Instagram selling  – what you need to know before you begin 
As it stands shoppable media is only available in the following countries – the USA, Canada, Brazil, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Australia. Sellers looking to use shoppable media also need an Instagram business account and to have downloaded the latest version of the Instagram app (either on iOS or Android). Sellers need to read and be prepared to abide by the Merchant Agreement and commerce policies that Instagram publishes. A prospective shoppable media seller also needs to be connected to a Facebook catalogue, which can be managed through a number of apps or on platforms like Shopify. 
When these requirements are met the Instagram sales channel can easily be added to platforms like Shopify and enabled with just a few clicks. 
Tips for selling on Instagram
1. Get familiar with Hashtags
Businesses using Instagram need to be aware of how impactful hashtags are. Many business sellers won’t have heard of them before, particularly if they have been selling on other platforms. Many may have heard of them, but in the context of ordinary chats and conversations. 
On Instagram hashtags drive sales and you can actually check how many impressions are attributable to which hashtag. Some experts even describe them as one of the biggest, most effective ways to make an impact using Instagram. Instagram has a hashtag checker tool that allows users to check how popular certain hashtags are. This can be used to help build an effective hashtag campaign. 
2. Post content at peak times 
On Instagram you are communicating with a global audience, and as such you don’t want all of your posts to be posted at the same time. On Instagram, you can use tools like Hootsuite and SproutSocial to time the posting of content advantageously. 
3. Optimise your Instagram biography 
In keeping with Instagram style, the Instagram bio needs to be short – just 150 characters. Sellers have just 150 characters to tell visitors and users who they are, and what their values and principles are. Research suggests that sellers have less than one second to persuade users to engage with content or a post and just 2.6 seconds to make a first impression online, after an initial interest is piqued, which highlights just how important it is to create punchy and impactful content. After this browsers will either click through to get more information, or they will move on to more appealing content. As such, bios should be short, but helpful and informative. Furthermore, when creating a short bio for Instagram, sellers should use keywords that are linked to their products and services. This is helpful information for customers and it also helps the seller to build an effective, wider marketing campaign. This bio then needs to be linked to external search results, so that traffic can be routed through a business Instagram account from a wide variety of external sources.
So-called “action buttons” can be added to the Instagram bio. This enables users to quickly access brand products, should they wish for example to browse a product catalogue. 
Sellers can use categories to “signpost” users helpfully to add impact to their 150 characters. These show up on the Instagram bio and this reinforces the brand message and tells users quickly what a brand is about. 
The content of the bio is very important, but the number of clicks required to reach key destinations like product catalogues is also important and should not be overlooked. The last thing that an Instagram seller wants to do, is to pique interest, only to annoy users by making it arduous for them to reach popular destinations like product catalogues, customer service or external websites. 
4. Emojis, branded hashtags and tags 
Research has shown that use of emojis on Instagram content is likely to deliver more meaningful messages that resonate with users. Using tags that link to other businesses can help build trust with customers, for example businesses can link to their sister or parent companies, which helps to show authenticity and can redirect visitors helpfully. Furthermore, use of branded hashtags where the hashtag incorporates a brand can help users access more photos and also create a helpful reinforcement of a brand image on Instagram. 
5. Geotags 
Geotags, which “pin” a location to photos on Instagram can be a very helpful strategy for retailers. Users can quickly and easily understand how to get to a physical bricks and mortar store, direct from an Instagram post or image. These tags can therefore add authenticity to a brand, and drive sales and footfall to physical premises, by establishing a link between digital and physical brand presence. Research has shown that customers appreciate a seamless and integrated brand presence, so for example the facility to buy online and return products in-store. Geotags help to reinforce this strategy and highlight the various ways that customers can interact with a brand. Geotags can also helpfully be integrated with the overall hashtag strategy, so that customers are given helpful orientation as part of the marketing strategy. 
6. Publish photos showing your products in use 
A very helpful strategy on Instagram is to show how products are used in pictures or vidoes. This is much more effective than showing isolated images of products, because it shows customers some useful context. It also helps to position products as part of an overall image or lifestyle, for example a healthier lifestyle is something that a lot of image conscious Instagramers will identify with. In this way, products can be positioned to appeal to customers in a holistic manner, and the context can help to sell the product.
7. Glamour shots, with products in the background 
Highly glamourous images and photoshoots can prove to be very popular on Instagram, in their own right. Some clever marketers are exploiting this, by positioning products in the background of images that are likely to prove popular in their own right. This, essentially “tags” products onto popular images and gives products and brands helpful exposure. 
Instagram as a business tool 
Instagram has the power to reach millions of customers every day if the right strategies and images are used and this is becoming increasingly important for retailers as Instagram positions itself to appeal to businesses. 
To achieve influence and impact on Instagram, retailers need to carefully craft strategies that are likely to resonate with users, and this involves a very different set of rules, compared to advertising on other forms of social media like Facebook and Twitter. As we have seen, images are of prime importance on Instagram, and retailers need to think about how their products can be incorporated into images that people will want to view and share.  
Understanding how tools and features that are unique to Instagram, like Instagram hashtags and geotags is also pivotal to a successful Instagram campaign, so retailers who are new to social media or Instagram should consider working with trained, or experienced social media professionals, if they don’t have the time to invest in creating their own authentic, well thought out Instagram marketing campaign. 
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